The seminal Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ (UCC) recently held its 30th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Breakfast , honoring two luminaries in the communications industry for their notable achievements.
The Lecture and Awards breakfast commemorates the life of Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker. Parker, who will turn 100 years old in January 2013, is a legendary media activist who helped compel the Federal Communications Commission to overturn the license of WLBT-TV, a television station in Jackson, Mississippi, that aired racist broadcasts, in the 1960s. Parker is credited with “establishing the right of the public to participate in proceedings before the Federal Communications Commission and other regulatory agencies,” state UCC materials.
S. Jenell Trigg, a former broadcasting industry executive and chair of the Intellectual Property and New Media and Technology Practice Group of the law firm Lerman Senter PLLC, received the Donald H. McGannon Award for her tireless commitment to advancing the plight of minorities and women in the telecommunications space, according to the UCC.
Trigg shared a brief but compelling story about her grandmother, a resident of a farm in Halifax County, Virginia, with a sixth grade education, who initiated and won a lawsuit against the County for refusing to provide school busing service to Trigg’s mother and other African American children in their neighborhood. Trigg’s grandmother was represented by the esteemed (but then young) civil rights attorney Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first African American Supreme Court Justice.
Charles Benton, chairman of the Benton Foundation, was honored with the Everett C. Parker Award “for his many years of leadership and support for promoting the public interest in traditional and digital media,” according to the UCC. The Benton Foundation is a private foundation that works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance democracy, “reflecting the perspective of the low income consumer” according to Benton,
“Everett Parker is a role model for us all,” said Benton. Along with Parker, Benton lauded others, such as former FCC Commissioners Kenneth Cox and Nicholas Johnson, veteran communications attorney and MMTC Vice-Chair Erwin Krasnow, and others who worked alongside Parker for their roles in challenging race discrimination on the public airwaves and protecting a public interest standard in the media.
Jackson addresses minority media ownership, broadband adoption, and prison pay phone inequities
The Rev. Jesse L. Jackson delivered the Parker lecture and discussed Everett Parker’s life; the intersection of the civil rights movement and media reform in the United States; the current state of equality and justice in the media industry; and the need to revisit successful FCC policies like the distress sales and tax certificates that helped improve the state of minority ownership until they were repealed in the mid-1990s.
“Too few own too much; too many own nothing,” said Jackson.
Rev. Jackson also used the opportunity to encourage the FCC to look into a 10 year old petition that seeks to change what he called the “predatory” and “corrupt” prison pay phone system, an issue that has been taken up by the UCC Office of Communications.
Jackson said there are two million citizens behind prison walls, a disproportionate number of whom are young minorities, forcing the families who can least afford it “to have to choose between putting food on their tables or accepting a call from an incarcerated family member.” Because of prison pay phone calls that are in the range of $3.00 per minute, Jackson said families face phone charges in the nature of $300 a month to try to maintain contact with their loved ones. Jackson would like to organize a march on the FCC to address the inequities in the prison pay phone system.
The civil rights activist praised the advances in smartphone adoption by people of color, but cautioned that it is not a substitute for having broadband at home, noting the number of children who only use smartphones to play “Angry Birds” but cannot use smartphones to do their homework. Jackson closed his address with a word of caution to the audience composed primarily of media and telecommunications industry leaders, stating, “If too few know so much and share so little, we have defeated ourselves.”
Federal Communications Commissioners Mignon L. Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, former FCC Commissioners Gloria Tristani and Michael Copps, and many other leaders in the telecommunications industry, attended the event.