Media Action Center Wins 13.5 Million Dollar Victory Over Entercom!

April 10, 2017
Originally published at BradBlog.com

Over the weekend, Dan Morain, editorial page editor at Sacramento Bee, wrote an article about what I've been working on, and writing about here at The BRAD BLOG and elsewhere, for many years now.
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Morain's article starts this way:
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From her home outside the no-stoplight settlement of Fiddletown, Sue Wilson tilted at a corporate windmill, and a funny thing happened.
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Sue from Fiddletown won, on our behalf. You can hear the sound of that victory at the end of the FM radio dial in Sacramento. Where there once was commercial pop music, hooting deejays and stupid radio stunts, there’s static.
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"We the People own the air waves," she said, and repeats: "We the People."
It's a very nice article, that begins with a tragic story. That story, however, now has at least a somewhat encouraging ending for, yes, We the People.
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Here's what happened... 

Ten years ago, a Sacramento mother of three died at the hands of an out of control radio station seeking to boost ratings and profits. Her family's attorney, Roger Dreyer, wrote to the Federal Communications Commission asking that the broadcast license of Entercom Sacramento's KDND 107.9 "The End", be revoked due to their tragic stunt, a live, on air, "Hold Your Wee for a Wii" contest.
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In 2009, upon winning a civil trial and a $16 million award against the station, Dreyer dropped that request.
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As a former broadcaster turned Public Interest advocate, I believed the FCC, which hasn't actually revoked a broadcasters' license in anyone's memory, needed to make a statement to the radio industry. Because the airwaves belong to the public, and since radio spectrums are so scarce (there are only so many frequencies in any one geographic area, therefore competition is extremely limited), broadcasters make a deal with We the People: they may operate only if they "serve the public interest."
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Having covered the trial, I learned that KDND lured listeners into a contest the station knew was deadly, then obfuscated that threat, then made fun of contestants as they became violently ill, then abandoned Jennifer Strange after she cried for help. Then, upon learning Mrs. Strange had died, chose to call attorneys rather than other contestants who may have needed medical attention.
Was that "serving the public interest"? Clearly not. The DMV takes drivers' licenses for reckless driving; if ever there was a case for denying a broadcaster's license, this was it. Otherwise, why have licensing or a process for revoking it at all?
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Licenses to operate Radio stations come up for renewal just once every eight years; the FCC does not act on Petitions to Deny the renewal of such licenses until the end of the license period, which, in this case, was 2013. For 4 years after the trial, I sought assistance from national media reform organizations and public interest FCC attorneys nationwide. Common Cause and the local Sacramento Media Group helped; Roger Smith filed an informal objection to the license renewal. The others wished me luck, but would not assist, saying I was on a Quixotic endeavor I was certain to lose.
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So using my own Media Action Center moniker, I wrote the 21-page legal Petition myself. (This was not a signature gathering petition, but rather a detailed legal brief with dozens of pages of evidence.) I tried to convince contestants to put their names on it; some agreed, but backed out because it was just too traumatic. In theory, I had legal standing myself, as a resident of KDND's license area and a listener. So with Washington DC attorney Art Belendiuck's review, I filed the Petition to Deny KDND's license on the last day allowable, October 31, 2013.
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I thought that was the end of it; I planned to give it some time, prod the FCC, then write a snarky article for The BRAD BLOG, pointing out how ineffective the FCC really is, as I have so many times before.
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But the FCC surprised me.
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On October 26 last year, I received a call from Belendiuck, advising me the FCC had taken my case and was bringing Entercom to trial to defend its license. The scathing 36-page Hearing Designation Order [PDF] stated the burden of proof would fall on Entercom. It would be up to them to demonstrate why they should be allowed to keep their license to broadcast over 107.9 in Sacramento.
Belendiuck couldn't take the case personally, so again I reached out to D.C. public interest attorneys. Again, although this was now a real case, the likes of which had not been seen in 40 years, none would take it on. Entercom had amassed a team of six lawyers when, much to my relief, Bay Area attorney Michael Couzens stepped up, and together we filed motion after motion, preparing to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
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Then, on February 2, Entercom announced its merger with another broadcast behemoth, CBS Radio. How, I wondered, would Entercom get approval for the merger from the FCC at the same time they would be fighting my case at the same agency? The answer came the next day: Entercom announced it was "surrendering" the $13.5 million license of KDND, couching it as normal business practice. It was anything but.
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Now, when people go to 107.9, all they hear is static. "The End" programming moved over to another Entercom-owned frequency, 106.5, replacing the lower rated rock programming once found on KUDL.
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Many will ask what has been gained from this exercise. It's certainly not money. The FCC will not allow Petitioners (me, in this case) any financial incentive; the purpose of such a petition must be to act in the public interest. I recently reached a settlement agreement with Entercom to recoup my expenses, but I will not be compensated for the hundreds of hours of my time.
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Although the case never went to trial, the judge, in approving the settlement, wrote, "Entercom has avoided the Commission hearing process by surrendering its license for KDND(FM). … Finally, Entercom has willingly accepted the severest penalty of a renewal case by surrendering forever its license to operate KDND(FM), Sacramento, California."
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In dollars, aside from the judgement owed to Jennifer Strange's family, which Entercom's insurance company paid, the cost of giving up KDND's frequency, according to the company, was $13.5 million. That was the estimated value of that very popular station. And, although they placed their programming on another station, they have lost the right to program on a 50,000 watt powerhouse of a frequency and listeners must surf around to find the programming they once heard on 107.9. They also completely lost the revenue from the 106.5 station they once programmed. It's not chump change.
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The big takeaway, though, is that there is finally a clear message from the FCC to the broadcast industry that indeed, there is a public interest obligation in broadcasting over our public airwaves, something that "conservatives" have long argued does not exist. It is interesting to note that all five FCC commissioners gave their stamp of approval to having this case heard. (I'm told there is almost always a partisan split. But not this time.) The mere fact that this was headed to trial at all is --- or should be --- a wakeup call for the radio industry. I'm told it has been 40 years since the FCC called a hearing (trial) on a license renewal like this. The hearing designation order [PDF] itself is a scathing indictment of Entercom. Over and over again, it cites Entercom's failure to serve the public interest, words we have not heard in a long time, words which are treated like "indecency": I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.
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Industry media covered this process extensively, so there is no question that radio operators throughout the US finally understand that their licenses to use our public airwaves must not be taken for granted, and can be taken away if they do not serve the public interest.
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Unfortunately, the FCC order does not discuss the character of the Entercom corporation, which we had included in the original Petition to Deny. That's a big deal because, if Entercom does not have the character to run one station, they don't have the character to run any. Our motion to expand the license challenge into issues of character is one reason the company settled. Another is that Entercom would be fighting me in a trial at the FCC at the same time they would be trying to get the FCC to approve their merger with CBS.
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The bad news is that, in exchange for settling the case (so I could pay my attorney) I am unable to go up against the still-pending CBS Radio merger, "directly or indirectly." Somebody should, but I don't think anyone will. Everyone advised me that I wouldn't win anyway, but they said that about the J. Strange case also.
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The good news is that a 50,000 watt frequency will be coming to auction, and I want to put together a group to buy it and do real radio in this state capital of California. It will be a rare opportunity to score a huge radio station that won't be programmed by and for the corporate media giants.
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I have asked many times over the years --- in my documentary film Broadcast Blues and in my volumes of writing on this topic --- "Can a radio station actually kill a woman and retain its license to broadcast?" Thankfully, the answer is no, it cannot.

