Filed under: 'media justice', 'media reform', fcc, radio, the revolution, Uncategorized
A number of people have asked me to do a little bit of writing on a big moment for community media justice — the passage of the low power FM radio bill out of the House of Representatives last night.
The bill was brought to the house floor for the very first time on December 16th — directly after the joyful and bipartisan introduction of a resolution to honor A. Phillip Randolph — organizer of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and a lion of the labor and civil rights movements.
Randolph believed in community media as a vital tool to build the movement for economic and racial justice. In 1917, he founded The Hotel Messenger — a magazine that fearlessly espoused the political vision and personal stories of a community suffering greatly under class and racial discrimination and brutality. The paper exposed corruption in uniform sales to sidewaiters in New York and regularly told worker and community stories. He used his movement and his paper to plan visionary marches on Washington for fair employment and civil rights, and to engage in a rhetoric of change that rose above partisan argument:
“Our aim is to appeal to reason, to lift our pens above the cringing demagogy of the times… Patriotism has no appeal to us; justice has. Party has no weight with us, principle has. Loyalty is meaningless; it depends on what one is loyal to.”
That’s the kind of media that we need now – media that rises above a ‘cringing demagogy’ that oppresses rather than liberates us. What an honor for the bill to expand Low Power FM to be brought to the floor the same day as Randolph’s resolution.
I spent the larger part of my 20s inside the low power FM movement — helping to build radio stations with the Prometheus Radio Project. Low power FM stations are amazing and unique as snowflakes. The transmitters are these incredible little boxes — shiny lights like computer servers with a thick coaxial cable coming out — winding up to a flagpole antenna on the top of a roof. Pasquo, Tennessee’s WRFN-LP hoisted their tower up with ropes, pulleys, and a hundred hands after a rainstorm. In Woodburn, Oregon, the Pineros y Campesinos Unidos de Noroeste put KPCN-LP’s antenna on top of a water tower. Best view I’ve ever seen.
I remember building transmitters with Ugandan women in a blackout outside of Nairobi, producing radio plays in Tennessee, and the benediction given by the Holy Ghost priest who led the Southern Development Foundation at the first moments on the air of KOCZ-FM – Opelousas Community Zydeco radio.
When I think of community radio, I think of these moments of magic and how wonderful my time building these stations was. But we don’t fight to expand community radio because of the magic and the beauty. As special as that is. We fight to expand community radio because it – and all community media – is a necessary tool for survival and freedom in our society and in societies around the world.
Then-Federal Communications Commissioner Chairman Bill Kennard was invited at the turn of the millennium to South Africa to help their country build their telecommunications regulation — or so the story begins. He was invited to visit Bush Radio — Africa’s oldest community radio station and an instrument of liberation and struggle that helped bring South Africa out of apartheid. Kennard was scheduled to spend 20 minutes with station founder Zane Ibrahim and his comrades — but he spent over 4 hours studying how people built power with and through the station, how it developed leaders, how vital it was to the community. The station houses a day care center, a radio school for kids age 6-18, a hip hop curriculum for musicians doing outreach around AIDS.
What Kennard saw, he wanted to bring to a movement that was already flourishing in the US. Dozens of unlicensed stations were popping up – from Springfield, Illinois to New York to California. The pressure of those pirate radio stations and the organizing of incredible leaders from faith, legal, and music communities made licensed low power community radio a reality.
Big broadcasters stood in the way for years. Despite millions of dollars of impartial engineering evidence proving there was plenty of room, the big broadcasters kept low power FM out of almost every big city and most smaller communities in the United States. For ten years. But this year, the incredible coalition of deejays-turned-to-self-taught-engineering-experts, of rock stars, of Catholic, Methodist, and UCC churchgoers, of civil rights leaders, made it happen and passed a bill to expand low power FM to hundreds of new communities.
In the House of Representatives, that is. But I can see the other side of the Senate vote. In weeks coming — sooner than later — the vote will be done and then the real work will begin.
Low power FM radio station licenses are free to community groups. Once the bill is fully passed, the FCC will start work and get ready to open a window — one more chance for unions and city councils and schools to get a voice that changes the face of their communities forever. For those of us connected to incredible movement leaders nationwide — from Detroit to West Virginia to South Texas — we have a responsibility to help these leaders apply for these rare tools.
