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News Archive: August 2006

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8/31/06 - Media Exploitation of Crisis: The Political Dimension [link to this story]

Jim Snider at the New America Foundation has just published "How Mass Media Use Crisis Communications for Political Gain," an excellent paper on the process by which incumbent commercial broadcasters exploit crises as a way to parry criticism for the rest of the time when they don't actually provide much public service. He also explores how the National Association of Broadcasters is currently manipulating the legislative process to maintain its questionable hold on the trade in localism, most specifically in the face of satellite-based competition.

I really admire how Snider shouts into the wind. He is consistently the most articulate thorn in the NAB's side within the Beltway.

8/27/06 - Oaxaca Update [link to this story]

Narconews has the information: many of the commercial radio stations occupied last week have been relinquished, leaving somewhere between two and five still in the hands of the populace. Radio Plantón, however, has apparently returned to the air with replacement gear.

8/25/06 - When Media Ownership Means Life and Death [link to this story]

Every year, for the last quarter-century, teachers in the Mexican state of Oaxaca converge on the capital city of the same name to remind the politicians that they exist. Oaxaca is very poor, mostly indigenous, and ruled like a colony by the Mexican central government. The teachers' convergence is thus both widely-known and respected, but this year it's taken a dramatic turn.

The teachers have been on strike since late May, seeking relief from a crumbling educational infrastructure and benefits for the students they serve. To force home the point, the teachers set up a tent metropolis in greater Oaxaca, effectively occupying the center city.

It should be noted here that Mexico has long embraced unlicensed broadcasting as an organizing and educational vehicle. In Oaxaca alone some three dozen stations broadcast regularly. They are openly operated and supported by a variety of groups, even though they are technically illegal. The teachers' union set up a such a station, Radio Plantón, after last year's convergence.

In the early morning hours of June 14, a thousand state and federal police forces were brought into Oaxaca to pulverize the occupation. The cops charged in, batons a-swinging, backed up with air support in the form of tear gas dropped from helicopters. The teachers dispersed, though several were injured in the melee. Radio Plantón's equipment was targeted and destroyed.

That sort of assault in an urban environment harms everyone who lives there. By the next day a group 30,000 strong - teachers backed up by city residents - re-took the square. The day after that, half a million coalesced, calling for the ouster of Oaxaca's governor. Students at a local university turned over control of their radio station to the teachers, who brought the programming of Plantón back to the city. Saboteurs tried to forcibly remove it from the air.

Mexico held a presidential election on July 2. All over the state of Oaxaca, citizens voted in massive numbers against the incumbent quasi-institutional national party. Underlying discontent, inflamed by the events of May and June, was fed by anger from the highly contested (and somewhat questionable) results of Mexico's national vote. Furthermore, all commercial and state-run broadcast media in Oaxaca had either ignored or effectively whitewashed the series of events that began with the night raid of the teachers' encampment on June 14.

On July 5, a broad swath of Oaxacans formally declared the formation of a revolutionary people's assembly, whose major aim was to "create ungovernability" and rebuild a corrupt and non-responsive state from the ground up. The teachers' encampment was supplemented throughout the month of July by several more throughout Oaxaca. These encampments are assisted greatly by sympathetic citizenry, many of whom bring food, drink, and defensive assistance when threatened by armed men. All of this was nearly absent from radio, and invisible on television.

On August 1, thousands of women marched through the streets of Oaxaca and into the lobby of CORTV, Channel 9, a state-run television station. They demanded that the teachers' side of what happened on the night of June 14 be told. When denied, they marched on, and assumed control of the TV station, as well as a state-run radio station. They aired amateur, uncensored footage from the streets and kept the general public informed about the peoples' assembly and the state's new moves to crush it - targeted mob attacks, drive-by shootings, outright disappearances.

Reality broke through, and the movement of citizens in action surged. A general strike ensued, and a community forum convened to further actualize the rebuilding of Oaxaca. Police and paramilitary attacks grew in frequency, and the occupied media facilities were hit more than once. On August 21, paramilitaries loyal to the governor conducted a pre-dawn raid on state radio/TV transmitting facilities. The stations were shot and burned to pieces; at least one more person was killed.

But this resistance is past critical mass. In response to the direct attack on the movement's ability to freely communicate, at least 10 commercial radio stations in Oaxaca have been occupied. These are now also under fire. In fact, the intensity of the state-sanctioned hit-and-run attacks are growing, and neighborhoods in the capital are organizing self-defense brigades.

Nobody seems to be keeping track of the number of unlicensed stations on the air anymore, though they still serve their purpose. There are a lot of political, social, and cultural dynamics at play here, but the media has played an unprecedented role in every step of this sequence of events. The radio dial in greater Oaxaca is now firmly in the hands of its citizenry, a breathtaking transformation to behold.

