The Reverend Jesse L. Jackson stood before an audience of policy makers, communication industrialists, and supporters this week to address the need for minority ownership in today’s media and telecommunication industry.

“We need access to communication. Whoever has access to our eyes and ears has control,” said Jackson.

The “2014 Telecommunication Agenda” luncheon was part of the annual Rainbow PUSH Coalition & Citizenship Education Fund symposium. Partnered with the Public Policy Institute and Media and Telecom project, the theme this year focused on “The Future of Media” as well as the overwhelming need for and lack of minority ownership in telecommunications.

Inside the Capital Hilton Hotel in Northwest Washington D.C., Jackson spoke openly about the current lack of minority representation and control in the media.

“There has been a massive backlash against civil rights in the news. All that we have fought for is under attack,” said Jackson. “We have no fundamental rights to vote. We only have state rights and states are trying to take that away.”

Jackson said it is imperative for minorities to control the media that reflects their image in the news.

“The media controls the mind,” he said. “We’ve gone from picking cotton balls to picking up footballs and basketballs. Jobs are leaving and drugs are coming. This is not our share of ownership.”

Jackson was joined by a panel of media and communication specialists including James Winston, President and CEO of National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Inc.; Erin Dozier, Senior Vice President of the National Association of Broadcasters; David Honig, Co-Founder and President of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council; Chanelle Hardy, Executive Director of the National Urban League; and Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn of the Federal Communications Commission.

Thanking the audience for their gracious applause and standing ovation, Clyburn took her place at the podium to deliver the luncheon’s keynote speech. Aptly referred to as “the people’s commissioner,” Clyburn has gained rapid recognition for her productive efforts as acting chair.

Clyburn began by asking attendees how many phones or iPad’s they owned.

“We are all consumers,” she said. “We own one, two, three, sometimes up to five phones or communication devices, but who in here owns a communication business—none.”

Clyburn addressed Congress’s needs to reauthorize telecommunication funding and invest in Lifeline, an affordable telephone service for income-eligible persons.

“There are 5 million Americans without phones. They do not want to be disconnected. There is a significant affordability gap and we need to close that gap. We cannot allow the communication gap to close.”

Clyburn urged a push for more minority investment in broadband.

“We all need affordable access to reliable, high-speed broadband networks,” she said. “We need to learn how to maximize broadband and bring the next generation into the business.”

Clyburn agreed with Jackson on the all-but non-existent presence of minorities in telecommunication and media ownership.

“There are only five television stations owned by African-Americans,” she said. “Last year there were twelve. Next year it could be zero.”

Ariel Medley

AFRO Staff Writers