Earlier this month, Roberts Broadcasting sold three TV stations to ION Media for $7.75 million.
The deal is tiny compared with the recent acquisitions of Belo Broadcasting by Gannett Co. and Local TV Holdings by Tribune Co., both of which were for billions of dollars.
However, it is significant for another reason -- the Roberts Broadcasting stations are the last that were owned and operated by an African American entity, according to media watchdog Free Press.
“There are now zero black-owned and operated full-power TV stations in our country,” said Joseph Torres and Derek Turner of Free Press, which blamed the FCC’s relaxing of TV ownership regulations for the current situation. “This policy shift crowded out existing owners of color and ensured that it would be nearly impossible for new owners to access the public airwaves,” they added.
The rush to consolidate, Free Press said, has made it difficult for minorities to own and operate TV stations. “Concentration makes it harder for any small owner to compete,” the pair said.
Free Press has tracked media ownership for almost a decade. In 2006, it found that there were 18 commercial TV stations owned by African Americans, which is less than 2% of all commercial stations in the United States.
By 2012, there were just five stations under black ownership.
“It’s hard to fathom the sorry state of broadcast ownership during the administration of our nation’s first black president. After all, during his first presidential campaign, President Obama pledged to ‘encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media,’” said Torres and Turner.
The Maynard Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for more media diversity, noted that Armstrong Williams, a conservative African American media commentator, recently purchased TV stations from Sinclair Broadcast Group., one of the big media companies driving consolidation.
Free Press said that while Williams is the majority vote holder for the three stations in question, Sinclair has made filings at the FCC saying it will operate the stations.
“Furthermore, Sinclair is the legal owner of these stations ‘non-license’ assets, meaning they are the legal owner of everything in the building, from the cameras to the keys on the computers,” Turner said.
As for Williams’ arrangement with Sinclair, Turner added, “Mr. Williams’ position as a shell company for the nation’s largest local TV broadcaster only serves to highlight the problem.”
Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.