A few days ago, I offered an alternative to the Fairness Doctrine on this blog, and it received a lot of attention. But the reason I offered it was because something has to be done about the radio business. We own the airwaves, and the current license holders are effectively killing it. Right now, the airwwaves in most markets are controlled by very few very large, out of state interests, and it's crippled the industry badly. It's not just talk radio; the reason podcasts and iPods are so popular, is because the radio is largely bereft of quality programming. If record companies want to know why no one buys their music anymore, they should take their earbuds out of their goddamn ears, and listen to the radio: it's largely shit.
The issue at hand, however, is informational radio, and the complete and utter lack of standards, accountability and diversity in the so-called "marketplace of ideas." The only iteration of the mass media that is truly populist is radio. Everyone has a radio, including many homeless people. It is also a very key tool in dissemination of information in the event of a national or local emergency, and the corporate idiots who have been allowed to run the show for the past 12 years are actually putting it in jeopardy with their actions.
Once more, the airwaves belong to us, not them. THEY are under a contractual obligation (their license) to braodcast in a way that serves the "public interest." Not the interests of right wingers only, or the interests of the schmucks who paid too much for the licenses, and are suddenly finding it difficult to make money because of it. OUR interests.
I have absolutely ZERO interest in shutting up Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, or any of the other idiots on the right. I even support Michael Savage's right to make a fool of himself, although I still wonder why he has thus far escaped FCC scrutiny for some of his more outrageous statements. In fact, if anyone even attempted to shut up any of these right wing morons, I would be on the picket line with their drooling fans, demanding that they be put back on the air. (Okay, maybe not right next to them, but I'd be close.)
On the other hand, look at reality here. These assholes, who are feigning such great concern for their own right to free speech, are part of a system that actively suppresses dissenting voices, and actively tries to keep them off the air. More than 90% of talk radio programming is right wing, even though they represent, at most, 15% of the population. If these people gave a rat's ass about free speech, they would be addressing that. They're not about free speech; they're about domination of the "debate" in this country.
Think about this; where were they when Howard Stern was being hounded by the Republican-led FCC into high-tailing it to satellite radio? I personally can't stand Stern's program, but I don't see it as any worse than most of the shit Michael Savage says on an almost daily basis.
I don't know anyone who seriously thinks that we should just go back to 1987, and reinstate the original Fairness Doctrine. It wouldn't work, anyway, because it doesn't refect the current realities of the broadcast business as it exists. But make no mistake; the frighty righties are scared to death of any kind of "fairness" in broadcasting. They like the idea of maintaining the status quo, which means they can lie at will, and there will be no one anywhere on the radio dial to counter them on it.
And when they talk about the "Fairness Doctrine," they are not talk about the actual Fairness Doctrine, but instead, using it as code, and referring to anything that would change the current dynamic of the broadcast industry.
The Republicans have ginned up the bullshit machine full throttle on this one. Even though the subject isn't even on the Democrats' radar at the moment, what with the whole economic meltdown kind of taking a lot of their time, the GOP is making a full court press on this.
And they're doing it the sneaky way, as usual.
Republican idiot Senator Jim DeMint said yesterday that he plans to attach an amendment to the DC Voting Rights Bill next week, which he euphemistically calls the Broadcaster Freedom Act . The Bill would block the FCC from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.
Talk about pandering to their idiot base. Given that no one is attempting to reinstate the old Fairness Doctrine in the first place, and the bill doesn't preclude the FCC from enacting other measures calling for a diversification of license ownership, is there a point to this? I would also point out that this is not the first time they've tried this bill and failed. In October 2007, the House tried the same bill and got nowhere, even with 208 co-sponsors, all with their lips firmly on Rush Limbaugh's ass.
Speaking of which, Limbaugh and Hannity have been absolutely obsessing over this non-issue to their listeners. In fact, the drug-addled gasbag, Limbaugh, even penned an editorial of sorts in this morning's Wall Street Journal. This one is precious, and of course, as if my wont, I will reprint the entire missive, and comment as I go.
As a former law professor, surley you understand the Bill of Rights.
Okay, let's start right there.
This is in no way, shape or form, a civil rights issue. This is how they twist the debate, folks, so that they can gather more support. If this was a free speech issue, then where the hell were they when they took Don Imus off the air last year?