Battling the Genesis of "Alternate Facts" in Our Communities NOW!

 January 28, 2017
Congratulations to Devil's Advocate for getting on the air in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to counter the right-wing "alternate facts" out out on our publicly owned airwaves every day! Now El Dorado Hills, CA has an opportunity to get it's own low power FM station. Going back into the archives, here is why it is important:
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FEDERAL RULES GIVE CORPORATION BACKED CONSERVATIVE RADIO ALL THE LOCAL VOICES
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originally published by the Sacramento Bee, May 11, 2008
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    There's a mournful hush in Sacramento these days, the empty sound of an entire political viewpoint quieted. More than 32,000 weekly listeners who once tuned to KSAC (1240 AM) to hear partisan Democrats beat up on President George W. Bush, now hear only Christian hip-hop.
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There's nothing wrong with Christian hip-hop; it's a great outlet for artists breaking out of the gangsta rap mold. But there are six other commercial radio stations licensed in the Sacramento area programming the Christian message. In the political realm, three local radio stations program 264 hours of partisan Republican radio talkers beating up on Democrats every week. Now, zero stations program any Democratic view whatsoever: 264-0.
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     This follows the national trend revealed in the 2007 Free Press and Center for American Progress study, "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio." Nationally, 90 percent of commercial talk radio is conservative; only 10 percent is liberal. (This study does not include Public Radio, which by statute is required to provide differing points of view. One is as likely to hear a Republican's views as a Democrat's. And NPR hosts don't beat up on anybody.)
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     KSAC shared another characteristic with other liberal radio stations: It had a tiny, 1,000-watt transmitter. Tough for a little station that barely reached Sacramento's suburbs to compete with 50,000 watt giant KFBK, whose signal stretches from Chico to Modesto, from Reno to that little town of San Francisco. Despite KFBK reaching millions more potential listeners, KSAC mustered an audience nearly 20 percent that of KFBK's. (Its ratings were double local conservative station KTKZ, which has a 5,000-watt transmitter.) And Arbitron showed the progressive station's audience was steadily growing. KSAC was the little station that could.
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Until it couldn't.

