FCC Group Takes Charge Seriously

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A new Federal Communications Commission committee began examining ways to increase diversity in the media and telecommunications industries last Monday.

FCC chairman Michael Powell — a Republican who is the agency's second African-American chairman in 69 years — told the 25 gathered members of the new Federal Advisory Committee on Diversity in the Digital Age that they were stepping into "a working post, not a ceremonial post."

Julia Johnson, president of NetCommunications and the chair of the committee, observed that 30% of the nation's population are members of ethnic minority groups, but members of those groups make up only 4% of radio station owners and only 1.9% of television station owners.

"It's not philanthropic, it's not socialistic," Johnson said. "It's about having a competitive edge and it's about opportunities."

Commissioner Michael J. Copps, a Democrat, said the media and telecommunications industry, like much of American society, has "come a long way in the past 40 years, but it's awe-inspiring to think how far we have to go."

"We need diversity of ownership and diversity of control," Copps said. "How you do that in an era of media consolidation, I don't know."

At Monday's meeting, Mitsy Wilson, senior vice president of News Corp. unit Fox Entertainment Group, outlined her company's extensive diversity initiatives.

Wilson said her staff of eight "agents of change" have helped establish minority-recruitment programs, reach out to traditionally African-American colleges and Native American tribal colleges and expand the company's purchasing from minority vendors.

She also said News Corp. aims to define diversity broadly, including the disabled, women, foreign-born, and economically disadvantaged in addition to African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans.

Charles F. Abernathy, a Georgetown University law professor, outlined recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions on affirmative action and how they will affect future government efforts to increase diversity.

Abernathy said the court has ruled that educational institutions have a unique mission in society, which justifies extensive efforts to increase diversity in a student body — and that he thinks it "extremely unlikely" the court would rule the same way on similar programs in private companies or other institutions.

Decker Anstrom, president and COO of The Weather Channel parent Landmark Communications Inc., said the committee's mission "isn't about social justice, it's about good business … I think sometimes we take for granted that diversity is a business judgment."

ABC Television Network president Alex Wallau said TV programmers are going to face unique challenges in opening up opportunities to minority groups.

"I have a sense that we have a lot more challenges ahead of us," Wallau said. "There's nothing as challenging as a scripted television series. The bar is high, and about 85% of shows don't come back for a second season, so the failure rate is high as well. Then you say, 'And we need diversity.' It's a process we are just starting to make inroads on."

The committee will break down into four subcommittees of about a dozen members, each focusing on a different area: new technologies, financial issues, transactional transparency, and career advancement.

The diversity committee's Web site is http://www.fcc.gov/DiversityFAC/.

States News Service

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