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.
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I began this journey in 1987 while working at Los Angeles’ KCBS-TV. The Reagan led Federal Communications Commission (FCC,) claimed “the marketplace would create fairness,” and threw out the “Fairness Doctrine,” a policy which required broadcasters to offer opportunities for discussion on controversial issues.
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Enter Rush Limbaugh, who spawned the one-sided political tirade called Talk Radio; he bragged he did “the reading for you so you won’t have to,” then spread lies about the content of the New York Times or the Washington Post and other news sources. His twofold motives: to disinform his Republican leaning crowd and to make it appear that Democrats are the ones who refuse to engage in debate, while in fact, they’ve been entirely shut out. (He still does. A quote from October 14 of this year: “These people on the left are not interested in debate; they’re not interested in being coequals in the arena of ideas.”)
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Fast forward to 2014: the FCC decided that because there is no longer a Fairness Doctrine, it is perfectly legal for five local pro-GOP talk radio hosts to promote the candidacies of Republicans Gov. Scott Walker and Congressman Paul Ryan and Senator Ron Johnson, effectively giving them millions of dollars of free airtime, while specifically not allowing a single Democrat like Russ Feingold on the air – our publicly owned airwaves – at all. Absent the Fairness Doctrine, the FCC says, stations have the Freedom of Speech to say what they like. What will it take to once again provide true discourse and facts? An Act of Congress.)
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Fast forward to 1996, when Congress actually passed an Act of Congress (the 1996 Telecommunications Act) which made things worse: it consolidated the weapon of disinformation into the hands of just a few corporations. Rather than hundreds of individual radio owners choosing who to program on their stations, the select few made Rush Limbaugh radio’s star performer in the country’s midsection, buying up all the radio towers so no other points of view could be heard. (There is a reason the GOP party is sometimes called the Truck driver party. You can drive coast to coast and never hear anything but lies masquerading as truth; the red/blue state voting map proves the dynamic.)
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The Rushites even ran ads in Time Magazine and elsewhere, promoting him as “America’s Anchorman,” willfully blurring the lines between political radio talkers and true non-biased journalists. Dozens of hard right copycats proliferated, to the point where 50 million people were listening to radio’s alternative “news”, way more than watch Fox News, nearly as many that read newspapers.
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By 1998, the entire political landscape morphed monstrously; the newly formed pro-Republican alt-media literally aided and abetted Ken Starr’s witch hunt of the President who balanced the budget and created 26 million new jobs, Bill Clinton. (Everybody knows Clinton was impeached for lying about a consensual private affair with Monica Lewinsky, but how many know that the Paula Jones case was deemed by a judge to be a frivolous lawsuit, used by the politically motivated Starr who illegally colluded with Jones’ attorneys and who relied on tapes that a “friend” of Monica’s had secretly – and illegally – made, all to frame the President by creating a crime where none existed? Nah, Rush didn’t tell ya that, did he?)
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So I moved into action and formed the early media reform group, “The Truth in America Project.” I stood with others on C-Span, from the White House’s Bob Weiner to a little group called “Censure and Move On” on the Ellipse outside the White House to protest Starr.
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My media plan at the time:
1) Restore the Fairness Doctrine
2) Dismantle the Telecommunications Act of 1996
3) Eliminate all 30 second political advertising
4) Restructure ratings and commerce of newscasts 
 I next assimilated eleven years of research about the sins of the new alt-media into Broadcast Blues, my 2009 award-winning documentary film. (C’mon, Bill Maher, you showed me yours, let me show you mine!)
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I traveled the nation to educate thousands about their rights as the owners of the public airwaves, and started the Media Action Center to inspire people to take meaningful action against their local broadcasters. We have established policy, spooked radio stations into putting their public files online, and filed other actions currently pending at the FCC. But without an actual Act of Congress, we have just been chipping at the edges of the larger problem.
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Bill and Hillary Clinton knew about this problem and this plan eighteen years ago but did nothing. President Obama wrote about a related issue, the need to clarify broadcasters’ public interest obligations, on the White House Technology page in 2009, then quietly scrubbed the reference. Had any Democrats acted on it instead of just hiding their heads in the sand for twenty years, we would not be having this conversation today, and our very culture would not have become unhinged. (For the more psychological aspect of this, see my colleague Jen Senko’s documentary The Brainwashing of My Dad.)
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But here we are, and the right-wing alt-media now has the entire online space to spread its disinformation. The fix is not as easy as it once could have been. But good old-fashioned broadcasting, the only medium which can be regulated as it is owned by We the People, is a good place to start. And as rumors about radio’s demise have been greatly exaggerated, it is the place to once again develop that common conversation we as a nation so deeply need.

