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News Archive: March 2007

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3/26/07 - Radio Resistance in Oaxaca: A Reportback [link to this story]

Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer spoke recently at San Francisco's Anarchist Bookfair. He provides a good summary of the current situation in Oaxaca and also situates it in a historical context, noting how radio has played a pivotal role in citizen's/revolutionary movements throughout Latin America.

Dunifer spent 10 days in Oaxaca earlier this year, coordinating transmitter-construction workshops for indigenous communities in the state. Over the course of two weeks, they built two dozen transmitters. Ongoing projects include establishing regional transmitter-distribution facilities to keep flooding the airwaves with citizen voices.

3/18/07 - Radio Plantón Returns [link to this story]

The citizen campaign to reclaim the corrupt state of Oaxaca, Mexico has its voice back.

Radio Plantón became a focal point for a citizens' rebellion in the state last year, when a teacher's encampment blossomed into a movement to dismantle the state government and rebuild it from the ground up. Among the repressive tactics instituted by federal and state officials was the jamming, then destruction of the rebellion's main media outlet, pirate radio station Plantón.

The move backfired, as hundreds of Oaxacans, led by women, took to the streets and briefly occupied more than a dozen radio and TV stations in response. It is one of the few times in living memory when a revolution struck back so hard against its own silencing.

A replacement transmitter put Plantón back on the air until last November, when police conducted a wide-ranging crackdown on citizen-activism more generally and again destroyed its gear and dispersed its volunteers.

The blackout has provided more cover for increased violent repression in Oaxaca, but no more: the station returned to the air earlier this month:

Despite mainstream media reports that everything has gone back to normal in Oaxaca, the opposite is in fact true. The people of Oaxaca are living in a climate of absolute fear, victims of heinous and ongoing human rights violations. ...

In informing you that we are going back on the air, we are letting you know that we want and need your solidarity: more than anything, your moral support and solidarity.

What's going on in Oaxaca, in addition to being an issue of life and death, is sparking national debate over the future of Mexican media.

3/16/07 - Happy Birthday, free103point9 [link to this story]

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of free103point9, which initially began as a microradio station spinning interesting sounds from Brooklyn, New York's Williamsburg neighborhood. It's come a long way since then:

Largely blank slates, with little in the way of station identification or DJs talking back just-played records, experimental sounds of all sorts spilled out. The concept of "radio art" was just barely beginning to be that time....[T]he other inspiration behind starting the station was that the radio airwaves were dead zones that needed to be revived. The best way to locally communicate thoughts and new ideas was being wasted by a handful of corporations intent on turning the nation's airwaves into private mints printing billions of dollars, polluting those airwaves as if they were pouring nuclear waste into national parks. ...

With that in mind, the station went mobile, taking the transmitter directly to the people:

We saw the free103point9 transmitter as akin to something in a library, that local residents could "check out" for a few days, enabling them to inform, entertain, provoke, and educate the rest of the community....We could hoist antennae on close to 200 different northern Brooklyn rooftops, letting the hosts pick the content, and flyering the listening area a few days before each microcast....Eventually, we set up microphones and mixers inside living rooms throughout Brooklyn, broadcasting community forums, kids learning about radio, sound art, the audio for video programs, and much more.

While free103point9 was part of a growing movement of electronic civil disobedience that led to the creation of a legal LPFM radio service, "creativity remained stagnant. free103point9 turned to seeing what could be done with the airwaves, how they could be used in interesting, different ways, and how their conventions
could be subverted."

"Transmission Arts" unite a community of artists and audiences interested in experimental radio ideas and tools. Transmission practices harness, occupy and/or respond to the airwaves that surround us.

The station has since transcended from a local outlet to something that supports the creative and artistic use of radio in every community. From incubating radio-artists to holding festivals and sponsoring installations showcasing their work to being a platform and advocate for the creative use of radio itself, free103point9 has come to represent the potential of microradio above and beyond simply ripping open a chunk of spectrum and demonstrating its viability to hold something. It is an accomplishment beyond inspiration, which puts the station in a class of its own, and for that we should all be grateful.

3/8/07 - SFLR Loses Ninth Circuit Appeal [link to this story]

It only took two weeks for the Ninth Circuit to issue its decision regarding San Francisco Liberation Radio's challenge to its 2003 raid. The station basically argued that since it was in regular, cordial contact with the FCC throughout a near-decade on air, it should been extended the courtesy of a chance to convince the judge who signed the warrant why such a move was not justified. Additionally, because radio is essentially an "instrumentality of expression," the gravity of station raids should be weighed in any court's mind with respect to its potential to hinder that expression.

Two-thirds of the oral argument (30:27, 5.3 MB) was dominated by SFLR's attorney, Mark Vermeulen. He started by emphasizing the station's public recognition and willingness to engage the FCC. He was interrupted quite early by a judge (either William Fletcher or Richard Clifton, I don't know which) who wanted to know why a station that was openly breaking the law deserved gentler treatment just because they were being open about it.

Further exchange covered the station's history and role in the legalization of an LPFM service. Fletcher/Clifton did note the civilly disobedient nature of SFLR: “Congress made it difficult for people who were the pioneers” by inserting a provision in the LPFM law banning pirates from applying for a license, but the statute still stands, and therefore SFLR's operation sans license left it open to being raided. Questions of heightened judicial scrutiny due to the expressive instrumentality of radio, and any First Amendment implications of FCC activity against the station, didn't seem to apply since the license requirement itself was never fulfilled.

Vermeulen, for the purposes of time and argument, laid aside any notion of a constitutional right to broadcast, and instead emphasized a right of listeners to hear a diversity of radio programming. But that did not change Fletcher/Clifton's analysis: "If you have no license to broadcast, there is nothing for the listener to hear." Said Judge Sandra Ikuta, "I think you ought to be lobbying Congress to change the statute."

The government's lawyer spent eight minutes in argument mode. He hammered on one of SFLR's early incarnations, when it broadcast from the back of a camper van, as evidence of the station's "mobility," which justified the FCC getting its raid-papers in order and in secret. This led to the most interesting moment of the hearing, when the government's lawyer spun a yarn about imagining SFLR "sort of driving around the streets of San Francisco, as the FCC truck is chasing them, trying to triangulate them." Fletcher/Clifton replied, "It’s like a bad movie, somehow," which led to laughs. I do believe that cite is a first for the courts.

The four-page decision that resulted from the Valentine's Day exchange does not read much differently.

[T]he Supreme Court has established that predeprivation notice and hearings are not required for the seizure of personal property subject to forfeiture if: (1) seizure serves "important governmental purposes"; (2) "pre-seizure notice might frustrate" the relevant statutory purpose; and (3) seizure is"'made by government officials rather than self-motivated private parties" ... The Supreme Court also "has specifically rejected the contention that there is a heightened standard for the seizure of materials that might implicate the First Amendment" except with regard to the large-scale confiscation of allegedly obscene material.

SFLR's defense against persecution was an exercise in subtlety. Targeting the seizure process as opposed to making a direct constitutional challenge to the licensing system itself was a test of uncharted waters. But in the end a three-judge panel noted that since the station had no license, it had no real leverage against the FCC's enforcement protocol. But with no hope of obtaining a license, how can one challenge the rules? A familiar conundrum.

Fortunately, this decision is unpublished, meaning it's generally not to be cited by other courts as precedent. SFLR still retains the option of returning to the air: nobody's yet been fined or charged with a crime, it's only the gear that's missing.