FCC to Public: Boycott Rush and Leave Us Alone!

The FCC is wading into the Conservative Talk Radio debate, dipping its toe in the water just enough to make it seem it is doing its job in protecting the public interest in broadcasting, but not making enough of a ripple to rock the corporate lobbyists’ boat.
.
Surprisingly, given the general lack of response by the FCC to the general public, the federal agency instantly responded to a March 10th letter from Roger Smith, of the broadcast watchdog Sacramento Media Group.  Smith complained about the gross imbalance of political viewpoints on the public airwaves in Sacramento, citing a study that Clear Channel stations in Sacramento devote 190 hours per week to Right Wing talk, while devoting not a single minute to any other viewpoint (a model perpetuated throughout 90% of the country.)
.
The FCC responded with the following: 

“…broadcast stations enjoy freedom of speech under the First Amendment, and the FCC is prohibited by statute from censoring or dictating program content.  The result is that stations are free to air pretty much whatever they want (short of obscenity or indecency) – even if the material is false, misleading, or slanted.”
.
Boy oh boy, what a gutsy statement.  For the first time, the agency acknowledges that what comes out of talk radio could well be pure lies.  Still, it claims there is nothing it can do about it.
.
The FCC conveniently forgets the Supreme Court ruling that broadcasters may not engage in “Private Censorship.”  In Red Lion Broadcasting v. FCC, 1969, the Supreme Court decided, “the First Amendment does not protect private censorship by broadcasters who are licensed by the Government to use a scarce resource which is denied to others.”  Or that “the First Amendment is relevant to broadcasting, but it is the right of the viewer and listener, not the broadcaster, which is paramount.”
.
There’s plenty the FCC do.  It could follow court rulings and require that women and minorities, which own less than 8% of all radio stations be brought up to parity.  The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has so ordered;  but that would be difficult, and the FCC always takes the easy way, the pro-corporate way out.  One simple step would be to require broadcasters to clearly delineate which of their shows are news, and which are opinion, and therefore colored with misinformation.  That would be really easy, but not easy enough for the FCC.
.

Instead, the FCC is hopping on the boycott bandwagon, writing, ” If enough people complain about a station’s programming – and particularly if they are part of an organized boycott of station advertisers – the station could very well change its programming policy.”
.
Maybe it’s just coincidence that the FCC is putting this language out in the throes of the very effective Rush Limbaugh boycott, which is cutting into Bain Capital/Premiere Radio/ Clear Channel’s cash flow by a minimum of $1.125 million every week, and according to industry sources, perhaps ten times that.    How long Clear Channel can remain above water given its $20 billion debt largely depends on how long the boycotts last.  (Another 31 sponsors just left the Rush Limbaugh show, but these were on Cumulus stations, which plan to compete in Rush’s 12-3PM EST time slot with yet another conservative, Mike Huckabee.)
.
It is not inconceivable the Rush Limbaugh boycott could drive Clear Channel into bankruptcy.  Perhaps the FCC would then force divestiture of Clear Channel stations so women and minorities can exercise their own First Amendment rights.  But don’t bet on it, as that would be difficult.
.
The problem is that the FCC is effectively the Sheriff of broadcasting.  Imagine if you called the cops, telling them about gang houses dominating 90% of your neighborhood, and they tell you to take matters into your own hands and stage a protest.  You’d try to find a new sheriff.
.
Despite the success of the Limbaugh boycott, we the people still depend on the FCC to enforce the law, no matter how difficult it may be for them.  We need to put the same pressure on the FCC that we have on Rush, but as we can’t boycott the FCC, is anyone ready to Occupy?  That splash would really rock the boat.

1 comment:

veritasvincitprolibertate said...

You conveniently ignore the fact that Red Lion assumed that the fairness doctrine was constitutional, which it was not. What you call private censorship is protected by the equal protection clause. See Loyd v Tanner.

You also ignore the fact that Radio stations enjoy the same free speech and freedom of the press rights guaranteed by the first amendment. Government control over content is called propaganda.

Care to describe what forms of governments put such restrictions on the media or on free speech for that matter.