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News Archive: March 2003

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3/29/03 - Please Pardon the Hiatus [link to this story]

Completely unexpected life trauma has resulted in my emergency relocation. This occurred, ironically, just hours after I penned the ditty below.

As a result, I've been without internet access since then, although the phone company tells me my dial tone and DSL will be installed sometime next week (hopefully by mid-week at the earliest).

In an unrelated coincidence, our (free) server hosting provider also had to do some emergency relocation of his own, which has resulted in the temporary removal of the media collage galleries, as well as a selection of other audio and video files. I'm told this will be resolved shortly, so keep checking those pages as the files will be made available again soon.

When my internet access is restored, and my head is put back together, I've got lots of updates to do. Not only are there several new collages to share, but there's also been a spate of FCC activity as of late, not to mention all of the other news I've missed.

My apologies for the downtime - but it will be over soon.

3/10/03 - Reportback from Seattle FCC Festivities [link to this story]

"Strategically optimistic" is the way Jonathan Lawson, an organizer with Reclaim the Media, feels coming out of Friday's FCC media ownership field hearing with Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein. The two certainly got an earful.

Reclaim the Media, along with many other groups, spent a lot of time and energy making the field hearing happen. Because it was not officially sanctioned by Chairman Michael Powell, the FCC wouldn't release funds for the two Commissioners to travel. Copps paid his own way, presumably out of his own (limited) office expense funds; Reclaim the Media paid the freight for Adelstein.

Having originally scheduled only 30 minutes of time for public comment at the hearing, the Commissioners pledged not to cut off anyone who wanted to speak. They listened to more than three hours of public comment as a result. Not only that, but corporate media executives in the onstage discussion panels were openly jeered. Lawson says the overall sentiment was "overwhelmingly, if not totally opposed" to further relaxation of media ownership rules.

Between the official hearing itself, other panels and forums scheduled later in the afternoon, and an evening concert, at least 800 (and possibly as many as 1,000) people took part in debate on the issues. All were webcast by the Seattle Independent Media Center and broadcast live to the rest of Seattle on three FM frequencies. Reports indicate the 100-watt signal on 94.5 was cleanest and loudest; at least two other microradio stations around the country also relayed the IMC feed to their own communities.

Jonathan Lawson was lucky: he got to spend some quality time with Commissioner Adelstein at the IMC. Lawson says Adelstein is knowledgeable about independent and community media and understanding of concerns about further media consolidation. Of course, Copps and Adelstein, as the two Democrats on the five-member Commission, are the established opposition.

The key to preventing a wholesale rollback of ownership rules on media outlets, it would seem, lies with Commissioner Kevin Martin. He's demonstrated his capacity to be a swing vote on big issues recently, nullifying Chairman Powell's personally-authored rulemaking that would've allowed Baby Bell phone companies to charge unlimited rates to competitors for access to their (Ma Bell-era) lines.

Nobody's quite sure where Martin stands on all six of the media ownership rules under review. He may like to see television network ownership caps remain in place but is thought to favor allowing more cross-ownership between media outlets. If Martin can be made to understand the magnitude of what's at stake here, he may be able to significantly impede the market-religion disaster Chairman Powell wants to unleash.

For his part, Lawson feels a lot better about the strength of the media democracy movement after last Friday. "I don't feel like it's a done deal at all," he said. In fact, it would seem, talk is changing from simply slowing the deregulatory juggernaut to "winning this thing." The mood is decidedly different in Washington, where the hunt continues for the elusive economic "formula" that will magically preserve voice and viewpoint diversity in media markets under a more consolidated regime.

What happened in Seattle could've been even more powerful, but fear of reprisal kept some people from speaking out. Former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic was supposed to testify but cancelled, reportedly out of concern for what open criticism of media conglomerates would mean for radio and video airplay. He was not the only musician to do so.

Lawson believes that if public momentum - and opposition - stays loud and continues to grow at future FCC field hearings, the outlook can only get better. The next one will be held later this month at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina - Commissioner Kevin Martin's home state, and one he will likely attend. More hearings are also in the works: sites for future dates include Chicago, Los Angeles, and Ann Arbor, Michigan.

3/9/03 - When News and Promotions Collide [link to this story]

Pulled up on a Google News search recently for the term "President Bush." From the looks of it, this TV station has its place in the march to war rhythm section down cold:

3/6/03 - FCC Dog and Pony Show Moves to Seattle [link to this story]

Tomorrow, FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein will go through the motions of another "public hearing" on the agency's media ownership rules review. This one will happen in Seattle on the campus of the University of Washington.

