50 years after Kerner report, the lack of media diversity still hurts our democracy

50 years after Kerner report, the lack of media diversity still hurts our democracy
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From Stormy Daniels to the latest indictment by Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE, the national news is fixated on scandals about which, polls show, most Americans don’t care. The American people are more concerned with news that impacts their daily lives: the economy, health care, immigration and racial and social inequalities.  

Why the disconnect? Although it’s understandable that the news media will cover a scandal, media outlets should be equally responsible for covering stories that reflect what Americans claim to care about most. We think there is something bigger at play — and that is, the lack of media diversity. A small group of powerful individuals determines the content of the news. This is why our organization, the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association, is asking Congress to pass a resolution that reaffirms its commitment to media diversity.

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Legend says at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman confronted Benjamin Franklin, asking, “Mr. Franklin, what is it that you have come up with?” He supposedly replied, “A republic, if we can keep it.”

 

What does this have to do with media diversity? Mainstream media remain the most influential source of news and entertainment for most Americans and have unparalleled power to mediate how people view and engage each other. The 1968 report by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, known as the Kerner Commission, highlighted media’s role in exacerbating social discord and strongly recommended increased diversity. Fortunately, the report sparked widespread efforts over the next 20 years to increase media diversity, including  establishing organizations to represent women and minority journalists and enacting tax incentives to increase local, independent and ethnic media outlets.

In 2018, social discord arguably divides the country as much as it did in 1968. From hostility between law enforcement and communities of color, to tension between the working class and social elites, to growing hostility toward immigrant groups, to distrust of the media by rural and other marginalized communities — our country is divided. At the same time, though progress was made, media diversity remains elusive.

Some have argued that online media and the hiring of a few multicultural newscasters  adequately address the media diversity problem. This is, at best, a red herring. First, people of color comprise over 40 percent of the U.S. population but have virtually no ownership or control of major traditional or online media entities. Second, the few existing small independent and multicultural media entities struggle to attract advertising or subscriber revenue needed to survive. Third, mainstream media continue to limit coverage and offer a distorted representation of the lives of individuals from marginalized ethnic groups and poorer white communities.

During the 3rd annual Multicultural Media Correspondents Dinner, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report by urging Congress to adopt a resolution that reaffirms its commitment to media diversity. The resolution should encourage consensus-based solutions and establish a National Media Diversity Month to promote awareness and support.

Why should the adoption of such a resolution matter to you? At the heart of this great experiment we call the United States of America are the inalienable rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Active citizenship serves as the glue that melds individuals of different races and cultures together into a functioning democracy: “E pluribus unum.”

The lack of coverage given to issues of concern and the distorted representation of the lives and realities of African American, Hispanic, Asian and Middle Eastern communities contributes to negative public bias and antipathy for their economic and social conditions. The absence of small independent and multicultural media outlets dampens community and civic engagement. What dispirits us the most is the negative impact a lack of media diversity has on self-perception, which potentially can thwart the ability of marginalized communities to thrive economically, socially or politically.

At a time when social cohesion and active citizenship is so needed, we view not encouraging media diversity as acting against the public interest and perpetuating a social harm. A lack of media diversity will not only further isolate marginalized communities, it will threaten the very democracy the Framers of the Constitution sought to achieve. We invite everyone who cares about the strength of our democracy to join the effort to get this resolution adopted.

David Morgan is co-founder and president of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He is a partner at United By Interest, a full-service majority minority-owned government affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

Aaron Manaigo is co-founder of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He is managing partner at Global Political Solutions, a strategy and business development firm.