"THE WORLD THAT TELEVISION AND newspapers offer to their black audience is almost totally white, in both appearance and attitude."
This was one of the most important conclusions of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Better known as the Kerner Commission, it pointed to the lack of African Americans in the media as a chief contributor to the frustrations that exploded in civil unrest in American cities during the late 1960s. The solution to this problem seemed obvious--get more black images and voices on the air. But a generation of entrepreneurial African Americans had a higher goal--ownership of both broadcast and print media properties. Black faces and voices had to be backed up by black decision-makers.
Prior to 1970, black decision-makers were all but nonexistent. Johnson Publishing Co., the Chicago-based publisher of Ebony magazine, was a lonely sentinel of black media ownership on a national level, while African Americans relied primarily on their local black press for any news about them that did not involve crime, sports, entertainment or poverty.
However, a black America newly awakened to the dangers of a whitewashed media was hungry for alternatives. The founding of BLACK ENTERPRISE and Essence magazines in 1970, as well as the acquisition of radio and television properties in the years that followed, gave African Americans an opportunity to shape their own images before the nation. Twenty-five years later, the climate for black media ownership remains turbulent, particularly with the anti-affirmativeaction platform being advanced by the conservative dominated Congress. Already, FCC tax provisions that were designed to increase minority ownership of broadcast properties have been eliminated.
However, African Americans should have enough momentum to continue acquiring more media turf, particularly as new outlets in interactive media evolve. Today, two of the three publicly traded BE 100s companies, BET Holdings Inc. (NYSE) and Granite Broadcasting Corp. (NASDAQ), are media properties with holdings in cable television and network broadcast properties, respectively. A new generation of black magazines, including Emerge, Heart & Soul and YSB (Young Sisters & Brothers), have joined Ebony, Essence and BE to help further illustrate the diversity of African American interests. And media powerbrokers, including Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones and Robert Johnson, should increase the level of influence wielded by African...