Bill Maher: Here's the Fix for Fact Free Media

November 8, 2016
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I’m a fan of “Real Time with Bill Maher,” but Friday night, for the umpteenth time, I wanted to reach right through the TV screen and shake somebody. 
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How the media is destroying our country is one of Bill Maher’s favorite topics, and he’s right about it. But this time, it wasn’t just Maher deriding the collapse of facts, it was everybody on the show: funny man Martin Short, liberal Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Neo-conservative writer David Frum, and even President Barack Obama: “How do we create a common space where truth gets eyeballs… and we can create a common conversation?” Yet not one of them had any clue about how we got to this point or what to do next.
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AAAUUUGGGHHHH! (beating head against wall…)
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For twenty years I have been sounding the alarm that our very democracy is at stake due to pro-fascist changes in broadcast media policy. Changes in policy which made one-sided conversations the norm. Changes in Law which allow a handful of corporations to control those one-sided conversations. Changes which have allowed a determined faction to replace fact with fiction. Changes which came about with the stroke of a pen in 1987 and again in 1998, and now, on the eve of the Trump/ Clinton election, we’re all just waking up to it.

Chris Matthews is No Kingmaker - Nor Queenmaker Either

June 2, 2016
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Why is MSNBC's Chris Matthews, and apparently the entire corporate media apparatus, colluding to coronate Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee on June 7th, even though there is no way for her to win the necessary 2383 pledged delegates for victory?
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Coronation
Coronation
(image by maxcosworth)
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.....They're not just the begging lapdogs I thought they were. Instead, corporate media players, perhaps to protect their fiefdoms, are trying to become de facto King (or Queen) makers.
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We all know about the $2 Billion in free coverage the corporate media has given to Master Media Manipulator Donald Trump (but not to other candidates,) and Trump is correct in saying that he is doing the networks a favor by raising their ratings. Could unbalanced media coverage have helped Trump win enough delegates to clinch the Republican nomination? Ya think?

Bernie Sanders 2005: Then as Now

March 29, 2016

I met Bernie Sanders in May 2005 when I interviewed him at the National Conference for Media Reform for my film Broadcast Blues.  Yesterday, I discovered the entire interview, and in watching, was impressed that he was not only talking about reforming the corporate media way back then, but was already talking about the downfall of the middle class and the rise of the 1%. 
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So here is a five minute excerpt from that interview. Pure Sanders, then as now:

Brainwashing Trumps Reason

March 17, 2016

I’d like to punch him in the face.” Fighting words from presidential contender Donald Trump  that foreboded real violence at Trump rallies, manifesting last Friday at the University of Illinois Chicago, and first in North Carolina, where Trump supporter John McGraw first sucker punched peaceful protestor Rakeen Jones in the face, then told a news reporter later, “Yes, he deserved it, the next time we see him, we might have to kill him. 
“We don't condone violence,” Trump told Fox News’ about the incident, “but the kid did, from what I hear, stick up a certain finger right in everybody's face. And this man has had enough, because I'll tell you what, people in this country are very angry. What about Chicago? Did his incendiary language cause the clashes at the U of Illinois? "I don't think so," Trump argued. "I represent a lot of people who have great anger."
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Anger? You bet there’s anger. But as revealed by Jen Senko’s new documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad,” it is faux anger, caused by more than a generation of propaganda stemming from a coordinated far right takeover of media – and brains.
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THE BRAINWASHING OF MY DAD  - Trailer from Jen Senko on Vimeo.
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Those familiar with my work know I’ve dealt with government policies which allow corporate media giants to take over our airwaves with lies painted as “news.” But in “Brainwashing,” Senko goes deeper into the historical underpinnings of far right media indoctrination and the virtual brainwashing of family members and society. Senko’s film shows over time how her open-minded Kennedy Democrat father transformed into a raging right-winger after excessive exposure to Talk Radio and Fox News. Says Senko, "What I mean by brainwashing is that people like my dad have become so taken over by right-wing media and its disinformation campaign, that they speak, vote and even act against their own interests - even against the very core of who they are.”

