WASHINGTON — Women and minorities are largely absent from radio station ownership, thanks to a surge in media consolidation.
A public-interest group study made that case Tuesday, arguing that the groups were woefully underrepresented as radio stations increasingly are swept up by big chains headed by white males.
The findings, unveiled in a conference call by a group that included feminist Gloria Steinem and the two Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission, sparked women's groups, minority activists and Democrats to urge federal officials to refrain from further relaxing restrictions on ownership of broadcast stations by large companies.
The FCC is considering changes to its media ownership rules, and opponents of further consolidation have complained at hearings about a lack of diversity among station owners.
"Women and minorities have been systematically cut off from media ownership," said FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps. "It's not that they're riding in the back of the bus ... they're not even on the bus."
Women own just 6% of all full-power commercial stations nationwide, and racial or ethnic minorities own 7.7%, according to the findings from Free Press, a nonpartisan organization focused on media policy. Those stations are more likely to air local content and diverse programming than ones owned by white men, the study found.
Overall, women are 51% of the U.S. population and minorities are 33%. Even in regions where minorities make up a large percentage of the population, the study found they were under-represented.
In the Los Angeles market, for example, minorities are 64.3% of the population but own 26.8% of the radio stations. Latinos make up 43.7% of the population but own 12.7% of the stations. Asians fare much better, making up 13.3% of the population and owning 11.3% of the stations.
"This is not simply a matter of market failure, this is a failure of federal policies," said Mark Lloyd, chairman of the Media and Communications Task Force of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, noting that the FCC licenses stations and could develop policies that help women and minorities.
FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin recently suggested that TV broadcasters could lease some of the new channels they will be able to offer with the switch to digital signals to groups that lack the money to buy stations. The idea could work as radio stations make the digital switch as well.
But Copps said he wanted women and minorities to operate their own stations, and he suggested that the FCC could extend construction and financing deadlines to make those purchases easier.
The figures for female and minority ownership are higher than findings in federal studies dating to the late 1990s. In 2000, for example, the Department of Commerce reported that minorities owned 4% of all commercial radio stations.
But S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press, said previous studies relied on trade association data and missed many small stations. He said his 76-page study was the most comprehensive so far because it used FCC license data for all 10,506 full-power commercial AM and FM radio stations.
The group used the same methodology to study TV ownership last year, finding that 5% of stations were owned by women and 3.3% by minorities.
FCC Commissioner Jonathan S. Adelstein said more media consolidation would make the barriers higher for women and minorities.
The commission is conducting two studies of minority ownership as part of its media ownership review.