Minority-owned TV networks have had to claw and scrape for years to earn a place in cable and satellite channel lineups.  And even after breaking through these barriers, diverse creators and programmers still face existential fights against Big Tech strip-miners – aided and abetted, in some cases, by captured government agencies – eager to steal the fruits of their labor.

That’s part of the reason AT&T’s deep-pocketed support of the fringe right-wing disinformation network One America News produced such anger.  Entrepreneurs trying to tell Black and Brown stories on TV face obstacles at every turn, but OANN’s purveyors of race-baiting division, Big Lie sedition, and COVID-19 misinformation were welcomed – and funded with a reported $57 million windfall – by AT&T and DirectTV.

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LULAC, joined by the NAACP and other civil rights advocates, proudly convinced DirectTV last month to change its mind and drop OANN.  We strongly support the First Amendment – and point out that nothing in the Constitution requires a private-sector pay-TV company to willingly fund and distribute blatantly dishonest political propaganda.  That was a choice they freely made – and have now just as freely corrected.

But this double-standard between the struggles faced by diverse media outlets and the red carpet rolled out for right-wing propaganda networks didn’t end with DirecTV’s welcome change of heart.  In fact, the same story is now playing out in a contentious fight to fill the final open seat at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Gigi Sohn, President Biden’s nominee to fill the pivotal role and break the Commission’s current 2-2 partisan deadlock, has a deeply problematic track record on media diversity issues.  As a senior staffer at the FCC in 2016, she masterminded a plan to give Google a government permission slip to steal, repackage, and monetize TV programming without paying one cent to its creators.  

Diverse creators screamed in opposition, with the strong support of civil rights leaders, creative industry unions, and diverse lawmakers on Capitol Hill.  But Sohn ignored these warnings entirely, pushing her own Big Tech-aligned ideological agenda over any concern for how her proposal would impact vulnerable, underrepresented communities.

It’s a troubling pattern we’ve seen throughout Sohn’s career.  During an earlier debate over a proposed telecom merger, Ms. Sohn even suggested civil rights organizations weren’t entitled to voice their own opinions on such issues because, in her words, they are “not in the core expertise or core goals” of our movement.  

But Sohn sings a very different tune when it comes to helping fringe right-wing extremists like OANN gain entry to the nation’s living rooms.  OANN’s president strongly endorsed her nomination in November, praising her as an ally who had helped his network gain wider distribution.  And rather than recoil in disgust and reject his support, Sohn openly bragged about it at her first confirmation hearing, gushing about how “proud” she was to have “worked with them for years to get access to cable subscribers after operators refuse to carry them.”

It’s galling to hear an advocate who has steamrolled civil rights voices and diverse creators for years now brag about helping “Donald Trump’s favorite TV network” get a wider audience.  But it’s particularly jarring to hear this double-standard from a self-described progressive who is Joe Biden’s handpicked choice to swing the balance of power on a deadlocked FCC.

This concern only grows in light of Sohn’s admission that she won’t be eligible to participate in any FCC matters relating to broadcasting retransmission or copyright.  Sohn’s recusal stems from her role as a director of Locast, an illegal streaming service shut down by a federal judge late last year for copyright infringement.

While Sohn has tried to minimize this recusal as “extremely narrow,” it effectively means she couldn’t be a champion for minority-owned broadcasters even if she wanted to.  Small, independent broadcasters locked in retransmission disputes with massively larger cable and satellite companies will get no help from Sohn – or by extension, from the deadlocked FCC her recusal would produce.

I’m at a loss to understand why Democrats are risking such a critically important nomination on such a flawed candidate.  

President Biden should withdraw this nomination and consider other options.  In particular, he should consider nominating one of the many highly-qualified, experienced, and capable Hispanic telecommunications experts that the White House ignored in its initial consideration.  

Representation matters – both on TV, and at the agencies that regulate it.

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