Bringing diversity to the nation's media

[Seattle Times editorial]

America is a diverse society saddled with a bland, monolithic press. This woeful imbalance between who Americans are and who owns the press must be part of any discussion about media ownership.

Sadly, the agency charged with addressing such issues has shirked its duty. The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission recently suggested new rules for media ownership. The proposal would allow for cross-ownership of a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same media market. The problems with the proposed changes are many, and have been aired on this page in detail.

The most glaring omission, though, is what to do about the lack of minority and female owners of news outlets. Women make up more than half of the nation's population, and minorities are on a path to a majority. Yet, minorities and women have little say in what is read, watched and listened to.

A study by Free Press — a group working to inform and give the public a voice in the national media debate — found that women own only 6 percent of full-power radio stations and account for 28 percent of nonfarm businesses.

The numbers are only slightly better for minorities, who own 7.7 percent of full-power radio stations contrasted with 18 percent of nonfarm businesses.

There is a chance for some relief. The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee recently passed the Local Radio Community Act of 2007. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., would help low-power FM (LPFM) gain a foothold on the dial. The 10- to 100-watt LPFM stations are an affordable way into the media.

The best hope for minority and women gaining influence in the press lies in a Senate bill introduced by Sens. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., and Trent Lott, R-Miss. The Media Ownership Act of 2007 would force the FCC to create an independent panel to study broadcast ownership by minorities and women.

The FCC's plan would only further alienate women and minorities from a vital sector of American democracy. Any discussion of ownership has to include diversity.

article originally published at http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorialsopinion/2004031970_localed26.htm....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey