It may be a little known fact, but we, the public, legally own the airwaves in the United States. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is charged with ensuring the airwaves are used by broadcasters in "the public interest".
Sadly, the FCC has generally ruled in the interest of large corporations that extraordinary pressure through their numerous and well-paid lobbyists. It's gotten so bad that even FCC Chair Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, has publicly stated that he doesn't know what is meant by "the public interest." He believes it is up to the market to decide how the media needs of the public should best be met. Powell's left the gate of the hen house wide open, given the key to the foxes, and he's cheering them on from his cozy chair.
On September 12, 2002 the FCC created a window of opportunity for public comment on Powell's proposal to weaken limits on media ownership. The comment period extends until January 2, 2003 and is meant to gather input from local communities on whether corporate consolidation meets their need for diverse information. Powell wants to remove the last remaining limits on media ownership, but he is required to seek public comment before ramming through his free-market solution for meeting "the public interest".
Clear Channel is the corporation that has benefited most dramatically from the FCC's weakening of ownership rules in 1996. That makes the company a strategic target for this current comment period because they have damaged media diversity and violated the public interest so severely in cities across the country.
To determine which stations near you are owned by Clear Channel, simply visit the company's radio section at http://www.clearchannel.com and enter your locality in the station finder.
What You Can Do:
File an Online Public Comment
Comments about how Clear Channel's ownership of stations hurts local media diversity can be a one-paragraph first person account, a rigorously documented report, or a letter from a group of organizations detailing how their concerns are absent from local coverage. If an issue you care about isn't being covered on local radio then this is grounds for a comment from you and others who feel the same way.
Flooding the FCC with comments is crucial, so encourage your friends to comment. Remember you only have until January 2nd 2003!
Issue a Report
Pick a station and work with a small group of friends tape the drive time programming over the course of a couple weeks. Decide on a few categories of coverage important to the group and the community's needs. Monitor the taped segments for the presence and absence of this content and make notes, summarize your findings and send it to friends, neighbors, local media and public officials.
For an excellent example, visit http://www.youthmediacouncil.org
Examples of questions to include in your monitoring form could include:
- Did they announce local events & discuss local issues?
- Were a range of community leaders included in discussions?
- Did they air Public Service Announcements by community groups?
- Were local artists interviewed and/or featured in the play list?
You can also:
- Get people to write and call the station to complain and cite the report
- Send findings to the FCC, signed by a number of people and groups!!
- Schedule a meeting between the station manager and local activists to discuss how the station can improve its accountability to the community.
Draft a City Council Resolution
Work with community organizations, religious organizations, labor groups and others. to present your local City Council with your report findings, or even just your anecdotal concerns, and a draft resolution for them to approve. Examples of items for the resolution include:
- Local stations should regularly feature discussions on local issues with a variety of community leaders.
- Local stations should play a significant number of local artists each day.
- Local concert venues should use union employees that are paid a living wage.
- A call for the FCC to ensure that media ownership meets the needs of local communities.
Visit a Local Clear Channel Station
Every station is legally required to maintain a Public File of their community service programming, to regularly update the file, and to present it to any member of the public upon request during business hours. They must honor this request while you are present and make a copy for you; otherwise they are in violation of FCC rules.
Information contained in the file, and that which is absent, can help make a strong case to the press, public, and the FCC about the station's commitment to public service.
Work With Local Unions
Unions across the country are working with local communities and organizations to pressure Clear Channel to use union workers at their concerts. With $8 billion in revenue last year, the corporation can afford to pay workers a living wage.
Teamsters Local 85 in San Francisco recently picketed and won concession from Clear Channel to use their members to set up for a Rolling Stones concert. Now they are mobilizing to get the city to mandate union workers at concerts in all city-owned venues. Clear Channel is not happy.
Call a local union and make sure they know about this opportunity. Work together to get the word out and pressure Clear Channel at an upcoming concert.
Organize a Call-in Campaign
Urge them to give local artists some airtime. Even as consolidated as it has become, radio remains a medium with some openings for public input. Using call-in shows to get their message out is a crucial tactic that has been used successfully by right wing activists.
Get friends together to coordinate a campaign of frequent call-ins with a focused message about how you'd like to see the station improve. Call-in to on-air shows and also leave messages with station management.
Jeff Perstein is executive director of Media Alliance in San Francisco.