Last week, I delivered to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a letter urging her to look into the impact on minority broadcasters of the Performance Rights Act (PRA) pending before Congress. I signed the letter as a Director of the Spanish Broadcasters Association and Washington counsel to the Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association. Co-signers included David Honig, Executive Director of the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, and Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Two weeks ago I moderated a panel of Spanish language radio broadcasters from across the country who gathered on Capitol Hill top brief Congressional staffers on the detrimental effects of such legislation. If passed into law, the PRA would impose hundreds of millions of new fees on local radio stations for music aired free to listeners. Fifty percent of the new fee would go directly to the record label companies, three out of four of which reside outside the United States.
The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week, over the objections of various minority groups that wanted a hearing on the potential effects of the bill. As we said in our letter to Speaker Pelosi, the PRA "would disproportionately harm present and future minority radio broadcasters and their listening communities" and could bankrupt as many as one-third of all minority-owned radio stations. Another point we make in the letter is that there has been no examination of whether radio should be compensated for the promotional value of their airplay; as a result, the PRA “is not ripe for floor consideration”.
While the bill is not, by any means, a uniquely minority-focused issue, it is clear that many minority owned stations, which frequently struggle in a healthy economy, and are barely surviving in the economic downturn. They could be snuffed out entirely by the imposition of an additional performance fee. As Amador Bustos of Bustos Media noted during the Capitol Hill briefing I moderated, "The performance tax would be the added and final nail in the coffin for these small broadcasters like ours, and I think that it is just absolutely ludicrous that the record companies are trying to sort of bite the hand that feeds them." The encouraging news is that while our letter was making its way to the Speaker’s desk, additional lawmakers threw their support behind a bipartisan resolution opposing "any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge" on local radio stations.