Updates from November, 2012 Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts
The following was sent to L.A. Media Reform by Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director of Media Alliance:
Tell USC local, independent media is too important: don’t crush community
stations from afar
Targeting: Dr. C. L. Max Nikias (President, USC) and Ms. Brenda Barnes
(President, USC Radio)
Started by: Russell Newman
The University of Southern California has announced that it will ‘preserve
classical music in San Francisco’ via the purchase of the rights to
broadcast there at 90.3 FM and 89.9 FM. USC sees this as a chance to
connect with alumni and with potential recruits. The deal, however, is a
For decades, 90.3 has been the home of the award-winning, University of
San Francisco-operated community station KUSF-FM. As part of a deal
negotiated behind closed doors between USC, the University of San
Francisco, and Entercom – one of the largest radio station owners in the
country – the station was unceremoniously torn from the airwaves earlier
this week. Volunteers arrived to find the station behind lock and key;
others report being treated like criminals as they were ushered out in a
state of surprise. Preserving classical music from afar should not come at
the expense of the cultural and musical communities that are now losing a
key hub. As USC students, alumni, faculty and staff, it troubles us deeply
that our own institution is partially responsible for this outcome.
Educational stations are one of America’s last widely-available outlets
for local, critical and challenging content. During a time in which
independent voices are increasingly scarce on the consolidated FM dial,
USC’s initiative comes at the cost of hobbling a decades-old community
institution. Please sign the petition below to express solidarity with
those of the KUSF community working for the return of their station. It is
our hope that USC can achieve its goals while preserving a valuable San
This petition is directed specifically to students, alumni, faculty and
staff of USC.
How did so much of American radio and television turn from a marketplace of diverse political ideas into a cesspool of Wall Street propaganda and violent-tinged ranting? In the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Tucson, Arizona, filmmaker Sue Wilson appeared Jan. 12 on Nicole Sandler’s Radio or Not show to talk about how media consolidation destroyed the ability of communities to control local programming and led to the rise of hate speech on the public airwaves. Sue also talks about her plans to start an organized effort to legally challenge the radio licenses of broadcasters who abuse the public trust. Sue’s excellent film, Broadcast Blues, outlines the history and consequences of the deregulation of radio and television. The interview starts at 1:16:55. Click here to listen.
Last Saturday, when I saw the headlines blaring from Internet that a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had been nearly assassinated in Tucson, my blood ran cold. My initial shock turned to anger as I read that the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, allegedly gunned down another 18 people, killing six of them, including a young child. I had been fearing this day ever since President Obama’s inauguration two years ago, when incidences of threats and actual political violence suddenly exploded, amid a noxious stew of violent rightwing rhetoric emanating from our public airwaves.
For years, I kept hoping that the President and Congress would do something to rein in the corporate media companies who continue to showcase hatemongering radio and TV commentators, and rake in millions of dollars at the expense of reasoned debate and civil public discourse. I wrote letters about my concerns to my congressional representatives. I blogged about it. I wanted our public officials to take this abuse of free speech on our public airwaves much more seriously.
I wasn’t as worried about President Obama’s safety, because of the fortress-like security apparatus afforded to American commanders-in-chief. No, I had a feeling that the first attempted political assassination of a government official in many years would be on a member of Congress. Now it’s happened. And so many other innocent lives were lost or ruined in the attack.
None of these extremist broadcast commentators told Loughner, or anybody else, to go and massacre people. But they and the companies who employ them have perpetuated an environment where violent rhetoric is deemed an acceptable form of entertainment, where media personalities steer close to or even commit incitement, and where alternative viewpoints are scarce. Unfortunately, our public leaders – Democrats as well as Republicans – have acquiesced to the wishes of Big Media by allowing deregulation and corporate consolidation. Our government has also gotten rid of equal time rules, and declawed the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to oversee broadcast outlets and protect the public interest. On top of that, the United States, unlike other Western countries, lacks a robust public broadcast system that can provide an antidote to corporate media’s worst programming. So we see large portions of the population whose only source of news and information comes from extremist radio figures and lightweight local TV news broadcasts. Add to this large-scale ignorance, a toxic brew of massive income inequality, racism and bigotry, and easy access to guns. It took Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who oversees Tucson, to finally say to the mainstream what many of us in the media reform movement have been screaming about for years:
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
“It’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business. People tend to pooh-pooh this business about the vitriol that inflames American public opinion by the people who make a living off of that. That may be free speech but it’s not without consequences.”
Many are calling on the haters to tamp down the vitriol. Interestingly, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, the cable network that is now synonymous with rightwing flamethrowing and propaganda, is asking “both sides” – meaning left and right – to tone it down. Other mainstream media outlets are also continuing to put out this false meme that liberals and conservatives are equally responsible for the venom polluting the public airwaves. Ailes and his ilk know perfectly well that it is conservative leaders, media pundits, TV and radio personalities who are primarily the ones spreading hate speech and violent rhetoric. Liberals just don’t have the kind of money or access to as many broadcast stations as do conservatives. And what liberals have said in public, while provocative, just doesn’t reach the same level of bloodthirstiness that we’ve seen from conservatives.
But the real point here is that no amount of pleading for calm will stop the behavior. There may be a pause for a while, but I doubt it will last. The media conglomerates are just making too much money from hate speech. That has to change. Unless and until laws with teeth are put back on the books to regulate the media companies, the invective will escalate and more tragedies will happen. What should be done?
- Break up the media monopolies: There are only a handful of companies that control almost everything Americans see and hear. That means only a handful of executives (typically white and male) are dictating what kind of information is available to an increasingly diverse public. This also means that a handful of executives are using toxic radio and TV personalities to sow divisions among the citizenry just so they can try to sell us their corporate propaganda. That must end. Allowing Comcast and NBC Universal to merge is taking American media in the wrong direction.
- Give the FCC and the public more enforcement power: When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, the interval between renewing broadcast licenses increased from five to eight years. That should be reversed. (FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants to reduce the period to four) In addition, broadcasters whose media personalities routinely incite violence and threaten people or groups with bodily harm should have their licenses revoked. In addition, it should be just as easy to file a challenge against a station for hate speech as it is for profane speech. We may have free speech rights, but no one has the right to own or broadcast on a radio or TV station. Broadcasting on our limited public airwaves is a privilege, and broadcasters must be held to certain standards.
- The United States must implement an independent, 100%-taxpayer-funded public broadcasting system with TV and radio stations available in every community – urban and rural. PBS and NPR, with their paltry taxpayer subsidies and commercial underwriters, just don’t cut it. We need something on par with the BBC. This new public system must have access to frequencies equally as powerful as the ones available to commercial stations. Public broadcasting systems in other Western countries have a much more expansive array of high-quality produced shows featuring culture, politics, science and documentaries. Citizens in countries with robust public broadcasting systems are exposed to a wider variety of political views and are therefore, more informed than Americans. Toxic speech must be counteracted with more diverse and better speech.
- All Americans deserve equal access to fast, affordable and high-quality broadband that is free of corporate manipulation and control.
Thanks to our First Amendment, Americans probably enjoy the most permissive free speech rights of any modern democracy. But this right is not absolute. Some are abusing the First Amendment by using the public’s airwaves to stir up hatred and division. They are profiting off the public trough and giving out only garbage in return. Extremist radio and TV commentators are not directly responsible for the political violence plaguing America today, but they have contributed to the creation of an environment of nastiness in our public discourse that can influence disturbed individuals like Jared Loughner. If this extremist speech isn’t soon ostracized from public life in the U.S., the lone, crazed gunman will morph into organized mobs hell bent on murdering political opponents and even committing genocide.
Amid all the uproar last week about the Federal Communication Commission’s new not-so-net neutrality rules, Congress passed important new legislation that will further democratize the airwaves. The Local Community Radio Act will allow thousands of new low power FM stations to be created across the country for use by non-profits and community groups. Once President Obama signs the legislation, supported by Democrats and Republicans, organizations will be able to broadcast news and information of interest to their specific communities.
This law will definitely provide communities a much needed alternative to the cookie-cutter programming and shout fests that characterize much of radio today. Communities will be able to tailor programming to their specific needs and cultural tastes, and won’t just be stuck with shows streaming in from big cities like New York. And the law could also prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred in Minot, MN, in 2002.
