Archive | January, 2004

pirates at clear channel hq

FCC Localism Task Force Meets in Clear Channel’s Back Yard

pirates at clear channel hq

TheFCC’s Localism Task Force held a public hearing in San Antonio, TX, home to everyone’s favorite radio goliath, Clear Channel, which also happens to be the arch nemesis of localism.

As one would expect, media activists used the hearing as an opportunity to point out and bash industry consolidation and it’s decimation of local accountability and service. Clear Channel used it as an opportunity to show piece of video propaganda to demonstrate how much of a good media citizen the company has been in San Antonio — but not necessarily in the hundreds of other cities where it has stations.

You can get a rundown gloss of some of the affair from a Reuters story, but otherwise the national press didn’t pay much attention to this, the second Localism Task Force hearing.

The San Antonio area press paid more attention to the event, which drew about 500 people. The Express-News reported that about a quarter of the attendees stood in line to participate in the public comment period. Even though they don’t say it outright, every indication is that the comments from just about everyone who wasn’t in the broadcast industry were critical of broadcast localism, since the only positive comments mentioned were from representatives of local broadcasters. You gotta figure that if some average Jane had something glowing to say, that would’ve been news, and given plenty of space in the story — especially since the Express-News’ website is a joint venture with KENS TV-5.

As John at points out, there was a 10-watt pirate station broadcasting at a small protest held outside Clear Channel’s headquaters. As you can see in pictures posted to Houston IMC, the protestors indeed were dressed as pirates — maybe that was so they would blend in with the bigger, more theiving pirates inside the HQ.

Clear Channels WOAI-TV tried to spin the protest as if San Antonio was about to become downtown Seattle in 1999:

” Protesters from around the country, some of them veterans of anti globalization demonstrations in Seattle, Miami, and elsewhere, are descending on San Antonio to demonstrate their displeasure with media consolidation at a Federal Communications Commission hearing on localism set for tomorrow evening.”

As the pictures and all the other press coverage show, that’s all a bit of wishful thinking on Cheap Channel’s part. While there were certainly folks from outside Texas at the hearing, it appears most of the comments were dominated by San Antonio residents and other Texans. Even greater wishful thinking was the story’s claim that the pirate station “was shut down by officials late Tuesday afternoon.” A claim that John also dispels based on reports from people who were there.

Clear Channel, all the news that fits our ideology.

Unlike the first Localism Task Force hearing held last October in Charlotte, NC I didn’t hear any talk of the FCC trying to keep speakers from mentioning the ownership issue, pushing the ludicrous stance that localism and ownership are separate issues. I reckon the FCC’s organizers figured they’d only get bad press and a 500 pissed off attendees if they tried to shut them up on this hot button issue.

Of course, the FCC’s new ownership rules, which pound another nail in the coffin of localism, may still yet take effect. Although they’ve been held up by the courts, they haven’t been overturned, and Congress still hasn’t done anything substantive, except blow a kiss to national TV cartel.

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Comments Turned Off Due to Spam

Unfortunately, for the moment I’ve had to turn off comments here on mediageek due to getting deluged with hundreds of spam comments in the last week. These spam comment have links to all sorts of spam sites — casinos, online drugs, penis enlargers — in the hope of duping google into raising the ranking of their sites based upon having so many links to them.

I will fix the situation by upgrading the newest version of Moveable Type, my blog software, and using some free blog spam killing software. But I don’t have time to do that right this moment. So for now the spammers ruin it for everyone.

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FCC Slaps Clear Channel with $755k Indecency Fine, But CC’s Very Existence Is Indecent

Today the FCC announced an aggregate $755,000 in fines against a group of Clear Channel stations in Florida for stupid pieces aired on the Bubba the Love Sponge program. Those with a memory longer than the mainstream press might recall that Bubba was tried on charges of animal cruelty for slaughering a live boar in his station’s parking lot live on air. While he was acquitted of that charge, that doesn’t make Bubba any less of a hateful, bigoted, mysogynystic moron.

The total fine results from levying the statutory maximum fine of $27,500 for each of 26 airings of indecent material.

Most of the stuff is pretty lame, though full of frat house humor and bleeped out fucks, dicks, and shits that are obvious and unmistakeable to anyone who’s ever heard those words before. Although I do think it’s pretty rough and mysogynystic stuff to be airing in the morning. You can read transcripts of all the segments in the FCC’s Notice of Apparent Liability.

It seems clear to me that the FCC is using this fine against Clear Channel in the agency’s run up to get Congress to allow for much higher top fines for indecency. Indeed, at $27,500 a pop, for a goliath like Clear Channel these fines are, as FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has pointed out before, simply the cost of doing business.

In fact, Copps dissented on levying the fine because he thinks the amount is still too small, even when aggregated to $755,000. Rather, he thinks the status of the stations’ licenses should be thrown into the mix:

“To fulfill our duty under the law, I believe the Commission should have designated these cases for a hearing on the revocation of these stationsÂ’ licenses, as provided for by Section 312(a)(6) of the Communications Act. I am discouraged that my colleagues would not join me in taking a firm stand against indecency on the airwaves.

