Radio Speech is not Free Speech

August 17, 2009

August 11, 2009, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in a unanimous vote, became the first elected body in the United States to stand up to Hate Radio.  Their resolution urges "the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to conduct a comprehensive investigation on hate speech in the media, allowing public participation via public hearings, and asks the NTIA to update its 1993 report on the Role of Telecommunications in Hate Crimes."

For two years, San Francisco's Hispanic/Latino Anti-Defamation Coalition has been trying to get some traction on this issue.  They've staged rallies against Michael Savage worked with the Media Alliance, Common Cause and Broadcast Blues to protest hate radio, and supported the National Hispanic Media Coaltion's campaign to convince the FCC and NTIA to act.   But HLADC leader Aurora Grajedas saw she could better effect national change by working with her own city's board of supervisors.  Acting locally is a good lesson for all activists.    

Still, there is resistance to any such study, as opponents charge these groups are trying to shut down the first amendment.  But let us be clear, Radio Speech is not Free Speech.  I will stand by Glenn Beck's right to stand on the street corner and say illegal immigrants should be made into a new fuel called "Mexinol."  I may not like it, but I stand by his right to say it.  But there is a difference between shouting on the street corner and broadcasting all over the country. 

Broadcasting pioneers witnessed the power of propaganda with radio Tokyo Rose, so they worked with government on two key broadcast regulations.  First, to qualify for a license to broadcast on the public airwaves, stations had to serve the public interest, which became defined as local news, political debates, equal time, and a rule that said no personal attacks.  Second, one person could own just 6 radio stations, nationwide. There were a lot of "street corners" in radio. 

Today there are almost none.  The 1996 Telecommunications Act changed the law so one person can own unlimited numbers of radio stations nationwide, and up to eight in a single town.  It means a handful of businessmen now decide what we all get to hear on our local radio dials.  They decide which few musicians get airplay; even Bruce Springsteen can't stand up to Clear Channel (see that story at .)  And this tiny group of older, white, conservative men also decides which political message we get to hear on our radio and which we do not.  They make sure we can hear conservatives in every corner of the country and make sure we do not get to hear moderates or liberals.  (They say only conservative talk gets ratings, but that is not true.  You have to see my film for that story.)  If they want us to hear hate, they have the power to program hate.  Exclusively.)

Plus Ronald Reagan did away with requirements for political debates, equal time, and the personal attack rule; those changes made it so much easier to do Hate Radio.  It is very hard to attack someone with hate speech and then have to give them equal time to respond; you might have to actually look them in the eye.

So today, Rush Limbaugh promotes violence on 600 radio stations, Glenn Beck promotes Mexinol on 400 more,  Michael Savage calls autism a fraud and Latinos criminals on another 400;  the list of conservative hatemongers and their numbers goes on and on.  Hate and lies, broadcast with millions of watts of power into every little town and farm, backed by corporations which have a lock on the market and won't allow any other voice on the air to push back. 

It is Radio Speech, and it is not free; it is owned and managed by just a few people who share a poltical agenda.   It clearly does not serve the public interest. (Reagan couldn't do away with that part of public policy, even though today's broadcasters pretend that he did.) 

And now, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is calling on the FCC, which enforces public interest standards, to at least study what the Leadership Council on Civil Rights sees a correlation between hate radio and violent hate crimes.  They also call on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which advises the President on telecommunications policy,. to update their last study of 1993, completed long before the media paradigm shift of 1996.

But even if the FCC and NTIA do quantify that which we already innately understand, (that hate and lies on the radio do incite violence,) they have little power to change the situation.  It took an Act of Congress to get us into this media mess, and it will take another to get us out of it.

But it will take many more local actions to get their attention.

Bravo, Aurora.


  1. Thank you Sue, and all courageous allies and Politicians for putting all your talents into a good cause, and for upholding Media to its rightful standard of ethics - a standard that all of us must demand from all broadcasters in all media outlets because the airwaves belong to people. Respectfully c.i.

  2. I'm doing research for a project I'm working on about televangelism, and have been listening to American Family Radio lately as part of my research.

    A good half of it is pure hate speech, lies, half truths, and defamatory comments about Gays and Lesbians. I've actually heard a few things said on American Family Radio that's made me gasp with disbelief.

    It sickens me. It's hate speech, pure and simple.

    Thank you, Sue.