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?
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But now, according to Matthews, the media Kingmakers are preparing to declare Hillary Clinton the Democratic nominee for President at 8 PM Eastern on June 7th, before California even has finished voting, even though she will not win enough delegates to clinch the deal. (Even if current polls are correct, and HRC wins 60% of New Jersey delegates, 48% of California delegates, 53% of New Mexico delegates, and an impossible 100% of delegates in North and South Dakota and Montana, where polling is spotty, she still falls 132 delegates short of a pledged delegate win.) Sure, Superdelegates who have not yet cast their votes, could put her over the top come July 28, but will they? A lot could happen between now and then. And it's the news media's job to report the news, not manufacture the outcome.
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Said Matthews, "I'm told by the experts on numbers around here at NBC and elsewhere that come June 7, the day of the California primary... that at 8 o'clock that night, Eastern time, the networks will be prepared, including this one, to announce that Hillary Clinton has now gotten over the top, that she will have won the nomination in numbers, it's done."
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Except it is not done, it won't be done until after the Democratic Convention July 25-28, and Matthews and the rest of the corporate media knows it.
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They also know that Bernie Sanders has rightly been calling out the corporate media for years, and that he is the only candidate in the field who would put teeth into public interest obligations.
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#RespectTheVote, Chris Matthews and other corporate media warlords. And #RespectRealReporting as well.

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 FCC decision will determine your Internet speed


November 4, 2014

   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...

Thoughts on McCutcheon v FEC

April 2, 2014
Today, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutheon v FEC that wealthy individuals may donate unlimited funds to candidates, political parties, and political action groups. Where does most of that money go?  Into local TV stations for political ads.
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I have written about a remedy before. When will we hold our broadcasters who are supposed to serve the public interest accountable for lying political ads?  
courtesy freedigitalphotos.net
















 
Excerpted from the BradBlog,
originally published June 8, 2012
Truth in Advertising
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Back to Citizens United: there is another obscure legal concept which could provide the citizenry with a tool for change --- without a Constitutional Amendment --- before the 2012 general election.
It turns out that if a candidate wants to buy airtime from a TV or radio station, the station must sell the time, and it may not vet or censor the ad in any way. (So, legally, candidates may lie to public as much as they want.)
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But third party ads, the ones which have been loosed by the Citizens United decision, are treated differently. Stations do not have to take those ads. If they do, and if those ads lie to the public, the stations may be held liable.
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Pause and think about holding your local TV station liable for lying third party ads. I can feel the shudder running through the halls of broadcast management right about now.
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Typically, it is a candidate who is being defamed in an ad that would file such a suit. That person, attorneys tell me, has the standing to file, as they are the ones being harmed by the ad.
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But when ads lie to public, over our publicly owned airwaves, aren't we the people also being damaged? Isn't our very democracy being damaged when local broadcasters, who are licensed to broadcast only if they serve the public interest, putting giant profits ahead of making certain that the ads are factual? We should have the standing to develop a class action suit asserting our right to factual campaign information over our public airwaves. Our First Amendment rights are paramount in broadcasting, after all, at least according to the United States Supreme Court.
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So stand up and exercise your rights! Set up meetings with your local radio and TV stations and demand fact checking of ads by local management. Sometimes they will respond positively. But realize that local licensees are owned by giant corporations, which often care little about service to the local community. So if they will not serve your needs, exercise your rights in any way you legally can. Send people in to do daily file inspections (which causes stations to hire extra staff), boycott their advertisers (which sends a financial chill through any station), challenge their licenses.
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Bringing about parity over our public airwaves is about finding narrow targets, aiming high and true, and educating the public for their support. Our motto at Media Action Center: "Know your rights. Be empowered. Put boots on the ground. And publicize."
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What the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin teaches us is that broadcasting is the number one benefactor of the money in politics. But broadcasters are legally supposed to be benefiting their owners, We the People. It's time to stand up for the rights of the real owners of broadcasting - us.
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The FCC: Actually Enforcing Its Own Rules?

There is a new sheriff at the FCC, and it looks like Tom Wheeler is here to protect the townspeople, not the outlaws.
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As new chair, Wheeler explained in a statement last Thursday, "Protecting Television Consumers by Protecting Competition," the FCC is required by law to assess its media ownership rules every four years to determine if they need to be modified to serve the public interest. His predecessor, Julius Genachowski, ignored that law completely, meaning it's been six years since a review has been completed. But Wheeler seems to be taking this responsibility seriously, and states, "motivated by evidence that our rules protecting competition, diversity and localism have been circumvented, we will consider some changes to other Commission rules to enforce existing rules."
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We haven't heard an FCC chairman talk about enforcing rules since, well, since well before this writer started paying attention back in 1987.
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Note Wheeler's willingness to close the "Joint Services Agreement" loophole, which has allowed two TV stations in one town to be operated, if not owned, by the same owner. (TV viewers experience this when they watch the same news and reporters on two different channels in their towns.) He is also looking at local radio and TV ownership rules, which I have written about at length before, as well as the current prohibition on the cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations.
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If broadcast station owners held the same standards of fairness and duty to the public interest they did at the onset of broadcasting, we wouldn't need all these rules. But these times, they are a changing, and both profit and politics too often trumps the public interest.
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This can best be seen in the state of Wisconsin.