FCC testimony on media ownership: Robert Jeffrey

So, you would say that being a son of a preacher that you knew I was going to be talking for a long time. Good evening commissioners. My name is Robert Jeffrey, and I am the co-owner and CEO of Colors Northwest, Inc. -- a local family-owned company that publishes Colors Northwest magazine (a magazine dedicated to exploring ethical diversity in the Northwest) and ColorsNorthwestCareers.com (a jobholder to connect job-seekers of color to employers looking to hire people of color). Colors Northwest magazine was born in 2001 in the most improbable of circumstances.

With not much more than an idea and a staff that believed in the mission, and a relatively tiny amount of start-up capital, we were able to scrape out the first few issues by the skin of our teeth. No one was quite sure what to make of us. As a multi-ethnic publication, we didn’t fit into the mainstream model or even the ethnic media model. While we had no shortage of powerful story ideas to work with, getting revenue to grow the business was always an uphill battle. Many advertisers could not see the benefit of advertising with a small start-up publication, preferring to make group buys with larger publications or publications with large parent companies. Like many ethnic publications, we have had a lot to do with little. For the first three years, we worked out of our homes -- having no offices or infrastructure to speak of. This kept costs down and allowed us to weather rocky financial times like the period after 9/11.

The voice that Colors Northwest brings to the local media landscape is unique and independent. We are not beholden to shareholders or the market. We keep our advertising and editorial departments strictly separate. Despite our small staff, the journalism we produce has been recognized with numerous awards (including this year by the Society of Professional Journalists as the best overall magazine in the region). Some notable stories have dealt with the effect of federal detention policy on immigrants, the relations between African-Americans and African immigrants, and the effects of Hurricane Katrina on people of color.

I say all this tonight to say that the ethnic media landscape is one that is dynamic, thriving, and growing. According to a study by New American Media, 45% of people of color prefer ethnic media to mainstream media. People of color are fully a third of the US population and are slated to grow even further. Non-whites are suspected to be the majority in 2050. Yet, in media ownership, this democratic power is not present.

According to a study called ‘Out of The Picture’ by Free Press, people of color are dramatically under represented in media ownership with only 3.26% of all TV stations owners (although people of color are 33% of the population). This rate of ownership would be compounded by the increasing push for media consolidation by the FCC -- whose regulations have kept the media conglomerates tempted by the money-making potential in the ethnic market in buying up the few, small ethnic media organizations we have. The loosening of these rules would add to the pressure companies like mine have in staying independent and family-owned. This disparity in ownership works in the ongoing exclusion of people of color in society. Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference of Civil Rights said, ‘This should be a national embarrassment, and the fact that some of the recent FCC have been more interested in giving more power to those who have already have too much -- rather than addressing decades of discrimination and ensuring that the little guy would get a chance -- should be a national scandal.’

We strongly encourage the FCC Commissioners to consider the negative downward pressure from media consolidation on ethnic and independent media. One of my favorite idols, Michael Malcolm X, said: ‘The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent.’

And that is power because they control the minds of the masses. It is the independent media -- mainstream and alternative -- that are needed to comfort the afflicted and inflict the comfortable. This is the crucial and precious duty of the fourth estate, and its freedom from consolidation for profit needs to be protected. I am very short in my statements. Thank you for your time.

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