8/22/06 - Liberal Media Witch-Hunting in Wisconsin [link to this story]

Over the last couple of weeks friends in Madison have been forwarding me various correspondence between folks at the University of Wisconsin, the UW-Extension, the office of state representative Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater), and the syndicated labor radio news service I helped create, the Workers Independent News Service (WIN(S)).

Rep. Nass, who is chair of the State Assembly's Committee on Labor and also sits on various committees dealing with education issues and the UW System, apparently has a problem with WIN(S) and the fact that it reports business news from the perspective of working people.

The WIN(S) project originally began under the auspices of the UW-Extension's School for Workers. We founded the project in late 2001, began production in early 2002, and spun WIN(S) off as an independent entity in 2003, with offices off-campus. Though we were not incubated in a university research park, we tread a path similar to those businesses based there (though ours was a non-profit).

In June, Rep. Nass' panties knotted up because UW-Madison granted a semester-long teaching contract to one Kevin Barrett, a scholar who believes, in part, that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an "inside job" designed to provide justification for wider Western occupation of the Middle East. Barrett will be teaching one course on "Islam history and culture," according to a UW-Madison web page set up specifically to deal with the controversy this decision has unleashed (it even got Rep. Nass face-time on the O'Reilly Factor).

Earlier this year, Frank Emspak, the professor whose brainchild WIN(S) was, sent out a fundraising appeal for the service, in which he included his e-mail address as part of his contact information. After the Barrett blowup, as visions of rabid radicals massing at the other end of State Street danced in his fever-brain, Rep. Nass longed to out more campus subversives.

Someone forwarded him the WIN(S) fundraising pitch, and this particular hunt was on. Rep. Nass and his chief bootlicker, Mike Mikalsen, expanded the probe to include an interrogation of the status of WIN(S)'s Finance Manager, Rich Thomson, a graduate student working toward a PhD. in industrial relations.

After extensive investigation by university officialdom over the last few weeks, Nass was told that his allegations of university support for an "agenda-ized" news service basically had no merit, though Frank should have used his address on the funding pitch, and an admonition of sorts was placed in his personnel file. Apparently, Rep. Nass' office is not satisfied and continues to probe, for what, not sure.

On reflection, there's not much to this story except rank hypocrisy. The UW-Madison Business School regularly prostitutes undergraduates to help corporate America with "market research, financial analysis, real estate valuation," and other tasks; the Fluno Center for Executive Education is located a block and a half from the WIN(S) offices; and there is that whole research park thing. But a small-change department cannot scream into the wind of the corporate media machine that there is often a human cost to rising stocks?

It's not like WIN(S) does its work in the shadows, either: it's on the radio, for f*ck's sake, with two affiliates right there in Madison itself. When WIN(S) used to be heard on the Air America network and several stations in major markets, it had a weekly listenership in the millions. On January 19, 2002, shortly before we launched, Madison's own Capital Times newspaper ran a front-page feature on the project, which included a color photo. Had Nass seen my blue dome at the time, he would have certainly labeled me a pinko. So he's just four years late to the persecution-party.

Not that Rep. Stephen Nass and his posse are shining examples of virtue, upholding the rich populist tradition of Wisconsin politics. Nass ignored the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's electoral ethics questionnaire this year. He's used his grandstanding campus-hunt to hold up state government ethics reform legislation. (Perhaps because he's played a bit fast-and-loose with a little-known IRS provision involving mileage and per-diem allowances to state lawmakers.) Nass and his posse are also quite adept at muck-slinging without regard for maturity and civility.

Nor is Rep. Nass much of a friend of the working Wisconsinite: he attempted to quash Madison's living-wage ordinance via special provision in a bill that otherwise would have severely limited the state's ability to adjust the minimum wage, and he killed a "fair share" health care proposal designed to end the public health service-leeching of mega-retailers like Wal-Mart before it could even be properly debated.

That said, I think another blogger best-summarized the Nass approach to governing as one long whine-fest, full of pointy fingers but substantially empty:

I'm sure many of you have a friend like Steve Nass. He never wants to host the Super Bowl party, but he's always happy to show up at yours. He steals a seat in your favorite recliner when you get up to refill the chips. He grumbles about how your wings aren't very good, yet he always seems to have a few on his plate. He carps about your selection of beer but asks you to get him another at halftime. By the 4th quarter, he's nesting the whole bowl of chips beneath his left arm like a football, grousing about how the game has mostly been a letdown and that the commercials weren't very good and that he was expecting better. When the game finishes, he excuses himself to your restroom, throws up in your bathtub, and then shows himself to the door.

WIN(S) has suffered worse than the likes of Stephen Nass. Legal pressure from Viacom made the service change its name two years ago, which puts the bleating of a small-town state lawmaker to shame.

Frank probably got a chuckle over the the black mark in his personnel file: as a man whose family was instrumental in the rise and crushing fall of the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America and hounded as Communists, and who himself was chairman of the National Coordinating Committee to End the War in Vietnam during UW-Madison's campus-as-war-zone years of the 1960s, Frank knows what real persecution is. Rep. Nass is a gnat on his ass. The people of Whitewater deserve better.

