Congressional Dems Want Minority Radio Bailout

James Clyburn D-SC A number of congressional Democrats are pressing the Obama administration to extend loans to minority-owned radio broadcasters that are struggling to stay afloat during one of the sharpest economic downturns in decades.

The effort is being led by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), and is supported by Barney Frank (D-MA), the chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, and Charles Rangel (D-NY), chairman of the equally influential House Ways and Means Committee.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the representatives wrote that "many jobs are at stake," and also emphasized "the government's fundamental interest in promoting a diversity of voices, including service to under-served communities."

In addition to the congressional leaders named above, the letter was also signed by various members of the Congressional Black Caucus -- all Democrats -- including Bobby Rush (IL), Edolphus Towns (NY), Maxine Waters (CA), Gregory Meeks (NY), G.K. Butterfield (NC), Barbara Lee (CA), and Bennie Thompson (MO). Democrats Maurice Hinchey (NY), Carolyn Maloney (NY), and Lynn Woolsey (CA) also signed the letter.

The emergency loan proposal is the second governmental move to bolster the well-being of minority broadcasters this week. On Monday, the Federal Communications Commission said it is opening an inquiry into radio ratings calculated using data from Arbitron's Portable People Meter, a passive electronic measurement device that has replaced paper diaries in the country's top markets.

The FCC inquiry will focus on Arbitron's method for collecting PPM data from its sample audience groups -- especially minority audiences, including African-Americans and Hispanics in key age demos. Over the last year, minority broadcasters have complained that under-counting of minority listeners has led to steep apparent drops in their audiences when Arbitron switched from paper diaries to PPM.

With Americans footing the bill of bank bailouts worth hundreds of billions, the notion of a much smaller rescue for minority radio broadcasters doesn't seem that farfetched -- but it is certain to face opposition on a number of fronts.

First, many members of Congress (including Democrats and Republicans) say they oppose further business bailouts, especially for "non-vital" industries like radio and newspapers. Second, the prospect of a bailout for minority broadcasters naturally raises the question of whether non-minority broadcasters should also be eligible, as a good number are on the ropes financially -- regardless of ownership or target audience.

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