If we take responsibility now, and coordinate, our families and kids will travel through a future country filled with the sounds of our voices rather than the sounds of voices aimed at silencing us. I can’t wait to live there with all of you.
Over here at the Prometheus Radio Project, we are lucky enough to have an amazing team of interns, volunteers, staff, and allies who have been working to tell as many folks as possible about their last chance to get a big, noncommercial radio station for their communities. One room of our three room office was converted into a call center — just in time for hundreds of calls, from Florida to Maine to Kansas to Alabama to Wyoming and beyond, to pour into our basement office.
The full power team is waiting, now, for the moment where the FCC opens up their website to receive the painstakingly-filled-out applications, from social justice coalitions working for community rights in Mississippi — to ACORN affiliates in Connecticut — to symphony orchestras without an outlet for classical music in towns across the nation. Now that the Commission has decided to limit the number of applications that any one group can file, strong, local groups have a much better chance of getting that construction permit from the Commission — their ticket to begin putting up a tower, assembling a studio, and finally going on the air.
But as focused as the full power team is right now on the details of getting these applications together, one by one, with groups across the nation — the largest part of our movement’s work to build strong local radio is just beginning. As Zane Ibrahim, founder of South Africa’s legendary grassroots radio station, Bush Radio, likes to say — community radio is 10 percent radio — and 90 percent community.
“Why do people want community radio stations?” I get asked that all the time — usually by guys with Bluetooth cell-phone adapters in their ears, and personal electronic devices in each hand. “Can’t people connect online? On blogs? On MySpace?” People do connect online, and we have to make sure that people’s power over the internet grows, rather than declines in the face of big broadcasters. But while these technologies are more and more available across the nation and around the world, we’ve found that a bricks-and-mortar community radio station makes different people come together to share a resource — kids and grandparents, immigrants and politicians, Christians, 80’s hair metal enthusiasts, science-fiction hip hop connosieurs, and your local superintendent of schools. Community radio builds community, in our cities and towns — at least, that’s the idea.
For every full power FM radio station that goes to radical infoshops in Kentucky and youth music collectives in Michigan, there are dozens, if not hundreds, more groups that lost out this time around — possibly the last time that the FCC will ever give out full power FM radio stations for free to regular people with something to say in their local area. In many cases, their city had too many stations on the dial for them to be able to apply for a 5000 or 50,000 watt frequency. Other groups deliberated over the cost of hiring an engineer to fill out their application — a few thousand dollars — money that’s hard to come by for a collective just starting out — radio a twinkle in their eye.
For all these groups that won’t get a radio station as a result of this rare, full power FM window — and for all the thousands of other organizations that have been waiting for years and decades to build their own radio stations — we have to turn to the next phase of the fight to expand community media — low power FM radio (LPFM).
Back in 2000, groups like the ones I named, and scores of other people across the country, organized at the FCC untill they started the low power FM radio service — an inexpensive, local way for community groups to build their own radio stations. Broadcasting at 100 watts, these stations were meant to serve small communities in America’s biggest cities — and thousands of smaller suburbs and towns across the
However, our country’s biggest broadcasters did what they usually do when real people want to use a resource reserved for the American people — they cried ‘interference’ — pretending like there would be a technical problem if thousands of churches, municipalities, and other non profits took to their own airwaves. They said that if you put a small station on the air — at 100 watts or less — next to a big station in a big city — that the little station would cause ‘oceans of interference’ — making the Clear Channels and NPR’s of the world unlistenable for thousands of people in the area.
The FCC thought that that the claims of the big broadcasters were unfounded, to put it politely, and fought to keep the service the way it was. Still, our legislators thought that there was enough concern about LPFM to limit it to places like Opelousas, Louisiana — rather than New Orleans – Chanute, Kansas, rather than Kansas City — and so on. Because of the Congressional restriction on how we could use our own airwaves, over 70 percent of the potential licenses were lost — thousands of new community voices
Congress ordered the FCC to study what potential interference LPFMs might cause if they were allowed to be licensed closer on the dial to big stations. They commissioned an independent firm, the MITRE corporation, to determine whether or not LPFMs would cause interference — once and for all. Their study came back crystal clear — there was
plenty of room for LPFMs all over the country — and now was the time to expand this service all across the nation.