8/18/06 - WordPress Design Challenge [link to this story]

The transition of this site to some sort of content management system is long overdue. There's too much stuff here now to keep good track of it manually.

I've settled on WordPress, given its ease of use and flexibility, and after the learned advice of technically-inclined friends. However, before beginning the actual site migration, it behooves me to cement the design of the new site first.

To tell the truth, I like the simplicity of the current design, though I have plans for the sidebar. What I'd like to do is modify a WordPress theme to mimic what you see now as closely as possible. However, my semi-random hacking at stylesheets and other theme components leads to broken sh*t. Anybody out there with design skillz who can help?

8/13/06 - Berkeley Liberation/Freak Radio Visit Photos [link to this story]

I've put up two photosets on flickr with snaps from my visits to Free Radio Santa Cruz and Berkeley Liberation Radio earlier this month. Ironically, at neither location did I actually glimpse the transmitter. I wish I would have thought out in advance how to cover them. I did try to record some audio, but f*cked up the settings on my magic box.

Fortunately, the V-Man managed to tape the surprise visit from Poodles McGee of the FCC, who just so happened to be in town on vacation and wanted to see the infamous Freak Radio for himself. No harm done, though Poodles promised to return with "nasty-ass musclebound wacknuts to come and take your stuff away."

I really wish I would have had more time. Many thanks to the V-Man, Skidmark Bob, Bradley, Phil, Matt, Cap'n Fred, Jane, and Arun for making it happen.

8/12/06 - Making Waves Plays Chicago [link to this story]

Michael Lahey's excellent, award-winning documentary on microbroadcasting, Making Waves, publicly screens for the first time in the Windy City next weekend at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Actually, it's playing twice, on 8/19 and 8/21. Check the new trailer before you go.

Michael recently moved to Chicago and may be around at the screenings for an afterward Q&A. If you can't make the screenings, you can still check it out on Free Speech TV, where it's been playing at least monthly. It'll play five times on August 24th alone.

8/11/06 - Bettendorf Pirates Receive $27k in Fines [link to this story]

The two principals behind the high-profile pirate "Power 103.3" in Bettendorf, Iowa have been handed stiff monetary forfeitures by the FCC. Matthew Britcher, self-proclaimed "promotions director" of the commercial-format station, is being asked to pay $17,000 for running the station and refusing an FCC agent's request to inspect it. Jason Duncan, quoted in local media as a "co-owner," received a $10,000 forfeiture.

This is the first FCC case to get this far in which the pirates invoked 47 CFR 73.3542 as a defense; this little-known statute allows for emergency broadcast services in times of war or national emergency. Britcher and Duncan called it the "War Powers Act," and some other pirate stations are treating it as a license-free pass, but it is nothing of the sort.

In legal challenges to the FCC's licensing rules brought by pirate stations, courts are more likely to consider the challenge favorably if the pirate first tries to get a license but is denied. Similarly, 47 CFR 73.3542 requires that someone who wishes to invoke the emergency authorization procedure file an informal application with the FCC first. An "informal" application still requires lots of information, including applicant name, address, type of broadcast equipment to be used, frequency and power levels, and a

statement of facts which, in the opinion of the applicant, constitute an emergency to be found by the FCC for the purpose of this section. This statement must also include the estimated duration of the emergency and if during an emergency or war declared by the President or Congress, why such action, without formal application, is necessary for the national defense or security or in furtherance of the war effort,

among other things. Not only did Britcher and Duncan not follow the statute's initial directions, but the "applications" they filed with the FCC after being called out didn't provide all the necessary information. This is why the FCC so quickly denied their petitions for reconsideration when they learned they were to be assessed monetary penalties.

Even though you expect the FCC to rule in its own favor on issues of administrative law, just like the history of most microbroadcast legal challenges before them, any challenge Britcher and Duncan bring to this ruling in federal court is likely to fail because they didn't properly read and follow the statute they hoped would protect them.

It turns out that they're not the brightest bulbs in the chandelier anyway, but there are other pirate stations out there who are similarly gambling on this loophole. Though their intentions may be nobler, they face a comparable liability.

8/10/06 - FCC Maps Translator, LPFM Coverage [link to this story]

From the half-glass department: check this map of licensed LPFM station coverage in the continental United States (click for larger versions):

Now, a map of licensed FM translator station coverage:

Although expansion of the LPFM service has been stunted since 2001 (no new applications for LPFM stations have been allowed since then), the number of translator stations continues to grow. Lest we forget that in 2003, one firm operating under two guises applied for four times as many translator stations as there are licensed LPFMs in the United States.

Images above are rasterized from FCC PDF documents available here. You can find similar maps for Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The FCC's web site seems full of little surprises like these.