How an FCC proposal could hurt Latinos

There are few things that Latinos consume more than broadcast news. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 86 percent of Latino adults say that on a typical weekday they get their news from television, and nearly 70 percent say they rely on Spanish language news media. Broadcast news continues to be an integral and positive part of Hispanic families’ daily media diet in this country.

At the Hispanic Institute, we are troubled by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to eliminate long-standing broadcast exclusivity rules – rules that protect TV broadcasters so that they are compensated fairly for the redistribution of their content by cable providers. These regulations also allow the FCC to review complaints by broadcasters that cable companies have violated the terms of these agreements. While the Hispanic Institute supports free enterprise, we also advocate for a fair, competitive marketplace and regulations that help our families – not harm them. Unfortunately, Chairman Wheeler’s proposal falls into the latter category.

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Local broadcast television provides vital information to the Hispanic community, and we believe that the FCC should continue to implement rules that ensure local broadcasters fair compensation for their work. This content, such as the local news broadcasts we watch every day, is a vital source of information for Latinos. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, about eight-in-ten Latino adults say they keep up with the news “a lot.” From severe weather warnings, public school and safety information, and opportunities for community integration and engagement for our immigrant communities, local newscasts bring what is happening outside, inside our living rooms every night.

The consequences of the Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to eliminate broadcast exclusivity rules would have negative consequences for Latinos. If the FCC were to change the rules in favor of the cable industry, many broadcasters would lose enough revenue to see their stations close around the country. What would this mean? Besides major job losses, this means that the almost 60 million Americans – 41 percent of whom are minorities – who depend on free, broadcast television, would lose access to many local TV stations, including their treasured local news. 51 percent of Latino households who prefer to speak Spanish at home also solely rely on free broadcasting, according to a survey by GfK Media. Importantly, Latinos who rely on Spanish-language broadcast television already have few options when they want to get their news in Spanish. Eliminating these rules could cause more Spanish-focused stations around the country to close, leading to even fewer options for a community with comparatively fewer options already.

How is denying vital information to the public honoring the FCC’s commitment to empowering broadcasters to serve their local communities?

Latino consumers, like all American consumers, who are fortunate enough to afford cable service would also stand to lose if the FCC were to scrap exclusivity rules. Instead of paying local broadcasters fairly for their content, cable companies could choose to not add local networks to their cable packages, and instead replace them with signals from cities that are hundreds of miles away.

How would the 4.9 million Latinos living in Los Angeles County -- 48.4 percent of the county’s total population-- benefit from knowing what happened today in Inyo County, which has a total of 3,841 Latinos? How much of the nightly newscasts would be dedicated to important issues for our communities? By hurting local broadcasters, cable companies would be directly harming our community. 

The Hispanic community takes news seriously. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 80 percent of Hispanics who consume news media in Spanish or both languages say the Spanish language news media does an “excellent” or “good” job covering news specifically relevant to Latinos in the U.S. For our community, local news is not only valued but indispensable to understand what is going on in our local communities.

We hope the FCC understands the negative consequences Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to eliminate long-standing broadcast exclusivity rules would have on Latino and low-income families around the country who depend on local broadcast television, and honors its own mission to “revise media regulations so that new technologies flourish alongside diversity and localism.” The Latino community is counting on it.

West serves as board chair and president of The Hispanic Institute.

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