We’ve been waiting since 2003 for bills to pass in Congress, but now, because of the media organizing people like you are doing around the nation, we have a real shot. Congressmembers Mike Doyle, the Democrat from Pittsburgh and Lee Terry, the Republican from Nebraska, introduced a bill this summer which is poised to expand LPFM to your community and across the nation. Their bill, the Local Community Radio Act of 2007, House Bill 2802, would take the MITRE study’s findings into account, and allow thousands more groups to get a small slice of the airwaves that they own.
The Senate is acting on this too — Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has joined with Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to introduce their companion bill in the Senate — Senate Bill 1675.
The House bill has over 50 cosponsors, and the Senate bill is due to move fast — but, just like we’ve been doing at the FCC, we need to keep pushing our legislators to cosponsor these vital pieces of legislation. No big lobbying groups are going to win more community
radio for us — we need to come together to ask our legislators to bring radio stations to us.
Believe me — your letter or phonecall to your legislator is 100 times more powerful than anything that a lobbyist in Washington, DC can do. Let’s win more community radio stations for all of us — today — by asking our Senators and Congressmembers to cosponsor the Local Community Radio Act of 2007!
So Nancy Scola wrote a really interesting post at the Huffington Post yesterday — all about talk radio and its relationship to the ownership infrastructure in our corporate media. On my way back from hanging out with the Future of Music Coalition and the wicked charming gentlemen of OK Go, who were stumping for low power FM radio on Capitol Hill and spending some quality time with Local Community Radio Act of 2007 sponsors Mr. Lee Terry and Mr. Mike Doyle, I wanted to comment there. Sadly the Huffington peeps only let you post 350 words at a time, and no room for links! Here’s my thoughts on the relationship between low power FM and opportunities for ‘progressive’ talkers to learn their trade and gain opportunities to succeed on the radio dial:
I really like the baseball metaphor here, Nancy. Let’s take it one step further: We don’t just need double and triple-A teams for progressive (and dare I say local?) talkers to hone their craft — we need Little League.
Cities and towns band around things like high school plays, public school and community sports, and city council meetings not because there’s nothing better to watch on HBO or because there isn’t an arena rock concert or Broadway-caliber show in town. We get a chance to celebrate, appreciate and learn from our neighbors in the most vital ways when we wholeheartedly support their political, athletic, and creative work. Municipalities, local businesses, and churches fund enterprises like this because they are the lifeblood of healthy communities — and when personal or community-wide crises strike, relationships built on the bleachers at the soccer field or in the pews at church end up saving lives.
This is why we need to expand low power FM radio — now, today. Low power FM (LPFM) radio stations are broadcasting in over 800 communities across the United States. They serve broadcast ranges of about 5 miles, at 100 watts, with noncommercial content, always licensed to local nonprofit organizations. From Radio Free Moscow in Moscow, Idaho, to Radio Bird Street in Oroville, California, to the Historic Radio Museum of Ligonier, Indiana, to Portsmouth Community Radio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to La Voz de la Gente of Woodburn, Oregon, to the Black Chamber of Commerce’s station in Sacramento to WRFU in Urbana, Illinois, and beyond — local radio stations are reflecting, involving, and improving the daily discourse in their local communities. (Notice how these stations are thriving in communities where conservative talk has an unquestioned iron grip on the airwaves?)
(In some cases — like Immokalee, Florida and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi — these stations save lives — because they are run by volunteers, able to stay on the air through terrible hurricanes and storms, and deeply relevant to their local communities, so the go-to place to turn for local emergency information.)
Without a healthy distribution of high school and college radio stations, these venues are often the only places where a young hotshot can learn to handle a mic as well as to handle a well-turned phrase. If Clear Channel and their ilk dominate the hiring and training process of new talk radio show hosts, producers, and corporate domineers, then it is deeply unlikely that our young Future Talkers of America, whatever their political stripes, will find a place to shine in their chosen career.
