By: Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John F. Kerry
The bedrock of America's greatest advances the foundation of what we
know today are defining values was formed not by cheering on things
as they were, but by taking them on and demanding change.
The thoughtful exchange of diverse viewpoints not only helps guarantee
our freedom as individuals, it ensures those in power can be held
accountable for all that they do.
But to engage in the debates that have always made America stronger,
it takes a stage and a platform for discussion and never before have
these platforms been more endangered.
In recent years, we have witnessed unprecedented consolidation in our
traditional media outlets. Large mergers and corporate deals have
reduced the number of voices and viewpoints in the media marketplace.
At the same time, massive technological change and an explosion of
Internet access have opened new avenues for information and new
methods of discourse. One thing we can be sure of: Change is upon us.
As we look toward the future, we must ensure that all voices in our
diverse nation have the opportunity to be heard. One important way to
do this is to expand the ownership stake of women-owned,
minority-owned and small businesses in our media outlets.
History provides plenty of proof.
Minority-owned radio stations, television stations and newspapers
played an essential role in battling segregation during the civil
When Hurricane Katrina struck, minority-owned media outlets helped
expose the true depth of poverty and inequality that others were
content to ignore.
Even today, while much of the media establishment has moved on,
minority-owned media outlets continue to highlight these issues as the
victims of that storm continue to struggle two years later.
Just recently, African-American radio stations together with
coverage on the Internet helped propel the injustice in Jena, La.,
into the national spotlight.
Providing opportunities for minority-owned businesses to own media
outlets is fundamental to creating the diverse media environment that
federal law requires and the country deserves and demands.
The Federal Communications Commission is the agency charged with
governing the media. The FCC has an obligation to promote the public
interest, including diversity in media ownership.
Unfortunately, the FCC has failed to adequately assess the state of
minority-owned media or develop constructive ways to encourage
underrepresented entities to become larger players in the media
Now we understand the FCC may soon consider changes in the media
ownership rules that only help big media get bigger, but do nothing to
make media more responsive to minority viewpoints and local
The FCC tried this once before, in 2003. At that time, the nation's
top broadcasters met behind closed doors with FCC officials more than
70 times. But the public was not invited. After the proposed rules
were announced, a major public backlash ensued.
It has taken the FCC still smarting from that public reaction four
years to try again. This time, any changes to the media ownership
rules must encourage new entrants into the market and prioritize the
entry of small, women- and minority-owned businesses.
Last year, we urged FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to address the issue of
diversity in media ownership.
Several other leaders in Congress including Sen. Robert Menendez of
New Jersey, Rep. Hilda L. Solis of California and Rep. John Conyers
Jr. of Michigan have also pressed the FCC to stop allowing greater
corporate consolidation and start promoting media diversity. But our
questions went unanswered, and our concerns continue to grow.
If the FCC chairman chooses to reopen media ownership rules, he must
take into consideration the needs of local or minority communities.
If this is done improperly, more radio stations, television stations
and newspapers will fall into the hands of fewer owners and those
owners are less likely to include minority firms. It means that fewer
minority- and independently owned stations and newspapers will be able
to contribute to the national dialogue.
Today the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is
scheduled to hold a hearing on these issues, and we ask our colleagues
to take this opportunity to have an open and honest debate on this
For too long now, the FCC has been putting corporate interests ahead
of the people's interests. It's time for that to change.
We need to not only create the opportunity for minority-owned
businesses to participate in the market, but also to help those who
enter this business succeed. We will keep fighting until we have a
free and open media that represents every American in our diverse