If the Commission canÂ’t bring itself to go to a revocation hearing, at least the Commission should have used its current statutory authority to impose a higher and meaningful fine. The Commission could have proposed a fine for each separate ‘utterance’ that was indecent, rather than one fine for each lengthy segment. As Commissioner Martin points out,
such an approach would have led to a significantly higher fine.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m generally uncomfortable with indecency enforcement since it has been used in the past as a way to persecute unpopular and dissident speech. The FCC levied several fines and issued limited licenses to several Pacifica stations in the 1960s and 70s, and even fined Portland, OR community radio station KBOO in 2001 for airing a feminist rap song (the KBOO fine was eventually dropped in 2003).

However, the rampant sexist, homophobic and sometimes racist content of so-called “shock jock” programs is one of the most obvious results of a broadcast industry devoid of responsibility or any enforced obligation to the communities they broadcast to or any sort of public interest.

There’s nothing remotely dissident about a rich bigoted white guy degrading women, mocking homosexuals, slaughtering animals, being a mindless cheerleader for Bush’s wars, and engaging in on-air persecutions of university professors simply for being muslim and willing to speak publicly. Bubba and his brethren are nothing but bullies backed up by multi-billion dollar corporations, who have exhausted what little benefit of the doubt they might ever have merited.

Our legislators and regulators appear utterly impotent in taking the likes of Clear Channel to task for killing local news and content, streaming the same 40 songs off a hard drive to hundreds of stations and running independent stations out of business with predatory ad rates.

If indecency is the one thing that makes DC take note of these companies’ pattern of arrogant and capricious violations, then so be it.

Frankly, I can think of thousands of more useful, constructive, entertaining and funny things to do with an hour of radio than hold an on-air contest where twelve women degrade themselves in order to win free breast implants. Such is an example of the “wacky and outrageous” hijinks that merited Clear Channel several fines for Bubba.

Unfortunately, it’s not a far leap from imploring women to degrade themselves for listeners’ sick amusement to spending an afternoon of radio laughing about ways to violently abuse women during sex acts. Incredibly, the Detroit station, owned by Infinity/Vicaom, that aired the latter programming only got one $27,500 fine, the maximum the FCC majority claimed it could levy. I’m pretty sure that it was this travesty of justice that got the ball rolling at the FCC to get bigger fines for this type of garbage.

I’m with Commissioner Copps on this one — it’s time to start placing these stations’ licenses into jeopardy, since fines don’t seem to really work anyway. But I would like to suggest some additions to that tactic.

How about the next time a station airs sexually explicit programming that degrades women during morning programming, they should be forced to forfeit their license to a women’s broadcasting collective?

Or maybe the next time Bubba decides to slaughter some poor animal on-air, Clear Channel cedes a license to the Animal Liberation Front?

And when another Clear Channel station host advocates that motorists run bicycles off the road, they sould be forced to give the studios over to the local Critical Mass.

Screw fines, give us Infinity and Clear Channel’s transmitters!

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Newsflash: More Media Consolidation On the Way… In a Sneaky Way

That’s the essential proclamation of a short story at in the wake of Bush signing into law the ominbus budget bill containing the “compromise” 39% TV ownership cap (that neatly lets CBS and FOX slip by with their previously-illegal number of stations). Well, sort of…. without the ‘sneaky part.’

But the story does reveal one little fact about the omniubs bill that so far I hadn’t seen covered elsewhere:

“[CBS and FOX] also will be protected under a safe harbor provision if they make an acquisition that leads them to exceed the 39% cap. The new rules give companies two years, rather than one, to divest stations to comply with the ownership limit. In addition, News Corp. and Viacom could receive an FCC waiver giving them an additional year to sell assets.”

Now, that’s a bit more than just raising the ownership cap, but a little less obvious. This little maneuver gives FOX and CBS (and the other networks) some breathing room to acquire more stations and strategize their next move — like lobbying Congress to raise the limit again in a year or so when the media ownership debate has blown over. It also allows them to buy up stations in larger and more valuable markets and then sell off less profitable ones in smaller markets to make up the difference, bumping over and under the 39% mark like a commuter negotiating the speed limit.

Thus, beyond letting CBS and FOX keep the stations they acquired mostly illegally, the new rule gives them and the other networks much more room to swap stations like baseball cards. More sales and purchases leads to more consolidation, and also leads to a quick decline in things like news quality as jobs get slashed at every turn to eek out a dollar more profit in the trade, or pay the freight for the inflated market prices that are likely to happen in a feverish trading frenzy.

So there’s yet another reason why the 39% compromise wasn’t a compromise at all. Congress might as well have let the FCC keep the new 45% limit it wanted, since the media monopolists can hit that limit and stay there for two years anyway… which is like an eternity in today’s media market full of perpetual mergers, acquisitions and spin offs.

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