African-Americans need more decision making power and a greater footprint in media ownership, some have argued. One Chicago-area Congressman sat down recently with Politic365 to provide his thoughts on the issue.
Common knowledge is that media ownership is the key to telling African-American stories in ways that are culturally-relevant and inspiring. In today’s media climate, ownership is more important than ever at a corporate level where a few companies own several major television, print, online, and radio properties.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) expressed to Politic365 his issue with a perceived lack of initiative in the African-American community of seeking and building on the opportunities we have been afforded.
“It bothers me that we don’t have the activist spirit that permeates our community as it used to. Whether it’s media ownership or homeownership, we have to rise,” said Rep. Rush in an exclusive interview with Politic365.
“We have to fight again for what is rightfully ours,” he added.
For the constituents in his district on Chicago’s south side, as it stands, they have little to no voice in the programming decisions about much of the media they consume. The results are wide-ranging and subjective, from negative images on reality television, to offensive music videos, to a lack of African-American decision makers at top media conglomerates.
On the other hand, one of the largest African-American owned media companies is near Rush’s district that covers parts of Chicago’s south side.
Harpo Entertainment Group, owned by media mogul Oprah Winfrey, is located just outside of the downtown area of the city. The company is the vehicle that distributes Winfrey’s ventures in every form of media possible, including television, print, radio, films, and web properties. Her achievements offer hope of the opportunities that await the African-American community seeking to own their voice in the media.
Despite her planned exit from daytime talk in 2011, she announced the creation of The Oprah Winfrey Network, ironically nicknamed O.W.N., that is set to launch on January 1, 2011. Harpo Productions and Discovery Communications, Inc. each have a 50 percent stake in the network.
Still, there is work to be done to bring parity to media ownership as it stands for much of the other television programming.
According to a letter that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) sent to the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year, all major networks and 90 percent of the top 50 cable networks are owned by five companies. These same five companies control much of the prime time television market and its production forces. Waters’s letter expressed specific concern about the planned merger between Comcast and NBC/Universal.
To ensure that minorities benefit from the planned merger, Congressman Rush, Chairman of the Congressional Consumer Trade and Protection Committee, was instrumental in aqcuiring Comcast’s written pledge that it would establish a $20 million venture capital fund for minority entrepreneurs interested in developing new media content and applications when the deal closes.