Well, last Tuesday’s elections went almost as predicted by Big Media. I say “almost,” in that even though the Democrats got creamed in the House races, they managed to barely hold onto the Senate. All year, Big Media were pretty much salivating over seeing a repeat of 1994, wherein the Democrats lost both the House and the Senate to the Republicans, a blowout many attributed to so-called liberal “overreach” on the part of then-President Clinton’s administration.
Aside from the Republicans, the corporate media were big winners in this year’s turbulent mid-terms. This election was the most expensive non-presidential election in history, with $4 billion spent by candidates. Thanks to the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United, independent groups were able to anonymously bankroll an onslaught of political advertising on behalf of mostly Republican candidates.
And Big Media was there to cash in. Hundreds of millions of dollars from political spots went right into the coffers of television and radio stations and cable outlets across the country. It’s no wonder that political pundits paid little attention to the corrosive effect all this advertising – much of it deceptive – had on the outcomes of the electoral races. The media barons would no doubt be the biggest obstacles to an effort to require all political advertising be free.
The corporate media is primarily interested in boosting ratings by pumping up the horse race between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are less interested in providing voters with accurate information about issues and candidates that the electorate needs to make sound decisions. Worse, we have radio and television outlets spewing propaganda 24-7, with no accountability demanded by advertisers or federal regulators. So what you end up with is a confused electorate, whose voting patterns give an unclear and distorted picture of what it is they exactly want from their representatives.
The profit motive, the quest for ratings, and false equivalency are killing the credibility and independence of the Fourth Estate in this country. They’re also killing our democracy. The mainstream media are largely to blame for a public that is increasingly ignorant and ill-equipped to make rational decisions about public policy.
The wall between news and entertainment must be restored. Journalists must stop giving fanatics, lunatics and shysters equal weight with academics, scientists and other experts in various fields. It’s time for all reporters, editors, producers and publishers to stop the “he said, she said” stories, and start informing their audiences as to who is telling the truth and who is lying. Exposing lies is not “biased,” because the truth cannot be biased. The news must become a public service again. The survival of our democracy depends on it.
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I thought about this question as news spread of conservative talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s racially-charged comments directed at an African-American caller on an Aug. 10 broadcast. Schlessinger, whose show is broadcast in Los Angeles on KFWB News Talk 980AM, argued with the caller over the use of the N-word, after the caller sought the radio host’s advice on what to do about racist remarks made by friends of her Caucasian husband. Schlessinger repeated the N-word 11 times over the course of the exchange, and accused the caller (and black people) of being “hypersensitive.” You can listen to the full audio on the Media Matters web site here.
Schlessinger has since apologized on her web site and in a subsequent broadcast on her show. But even so, what she said at the end of her rant about hypersensitivity “being bred by black activists” because “it’s all about power,” is just as disturbing and racist. Objecting to the N-word isn’t about hypersensitivity or seeking power. It’s about the fact that black people – and all people – deserve to be respected as human beings, not constantly bullied and insulted by those who abuse 1st Amendment rights on the public’s airwaves.
The Schlessinger incident is just the latest in a long string of ugly race-baiting, religious bigotry and homophobia that is now distressingly commonplace on talk radio and cable television. Talk radio – Schlessinger’s domain – reaches a far broader audience than cable, with about 50 million listeners versus cable news’ nearly 4 million. Because radio operates on the public airwaves, the Federal Communications Commission has the ability, in most cases, to restrict licenses and levy fines on stations whose broadcasts contain obscenity. But the FCC mainly concerns itself with the kind of obscenity that includes the Seven Dirty Words – not racial, ethnic, religious or homophobic slurs.
It seems to be far easier to punish a broadcaster for one f-bomb dropped on the air, than it is if the same on-air personality unleashed a tirade of bigoted garbage. The former is relatively harmless. Nobody is likely to be physically harmed by an utterance of the f-word. But slurs directed at certain groups of people, day in and day out, encourage violence and political instability – particularly at a time of great economic stress.
