Conyers 'Not Trying to Bankrupt Broadcasters' With Royalties Bill
By Jeffrey Yorke
Updated 2 Hour(s) 51 Minute(s) ago
John Conyers may be feeling some heat from broadcasters who are begging him to back off the Performance Rights Act, but he's sticking by his guns. On Tuesday evening (May 19), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a 2 1/2-page news release to clear up "misinformation about the bill," Capitol Hill sources tell R&R.
Congressional lawmakers are being besieged by broadcasters in all of their districts who are screaming that the pending legislation, H.R. 848, will break their backs, "devastate" their businesses and, in many cases, render them silent.
"The Performance Rights Act is one of my top priorities this Congress," said the Michigan Democrat who for decades has backed the effort to win performers and artists royalties for their radio-played works. "On one hand, I believe it is finally time to establish equity for recording artists and allow them to be paid fair compensation for their creativity. On the other hand, I am concerned about the economic impact this bill may have on broadcasters, particularly smaller broadcasters."
Just hours before the Conyers committee was to mark up the bill on May 13 to send it to a full House vote, he and several committee members -- including fellow Congressional Black Caucus Members Sheila Jackson-Lee, Hank Johnson and Mel Watt and Republicans Darrell Issa and Tom Rooney -- re-crafted the bill to give dramatic discounts to small broadcasters, hoping to give the mom-and-pop outfits, many of whom are minority operators, an easier load to bear.
"I know times are tough, and it is not the intention or goal of this legislation to drive broadcasters into bankruptcy or to bring about a widespread consolidation of the industry," Conyers said in his after-hours release. "That is why I have been and remain committed to finding a middle ground on this issue."
Conyers also stresses that the pending legislation is a bipartisan effort and that he and ranking Republican member Lamar Smith requested a Government Accountability Office study into the impact of the legislation on diversity in media, including minority and minority-owned, female and female-owned and religious broadcasters and artists. He also notes that the committee asked the Copyright Royalty Board "to factor in the study's results when determining the rate, so that the impact on minority, female and religious broadcasters and artists will be taken into account."
Conyers and fellow committee members have been miffed by the backlash they've felt from some high-profile black broadcasters who are angry about the proposed fees. During the May 13 hearing, Rep. Hank Johnson lashed out at Radio One executives Cathy Hughes and Alfred Liggins III and syndicated morning host Tom Joyner, accusing all of them of spreading "misinformation."
But not all minority groups are against the legislation. The NAACP has embraced it, and, with the Conyers-inspired lower rates, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights president/CEO Wade Henderson has also gotten behind the measure after first opposing it.
Frequently, when opponents of the bill have discussed it and Conyers, they have referred to him as the "80-year-old congressman," emphasizing his age. Associates of Conyers, who celebrated his 80th birthday on May 16, have been angered at what they believe is a campaign to paint the chairman as a man out of touch with modern-day business.
And they may be on to something. In a May 13 open letter "To My Radio One Family," chairman Cathy Hughes wrote: "The Honorable John Conyers, our 80-year-old African-American congressman, is the sponsor of a new bill that could put many black-owned radio stations out of business and force others to abandon their commitment to provide free music, entertainment, news, information and money-losing formats like gospel and black talk. This is Cathy Hughes, founder and chairperson of Radio One, with an urgent call to our Radio Family."
Hughes provides Conyers' office telephone numbers in Detroit and Washington, D.C., along with his e-mail address, and encourages listeners to call the congressman and complain about his stance.
Then, in a Tuesday piece in the Congressional Quarterly, Liggins, 45, is quoted as saying, "Wade Henderson is one of the old-guard civil-rights leaders. He's done a lot in his career and deserves respect. But this is a new-millennium, 2009 issue, and I'm not sure the old guard, like Henderson and Conyers, understand what's at stake."
Conyers says he's "proud to have worked out these compromises with the support of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and many, many unions, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU and AFSCME," and adds that he plans to "remain diligent in ensuring the vibrancy and competition available in the broadcast and other relevant markets. The last thing any of us wants to do is preside over a broadcast market that becomes more concentrated and less diverse. I understand how important and emotional an issue this is, for it cuts to the core of who we are as diverse communities across the country."