Our friends at the National Association of Broadcasters — the lobbying group that represents the consolidated broadcasters who have killed progressive talk — have deeply limited low power FM radio to only the most rural areas, convincing Congress in 2000 that these stations could interfere with full power broadcasts if packed onto the radio dial. Even though the FCC designed the program to serve cities too, and for low power FM radio in America’s big cities and suburbs, as well as small, rural communities, Congress has not moved to expand low power FM to the thousands of places that need it.
Luckily, Congressman Lee Terry (R-NE) and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA) just joined Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in cosponsoring the Local Community Radio Act of 2007 — HR 2802, and S 1675. This bill would bring LPFM to almost every major American city, and to hundreds, if not thousands, of other communties.
I want to turn around in 20 years and see vital debate on the airwaves, telling local, regional, and national stories with passion. As Anthony Riddle of the Alliance for Community Media said at this year’s National Conference for Media Reform (and I paraphrase) — if we train a generation of youth to understand that the airwaves belong to them — and we hand them a microphone so they can learn to effect change in their communities — they will expect the next generation of communications infrastructure to be theirs, and in the service of diverse local needs, first and foremost. They will not understand why it should be any other way.
You can call your Congressmembers, and ask them to cosponsor the Local Community Radio Act, by getting started at prometheusradio.org or at Free Press’ great site. Or sign your name to expandlpfm.org.
It’s a small step — but it’s one key tool we need in the fight for more voices on our airwaves. Play ball!
Thanks to Free Press for getting the word out about Gerardo Reyes Chavez’s incredible testimony at the FCC Media Ownership hearing in Tampa, Florida yesterday. Gerardo is a senior leader from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, one of the most influential and effective farmworker labor organizations in the world — they recently triumphed over McDonalds in a battle to get the giant corporation to pay workers a fair wage for their labor in America’s fields. (Watch a PBS piece on their victory, produced by NOW).
I’ve gotten a lot of requests to post his full testimony here. Reclaim the Media, one of my favorite media justice organizations, already beat me to the punch but I thought I’d take this opportunity to not just repost Gerardo’s testimony, but to also thank CIW spokesperson Julia Perkins and CIW organizer and station producer Francisca Cortez for testifying during the public testimony comment period last night.
After flying in to Tampa from New York, and just before a long drive back to Immokalee, Francisca and Julia waited until 10pm to tell their stories to the full FCC and the gathered crowds. Julia spoke about the unique beauty and power of WCTI-LP — Radio Consciencia — in a South Florida FM dial where most stations broadcast the same 10 songs over and over. Francisca described the work she does as a radio deejay, organizing for women’s issues and voices at 107.9 and all over Immokalee.
Without further adieu, Gerardo’s testimony. If I can get Julia and Francisca’s, I’ll post theirs as well. These leaders of the media reform movement — using community radio to save lives — are our heroes at Prometheus.
Testimony of Gerardo Reyes Chavez
Organizer, Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Radio Consciencia
WCTI-LP — 107.9 FM
Before the FCC Media Ownership Hearing, Tampa, Florida
April 30th, 2007
My thanks to the Commissioners for inviting me here. My name is Gerardo Reyes Chavez. I am a farmworker, living in Immokalee, Florida. I am here to describe how important a local and accessible media system is to farmworkers – and to demand that the FCC not just stop the consolidation of media ownership, but expand and protect the truly local media we need to survive.
For a community like ours that has few economic resources and faces daily violations of our human rights, it is difficult to have access to commercially-controlled media most of the time. In the past, when we wanted our community to hear an important message about their basic rights, we had to pay for time on the air and only when the commercial station wanted to grant us that time.
Media consolidation risks thousands of workers’ lives. Many farmworkers indigenous languages like M’am, Q’anjob’al, Haitian Creole, and many times Spanish is our second language.. However, like everyone we need the media to reach us when danger comes. Farmworkers often live in trailers, are often frightened but confused when storms move through – and they cannot understand the warnings coming their way on the radio, especially if they don’t speak fluent English or Spanish. The smaller communities where farmworkers live, like Immokalee, lose detailed coverage in favor of larger markets like Naples, Tampa, or Ft. Myers.
