Diversity and Inclusion Must Remain at the Forefront for Media Ownership and Mergers

by Joycelyn James on August 9, 2011

Diversity and inclusion are among our nation’s founding principles. Though we understand that these principles weren’t perfectly applied while forming this “more perfect union,” it is clear that diversity and inclusion enhance the American experience. There is no greater place where this is evident than in media and telecommunications, an industry that is responsible not only for one-sixth of our economy, but for shaping opinions and provoking thought.

Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, lifetime civil rights activist and founder of the Rainbow PUSH coalition, spoke to this during a luncheon at MMTC’s Access to Capital Conference last month. Rev. Jackson remarked that the media is not pure, nor is it above politics, and diversity of media ownership can be a casualty of such factors. He noted that the Third Circuit’s recent decision in Prometheus v. FCC, ordering the FCC to revise its diversity initiatives and particularly its definition of eligible entities, provides the Commission with another opportunity to advance diversity of media ownership. Specifically, the court asserted that “ownership diversity is an important aspect of the overall media ownership regulatory framework.”

Jackson also highlighted the recent scandal involving News Corporation as an example of why diversity of voices should remain an important goal of the Federal Communications Commission, stating, “When too few own too much and have too much power, it must be checked and balanced.”

While media consolidation remains a major concern regarding its impact on diverse ownership, there are also valid opportunities to use mergers to promote diversity. As Joseph Waz, Comcast’s recently retired Senior Vice President of External Affairs and Public Policy Counsel, explained in his keynote address during the luncheon, companies should adopt a forward-looking approach to address diversity issues in mergers. Waz noted that in 2050, America will have a majority minority population, and corporations must anticipate these changes to be successful in the future. “Every media, broadband, and tech company should conclude that diversity is in their self-interest,” he stated. To that end, Waz noted that corporations must focus on using minority businesses in advertising and to improve minority content.

The merger of Comcast and NBC Universal is a good example of how diversity should be a component of all media and telecom mergers. As Waz stated, both companies demonstrated a commitment to serving minority communities through programming prior to the merger. Comcast was instrumental in the development of TV One, a cable station providing content targeted to African American viewers, and NBC Universal, serving Hispanic audiences through Spanish-language programming on Telemundo.

Mergers in the media and telecom industry must serve the public interest, and particularly the interests of diversity and opportunity. One of the greatest achievements of the Comcast/NBC Universal merger was the creation of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, providing low-cost Internet service and computers for homes with children in the National School Lunch Program. This is a great opportunity for families with limited means to access broadband in the home, expanding the ability to obtain information on employment, healthcare, economic, and social empowerment. Comcast also recently partnered with DreamIt Ventures to create a $20 million Minority Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (“MEAP”). MEAP will provide seed funding, training, mentoring, and other benefits to five minority-led startups this year.

As stated by former FCC Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate, who presided over the luncheon, the public and private sector must look for ways to address common goals of cultivating healthy, positive media and diversity of voices; providing broadband access for all; and preserving universal service as a method to ensure opportunity to be connected to broadband. We must encourage diversity of ownership today, through incubator, accelerator, and mentorship opportunities provided by media corporations and their executives. We also need to help shape the minority media entrepreneurs of the future by providing opportunities to access and a wise use of technology at home. This will ensure diversity and inclusion for the next generation of multicultural media entrepreneurs.

  • Joycelyn F. James

    Joycelyn F. James, Esq. is a graduate of the Institute for Communications Law Studies at the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. She currently serves as the Cathy Hughes Fellow for the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, where she works on matters that focus on the advancement of minority and women’s entrepreneurship in the nation’s media and telecommunications industries.

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  • John_Q_Public

    This makes a lot of sense. These are vital issues that are often overlooked by large companies as they try to maximize profits. But companies like Comcast have proven that growth and diversity are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, if done right, they can be complementary. Hopefully more companies in the U.S. will follow Comcast’s lead on these issues and heed the wise words of Rev. Jackson.

  • S.W.

    Rev. Jackson is a smart man…. ownership diversity IS critical to a successful regulatory framework around media issues. Thanks for sharing some of his thoughts with us!

  • TropicalFever

    Interesting comments by JJ on the News Corp. and its criminal behavior. I don’t know that the size of the company had anything to do with it, but certainly arrogance did.

    And big and powerful and arrogant, that’s not a healthy combination.

  • Featherweight

    Waz is right — diversity is in their self-interest.

    We’ve seen that play out time and time again.

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