Why Was a $10 Billion Civil Rights Lawsuit that Could Lead to Black Media Ownership Ignored?
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Why Was a $10 Billion Civil Rights Lawsuit that Could Lead to Black Media Ownership Ignored?


Last week U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu allowed the $10 billion racial discrimination case being brought by Byron Allen, chairman and CEO of Entertainment Studios (ESN) and the National Association of African American-Owned Media (NAAAOM) against Charter Communications and the FCC to proceed. Yet despite the gravity of the litigation, the size of the parties, and the billions of dollars in damages being claimed in the suit, American media has given this pivotal decision relatively little coverage. As of this weekend no stories of the monumental Judge’s order appeared in the Wall Street Journal, no coverage by Fortune, and a slew of other outlets also failed to cover the groundbreaking suit being allowed to move forward. The media summarily ignored what is possibly one of the most monumental Civil Rights cases in a generation. Allen is bringing the litigation using Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. It is quite a statement about our progress that a law enacted 150 years ago that was written to ensure slaves received fair treatment in creating contracts, is still relevant today. The case has implications that reach far beyond entertainment, and could open possibilities of litigation across the country as African Americans in other industries also rely on Section 1981 to force corporations to show if any business is being done with black owned firms.

While this recent decision is not a final ruling on the case, it does recognize that the case as filed has merit. It also allows Mr. Allen and the NAAAOM to proceed to discovery, and demand that the truth be laid out for all of America to finally see whether blacks have economic inclusion in media. This is a case that is bigger than Byron Allen, and extends beyond the effects on just African Americans. At the core of the case is the question, does Charter Communications do business with truly black owned media? This is a question of who has the right to the cable lines that provide television to the homes across the nation. For a generation, American media has moved in the shadows of a veil of diversity they created. Presenting blacks as talent on television, while allowing them little if any access to the wealth-building tool of ownership. The Washington Post in the article “Blacks own just 10 U.S. television stations. Here’s why” explained the historical reason why there are so few black stations.

Minority owners are burdened by the legacy of racism. When the U.S. government first started giving away our airwaves in the 1930s, they were distributed exclusively to white, male owners. It mostly stayed this way until the 1970s, when the FCC tried to remedy the problem by implementing a “Minority Ownership Policy.” The measure offered tax incentives to people seeking to sell stations to minority owners.

The policy worked. Within two years of its passage, the country went from one black-owned television station to ten. Over its total 17 year existence, minority ownership increased five-fold. But it was struck down by the newly-elected Republican Congress in 1995 and since then, its success has been mostly undone. In 2013, minorities owned just 6 percent of commercial television stations in the country, 6 percent of FM stations, and 11 percent of AM stations.

With a few notable exceptions (the cable network Black Entertainment Television launched in 1980, and TV One followed in 1995), African American ownership remains particularly low, hovering at less than one percent of all television properties, and less than 2 percent of radio. That year in fact, just two television stations were owned by black owners. (That number is up to about 10 today).

It is Allen’s goal to get Charter Communication to clarify how many, if any fully black owned stations are carried in their cable channel lineup. Allen stated, “America has never had a conversation about African Americans and real economic inclusion.” If the media covers it, this case may be just the litigation to be that conversation starter. #blackwealthmatters

Below, watch Byron Allen’s discussion with me earlier this year on this litigation’s importance.

Antonio Moore, an attorney based in Los Angeles, is one of the producers of the Emmy-nominated documentary “Freeway: Crack in the System.” He has contributed pieces to the Grio, Huffington Post, and Inequality.org on the topics of race, mass incarceration and economics. Subscribe to his Youtube Channel Tonetalks

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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