In 2003 we built our own low power FM community radio station. Radio Consciencia, or WCIW-LP – broadcasts at 107.9 in Immokalee. While most workers have little access to the Internet, newspapers, or television, Radio Consciencia gives Immokalee a voice and provides our community with the information it needs.
When Hurricane Wilma hit Immokalee in 2005, we realized the deep value of Radio Conciencia. All local radio stations were transmitting alerts on the impending hurricane, but Radio Conciencia was the only radio that was transmitting information on where to go and what to do in Spanish and in the indigenous languages spoken in our community. Many of the farmworkers had to work in the fields as the hurricane approached and did not return home until transportation to shelters being provided by Collier County had stopped running. When people were confused about what was happening they were able to contact us at the radio station to find out the current situation, the imperative of evacuating trailers, and where to find shelter. Radio Conciencia received so many calls from people who were stranded in trailers that we knew the unmet needs of our community. We mobilized 2 vans and transported over 350 people to shelter until late into the night. After the storm we saw that several of the trailers in the camps from which we evacuated people had been completely destroyed. After the storm Radio Conciencia continued to transmit information after the storm on where to find food and water and safety measures to take. By this time the County had realized the importance of Radio Conciencia to the community and had loaned us a generator so that we could continue to communicate these important messages in the aftermath of the storm. This is just one example of the many times Radio Conciencia has made a safer environment for our community.
I want to tell other farmworkers and communities like ours to build their own LPFMs. I’d especially like to see LPFM stations in communities to the north where migrant workers go when the season in Immokalee is over and where farmworkers are more isolated and have even less access to information, communities where workers face severe violations of their human rights including continuing existence of human trafficking and modern-day slavery. But the FCC already gave away most of the frequencies that they could use. Those spots are now filled with translator stations, which bring listeners no local content – but instead repeat a signal from Twin Falls, Idaho across the nation. The Commission must prioritize new local broadcasters over these distant-fed translators, and stop silencing community radio hopefuls, waiting years to broadcast.
You have chosen to listen to Florida’s people tonight, and to give our voices the strongest weight in your decision. I ask each of you to stop media consolidation, and to expand and protect access to low power FM. Listen to your conscience – and build the media system that you know, in your hearts, that we need. Thank you.
I’m tuned in right now to the next media ownership hearing in Tampa, Florida, looking forward to hearing from diverse community leaders and folks from all across the state. In Harrisburg, people who had driven from hours away, taking off days from their jobs and families, contended with paid broadcasters and the development directors of major nonprofit organizations. The commissioners themselves commented on how striking the difference was between community members who volunteered to come speak, and those staffers who were defending media consolidation, on the clock.
Tonight I’m especially looking forward to hearing from Gerardo Reyes Chavez, a leader from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (http://www.ciw-online.org), who will testify on the 2nd official panel of the evening, after 8pm. Gerardo will talk about the importance of not just stopping media consolidation, but fighting for essential growth of local, community-owned media outlets, like low power FM, public access TV, and full power noncommercial community radio. In his case, lives were saved when Radio Consciencia (http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2006/nov/17/radio_conciencia/?neapolitan ), the local LPFM station licensed to the Coalition, broadcast warnings in Zapotec, Haitian Creole, Q’anjob’al, to farmworkers stuck in the fields during Hurricane Wilma. As Gerardo will testify tonight, local stations were transmitteng alerts on the impending hurricane, but Radio Consciencia was the only station transmitting information on where to go and what to do in both Spanish and the indigenous languages spoken by thousands in the community. Community members could go even further — contacting the station to learn more about the current situation and where the evacuation trailers were. They got so many calls that the station mobilized vans and transported over 350 people to shelter that night. After the storm, WCIW-LP (Radio Consciencia), kept the information going on where to find shelter, food, and water, all in the diverse languages of the local community. By that time the County had realized the importance of the station, and loaned the group a generator so the station could keep saving lives.
The FCC can stop media consolidation if we demand it, but the current situation is broken. Rules that make current corporate media owners accountable, as Commissioner Copps said in his introduction this evening, would be an improvement. But what we really need are rules that encourage and permit more outlets like Radio Consciencia to be built — in every American city, and across the country.
