Sale of 1st & Only Black-Owned Public TV Station a Wake-Up Call on Media Diversity

By Wade Henderson/ The Root | 6/15/2016, 10:30 a.m.

The possible loss of Howard University’s PBS affiliate could be a tipping point toward the extinction of black-owned broadcast media, but the Federal Communications Commission has no sense of urgency to fix the problem.

That’s not hyperbole. For years, the FCC has watched female and minority ownership of broadcast stations dwindle without much concern for the real-world implications of having our broadcast airwaves run almost exclusively by white men.

After ignoring 12 years of court orders to address this problem, the FCC has started an auction, allowing Howard University to sell off the very valuable broadcast airwaves of WHUT, our nation’s first and only black-owned public TV station.

That superlative has wrongly placed the responsibility for the very survival of broadcast media diversity on Howard University. That’s a burden for the FCC to bear, not Howard. But that hasn’t stopped critics from unfairly criticizing the university for selling the spectrum, which will likely go on to be used by wireless phone companies, earning hundreds of millions of dollars for the school and its students.

Last month a federal court Howard_t750x550even took the step of appointing a mediator to ensure that the FCC finally does something of substance to fix the diversity ownership problem. But after years of neglecting ownership diversity, the FCC has a long road ahead of it.

The FCC’s inaction comes at a significant cost for the black community’s prospects to include its perspectives and stories in the media. Out of 1,784 commercial broadcast television stations in this country, only seven are owned by African Americans. These rates are not much better for women or other people of color.

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