Truth in TV labeling

Broadcasting: Minority ownership would be good if African-American controlled programming.

April 27, 1999

YOU CANNOT blame anyone for questioning whether Edwin L. Edwards Sr. is really in charge of seven broadcast stations, including Baltimore's WNUV-TV, as he claims. He owns just 3 percent of Glencairn Ltd. but insists that he has 100 percent control.

An African-American heading a television company normally would be celebrated in the civil rights community. But Mr. Edwards' cozy arrangement with white-owned Sinclair Broadcasting is troubling because it minimizes the effect of minority ownership and skirts a rule that prohibits anyone from owning more than one television station in a metropolitan area. Some people, including the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson and Stevie Wonder, believe Mr. Edwards is a front for Baltimore-based Sinclair. The Sinclair-Glencairn relationship has other detractors, too, including Pulitzer Broadcasting Co., Post Newsweek Stations Inc. and Media Watch. Critics are understandably alarmed by a so-called local marketing agreement (LMA) between the two companies, which allows Sinclair, owner of Fox affiliate WBFF, to dictate WNUV's programming.

This arrangement appears to undercut two FCC objectives: greater minority involvement in broadcasting and a rule developed long ago designed to improve the chances that many voices would have access to limited public airwaves.

Mr. Edwards' control of WNUV and other stations seems an illusion, even if it is true that he controls 100 percent of the stock in his company. In reality, the programming that viewers see on the station daily is dictated by the white owners of WBFF.

FCC Chairman William Kennard should continue to question whether agreements that allow companies to program too many stations while failing to increase minority control in broadcasting undercut the agency's goals.

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