The Rev. Jesse Jackson, decrying "systematic desecration" of blacks and other minorities in the major media, says that complete deregulation of the broadcasting industry would only make matters worse.
"Deregulation represents non-protection," Jackson testified Friday during a crowded hearing before the House telecommunications subcommittee. "When the schools were deregulated, we were locked out."
Jackson was invited to the hearing by Rep. Cardiss R. Collins (D-Ill.) to bolster support for proposals to encourage more minority ownership of television and radio stations and require more minority-oriented programming. The issue is being hotly contested in the subcommittee as it considers deregulation legislation that essentially would eliminate challenges to television licenses from competing applicants.
Critics, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, say such proposals would remove the meager leverage that minority groups now have to pressure broadcasters to improve their programming. While sidestepping questions about the specifics of the debate, Jackson used the occasion to lambast the existing record of broadcasters in depicting minority groups.
"We're not projected as being physicists, judges and journalists," said Jackson. "We're projected everyday as being less intelligent than we are . . . as less hard-working than we are, less patriotic than we are, less universal than we are and more violent than we are."
Among the examples cited by Jackson during his testimony and in a later interview was major media coverage of such news events as Harold Washington's campaign for mayor in Chicago and his own potential candidacy for the presidency. During the Chicago mayoral election, "Our only outlet was black-owned and black-oriented radio," he said.
In his own case, the news media has concentrated on his personality, but given scant attention to his discussion of such issues as voting rights, unemployment, an industrial policy and European missile deployment. "We've still not made a breakthrough on issues of substance," Jackson said.
Those concerns were echoed by other witnesses such as Arnoldo S. Torres, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who said network television mostly depicts Hispanics as "drug addicts or gang members . . . and idiots." Subcommittee staffers say one way these concerns may be addressed is through a "quantification standard" for broadcasters requiring them to devote a certain percentage of their viewing hours to minority-oriented programming as well as news, public affairs and children's shows.