Trump and Cruz: Will Somebody Sue Already?

February 29, 2016
originally posted at BradBlog.com

One of them could do us all a great favor by holding broadcasters accountable in a way that We the People cannot...
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 Republican Presidential contenders Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are at war over what they charge to be false political ads against each other. It's one battle in this bizarre and contentious campaign year which could actually benefit us all.
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The Cruz campaign has been running a series of attack ads about Trump's position on abortion, which Politifact reviewed and described as "flawed." In response to what he calls Cruz' "lying ads", Trump has threatened to file a suit charging that Cruz, who was born in Canada, may not be eligible for the Presidency.
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Meanwhile, a SuperPAC called the American Future Fund ran an attack ad against Cruz calling him "weak" on defense, which the group Fact Check reviewed and found to be "misleading." Cruz' response was to have his attorneys write a sternly worded letter to the TV stations running the ad against him, demanding they pull it, citing FCC public interest obligations and more.
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"Because this advertisement makes a flatly false factual claim for which your station is ultimately liable," the Cruz attorneys wrote, "we strongly urge you to exercise your discretion as a licensee to refuse to continue to broadcast this advertisement, and, because it is already airing, immediately pull the advertisement from your rotation."
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In this case, the Cruz attorneys are right, at least in regard to the legal issues at stake...
Why is Cruz going after the TV stations, but Trump is going after Cruz personally? Trump can't sue Cruz over a "lying" campaign ad, because there's no law against candidates lying on air. Therefore, he's threatening litigation on the separate issue of Cruz' birthplace. (Whether we like it or not, any Federal candidate who runs their own "I approve this message" ad on TV or radio is free to lie to the public as much as he or she likes. Broadcasters are legally not allowed to vet candidates' ads for fictitious statements, and stations are required to run those false ads over our public airwaves.)

Rush Limbaugh Stepped Into It This Time

 June 10, 2015
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Rush Limbaugh stepped into it this time.
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The most popular radio host in America is famous for spreading lies, propaganda, misogyny, and hate over our publicly owned airwaves. But the Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the public interest in broadcasting, has consistently stood by Limbaugh's First Amendment right to say whatever he wants, no matter how many people he harms or offends.
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Until, perhaps, now.

Scott Walker and the GOP Turning First Amendment Rights Upside Down

May 22, 2015

It's been an entire year since the First Amendment suffered a gigantic blow as a result of the 2012 Scott Walker recall campaign in Wisconsin, though it's one that very few Americans above and beyond astute BRAD BLOG readers, even know about. And now, there is another threat to Free Speech, stemming from that same recall of GOP Presidential hopeful Walker looming at the Wisconsin State Supreme Court.


Walker's attorneys are now arguing at the Wisconsin State Supreme Court that it is a violation of the First Amendment rights to even investigate whether the Walker campaign broke state law by the controversial candidate personally soliciting funds from non-profit, tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups so donors to his campaign could remain secret. In a separate gambit, they also tried to make that case to the United States Supreme Court, which early Monday sent the case back to Wisconsin.

And it now appears that Right Wing Radio talkers --- at the core of a very real First Amendment blow suffered one year ago --- are, once again, in the thick of all of it.


Upcoming Trump FCC decision will determine your Internet speed

This article is still accessible online at the Sacramento Bee, but in case it disappears, read below what is at stake when we talk about "Net Neutrality." With President Trump leading the way, the government may well allow corporations to throttle free speech on the internet just as they have on our publicly owned radio airwaves.
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Takeaway: Net neutrality means keeping the Internet as it has been since its inception.