Some activists want listeners to target the advertisers of these shows that peddle hate speech as entertainment. But that isn’t good enough. Broadcasters will always manage to find new advertisers to replace those lost. And there are those station owners who will push a certain ideological agenda, no matter how much money they lose on advertising.
Hate speech is more divisive and dangerous than mere dirty words. Broadcasters should be held accountable for what they say when those words harm others. I say it’s time for the FCC to clamp down on hate speech, and start fining and revoking the licenses of broadcast stations that harbor hatemongers.
John Amato is frustrated about the state of American politics. But he hasn’t let that frustration bring him down. Instead, for the last decade, Amato has been wielding his sword against the American right-wing machine from his computer.
The founder of Crooks & Liars, one of the most influential left-leaning blogs in the country, recounted his journey from working musician to liberal commentator to a group of about 40 people at a private event in Beverly Hills on July 16. Amato shared how he and co-author David Neiwert researched their new book, Over the Cliff: How Obama’s Election Drove the American Right Insane. The event was hosted by LA Media Reform, Alliance Hollywood and the LA Progressive. Amato signed books after his talk.
Amato, a Brooklyn native, said he used to have little interest in politics, and was registered as an independent until 2000, when the U.S. Supreme Court sided with George W. Bush in his lawsuit against Al Gore, essentially handing Bush the presidency. Horrified by that decision, Amato decided to get politically active. He started Crooks & Liars in 2004, focusing on providing an alternative news source of, by and for citizens. The blog now has several writers, and showcases video and extensive commentary on the hot political issues of the day. Amato has won several Weblog Awards, including Best Video Blogger in 2006 and Best Weblog About Politics in 2008.
Much of Amato’s talk focused on the aftermath of President Obama’s election in 2008, Republican losses in Congress, and criticism of the corporate mainstream media. He said he is “dumbstruck by what passes for journalism these days,” and that the traditional media – newspapers, television, radio – is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Amato expressed particular outrage at 24-hour cable news, wondering why cable devotes so little time reporting on actual legislation. Fortunately, the blogosphere has made some headway in leveling the playing field with mainstream media. Amato said if it wasn’t for liberal bloggers, the Democrats wouldn’t have taken back the House in 2006.
“Through citizen journalism and the blogosphere, we’ve had an impact,” Amato said. “But we have a long way to go.”
Watching the conservative cable outlet, FOX News, is a daily ritual for Amato, and its content is regularly in Crooks & Liars’ crosshairs. Amato said he worries about the right-wing media’s obsession with race, which has intensified since Obama’s election.
“The race baiting that has been going on is beyond belief,” Amato said.
Amato talked about rising right-wing violence in America, mentioning the murder of Dr. George Tiller, by anti-abortion zealots in Kansas, the targeting of law enforcement, and the more than 200 hate crimes committed since Obama became president. Amato said he fears that if Obama wins re-election, the violence will get worse. He said the public can fight back against hate speech in the media by forming local media reform groups, and by going after advertisers.
“Those are the most powerful tools that we have,” said Amato. “Hold pundits and politicians accountable for their words.”
For photos of the event, click here.
As if the proposed Comcast/NBC Universal merger just wasn’t enough, the nation’s big broadcasters are strapping on the feed bag, ready to engorge themselves with more tasty snacks of the public’s television and radio airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing its media ownership rules for the fourth time since 2000, and the National Association of Broadcasters is again asking the commission to ease up on the regulation.
Specifically, the NAB wants the FCC to eliminate rules restricting cross-ownership of newspapers and broadcast stations, relax radio station ownership rules as well as rules restricting ownership of television stations in certain markets. Media watchdog group, Free Press, immediately petitioned the FCC, criticizing the NAB’s request, and noting that the commission has gone too far already in allowing more media company consolidation. Free Press Policy Counsel Corie Wright:
“The FCC’s media ownership rules are critical to ensuring that the public’s primary news and information sources do not become consolidated in the hands of a few companies. Moreover, the so-called efficiencies of consolidation have not materialized. Instead, the cost of consolidating has placed a number of companies that might otherwise be profitable in dire straits, resulting in disinvestment in newsgathering and job losses for journalists.
