The AT&T/Time Warner Merger and the Threat to Racial Representation

By Jason A. Smith

Last month one media behemoth, AT&T, stated it would purchase another, Time Warner, for $85.4 million. AT&T provides a telecommunications service, while Time Warner provides content. The merger represents just one more step in decades of media consolidation, the placing of control over media and media provision into fewer and fewer hands. This graphic, from the Wall Street Journal, illustrates the history of mergers for the latest companies to propose a merger:


The purchase raises several issues regarding consumer protections – particularly over privacy, competition, price hikes, and monopoly power in certain markets – and one of these is related to race.

A third of the American population identifies as Latino, African American, Asian American, and Native American, yet members of these groups own only 5% of television stations and 7% of radio stations. Large-scale mergers like the proposed one between AT&T and Time Warner exacerbate this exclusion. Minority-owned media companies tend to be smaller and mergers make it even harder to compete with larger and larger media conglomerates. As a result, minority-owned companies close or are sold and the barriers to entry get raised as well. The research is clear: media consolidation is bad for media diversity.

After the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences committed to increasing diversity on screen and technology companies have vowed to increase their workforce diversity, but such commitments have done relatively little to improve representation. Such “gentlemen’s agreements” are largely voluntary and are mostly false promises for communities of color.

Advocacy groups and federal authorities should not rely on Memorandum of Understandings to advance inclusion goals. When the AT&T/Time Warner deal gets to the Federal Communications Commission, scrutiny in the name of “public interest” should include the issue of minorities’ inclusion in both the media and technology industries. As a diverse nation struggling with ongoing racial injustices, leaving underrepresented communities out of media merger debates is a disservice not only to those communities, but to us all.

Jason A. Smith is a PhD candidate in the Public Sociology program at George Mason University. His research focuses on race and the media. He recently co-edited the book Race and Contention in Twenty-first Century U.S. Media (Routledge, 2016). He tweets occasionally.

This post originally appeared in Sociological Images on November 10, 2016



SOUL and BGAPSA Students at the University of Pennsylvania are staging a walkout this afternoon to protest racial intimidation and exclusion. We #StandWithPenn and invite others to follow and support their efforts.

Facebook event page:


Students Organizing for Unity and Liberation (SOUL), in collaboration with Black Graduate Students (BGAPSA), at the University of Pennsylvania is organizing a week of action beginning with a nationwide walk-out at 2:15pm EST this Thursday 11/17/16. We are organizing in response to Black freshmen who were added to GroupMe chats that scheduled “Daily Lynchings” and threatened them with racial slurs. We all refuse to attend universities or live in a country where people threaten our safety and silence us. We need your help to make this possible.

We want to make it clear that as students our priority at the end of the day is our school work, and that in light of recent events, many of us have struggled to stay on top of our academics because of the traumas we have faced as a community. Keeping this in mind, if you have class or any academic activity at 2:15PM, know that you are not required to prioritize anything over your academic success. Being that the walk-out will ultimately lead to a speak-out about our different experiences regarding marginalization on our campuses, that will most likely take several hours, one can finish up their academic obligations and then come into the space later on. Bring your school work to the space if necessary!

Please send this description to any and all allies on our own and across other college campuses. Every Black, Brown and marginalized person matters. Please join us in Solidarity as we rise up and fight back. #StandWithPenn #BlackLivesMatter

UPENN STUDENTS: We will be gathering at College Green

Protocol for campuses Nationwide:


1.Print out statement of solidarity, found on the event page, to give to your professor upon walking out (Optional)

2.Meet at the most central gathering place on your campus

3.The Black community should be responsible for reading the statement of solidarity.

4.Use that space express your own grievances and demands from your university in the form of a Speak-Out.

We all experience racism in different forms on our campuses. Our goal is to give everyone the platform to create change. Please stand in solidarity with us.

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