Cable A La Carte: The Beginning of the End for Media Diversity on Cable TV?

Media 06.18,04

Join the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
and the Alliance for Community Media for a Lunch Briefing:


WHEN: June 23d, 2004 11:30 -1:30 PM — Please note the date change!

WHERE: Spiegel & McDiarmid, 1333 New Hampshire Avenue, NW (Dupont Circle), Terrace Level Conference Room 1-C.

WHAT: A roundtable discussion of the impact of cable a la carte on media diversity and free expression. Lunch will be included.

WHO: Johnathan Rodgers – President & CEO, TV One
Jeff Valdez – Chairman, Sí TV
Lisa Hall – Chief Operating Officer, Oxygen Media, Inc.
Robert Corn-Revere – Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine LLP
Wade Henderson – Executive Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
Bunnie Riedel – Executive Director, Alliance for Community Media

Recently, Congress has begun to examine proposals to require cable companies to sell channels on an individual “a la carte” basis to consumers. Last month, leaders of the House and Senate Commerce Committees asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to examine cable a la carte and to report back on its findings by the end of the year. Now, the FCC is now seeking public comment on the issue.

Supporters of a la carte – led by Concerned Women for America and the Family Research Council – claim that it will protect families from indecent content. Others such as Consumers Union argue that allowing consumers to buy individual channels will lower cable bills.

But what is really at stake in this debate? A growing number of women and minority programmers view cable a la carte as an extraordinary threat to media diversity; a plan to lock out multicultural channels altogether and make it much more difficult to launch new channels. As the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council noted in a letter to Congress, “Our nation’s success as a pluralistic society depends profoundly on diversity in the media… By locking in the current channel lineup and locking out new multicultural channels a la care would unintentionally deprive the next generation of viewers of a broad spectrum of programming and opinions.”

That view is echoed by groups such as the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium that wrote, “It [“a la carte”] would adversely affect the ability of our community to freely express themselves through valuable cultural programs that draw on our collective heritage…”

Free speech advocates also see a potential of censorship in the proposal, a back door way to impose broadcast indecency standards on cable and a potent weapon to keep controversial programming off cable altogether. And advocates for community media fear that a la carte will write an end to public, educational and governmental (PEG) channels, a critical source of independent media and public affairs. For example, cable a la carte could threaten C-Span’s existence.

With comments due at the FCC in July, it is critical that organizations concerned with media diversity, independent media, free expression, and localism learn more about the risks posed by cable a la carte. Please RSVP to Jessica Korf at [email protected] < mailto:[email protected] > or 202-478-6302.