While I often enjoy Eric’s thought-provoking editorials and I can appreciate the fact that he is an out-of-the-box thinker not afraid to ruffle feathers, I do not agree with this Editorial. For a very specific reason, I’m going to reserve my opinion on this but I’m curious to know what YOUR opinion is? Feel free to comment… Kevin
Has the FCC Gone Too Far?
A message from Radio Ink Publisher Eric Rhoads
Discrimination is a terrible thing, and there is no place for it in life or in business. But I’m not sure it’s the job of the Federal Communications Commission to determine when business decisions do and do not involve discrimination.
The FCC will soon require stations to include a non-discrimination clause in their ad contracts. Stations are being told that if they sense discrimination, they must not accept the ad revenue. But is it reasonable to place a burden on a salesperson, under pressure to make goals, to pass on revenues because they think the client may be unfairly discriminating?
Radio Ink has made it a point to highlight advertisers that have imposed “no urban dictates” or “no Hispanic dictates,” refusing to advertise on black or Hispanic stations. Though it’s much reduced, this kind of discrimination still goes on quietly. There may be, for example, an automaker that thinks blacks or Hispanics can’t afford to buy their cars. Either the people at such an automaker are misinformed about the buying power of these important audiences, or they are simply bigots.
Discrimination by advertisers is wrong. But what if an advertiser legitimately knows that an audience is not a realistic target for its products?
One broadcaster wrote to me in an e-mail: “There is nothing discriminatory about ‘no urban dictates’ … It’s targeting a market. The local store that caters to blacks won’t advertise on [station] because they figure blacks don’t listen to old country music.” Is that discrimination?
Is it discrimination when a business that targets African-Americans doesn’t buy ads on a station with almost no African-American listeners? Is it discrimination when a product targeting young Hispanic consumers doesn’t buy on a Soft AC?
Is it discrimination when advertisers don’t buy ads on a station because they hold a different political point of view? Ask broadcasters who have dropped certain right-wing programming because of “no radical right wing dictates.” Where do we draw the line?
Is it discrimination to buy only one station deep? Or should that same advertiser be pushed to buy a second station, just so the first station can prove it doesn’t let advertisers discriminate? What if the second station has an audience that has historically made up only a tiny proportion of the advertiser’s sales? Is it radio’s responsibility to encourage an advertiser to waste money?
Business owners know their markets and, assuming it’s a legitimate business decision, they should not be pushed to buy any station they don’t believe best reaches their target market. Though bigotry and discrimination are clearly wrong, a business owner has the right to act in the best interest of the business, and the government should not be interfering in that decision.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has said the commission will “vigorously enforce its rules against discrimination in advertising sales contracts.” But what does that mean? If an advertiser makes a decision to advertise on one station and not on another, and the commission concludes the decision was based on discrimination, then will the FCC — which has no authority over the advertiser — come down on the station?
This regulation is well intentioned, but I’m not sure it’s quite the same as having a non-discrimination law in housing or business. I fear that advertisers who want to target an audience as a practical matter will simply avoid any medium that attempts to get them to buy advertising they don’t want or need — as broadcasters may feel they have to do to avoid trouble with the FCC. The commission has potentially created a very real conflict of interest for broadcast salespeople.
Is buying keywords on Google discriminatory? Or buying only certain cable channels? Those things may or may not involve discrimination, but the FCC has no authority over those media. Special rules for broadcast buys will merely drive business away from broadcast.
Though we should all make an effort to eradicate discrimination and bigotry in any form, I believe that this action will backfire and push advertisers away from the broadcast medium for fear of being badgered to buy advertising they don’t want, or accused of discrimination when all they are trying to do is reach their target in the most efficient way.
Start with a call to your representative in Congress, and a call to the NAB. This rulemaking should be challenged.