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National Journal
by Andrew Noyes
Thursday, July 9, 2009

Radio One, the largest U.S. minority-owned media company, came under fire from the House Judiciary Committee today for refusing to testify at a hearing billed as a forum to examine plummeting advertising revenues, increased media consolidation and pending legislation that would end a long-standing copyright royalty exemption for over-the-air radio, which broadcasters oppose.

Judiciary Chairman John Conyers and others scolded Radio One founder Cathy Hughes and her son, CEO Alfred Liggins, for being no-shows.

Other critics of the bill who Conyers said snubbed him include National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton; Rainbow Push Coalition President Rev. Jesse Jackson; syndicated radio host Tom Joyner; and the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council’s David Honig.

Judiciary Courts and Competition Policy Subcommittee Chairman Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said broadcasters were invited to weigh in on the bill before it passed the committee in May, but their unwillingness to offer performers any compensation is unreasonable since Internet, cable and satellite services all pay.

Conyers and Judiciary ranking member Lamar Smith had amended the legislation to appease critics by delaying its enactment date and reducing the amount of fees radio stations would have to pay.

Their changes also directed the Copyright Royalty Board to consider the impact of their rate-setting on religious, noncommercial, minority-owned, and female-owned broadcasters.

They asked GAO to complete by November a study that would examine the bill’s effects, particularly on minority, female and religious stations.

Liggins called today’s hearing “misguided and disingenuous.” He said he backed out as a witness after learning Conyers would focus on the royalty bill and had invited a supporter of the measure, R&B Foundation Chairman Kendall Minter, to testify.

“I’m not going to sit there and get beat up,” Liggins said in a phone interview. Broadcasters urged the committee to hold a minority-specific hearing before marking up the bill but they were rebuffed, he added. That is when Radio One instructed its on-air talent at several stations in Conyers’ congressional district to take to the airwaves in opposition.

Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Melvin Watt, D-N.C., tried to temper the royalty bill rhetoric by appealing to broadcasters who were not present. “We still love you, you are still our constituents, and we still believe in what you do for our communities,” Jackson Lee said.

Watt added he was “not inclined to box with shadows” and wanted to concentrate on the stated purpose of the hearing, which faced a lengthy delay due to floor votes.

Minter was joined at the witness table by Media Access Project President Andrew Jay Schwartzman, Arbitron CEO Michael Skarzynski and National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters Executive Director James Winston.