The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Studies: Media Consolidation Sidelines Women and People of Color

by Catherine Komp

Oct. 26, 2006 – As the Federal Communications Commission considers revising media ownership rules, public-interest groups are ramping up efforts to show the negative impact of media consolidation on local news and information programming.

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Groups have submitted hundreds of pages of comments and numerous studies to the FCC in recent weeks urging the commission to prevent further consolidation of big media companies and to encourage a diversity of viewpoints and voices in the media.

The FCC sets regulations on how many media outlets in a single market companies can own. Groups fear a second wave of consolidation will exacerbate the impact of changes to the Telecommunications Act passed by Congress in 1996. Those reforms relaxed radio ownership rules, which critics say led to homogenization of content and voices.

Some of the recently released studies focus on how media consolidation has marginalized women and people of color, both as media makers and as news consumers.

According to Carolyn Byerly, professor of journalism at Howard University in Washington, DC, the under-representation of certain demographic groups in the media is connected to larger issues of inequality and racism.

"The patterns are structural," Byerly told The NewStandard. "They’re enforced by public laws and policies that give some people greater authority and greater prominence and greater access [to media] than other people."

"The patterns are structural," Byerly said. "They’re enforced by public laws and policies that give some people greater authority and greater prominence and greater access [to media] than other people."

Byerly co-authored two studies released this week by the Benton Foundation, which focuses on media issues, and the Social Science Research Council, a public-interest research organization. Based on random interviews with about 200 people of color in three Washington, DC-area neighborhoods, the study aimed to collect patterns of news consumption and examine whether news had an impact on community involvement.

Though nearly half of respondents said they preferred using the major TV networks as their source for local news and information, 40 percent said the news they consume does not help them understand the most serious problems in their communities. The needs they identified included "lack of income," cost of living and the need for education and training.

For the 18 percent who relied on radio as their news source, the study found that respondents preferred three stations owned and operated by people of color.

Though the study did not directly analyze news content, it found there was a "general perception" that people of color were depicted more negatively than whites and that problems in communities of color, including poverty, healthcare and illiteracy, were neglected in favor of crime stories.

Byerly’s study, and a separate study by the media-reform group Free Press, also tried to analyze FCC data on the race, ethnicity and gender of broadcast station owners.

In Byerly’s research, which analyzed 2004-2005 data for 12,844 commercial radio and TV stations, she found that women owned only 3.4 percent of stations and people of color owned only 3.6 percent. In Free Press’s similar analysis for the FCC’s 2005-2006 data for TV stations only, it found that about 5 percent of stations were female-owned and just over 3 percent were owned by people of color.

For the 18 percent who relied on radio as their news source, the study found that respondents preferred three stations owned and operated by people of color.

But researchers say that flaws in the FCC data-gathering process make it difficult to paint an accurate picture of media ownership and that the media may be more diverse than indicated. They point out that the FCC data did not count Radio One, the largest female and minority-owned commercial broadcasting company. And the FCC data does not include gender and demographic information for non-commercial stations, the researchers said.

Byerly, Free Press and other media and civil rights advocates see a direct correlation between media ownership and a diversity of perspectives and information in the media. Groups say that a lack of diversity inside media organizations, from news reporters to editors to camera people, often leads to misrepresentation and bias.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) has tracked coverage of Latinos in national network news over the last 11 years. According to the "2006 Network Brownout Report," out of an estimated 12,600 stories on ABC, CBS and NBC, only 105 stories – less than one percent – were exclusively about Latinos or Latino-related issues. Of these stories, only five featured Latino reporters.

Researchers did find some improvements from previous years, including an increase in the length of segments about Latinos. At the same time, they also found a sharp increase on crime coverage involving Latinos, jumping from 7.8 percent of stories in 2004 to 18.1 percent in 2005. The report also concluded that in one third of stories about Latinos, not one single person was interviewed. Another 28 percent of stories only included one viewpoint on an issue.

Researchers found a sharp increase on crime coverage involving Latinos, jumping from 7.8 percent of stories in 2004 to 18.1 percent in 2005.

NAHJ also reports that, for the second year in a row, Latinos appeared as sources less than 2 percent of the time in nightly news stories not involving the Latino community.

Marta Garcia, founder and co-chair of National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC), a group of Hispanic-American organizations focused on media coverage of Latino communities, said that although there have been incremental improvements in diversity, the media today still does not reflect the "booming Latino population throughout the United States."

"There’s a difference when there is a culture in the newsrooms and in media that excludes Latinos as decision makers [and] as talent," Garcia told TNS. "It does have to do with what the public is [hearing] and the images that the public is seeing on the airwaves and on the little screens vis à vis Latinos. [Historically] it has been a very negative image portrayed."

NHMC co-sponsored a public meeting on media ownership last week at Hunter College in New York City. Garcia said more than 400 people showed up to express concerns to Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the two Democratic FCC commissioners who are staunchly opposed to relaxing media ownership rules. The FCC itself has held one out of six official public hearings so far, which took place earlier this month in Los Angeles.

Media-diversity advocates have criticized NBC Universal’s plans, announced earlier this month, for 700 layoffs and cutbacks in news programming including at Telemundo, the second largest Spanish-language TV network in the United States, which NBC swallowed up in 2001.

When NBC was applying to the FCC for approval of the merger with Telemundo, the network stated the move would "improve the quality of their programming and level of service to the Spanish-speaking Latino community."

Opponents of further relaxation of media ownership rules say media diversity is key in shaping more equitable policies affecting people of color, women and other underrepresented groups.

"We absolutely can’t leave the media out as a major social institution that frames issues, that helps people speak publicly in what we think of as the civic discourse or the public discourse," said Byerly, Howard University professor. "As long as we have a small, elite group of mostly male and almost exclusively white men owning these industries, I think that it’s going to be very hard for women and minorities to have their fair share of the public discourse and to shape any kind of civil society."

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


Catherine Komp is a contributing journalist.

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