There is a right to free speech in the Bill of Rights. There is also freedom of the press. But there is not a right to be given a forum for your views. It is up to you to find a forum for your own views. Rush Limbaugh is not entitled to a radio show.
That said, the FCC was created in order to organize the airwaves, and to allow an orderly use of them, in order to benefit the public good. What sort of "public good" is served when a market's broadcast dial is dominated by one company, located out of state, and offering one opinion, and refusing other opinions airtime? There is only so much broadcast space available; the day of the entrepreneurial broadcasting business is pretty much over.
By Rush Limbaugh
Dear President Obama:
I have a straightforward question, which I hope you will answer in a straightforward way: Is it your intention to censor talk radio through a variety of contrivances, such as "local content," "diversity of ownership," and "public interest" rules -- all of which are designed to appeal to populist sentiments but, as you know, are the death knell of talk radio and the AM band?
You have singled me out directly, admonishing members of Congress not to listen to my show. Bill Clinton has since chimed in, complaining about the lack of balance on radio. And a number of members of your party, in and out of Congress, are forming a chorus of advocates for government control over radio content. This is both chilling and ominous.
Notice how the idiot conflates "reinstating the Fairness Doctrine" into anything having to do with reducing the concentration of the broadcast spectrum in too few hands, and maintaining the status quo.
Look at what he's coming out against. He's against local ownership of the airwaves. He WANTS your radio stations to be controlled by outside companies. He's against diversity of ownership. In other words, he wants you locked out of ever being a part of the broadcast industry, and he's against increased competition.
Let me repeat that last one, because it's important.
Rush Limbaugh, a self-professed "conservative," is AGAINST COMPETITION.
He is also against free speech, apparently, because he considers the opinions of "a chorus of advocates" and Bill Clinton to be... wait for it... "chilling and ominous."
Read that more closely. Rush Limbaugh finds free speech, and free exercise of opinions to be "chilling and ominous."
As a former president of the Harvard Law Review and a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, you are more familiar than most with the purpose of the Bill of Rights: to protect the citizen from the possible excesses of the federal government. The First Amendment says, in part, that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The government is explicitly prohibited from playing a role in refereeing among those who speak or seek to speak. We are, after all, dealing with political speech -- which, as the Framers understood, cannot be left to the government to police.
Here's a plain lie. He should have vetted this with a lawyer.
The First Amendment protects speech and press; that part is true. But the Constitution MANDATES the regulation of interstate commerce. And with the Communications Act of 1934, the airwaves were declared to be the domain of the people, and the Federal Communications Commission was formed and charged with the solemn duty of protecting those airwaves on our behalf. The purpose of issuing broadcast licenses in the first place was to bring order to chaos.
Limbaugh understands the issue better than he's letting on, too. If I was to put up my own 50,000 watt transmitter on my property, and start broadcasting on, or adjacent to, the frequency carrying Limbaugh's show, I'm pretty sure the FCC would crack down on me, and tell me to stop. Would that constitute a violation of my freedom of speech? Of course not. Likewise, if the FCC demands that the owner of 10 broadcast licenses, three of which are offering 100% right wing talk, to put progressive talk on one other station, how is that a violation of anyone's free speech rights? Even if they were to require each station now carrying 100% right wing talk to carry 3 hours of opposing views at some point during the day, if they're so concerned, couldn't they move the one right wing talker they have to give up to another frequency?
I'm still at a loss as to how offering MORE representative viewpoints is a violation of anyone's free speech rights.
When I began my national talk show in 1988, no one, including radio industry professionals, thought my syndication would work. There were only about 125 radio stations programming talk. And there were numerous news articles and opinion pieces predicting the fast death of the AM band, which was hemorrhaging audience and revenue to the FM band. Some blamed the lower-fidelity AM signals. But the big issue was broadcast content. It is no accident that the AM band was dying under the so-called Fairness Doctrine, which choked robust debate about important issues because of its onerous attempts at rationing the content of speech.
On this, we actually agree. The old Fairness Doctrine prevented political talk radio to develop, which is why early examples of syndicated national programming were relegated to the night, and eschewed the utterance of any sort of news analysis. Limbaugh's program was the first syndicated program to offer a distinct viewpoint, politically.
The issue, however, is that the current climate actually "rations" content more than the Fairness Doctrine ever did. Right now, political talk is relatively popular, but the owners of the stations now "ration content," and the FCC is allowing them.
