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Clyburn: How Media Policy Can Enhance Opportunities for Women

At conference, FCC commissioner said changes are necessary to improve women and minority media ownership and visibility

During a speech at the California Women’s Conference in Long Beach, Calif., Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that, even with discussions about the power of media and the need for diverse voices across the media landscape, there’s still a surprising lack of diversity, particularly when it comes to women.

When it comes to those faces we see in front of the camera, those working behind-the-scenes and those owning major media companies, “men dominate every single media platform, from television and film, to radio, newspapers and online sources,” she said. Mignon pointed out some media ownership statistics from the FCC’s recent media ownership report as well as the Women’s Media Center:

  • Of the 11,919 broadcast stations in this country, women own 8.6%
  • At the 20 top news outlets, men produced 62.3% of news reports
  • At those same top 20 outlets, women received 38% of byline and other credits in print, internet, television and wire news
  • Of the top 100 rated radio talk shows, 13 are hosted by women
  • Of the 250 top grossing domestic films last year, the combined percent of female directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers totaled 17%, the same percentage as it was nearly 20 years ago

“The presence, or absence, of women in media truly matters, because credible studies show, that women are more likely to hire women, and create programming that relates to women,” Clyburn said.

As an example, those entertainment shows that have at least one female executive producer have in turn more female characters. “If we want our media landscape to reflect this nation’s rich diversity, it only makes sense, that women must have equal opportunities to be in decision-making roles,” she said.

Women continue to face many challenges when it comes to entering the media industry, she said. After passage of the 1996 Telecom Act. In doing so, many ownership restrictions were eliminated, including those that had previously been in place to prevent a single company from owning broadcast stations in multiple markets.

Deregulation and other actions have led to increased media consolidation and fewer opportunities, she said. As a result, she said, “women and minority media ownership remain at shockingly low levels.”

One of the greatest barriers facing women and minorities looking to enter the broadcast business is access to capital. Launching a single new radio station can cost around $10 million; the average sales price of a television station sold in 2016 was $20.5 million.

Nonetheless, she said, there are concrete actions the FCC can take to promote a more diverse media landscape. An action plan known as #Solutions2020 is designed to enhance digital inclusion and encourage more opportunities for women and underrepresented entrepreneurs, she said. This solution includes reinstatement of the FCC’s tax certificate program that could allow a seller of a broadcast property to defer the payment of federal income taxes under certain conditions. The goal is to open opportunities to a larger number of diverse entrepreneurs, she said.

Other challenges come from the prowess needed to navigate the federal government’s processes. Clyburn quoted a recent survey that found that nearly 60% of 1,800 small business owners identified some level of difficulty in understanding and managing government regulations and laws. She called on expanding the role of the FCC’s Office of Communications Business Opportunities so that it can serve as the agency’s Small Business Ombudsman.

She also called on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to work closer with industry and Congressional leaders to establish a series of best practices to encourage tech companies to increase the hiring of women.

“The role [the FCC plays] as defenders of the public interest is vital to a vibrant democracy,” she said.