“We urge the Commission to resist industry pressures to further weaken ownership limits. Companies that have made poor business decisions should not be rewarded with permission to engage in even more media consolidation that would further injure competition and diversity among local media outlets. It is not the Commission’s job to protect industry profit margins. Rather, its role is to promulgate and enforce regulations designed to promote competition, diversity and localism so that the public interest is served.”
If the FCC lets broadcasters own just about every newspaper, television and radio station in one market, quality journalism will continue to suffer. We’ll have even fewer – if any – news stories about how the City Council is spending taxpayer money, and more gossip about Lindsay Lohan’s legal troubles. After all, to a media company looking after its bottom line, gossip sells – government doesn’t. And there will be fewer alternatives available for the kind of reliable information one needs to make good decisions in a democracy. The Internet has yet to become a sufficient destination for local news. Besides, most people still get their news from television. Instead of informing viewers, broadcasters are spoon-feeding them entertainment disguised as “news,” with the result being too many people who know next to nothing about how their government works. That’s what rampant consolidation has brought us.
These broadcasters have stuffed themselves enough. Isn’t it time the FCC put them on a diet?
Well, radio personality Rush Limbaugh just outdid himself with the racist venom this week. The insults on the airwaves have gone on so long, I sometimes wonder when Limbaugh and his fellow blowhards are just gonna drop all decorum and start screaming nothing but epithets. But one California legislator has decided enough is enough. State Sen. Gil Cedillo introduced a resolution last year denouncing hate speech in the media, and it just passed the state Assembly last month. See text below:
Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 58—Relative to hate speech.
LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST
SCR 58, Cedillo. Freedom of speech: hate speech. This measure would condemn the increase of hate speech in the media, particularly against Latinos, and urge for accurate and fair reporting to counter hate speech on television, radio, cable, and
WHEREAS, The media plays a critical role in how the United States Latino community is portrayed, including how Latinos are presented and portrayed to Latino children and to the broader society; and
WHEREAS, Hate speech has been defined as speech which threatens imminent unlawful action, but also, as speech which creates a climate of hate and prejudice, which in turn may foster the commission of hate crimes; and
WHEREAS, There has been an increase in hate speech in the media, and in particular, hate speech on television, radio, cable, and on the Internet; and
WHEREAS, The increase of hate speech in the media, in addition to lack of diversity in the media, media consolidation, and media concentration, are having a profoundly negative impact on the civil rights of Latinos and on society as a whole; and
WHEREAS, Studies indicate that there is a correlation between hate speech in the media and hate crimes against Latinos; and
WHEREAS, Unsubstantiated, inflammatory, and inaccurate information is disseminated and promoted in the public sphere about undocumented immigrants and Latinos in general, causing an escalating life-threatening movement against all Latinos; and
WHEREAS, A recently released FBI report documents that Hispanics comprise 62.8 percent of victims of crimes motivated by a bias toward the victims’ ethnicity or national origin, an increase of 35 percent from 2003 to 2006. During that same period, more than 300 anti-immigration groups formed, with half labeled as “nativist extremists.” Moreover, the violence is directed at all
Latinos, whether undocumented or not, because of the indistinguishable characteristics of Latino subgroups; now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the Senate of the State of California, the Assembly thereof concurring, That the Legislature condemns the increase of hate speech in the media and demands accurate and fair reporting as well as equal access to counter one-sided hate speech in the media, and in particular, hate speech on television, radio, cable, and the Internet; and be it further
Resolved, That the Secretary of the Senate transmit copies of this resolution to the author for appropriate distribution.
Undocumented immigrants are currently the favorite scapegoats for America’s economic woes, and it’s not too hard to see the anti-immigrant frenzy whipped up on talk radio resulting in bad public policy like the “papers please” law in Arizona. However, at least one newspaper commentator thinks Cedillo’s resolution is a waste of time and an affront to free speech. I’m all in favor of people being able to speak their minds, even when that’s offensive. But with freedom of speech comes responsibility when that speech is carried over the public’s airwaves. And the airwaves these days seem to be tilted heavily toward a point of view that tolerates and celebrates disrespecting certain groups of people. The public has a right to demand programming that rebuts those views. Rather than being a waste of time, it’s good to see public officials taking this problem seriously.