Sounds like it'll be the same old song-and-dance the folks at the Richmond hearing got last week, except this time the public only gets 30 minutes to speak. That's because in Richmond the FCC held a six-hour forum; Seattle's show only runs from 9am to 12:30pm. The last 30 minutes belong to the people.

The strong community of media democracy activists in Seattle are preparing quite a few festivities to go with the official frivolity. The coolest of the bunch will take place tomorrow night, during an "action for media democracy" which will feature Chuck D & the Fine Arts Militia sharing the stage with Commissioner Adelstein. Quite the spectacle for all involved; I hope someone records it.

Seeing as how Seattle has also successfully deployed a mosquito fleet of microradio transmitters for past media events, my dream for tomorrow's FCC visit is for a person to walk up to the microphone during the 30-minute public comment window, hold up a radio, and flip the switch. Coordinating by cell phone, someone back at a microradio station could then launch into a two-minute statement.

Broadcasting in the FCC's face, the disembodied citizen could (briefly) laud the virtues of review and reform. But since action tends gets the goods, and some of the public already recognizes this, the FCC needs to consider the consequences of allowing the unrestricted corporatization of mass media. The health of democratic discourse isn't all that's at stake here. There is also the potential for a backlash from the consumer/public as more media consumers stop consuming and start building alternative conduits to talk to each other, as citizens.

After the obligatory thank-you's and such, the DJ flips the transmitter off. A couple of seconds of static fill the auditorium, then the radio is lowered and silenced, and our "commenter" turns and heads back to their seat.

The looks on the faces of everyone on stage would be priceless.

On Tuesday, Michael Powell remarked at a press conference that he heard nothing new at the public hearing in Richmond, and he reiterated his view that more public input on the issue of media ownership is worthless. If I lived in Seattle and were working hard to organize events around visiting FCC officials tomorrow, I think I would be pissed.

Confronting the FCC with the very real existence of media successfully operating outside its authority would definitely be new, especially for Copps and Adelstein, who weren't part of the low-power FM radio action in D.C.

Michael Moore (via Jello Biafra) has made the phrase, "don't hate the media, become the media" a rallying cry for those involved in media democracy activism and advocacy. It's hard to see how 120-second spurts of pleas to officials predisposed to ignoring you advances this goal. I can understand the value in dissent itself, and directly speaking with FCC Commissioners is somewhat empowering, but when leaders are ignored they cease to lead.

If Michael Powell, the embodiment of the FCC itself, is arrogant enough to dismiss what hasn't even yet been said in Seattle, can someone in Seattle be arrogant enough to diss him back? In the presence of other Commissioners? Sounds heady, but it's eminently doable.

The next scheduled "public hearing" on the FCC's media ownership rules takes place later this month in Durham, North Carolina. Durham, ironically, is home to one of the affiliates of the Human Rights Radio Network, a microradio station founded on the principles of Mbanna Kantako - the popularly-described "godfather of the microradio movement," who is still a free man after 16 years of unlicensed broadcasting (and counting).

3/4/03 - Election Update [link to this story]

Alas, neither his rhetorical savvy nor the last-minute endorsement of DIYmedia was enough to help Kelly Benjamin claim victory in his candidacy for a seat on the Tampa City Council. Kelly did, however, garner 13,955 votes, just a little shy of one-third of all ballots cast.

It might be a statistical defeat, but not too shabby considering Kelly was outspent by an approximate 30-to-1 margin (or more), and citywide voter turnout was an abysmal 33%.

Next try, the White House?

3/3/03 - Last-minute Props and Good Luck to Microbroadcaster-turned-candidate [link to this story]

Kelly "Kombat" Benjamin, founder of the "original" 87X pirate radio station in Tampa, Florida, is running for a seat on the Tampa City Council. The election is tomorrow.

Benjamin, along with Doug Brewer and Lonnie Kobres, fell victim to the law on November 19, 1997, when agents from the FCC and Federal Marshals executed three coordinated SWAT-style raids on microradio stations in Florida.

The quasi-paramilitary nature of the operation was supposed to strike fear into pirates around the country - a symbol of the FCC's "seriousness" about cracking down on unlicensed broadcasting. The incident actually only served to fuel the resistance.

Kelly's experience with microradio has turned out to be an asset in his campaign: during one debate, his opponent (a current Tampa city council member) attempted to paint Benjamin's "pirate" exploits as some form of criminal behavior. To his credit, Benjamin explained the concept of civil disobedience to the audience, who got the point and cheered him on.

Let us hope that Florida's general penchant for election incompetence skirts Tampa's District 2 tomorrow, and that the vote gets out.