A major acquisition that civil rights leaders and advocates for Black-owned media had hoped would increase media ownership, opportunity, and participation by African-Americans and other minorities has apparently “hit a brick wall.”

Following months of advocacy and public support for a $5.4 billion acquisition of Tegna by Standard General, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has essentially killed the deal by sending it to an administrative judge for a hearing, a process that could mire it down in red tape. Standard General is led by Soo Kim, a Korean American immigrant who moved to Queens, N.Y. when he was just 5 years old. Soo Kim’s vision for the future of local broadcast news is one where diverse voices are escalated and heard to better represent the communities they serve.

“As part of the FCC’s mission, we are responsible for determining whether grant of the applications constituting this transaction serves the public interest. That’s why we’re asking for closer review to ensure that this transaction does not anti-competitively raise prices or put jobs in local newsrooms at risk,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a Feb. 24 press release announcing the decision. “The additional review will allow us to make a more informed assessment on whether proposed safeguards are sufficient to protect the public interest, and we will take the time needed to address these critical questions.”

The FCC’s decision will have a chilling effect on minority ownership, as this action aims to kill the deal by delaying it past the May 22 deadline by which it must close.

The NAACP New York State Conference issued a strong rebuke to Rosenworcel’s announcement. NY NAACP President Hazel Dukes responded to apparently bigoted perceptions that because of Soo Kim’s Asian heritage, he is not the kind of racial minority being sought to increase media ownership.

“I understand that Chairwoman Rosenworcel has bowed to the pressure of those who accuse Soo Kim of not being the “right type of minority,” wrote Dukes in an open letter to Rosenworcel and the FCC Commissioners March 1. “I am appalled that we still use this type of incendiary language to define a person of color who attempts to enter a particular ‘club’ [of which] they are not traditional members.”

She concludes that the assignment to an FCC administrative judge was intentional to kill the deal.

“This action was deliberate and malicious and only happened because some deemed Soo Kim is considered not to be the ‘right type of minority,’” Dukes writes. “Standard General has not only publicly pledged to invest in local broadcasting and to preserve jobs, but they have also committed to directly impacting our communities to have a voice and to empower community journalism.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the New York-based National Action Network, was also riled by what appeared to have been a decision based on Asian bias. “Who determines who is the ‘right minority’ and who is the ‘wrong minority’?” Sharpton questioned in a Tweet. He added that Soo Kim’s Standard General and TEGNA would be “a 300 pct increase of minority owned tv stations.”

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The Weekly Citizen | by Hazel Trice Edney