Ownership of local broadcast media should reflect the diversity of American communities
In today’s 24-hour news cycle, Americans can feel overwhelmed by the amount of information at their disposal, and filtering through seemingly limitless content can be more tedious than informative. For more than a century, local broadcasters have played an important role in delivering reliable, important and often urgent information tailored to the regions they serve. To ensure that our local broadcasters can thrive in today’s dynamic media environment, we must create proactive policies that will inspire future generations from all walks of life to join the industry and continue to provide local and relevant information to people. communities they serve.
As the former owner of a radio station in rural Oregon, I’m well aware that our local broadcasters are often Americans’ primary source of local news, especially in rural areas. They are especially vital during public health and safety crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing wildfires in the West. I also understand the importance of ensuring that broadcast owners and their content reflect the communities they serve, and I applaud broadcasters’ efforts to ensure diversity in their ownership, the perspectives they present and of their employees.
The challenges facing the broadcast media industry have increased as today’s media market continues to evolve. While cable news and social media promote catchy headlines and conflict to generate clicks and ratings, local radio and TV broadcasters often find local stories compelling and authentic that may not be ‘topical’ for the national market, but these stories matter deeply to the communities they serve. Americans trust local news more than national news, and for good reason. Six in 10 Americans believe local news agencies are successful in informing communities, and local journalists are seen as more caring, trustworthy, and neutral or impartial, according to a study last year by the Knight Foundation and Gallup. It also doesn’t help that social media giants seem to act more like biased publishers than neutral public places. Local audiovisual media are more important than ever.
While the obstacles facing local broadcasters today have changed since I have been in the business, government rules for the industry have not changed. In fact, the ownership rules for broadcasters have remained the same for over two decades, putting local broadcasters at a disadvantage and preventing the growth of the industry as a whole. In an industry that already struggles to compete with unregulated digital competitors, the opportunities are even more remote for minorities who must overcome additional hurdles, including difficulty accessing capital or managing their first broadcast property. To ensure that every American has the opportunity to be served content that is relevant to all identities, Congress must act to bring our media ownership laws into the 21st century, create policies to entice new entrants on. market and help make the voices of under-represented people heard by promoting diversity where it matters most: ownership.
That’s why, earlier this year, I introduced the Broadcast Diversity in Leadership Act. This bill aims to remove well understood barriers and support new and diverse voices to join the local broadcasting industry by creating a broadcast incubator program. Through the program, an established broadcaster and an aspiring broadcaster could form an incubation relationship, which would provide mentorship and access to capital, as well as setting common goals to ensure success. I am proud to have worked with and gained the support of stakeholders who have championed such a program for nearly three decades: the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters; the Multicultural Media, Telecommunications and Internet Council; and the National Association of Broadcasters. While there is certainly more work to be done, this program would be an important step in the right direction to promote a wide range of voices in the broadcast media industry. This is an opportunity not to be missed, and we cannot let partisan politics and philosophical purity stand in the way of real, common sense progress that would allow more minorities to own broadcast stations that provide Americans with access. to fair, relevant and diverse content. they deserve.
Now more than ever, we must work together to create equal opportunity for Americans of all backgrounds. We can start by working with all stakeholders on appropriate measures to preserve the integrity of an incubator program designed to remove these barriers and level the playing field. Congress should stop talking and start acting. sending this bill to the president’s office this year.
Walden represents Oregon’s 2nd District and is a distinguished member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.