Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai is feeling his oats. After conducting a calculated and ideologically-driven campaign against a proposed FCC study of the practices and processes of journalism, the agency capitulated, killing the idea entirely. Pai reveled in his accomplishment: "In our country, the government does not tell the people what information they need. Instead, news outlets and the American public decide that for themselves."
It’s common for members of the Federal Communications Commission to use their positions as bully pulpits for favored causes. For example, Frieda Hennock (the agency’s first female Commissioner) pressed for an expansion of noncommercial broadcasting in the United States. Former Chairman Mark Fowler spoke loudly and often from the bully pulpit, decrying the regulation of media more broadly and precipitating the wildly neoliberal paradigm that has captured contemporary regulation.
More recently, Chairman William Kennard spoke out against media consolidation by advocating for the creation of the LPFM radio service, while Commissioner Mignon Clyburn spearheaded a drive to drastically reduce the rates for making calls from prisons, among many other initiatives during her stint as interim Chair.
But sometimes the bully pulpit provides a way to dissent from agency practices, the idea being that public scrutiny may pressure some change from within. Former Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein were famous for touring the country and holding public hearings to learn what actual Americans thought about the state of their media environment.
Free Speech Radio News announced this past weekend that it will resume a semblance of operations on Tuesday, February 11th. It’s a soft launch, beginning with the provision of limited content and then working up to the resumption of regular daily broadcasts.
A pioneer of the networked newsroom, FSRN has been a stalwart of community broadcasting in the United States for more than a dozen years. Unfortunately, it fell silent last September after its major funder, Pacifica Radio, welshed on several outstanding bills.
In a nutshell, the problem is money, and the writing’s been on the wall for a while. Free Speech Radio News has been hurting in that department since the fall of 2010, when it first raised the spectre of going dark. Saved by a last-minute crowdfunding campaign, FSRN’s been teetering on the brink ever since, held together by creative management, another emergency fund drive, and the passion of its crowdsourced production base. That can only take you so far, it would seem.
I’ll be taking a short break from updating the site, as I prepare to move from Wisconsin to New York next week to begin life as a professor at Brooklyn College. Plans for the move itself have been fraught with difficulty – more than I had expected, but things are (finally) beginning to come together. Boxes are being packed, loose ends squared away, and I’m test-dosing the cats with tranquilizers to see how they’ll handle the 16-hour drive.
Once I’m in NYC, I’ll be hitting the ground running. I’m teaching two classes in the fall: one intro-to-TV-production class, and another called “The Broadcast News Process.” The latter should be fun, as I’ve set it up to revolve around two key questions – do you really want to work in the corporate media? If not, how can you find/make the opportunities to be a working journalist without having to turn off your brain and/or sell your soul?