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Black Lawmakers Grill U.S. Census Bureau Over Ad Spending In Black Media

By Pharoh Martin

NNPA News Service
(March 11, 2010) During the recent Congressional hearing to discuss what many contends is an insufficiently funded Black advertising campaign of Census 2010; the U. S. Census Bureau’s media-buying agencies were blistered by a charge that they allegedly played unfair politics with Black newspaper publishers. These charges have resulted in an ongoing probe into why the Census allocated so little to count African-Americans.

In a reflective interview following the hearing, during which NNPA Chairman Danny Bakewell testified, Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Barbara Lee (D- Calif.) said the hearing was a positive step toward ensuring equality in the distribution of media ad dollars, but there is still a long way to go.

”I don’t think it’s where we need to be,” Lee told NNPA in a phone interview. ”One of things that we need to do is make sure that the Department of Commerce and all of the agencies responsible for insuring media buys for the 2010 Census are distributing fairly and go into the area that are hard-to-count. This is a very important issue for everyone. I think it’s extremely important to have the fairness in the media buys and I think that’s what we are trying to achieve and I don’t think that we are there yet.”

The bottom line is that Black legislators and publishers say that advertising budgets proposed for African-American media are insufficient to effectively reach a ”hard-to-count” Black population.

Chaired by Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), the Information Policy, Census and National Archives Subcommittee, which held the congressional hearing, was moving offices on the week following the hearing and was unable to send updates on resolutions.

But, the intense dialogue during the hearing indicated that change might be coming.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) grilled executives of Census 2010’s media buying agencies about a charge from Black publishers that the agencies were unfairly demanding that Black newspapers provide free content, which they called ”added value” in exchange for ad dollars.

Jeff Tarakajian, vice president of advertising agency DRAFTFCB, never directly answered the question; only replying that the ”request for added value was standard”. He couldn’t testify under oath as to how the ”added value” was requested but could confirm that it was, in fact, requested.

”We seek them, we encourage them but we do not make the requirement that somebody provide added value to literally qualify for a media buy,” Tarakajian said.

Hundreds of Black newspapers are supposed to divide a $2.5 million advertising budget that is supposed to reach an estimated 40 million Black people that were undercounted by two percent in 2000, according to statistics cited during the hearing.

”We need more money,” Bakewell said. ”The Black Press of America needs at least $10 million dollars to have a consistent message in 200 Black newspapers throughout America. There is no reason to cherry pick.”

The hearing’s final panel included heads of ethnic media organizations such as James Winston, executive director of the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, Sandy Close, executive director of New America Media and Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association.

Census Director Robert Groves defended the amounts used to purchase media ads saying they were were based on statistical and historic data.

”I can honestly say that the program was set up in an objective manner guided by data on what audiences needed given their historical behavior,” Groves said in response to the perceived unfairness in media buys with ethnic media outlets.

The Census director said that the Black media buy plan was developed by Global Hue. The total media buy for 2010 is $23 million, an increase of 35 percent over the 2000 Census budget amount.

According to their research, their media plan for Census 2010 is estimated to effectively reach more than 95 percent of Blacks in every market in the country.

”The budget allocations that we’re made have consistently placed greater emphasis on reaching and motivating hard-to-count audiences,” Tarakajian said. ”The budget allocations are disproportionately greater to hard-to-count audiences relative to their population size. And more emphasis is being put on hard-to-count audiences than in the 2000 Census�We don’t know of any campaign that has made this kind of outreach in the history of our business,” Tarakajian said.

When asked if other Black media outlets expressed concerns similar to what Black newspaper publishers voiced, Lee said that she’s heard quite a few complaints and issues.

”We’ve heard points raised like the one’s Danny [Bakewell] has raised, which caused us to look at all of this,” Lee said. ”I’ve heard the complaints but I cannot verify all of the information on that. But I think that this is media wide.”

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