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  • Sylvia Moore 12:47 pm on January 19, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , public airwaves, , speech, Sue Wilson, ,   

    Broadcast Blues’ Sue Wilson Talks About Hate Speech 

    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.

     
  • Sylvia Moore 3:54 pm on January 11, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Arizona, assassination, , , , Clarence Dupnik, , , , , extremism, , , First Amendment, , , , Gabrielle Giffords, genocide, , , Jared Lee Loughner, , license, , , media monopolies, , , political, political violence, , public broadcasting, , , , , Roger Ailes, speech, Telecommunications Act,   

    How Many More Have to Die Before Big Media Stops Peddling Hate? 

    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?

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.

     
  • Sylvia Moore 5:16 pm on August 24, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , speech,   

    Al Franken Calls Net Neutrality “Biggest Issue Since Freedom of Religion” 

    Video of Sen. Al Franken’s speech at last week’s Federal Communications Commission hearing on net neutrality:

     
  • Sylvia Moore 11:02 am on August 14, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: bigotry, broadcasting, , dirty words, , , foul language, , , Laura Schlessinger, , , obscenity, , , , , speech, talk radio   

    Why Won’t the FCC Treat Hate Speech the Same As Foul Language? 

    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.

     
  • Sylvia Moore 3:15 pm on January 22, 2010 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: campaigns, corporations, , , , speech, supreme court   

    They Can’t Buy Democracy If It’s Free 

    Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money in candidate elections presents a sea change in American politics and is a direct threat to our democracy. According to the court, money is speech, corporations are people. We can now imagine a world where Big Business can spend billions of dollars in advertising against candidates and legislation that threaten their bottom line. Legislators who take all this new corporate cash literally become wholly owned subsidiaries. Those legislators who want to do the right thing in favor of the public may be too afraid now to do so. However, the backlash has already started. Immediately after the 5-4 ruling, called Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, the Obama administration and Democratic leaders in Congress announced plans for legislation to mitigate the damage.

    Opponents of the court’s decision are pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban corporate personhood – a tall hurdle to leap. But in the meantime, there are legislative remedies being proposed, such as allowing shareholders a say in any political spending, and renewing the push for voluntary public financing of campaigns. Laudable goals, but I have some concerns about the effectiveness of these. At least one congressperson says shareholders already have the right to veto political spending. As for public financing, taxpayers could never hope to match the billions a corporate-financed candidate could generate.

    The major problem is the amount of money campaigns pay to media outlets to get their messages out. Advertising is one of the biggest – if not the biggest – expense in a campaign’s budget. Spend gobs of money on deceptive commercials against your opponent, and you can drown them out if they don’t have enough money to fight back. And everyone knows that many voters – overworked and uninformed – tend to make decisions based on political ads. But what if Congress and the President require that broadcast television and radio outlets offer spots for political ads for free? This would immediately level the playing field somewhat. After all, television and radio should be operating in the public interest because the airwaves belong to the public.

    The details would have to be worked out, but I envision that candidates wanting the free airtime would have to show some base of support (via signatures or whatever), and each candidate – people backed and corporate backed – would get an equal amount of time. Candidates would no longer have to worry about opponents drowning them out with a bombardment of issue ads. Average working people can get the same shot at running for office as rich people. Voters can finally decide between candidates based on their merits. Call it The Fair Elections Doctrine.

    I can already hear howling from the four or five companies that own our media outlets. Free airtime for political candidates means a lot less money for them. But I really don’t care. Preserving democracy is far more important than the mainstream media’s profits. Besides, free airtime may have the beneficial effect of creating shorter campaign seasons, like they have in Europe. Media companies certainly won’t like to have to give away so much airtime over the 1-2 years it currently takes to run most federal campaigns, when they can fill that time with paid commercials. Congress can set, say, a three month bloc of time before the election for the free ads. If Big Business thinks even that is unfairly regulating their speech, then let them access more airtime. But it must be free, and equal airtime must be offered to all opponents in response. Giving everyone free, equal airtime might also discourage much longer ads, specifically the anti-Hillary Clinton documentary at the center of the Supreme Court case. I haven’t yet read the entire 183-page court ruling, but  I wonder if corporations can also now spend unlimited amounts of money on other campaign expenses, like volunteers and staff, signs, T-shirts, buttons, flyers, mailers, bumper stickers, posters, robocalls and candidate events. Anyway, the free media time would go a long way toward evening the playing field, and the rest of a candidate’s expenses could then be made up for with public financing.

    Finally, with the Fair Elections Doctrine, nobody’s free speech rights would be trampled because everyone will be given the same chance at the same time to present their message to the voters at the same price – zero. After all, what good is free speech if it isn’t free?

     
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