Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Story That Black Radio is Afraid to Tell" By Paul Porter, Industry Ears

Paul Porter gives us additional insight on what HR 848 "The Performance Rights Act" really will mean for black artists and for black radio.

The Story That Black Radio is Afraid to Tell

Monday, June 22, 2009
Paul Porter

For decades, Black America has been the victim of all kinds of media distortion. It doesn't take a keen eye to see the regression of images in the past twenty years, in the eighties Cosby was America's number one sitcom and twenty years later VH1's "Flavor of Love" held television's highest rated African American program. Historically, one critical form of communication – Black radio - was the antidote to that distortion, consistently standing as a reliable source of news, information and culture throughout local communities nationwide.

Unfortunately, Black radio is swiftly becoming part of the problem, not the solution. It began, of course, with black-owned stations losing their independent voices and turning into sterile corporate jukeboxes limiting both information and community access, while feeding us music that reinforced the same stereotypes that for decades radio helped to defeat.

Now the few surviving Black-owned radio stations are abusing their unique influence in the community to misinform listeners about the impact of a new Congressional bill designed to support the kind of independent, creative and positive musical artists we all have demanding.

Cathy Hughes, Founder of Radio One, as one example, has been leading the charge against HR 848, an act of legislation that Hughes charges will “end black radio.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The facts on HR 848 are clear if you take the time to read them. Formally called The Performance Rights Act, the bill proposes what should be simple - paying performers royalties for radio airplay. Only the United States, North Korea and Iran don't pay royalties for performers on free AM/FM radio. Currently performers and recording owners are only paid in the States when their songs are played on satellite radio, cable stations and internet radio.

Songwriters and publishers continue to be paid by AM & FM radio. So why should the performers be excluded? The fact is that most of music we love is not made by people who are that rare combination of singer/songwriter. When performers lose a route to compensation – especially in this age of the download – we eventually lose those performers. The equations is easy: no money=no performers, no performer=no music, no music=no Black radio in the long term.

U.S broadcasters argue that they don't compensate foreign performers when they play their music. That argument loses an estimated 70 to 100 million dollars abroad for U.S. performers under the current law. Without reciprocity, American performers lose twice for their work here in the U.S. and abroad.

The Copyright Act of 1909, was implemented before there was a record industry or recording artists. If H.R. 848 passes, it would finally allow the people whose talent makes the work come alive to be fairly compensated for it in any country where it gets played. American music makes up nearly 30 to 50% of foreign radio airplay. It's time for the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the free world.

Naturally, radio stations – particularly Black radio stations – consider any new compensation for artists to be a financial burden, even as they continue to ask artists to perform free for radio promotions. Popular syndicated hosts Tom Joyner, Al Sharpton, Michael Baisden, Warren Ballentine, Yolanda Adams and hundreds of radio stations have all followed Hughes' lead, merely reinforcing the broadcasters’ mandate. Hundreds of public service announcements and interviews about the bill have lacked clarity and an opposing side of the debate.

Still, Black radio's cry to "Save Black Radio" has been heard loud and clear by legislators who have added several safety measures to help broadcasters in these tough economic times. H.R. 848 takes into account smaller radio stations. Noncommercial stations such as NPR and college radio stations would pay only $1,000 per year. Religious broadcasts would be exempt. And any station making less than $1,250,000 would pay no more than $5,000. Chairman John Conyers and his committee also have stated there would be no payment for any station making less than $5 million annually for two years due to the tough economic times.

The facts when debated are quite clear. But Black radio has a problem much larger then any pending legislation. It's been suffering on life support for a while but no one's leading. While minorities make up well over a third of the population, less then seven percent of stations are owned by minorities.

Radio broadcasters have done a number on Black America over the past fifteen years. First, by allowing a "pay for play" list of hip-hop that distorts or alters the mind set of the next generation with a steady diet of misogyny, violence and drug culture. We all sat back and watched while BET and Black radio simply mirrored the local news at eleven, reinforcing stereotypes and replacing lyricists with the lyrically challenged.

Black radio is syndicated 25 times more than its white counterparts, reducing the historic community connection of local personalities. When you limiting the voices you can control the messenger and the message. Sadly, Black radio is black these days only in name. From Radio One to Clear Channel, the independent voices have been silenced and critical information has been replaced with jokes, condensed play lists and little to no local community or grassroots outreach of the kind that established Black radio’s power.

There's more to H.R. 848 than radio is telling you.

Paul Porter is the co-founder of Industry Ears, a non-profit that seeks media justice.

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