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Minority broadcasters ask Geithner to bail them out

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Minority broadcasters asked for the same kind of federal bailout afforded the auto and financial industries in a July 12 letter from 14 top executives in the group to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner.

The letter came with a stark warning.

"Minority-owned broadcasters are close to becoming an extinct species," the group wrote.

"What will happen to the communities we serve if this once-in-a-lifetime financial crisis completely severs our access to capital and we lose our stations? The federal government for decades has advocated the importance of minority voices in the broadcast industry as a precursor to a vibrant democracy and a more inclusive society," the broadcasters said.

The group includes Pierre Sutton, chairman of Inner City Broadcasting Co. - which owns 18 radio stations in seven cities - and Raul Alarcon, president of Spanish Broadcasting Systems, which owns New York City's two largest Spanish-language radio stations.

The consortium is interested in programs that could restore credit flows to broadcasters plagued with dwindling advertising revenues. The loss of auto advertising has been particularly challenging, the group said, characterizing the situation as ironic, considering the amount of bailout money auto manufacturers have received.

"The primary source of news and entertainment for millions of minority communities in the U.S. comes primarily from minority-owned broadcasters. It would be unconscionable to have financial institutions that have accepted billions of federal government assistance to foreclose on these vital American voices," the letter said.

The group also nudged the banking industry.

"If the Treasury does not want to enact a direct assistance program, at least it should seriously demand that banking institutions receiving federal funds extend credit and be flexible in restructuring credit facilities to ensure that healthy, commercially viable minority broadcasters can weather this unprecedented, but temporary, financial storm," the broadcasters said.

Treasury Department spokeswoman Meg Reilly did not return calls for comment.

Jeff Harjo, executive director of the Oklahoma-based Native American Journalists Association, said his group had not participated.

"I didn't know we'd be eligible for such funding," Mr. Harjo said.

The request follows a letter sent to Mr. Geithner in May by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, Democratic Reps. Barney Frank, Charles B. Rangel, Maxine Waters and others, asking the secretary to ensure that minority-owned broadcasters get the same kind of consideration as auto manufacturers and banks.

Earlier this year, the struggling newspaper industry received similar interest from lawmakers concerned about the impact of a weaker press on democracy. Sen. John Kerry took particular interest in the plight of the Boston Globe, which is on the brink of closure.

"There will also be serious consequences for our democracy where diversity of opinion and strong debate are paramount," the Massachusetts Democrat said in April.

Mr. Kerry organized Senate hearings on "the future of journalism" in May. In addition, the House Judiciary subcommittee on courts and competition policy held a hearing to address the troubled industry. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act in March that would allow papers to operate as nonprofits, prompting many analysts to examine the political implications of the tactic.

"However well-intentioned, any government bailout of the journalism industry is a bad idea," wrote Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University, in a July 11 op-ed in the Indianapolis Star.

"Public confidence in the media is already on shaky ground," said Mr. McCall. "That will surely erode further if citizens are given reason to think the journalism industry might take it easy on the government in exchange for tax breaks, anti-trust exemptions or subsidies," he said.