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Why a Woman Should Lead the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission has been around since 1934. And not once has a woman served as chair.

The Federal Communications Commission has been around since 1934. And not once has a woman served as chair.

President Obama may soon need to appoint a new chair to succeed Julius Genachowski, who is expected to step down. The Women’s Media Center created a petition at urging the president to appoint a woman to succeed Genachowski. It’s within the realm of possibility: Two of the five current FCC commissioners are women. I’ve signed the petition, and I hope you will too.

This isn’t just about having more women in positions of leadership within the federal government. (But we need that too. Just yesterday another female member of President Obama’s cabinet stepped down. So far, all of the president’s top appointments for his new administration are men.)

This is also about who owns the media. White men own most broadcast TV and radio outlets. The FCC’s own data show that women own less than 7 percent of all broadcast licenses. And people of color own just 7 percent of radio stations and just 3 percent of TV stations. To make matters worse, the percentage of minorities in newsrooms has declined every year since 2006.

Is diversity a priority at the FCC? Well, consider that it took the agency 13 years to issue this data. And that’s a shame because diversity in media ownership expands the variety of options, voices and stories on our airwaves.

Right now we have a system where women’s perspectives are often missing. The presidential election dominated the 2012 news cycle, and guess what? 4th Estate’s report on gender and election coverage showed that men crowded out women in electoral reporting during the six months studied.

As in: Men wrote 72.1 percent of the print articles in major publications during the time of the study. Men were seven times more likely to be quoted in major newspapers and TV news programs. (Yes, even for stories on “women’s issues” like abortion, birth control, Planned Parenthood and women’s rights. No, really.) And as my colleague Amy Kroin pointed out, this trend held true for both conservative and liberal media outlets.

The biggest story of 2012 illustrates the larger problem. Women are underrepresented in print bylines, as expert sources in print and in television news broadcasts, as guests on talk shows and as creators, producers and directors of content. And men run almost every major telecom company. Read these and other sobering statistics in the Women’s Media Center’s “Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2012” report.

The Consumer Electronics Show is taking place right now in Vegas. I want to see a woman give a keynote address at the next conference, as Chairman Genachowski has in years past. I want to see a woman lead the fight in Washington for policies that connect more Americans to high-speed broadband. And I want to see someone who departs from Genachowski’s missteps — especially when it comes to diversity issues.

The new FCC chair will help shape the policies that define our media landscape and infrastructure for years to come. Sign the petition and tell President Obama to nominate a woman as the next FCC chair.

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