Read more here: http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/california-forum/article2674439.html#storylink=cpy.
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Originally published 10-11-14 in the Sacramento Bee
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   You’re enjoying your weekend java, wanting to learn what happened at last week’s school board meeting. Your local newspaper doesn’t cover that beat, but a local blogger does a good job, so you try to pull his site up on your laptop. Meanwhile, your 5-year-old opens up “Sesame Street” on her iPad, and on his, your teenage son is bringing up “Spider-Man” on Netflix. You instantly hear the sounds of “Spider-Man,” but your daughter is getting impatient, as her show hasn’t yet appeared. In another minute, the “Sesame Street” theme song finally plays, but your school board blog still isn’t up. You get another cup of coffee and wait. And wait. And wait. Finally, the site fills your screen.
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   This is what the Internet will look like if the Federal Communications Commission does not pass strict “Net neutrality” rules. While opponents have painted Net neutrality as government takeover of the Internet, it is actually meant to prevent a corporate takeover of free speech on the Web. Net neutrality means keeping the Internet as it has been since its inception, with users paying their Internet service provider a fee to access the Internet, and then freely choosing what to watch, hear, read or post – with no outside interference. Proponents include Google, Microsoft, AOL, Mozilla, eBay and thousands of small businesses. There is very little opposition to Net neutrality – except from the giant Internet service providers themselves.

FCC: No More Equal Time Requirements for Political Campaign Supporters Over Our Public Airwaves.

May 19, 2014

The 2014 FCC has now spoken [PDF] in response to a complaint filed by my not-for-profit, the Media Action Center (MAC). Unfortunately, their response comes as little surprise.

It might, however, come as a surprise to the 1972 FCC. That year, the Federal Communications Commission discussed a ruling that became known as the "Zapple Doctrine". The rule extended the federal agency's interpretation of the equal time provisions, Section 315 of the Communications Act, to apply to supporters of candidates, as well as candidates themselves. If airtime was granted to a candidate over the public airwaves, equal time had to be made available to his or her opponent, if it was requested.
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Zapple expanded the equal time provision to apply to supporters of candidates as well. It only made common sense, as the FCC explained in 1972...
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What we were stating in Zapple was simply a common sense application of the statutory scheme. ... If the DNC were sold time for a number of spots, it is difficult to conceive on what basis the licensee could then refuse to sell comparable time to the RNC. Or, if during a campaign the latter were given a half-hour of free time to advance its cause, could a licensee fairly reject the subsequent request of the DNC that it be given a comparable opportunity? Clearly, these examples deal with exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise. No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion.
"Exaggerated, hypothetical situations that would never arise?" Really? "No licensee would try to act in such an arbitrary fashion"?
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Hey, 1972 FCC, please meet the 2014 FCC.

"McCutcheon" Mints Millions for Mass Media

April 9, 2014
Originally Published at BradBlog.com

Guess who is popping the champagne cork over this week's Supreme Court ruling in McCutcheon vs. FEC, which will allow wealthy individuals to donate virtually unlimited dollars to candidates, political parties, and political action groups?
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Why, broadcasters, of course. The same companies which operate on our publicly owned airwaves stand to gain the most from McCutcheon and its earlier obscene counterpart, Citizens United.
On Thursday, the radio industry newsletter Inside Radio wrote [subscription req'd] that the McCutcheon decision was "likely to boost [ad] spending" in 2014. They explain that the 2010 Citizens United decision "opened the floodgates to more dollars in politics and the result was record campaign spending on radio in 2012." They predict that the Court's ruling this week "could help spur even more spending.
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In another piece this week [also subscription req'd] the newsletter trumpets:
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Political ad spending forecast upsized.
More competitive races, combined with a greater number of outside groups that don't qualify for the lowest unit rate, have the potential to make the 2014 mid-term election cycle more ad intensive than first thought. So much so, that the analysts at Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG), have boosted their political spending forecast. Kantar estimates radio could see $180 million in political ad spending by Election Day."
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$180 million? That's chump change when it comes to what the television industry stands to make. Bloomberg reports that TV stations will make in excess of $2.5 billion --- with a "B" --- from political ad sales in 2014. And that's nothing compared to what they expect to make in 2016 during a Presidential race.
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And of course, many, if not most of those ads mislead or outright lie to the very public in whose interest the broadcasters are licensed to serve.
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Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this picture?
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Overturning Citizens United and McCutcheon may take years, decades even, if it ever happens at all. But given that We the People have real power as the owners of the airwaves, I see some ways we can reduce at least some of the political ad spending, and perhaps take a lot of money out of politics...