You can listen tonight by clicking here: http://fcc.gov/realaudio/#apr30 , and by visiting http://www.stopbigmedia.com. I can already hear the crowd cheering the amazing, diverse speakers — congratulations to everyone coming out to testify and to all the groups who worked hard to make this happen.
All the members of the Prometheus delegation to Nairobi and Kisumu met up tonight at the home of the inimitable Jay Sand, to report to a small but engaged crowd on our Kenya trip. It was difficult to string together the experiences we had, how we felt about them, and to draw conclusions. So we didn’t do that. Instead we talked pretty stream of consciousness, but by sitting together, and by including new voices and interested parties in the conversation, we were able to draw some conclusions. As long as drawing conclusions doesn’t mean that we are wrapping up our experiences in a tight bow and putting them in a drawer, I am okay with that.
I talked about Safi and Faridah (Faridah in background to left, Safi with the mic), two of the women I felt closest two during my time in Nairobi, at the convergence space for the IMC, south of the city in the tree-lined, gated Karen suburb. Both of these women are mothers, living in Kampala, Uganda. They took over three weeks to come to Nairobi. They both learned a huge amount and taught so much more. Tonight I tried to think about and speak about -why- they came to Nairobi. I don’t have a big answer to that but the confusion around it felt pretty real.
The Uganda delegation to the Independent Media Center convergence in Nairobi consisted of a tight group of folks, all of whom were youth organizers with a group in Kampala called Mission for Youth Rights. I was never clear how they found out about the convergence in Nairobi, but I am very glad to have met them and to have learned from them during the weeks we were together.
Were Safi, Farida, and their allies and friends there to build a larger African Independent Media Center network? Were they there to learn technical skills and resources, and to practice teaching them? Both? What personal goals did they bring? I remember Safi pushing hard for us to make certificates proving that everyone had been there, and I couldn’t understand who would sign them. It wouldn’t be the Prometheus organizers, so I made slots for everyone at the event to sign them, including (and especially) Kennedy and John, local Kenya IMC founders who contributed to our gathering by handling a ton of the food logistics, and by lending incredible insight in our meetings, discussions, and private conversations.
It’s an issue of resources, for sure, and we started to talk about that tonight. When tools like computers, minidisc recorders, transmitter kits, internet access, soldering irons, even electrical power, are scarce, you can’t necessarily depend on the solidarity that comes by working with these tools to well up in the same way. Different kinds of solidarity — perhaps more mindful ones — come with direct conversations about why people come together to work, and conversations about what work is possible without ready access to technical tools.
The thinkings on Kenya tonight are matched by a nice article in the Philadelphia Weekly , accompanied by amazing photos by Prometheus volunteer and ally JJ Tiziou. I’m pretty happy with the article and grateful to George for sharing the stories of the trip and the Kenyan and other African colleagues we met with the world, but I regret not pushing to get more voices from our travellers in the article. Also, while Suad did a ton of work with the transmitter, many many other folks (like Andy) taught many other skills. A really cool technically minded guy named Job did a lot of work on that transmitter as well. I was just taken aback with Suad’s thirst for learning, her incredible skill on the transmitter (most of her solder joints were really clean and workable rather than broken) and also with her passion for radio as an appropriate and necessary technology for the community where she’s from, in Somalia. I hope we can work more with her someday…
As anyone with a passing familiarity with me, this blog, or Prometheus Radio Project likely knows by now, the Federal Communications Commission was caught hiding some research that we would have loved to have seen in 2003, or anytime after the FCC closed its public comment window on whether or not they should consolidate media ownership in the United States. The FCC, anytime between 2003 and today, could have released two studies that were conducted by staff at the Commission — one that demonstrates that locally owned TV stations devote an additional 20 to 25 percent of their newscasts to local news stories than stations owned by distant conglomerates — and another that shows how sharply the number of individual radio station owners fell when Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, widely seen as the most recent and most drastic cause of a paucity of decency, localism, and simple, traditional journalism in American broadcast media.
Why didn’t the FCC, under former Chairman Michael Powell and under current Chariman Kevin Martin, release these studies? Because they demonstrate clearly what Powell and Martin have tried hard to disprove to the courts and Congress (though not to the American people — that when local communities lose local control of their media outlets, their access to the basic tools of democracy falls to the floor.
