Protesters Try to NAB Spotlight

Free-speech advocates and media watchdogs hold a rally outside the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio Show conference. They claim that media mergers and corporate influence are quieting community voices.

Free-speech advocates and media watchdogs hold a rally outside the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio Show conference. They claim that media mergers and corporate influence are quieting community voices.

SAN FRANCISCO — Radio broadcasters are meeting to figure out how best to expand their reach into the new digital frontier, but not everyone is sending out the welcome wagon.

Protestors here at the National Association of Broadcasters Radio Show fear that commercial broadcasters will limit choice and prevent community voices on the digital airwaves in much the same way they control today’s media.

“Ever since the NAB was founded 78 years ago, they have been acting against the public interest,” said Steve Rendall, senior analyst for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a media watchdog group that co-sponsored Thursday’s protest.

“At every turn NAB is strategically between the people and their property: the airwaves,” Rendall said.

While Colin Powell was addressing the NAB audience inside, the “National Association of Brainwashers” held its own mock press conference outside the Moscone Center.

The group was protesting the consolidation of the media since the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which loosened regulations on media acquisitions within geographic markets. According to FAIR, more than 4,000 radio stations have been acquired since the legislation was passed, and minority ownership of radio stations has declined by 9 percent.

The faux executives and celebrity impersonators — including CEO “Rob.R. Baron” and talk-show host “Howard Sternum”, were promoting the “all commercials, all the time” network that stresses homogeneity and is subservient to corporations.

“I’m on 554 stations so far, and I should be on every one of them,” said the shock-jock impersonator, who repeatedly mocked Howard Stern’s proclivity for profanity by saying “tits” and “penis” at every opportunity.

The parody players announced that they were merging the NAB with the NRA so that “if you don’t listen to Howard, we can put a gun to your head.”

Andrea Buffa, executive director of the Media Alliance, which also participated in the protest, said the NAB is “like the NRA, except they want to kill off free speech.”

Lampooning the influence of large corporations on broadcasters, the group also showed fake commercial spots for Nike (“Because your kids shouldn’t have to make their own shoes”), Gap (“We put the sweat in sweatshops”) and Apple Computer (“Think just like us”).

Rendall said the protest was necessary to bring the public’s attention to three major issues: the NAB’s threat to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to begin licensing low-power FM stations, campaign finance reform, and broadcasters’ responsibility to serve the public interest.

Rendall said that the NAB has been lobbying Congress to reverse the FCC’s January decision to grant first-time licenses to FM micro-broadcasters to produce non-commercial programming using generating stations of 100 watts or less.

The NAB has argued that these stations would interfere with the sound quality of the commercial broadcasts.

“Media companies are major contributors to political parties, and they are the ones who control how the candidates are covered,” said Sam Husseini, communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy.

Husseini said that broadcasters need to live up to their public interest requirements and to serve the proper role of journalists in society.

Earlier in the week, the Media Alliance promoted the protest as being in the spirit of the recent World Trade Organization and Republican and Democratic National Conventions protests. San Francisco police were out in force to ensure that the protest did not follow a similar course of violence, and had dozens of officers on had to monitor the mostly young crowd of about 50.

Rendall said most people are too young to appreciate what open airwaves would be like because they haven’t been free for nearly 80 years.

“You can’t miss what you’ve never had,” he said.

Rendall said that up until the 1920s, the airwaves were filled with mom-and-pop organizations that broadcast commercial-free content. Rendall said the NAB was strategic in lobbying Congress to defeat 1934’s Wagner-Hatfield Act, which would have given 25 percent of the radio spectrum to educational and nonprofit organizations.

Instead, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which did not allocate a percentage of the spectrum for nonprofits; commercial broadcasters instead were required to address public issues themselves “by serving the interest, convenience, and necessity of the American public.”

Rendall said that the earlier laws and generous licensing arrangements with broadcasters would be equivalent today to “turning Yosemite over to (paper-production company) Weyerhouser for free, and without restriction.”

Rendall said that to help remedy NAB’s undue influence, all commercial advertisements should be taxed, and that 20 to 25 percent of the airwaves should be returned to the public.

Author: John Gartner

News Service: Wired News


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