Jackson accuses Martin of promoting 'anti-diversity agenda'

by Ira Teinowitz, TV Week

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is going on the offensive to blast Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin, accusing him of pushing an “anti-diversity agenda.”

On the eve of an FCC local-ownership hearing on Wednesday where the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition founder and president is due to testify, Rev. Jackson, in a letter to Mr. Martin, suggested such an agenda is the only conclusion to be drawn from the chairman’s recent moves. Mr. Martin has been pushing to revise media ownership rules before fully addressing how the changes might reduce minority ownership of stations while also promoting the option of a la carte cable, which could reduce minority channels.

“There is growing concern about what many regard as an obsession—there can be no other word for it—with pushing a la carte regulations despite the fact that nearly every minority program network and civil rights organization, supported by nearly every private and public study, has said that such a policy would hinder emerging minority programmers from achieving the scale and household reach necessary for financial viability,” wrote Mr. Jackson.

Mr. Martin has called for giving cable subscribers the right to make cable choices a la carte as a way to hold down their costs, letting them pay only for what they want and not pay for programming they don’t want to support.

Rev. Jackson was sharply dismissive of the a la carte proposal.

“There is virtually no question among the experts that an a la carte government mandate would be the single most harmful government policy for all of us who care about diversity in programming and greater minority ownership in programming,” said the letter.

Rev. Jackson also was dismissive of a suggestion from Mr. Martin that owners of TV stations ensure minority programming by leasing to minority broadcasters some of the additional stations they can air as a result of the digital transition. He warned that broadcasters would be more likely to rent the channels to programmers who want home shopping networks and infomercials, and that any FCC effort to ensure that cable companies carry those channels could prompt the cable companies to limit some of the minority channels they now carry.

The proposal would give the minority broadcasters a “second-class status” and could make matters worse rather than better, he said.

“The result would be that more non-minority broadcast channels, under the ultimate control of the same broadcasters who control the airwaves today, would get must-carry status, with the effect of squeezing out the precious channel space that would otherwise be available to prospective minority, women’s and other emerging cable and satellite programmers,” Rev. Jackson said.

There was no immediate reaction from Mr. Martin.

article originally published at http://www.tvweek.com/news/2007/10/jackson_accuses_fccs_martin_of.php.

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