That’s not a new message — over three million people told the commission, in detail, how deeply it would suck if Clear Channel owned all the stations in their town. Not only would access to our own city councils, schools, and churches dwindle, but our neighbors would lose their jobs, coverage of issues of interest to various minority groups would get a lot worse, and in the event of a disaster, diverse local coverage would become even less local and more consolidated.
Today, Martin finally bent to Boxer’s pressure, ordering a formal study into why the internal reports were shredded, but my instinct is that we should push for a lot more. I’ve been scrabbling with incredible local groups in Senate Commerce districts, groups like Reclaim the Media, in the heart of Seantor Maria Cantwell’s district, to see if any Senators who voted against the poorly-argued and widely-reviled media ownership consolidation package in 2003 would also vote to hold Martin’s renomination until he committed to much more than an official internal study as to why the reports were deep-sixed.
My thinking is this. For low power FM radio, community advocates, churches, civil rights groups, and more had to wait over three years for a study — an independent study commissioned -by- the FCC rather than conducted internally — to clear the way for more low power FM radio stations to be built in America’s big cities, where the broadcast lobby has successfully forbidden them for over six years, despite pressure from the Commission itself and an overwhelming amount of evidence that there is plenty of room for LPFM. We have to battle in Congress now to expand low power FM to America’s big cities, but in the scheme of things, undoing the congressional restriction on LPFM is just a matter of time, because we have an independent study conducted by a third party proving we are right, and thousands of community organizations lined up and fighting for their voice on the airwaves.
What would the same strategy look like for media ownership? We could freeze the media ownership proceeding almost indefinitely if we were waiting for an independent government contractor like MITRE to study the impacts of ownership. This would open a huge amount of time for community members to comment, for local economic studies to be produced and filed onto the docket as well — evidence which is infinitely more valuable not just on the ownership docket but for us as a movement, as we will hear from more and more of our communities the longer they have an official opportunity to make an impact.
In my opinion, the time is ripe to ask for an independent study, conducted by a third party organization, taking as long as necessary to get us guidelines for future regulation of media ownership. If we ask the Senate and the House to force the FCC to commission an independent study on the effects of consolidation — just like Congress did for low power FM — we might change how the FCC regulates media ownership, perhaps breaking the back of the recent trend towards deregulation, consolidation, and a shut-down of community voices.
Because we happen to be right in this case — because whatever evidence the industry tosses onto the record is likely to be baseless and hollow — I don’t see why we wouldn’t want the proceeding to take 2-3 years — as long as it takes the FCC to commission an independent study of
consolidation’s true effects.
While this is going on, and because we now have an extra month to file comments on the current media ownership proceeding (until December 21st), we need to be pushing to make sure that as many comments as possible get into this docket. One way that Prometheus discussed in its recent statement on the last shredded study that came to light was to make sure that the brilliant, diverse, and evidence-heavy comments filed onto the FCC’s localism docket are combined with the media ownership docket of 2006. As the lawyers at the Media Access Project always tell us — the FCC and the laywers representing us can always use clear stories describing how consolidation impacted their communities to push for specific rule changes. The localism docket is packed with comments like that, from Hawaii to Maine.
I heard a rumour that the long-overdue FCC cable ownership proceeding would be included in the current package of broadcast ownership rules the FCC is looking at on 06-121. That means that the testimony being collected by projects like Free the Flyers (by my friend Josh Breitbart) which is gathering microlocal information about how cable consolidation is hurting people in Philadelphia, my hometown, could impact how the FCC regulates cable here and around the country, if it is submitted to the Commission. Other powerful projects like Youth Media Council’s community review of KMEL, the People’s Station, and the media monitoring of the Media Empowerment Project‘s initiatives in North Carolina, Detroit, and San Antonio, could give the FCC the wherewithal to change how the market looks in those communities, just by the FCC taking the data that their communities have already gathered into account.
I feel like these reports, buried by the Commission but coming to light just as they try again to prove the impossible — are tools that our movement can’t afford to wield incorrectly, and without the full brunt of our power behind them. Stay tuned…