What's Wrong With this Picture?
Once again, all five FCC commissioners were invited. Once again, only two showed up.
It was the Democrats alone--commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein--who arrived at Hunter College in New York City Thursday to listen and to agree with a crowd of 350 citizens opposed to further consolidation of the media. Emotions ran high, as some waited for nearly four hours, until 10 PM, to have their chance at a microphone.
Earlier this month, a crowd of 500 showed up at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles to express similar sentiments about the lack of independently owned radio and television outlets and newspapers. It was the first public meeting on media consolidation in which all five commissioners appeared, and only then, under pressure.
In cities like San Antonio and Milwaukee, hundreds more have camped out in the chilly predawn hours for a chance to voice their concerns--speaking passionately about what consolidation has done to stifle the creativity of independent musicians and artists in their communities.
In 2003 the FCC attempted to relax ownership rules further, allowing big media to gobble up still more radio and television stations.
"[Former FCC Chair] Michael Powell sat there in Washington and said, 'People don't care about ownership,'" recalled Copps, who opposed the rule changes then, and still does. "Well, let me tell you, they care. And they can get awfully proprietary about it, and awfully damn mad."
Nearly 3 million complaints were sent in opposition to the FCC's secret plans, which were crafted behind closed doors and did not allow for public comment.
"Citizens rose up, and it was a consumer victory in 2003," said Copps. "But now we're back at square one."
Thursday's meeting, organized by the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and other groups, was timed to coincide with the release of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists's annual "Network Brownout Report," which noted, among other findings, that in 2005 less than 1 percent of the news stories that aired on the three major networks were exclusively about Latinos or Latino-related issues.
"Every year it shows the same depressing result," said New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez, speaking of the research that also showed "a sharp increase" in crime coverage.
"We're basically invisible, except when we're criminals," said Ivan Roman, executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.
"You never see a black Latina as a professional woman," noted Malin Falu, a popular New York radio personality and longtime critic of "the blond, blue-eyed face" of Spanish television. "We're either slaves, illiterate or sexual objects."
Members of the Tri-State Like It Is Support Coalition, a New Jersey-based group working to support Like It Is, the long-running news and information show hosted by Gil Noble, also made a strong showing. The group accused WABC-TV and its parent company, Disney, of undermining progressive African-American voices by pre-empting the show with sports programming and consistently slicing its one-hour time slot to thirty minutes.
Coalition chair Lisa Davis urged a boycott of Dunkin' Donuts, one of the major advertisers on WABC-TV, to support the coalition in its decade-long battle against Disney.
Marianne Pryor of the Writer's Guild East and a news writer at ABC News Radio said that "Nobody knows how to dazzle better than Disney. But what's troubling is that instead of giving us information, news managers push story ideas to cross promote ABC entertainment shows." She later added that ABC's "Good Morning America" also promotes Disney movies.
Ownership matters, as speakers pointed out, and repeated studies have shown that minority owners report more local news, have more diverse hiring and management, and serve their communities better.
Free Press, a Washington, DC, media reform organization, recently released a study on minority and female ownership of broadcast television showing that minorities own a little more than 3 percent of all commercial broadcast television stations nationwide. (Women own about 5 percent, and African-Americans and Latinos own about 1 percent each.) Advocacy groups such as Free Press have had to do this research because the federal government has refused to collect such data since 2000.
"There's something funky going on in America," said Afrika Bambaataa, a founding father of hip-hop, who spoke from the stage wearing sunglasses. "Payola, mind-control.... Who is controlling the minds of the masters of the future?" he asked.
The rapper M-1, who described himself as one-half of the "all-too-political Dead Prez," a politically conscious rap group, also made an appearance onstage. "I work for the people. The streets are my office," he said. "And the word for the day is 'self-determination.' This is not just a war for oil," he added. "It's a war for the mind of our people."
The FCC's deadline for public comment is December 21.