We are witnessing the very serious decline of black radio, in general, and black-owned radio, in particular. This is happening at a time when blacks can ill afford to be without a voice in the marketplace of ideas. With the hateful indifference to blacks that dominates so much of what is considered mainstream media, blacks must have access to social, political, esthetic and cultural expressions that are born of the black experience.
It is important to take into account the factors that have made black radio so vulnerable.
Two major contributing factors are the 1990 Bill Clinton telecommunications Act and the bias inherent in the radio ratings system, whose incorrect information has consistently deprived black radio of a fair share of advertising revenue, leading to the financial demise of a number of black-owned radio stations throughout the nation.
It is at the Federal Communications Commission, however, where these destructive factors find their greatest support. One of the reasons why these and other unfair business practices persist is that the mega corporations, when taking advantage of black stations that find themselves forced into irreversible decline, are assured that the FCC will grant them the stations’ broadcast licenses, in spite of what often appears to be unethical and perhaps even illegal behavior.
The mega media corporations, in their rampage to consolidate and dominate all media markets, have been able to strip the FCC of all rules and guidelines, making it impossible for members of the general public and independent station owners to have legal standing when appealing to the FCC to protect the air waves from mega corporate takeovers.
Recently, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, standing on her own, blocked the commission from sneaking through additional rules changes that would have allowed further media ownership by Rupert Murdoch without giving the public ample time to review and comment. We applaud Commissioner Clyburn’s integrity.
It is Congress however, that has oversight of the FCC and it is Congress that must restructure the commission. Since it is the black community that has so much at stake, on Dec. 6, 2012, in our capacity as representatives of a putative class of African-American citizens, I, along with Betty Dobson, Michael North and New York City Councilman Charles Barron, appealed to the Congressional Black Caucus to place the FCC on the congressional agenda for 2013.
We went directly to the then chair of the caucus, Emanuel Cleaver, with an open letter to the CBC office in Washington, D.C., and, as instructed by his chief of staff, an email of the same letter was sent to his district office in Kansas City. Our efforts to engage the CBC were dismissed.
We also emailed the letter to the New York congressional delegation – Charles Rangel, Yvette Clark and Gregory Meeks – all of whom ignored us. The letter was hand delivered to Congresswoman Barbra Jackson Lee, of Houston Texas.
To date the CBC has ignored this request coming from respected members of the black community.
On the occasion of Martin Luther King’s birth anniversary, Marcia L. Fudge, the new chairwoman of the CBC, announced that, in the spirit of Dr. King, the caucus must commit itself to the fight for the rights of all people.
This interpretation of Martin King comes at a very strange time, when you consider that blacks have the highest unemployment rate of all ethnic groups, the highest debt, the lowest median family income, the most dysfunctional schools, the highest incarceration rate, street violence that is of epidemic proportions, prompting a growing number of African Americans to even urge the president to address the needs of blacks head-on.
At this time, when their own constituents need them the most, the CBC ignores a direct appeal from blacks and, according to Chairwoman Fudge, chooses instead to chase the broad, ambiguous notion of securing everyone’s “version” of the American dream, as though the needs and concerns of blacks do not qualify as a legitimate version of the American dream.
Were it not for the courage and commitment of Rep. Maxine Waters, the CBC would have no relevance at all. Nonetheless, the CBC overall raises significant questions for African Americans. At this point, can we really afford leadership, both elected and appointed, that is so bereft of the skills and vision needed to move black people forward?
It was Frantz Fanon, in his classic study, The Wretched Of The Earth, who pointed out that a deserving people, a people conscious of its dignity, is a people that understands and insists that the government and the political parties are to serve the interests of the people.
Fanon said that, ultimately, a government or a party gets the people it deserves and, sooner or later, a people gets the government/leadership they deserve.
The overall condition of black Americans remains bleak as long as we tolerate totally inadequate leadership. It is time to replace those leaders and elected officials who offer no vision or strategy to actually move blacks forward. As long as we leave these politicians in place, we may be getting what we deserve.
Bob Law is a filmmaker, political organizer, youth advocate, entrepreneur and motivational speaker who hosts Night Talk on the American Urban Radio Network. He is chairman of the board of the Black Spectrum Theatre in Queens, New York.