After the Federal Communications Commission abandoned the Fairness Doctrine in the mid-1980s, Congress passed legislation to reinstitute it. When President Reagan vetoed it, he declared that "This doctrine . . . requires Federal officials to supervise the editorial practices of broadcasters in an effort to ensure that they provide coverage of controversial issues and a reasonable opportunity for the airing of contrasting viewpoints of those issues. This type of content-based regulation by the Federal Government is . . . antagonistic to the freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment. . . . History has shown that the dangers of an overly timid or biased press cannot be averted through bureaucratic regulation, but only through the freedom and competition that the First Amendment sought to guarantee."
Today the number of radio stations programming talk is well over 2,000. In fact, there are thousands of stations that air tens of thousands of programs covering virtually every conceivable topic and in various languages. The explosion of talk radio has created legions of jobs and billions in economic value. Not bad for an industry that only 20 years ago was moribund. Content, content, content, Mr. President, is the reason for the huge turnaround of the past 20 years, not "funding" or "big money," as Mr. Clinton stated. And not only has the AM band been revitalized, but there is competition from other venues, such as Internet and satellite broadcasting. It is not an exaggeration to say that today, more than ever, anyone with a microphone and a computer can broadcast their views. And thousands do.
Okay, let's stop there.
The above is pure and utter horseshit, and an example of one thing we need to do to clean up the airwaves.
All viewpoints should be represented. Limbaugh should have the right to lie, if he wants. But he should not and does not have the right to lie without response.
I'm not sure where he gets the 2000 talk stations number, but he's obviously talking about the countless "morning zoo" programs, sports talk and "hot talk" stations that do not carry political content, by and large. I would also argue that AM radio is NOT being "revitalized" at all. AM stations are still the bastard stepchildren of the broadcast industry. Also, the number of radio jobs has dropped precipitously since the talk radio "boom."
But check out that last line. A"NYONE with a microphone and a computer can broadcast their views."?
It's really hard to believe that an ex-DJ would not know what the word "broadcast" means. Internet and satellite are not the same as radio broadcasting. Everyone has a radio, and anyone within a certain radius can pick up radio broadcasts for free. Satellite radio requires extra money and a special receiver, and Internet radio requires access to broadband.
Everyone with a
microphone can put something up on the 'Net. What they cannot do is
bring their views to a wide audience, because Limbaugh, et al have
effectively monopolized the airwaves. Think I'm exaggerating?
Limbaugh's program is owned by Premiere
Radio Networks. Who owns Premiere Radio Networks? Well, Premiere is
wholly owned by Clear Channel Communications. Most of Limbaugh's
affiliates are owned by Clear Channel. Clear Channel owns more than 900
radio stations. They used to own more than 1200 stations, but unloaded
several hundred over the last few years; most of them AM stations,
which Limbaugh says above, are supposed to be "booming." Most of Limbaugh's 650 or so affiliates are owned by Clear Channel.
Now, do you understand why Limbaugh's concerned?
Basically, more than half of all
commercial radio broadcast licenses are owned by five companies, and
all five companies own, or have a large stake in, companies thatproduce
talk radio. Why is there no conflict of interest in this scenario?
Mr. President, we both know that this new effort at regulating speech is not about diversity but conformity. It should be rejected. You've said you're against reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, but you've not made it clear where you stand on possible regulatory efforts to impose so-called local content, diversity-of-ownership, and public-interest rules that your FCC could issue.
I do not favor content-based regulation of National Public Radio, newspapers, or broadcast or cable TV networks. I would encourage you not to allow your office to be misused to advance a political vendetta against certain broadcasters whose opinions are not shared by many in your party and ideologically liberal groups such as Acorn, the Center for American Progress, and MoveOn.org. There is no groundswell of support behind this movement. Indeed, there is a groundswell against it.
The fact that the federal government issues broadcast licenses, the original purpose of which was to regulate radio signals, ought not become an excuse to destroy one of the most accessible and popular marketplaces of expression. The AM broadcast spectrum cannot honestly be considered a "scarce" resource. So as the temporary custodian of your office, you should agree that the Constitution is more important than scoring transient political victories, even when couched in the language of public interest.
We in talk radio await your answer. What will it be? Government-imposed censorship disguised as "fairness" and "balance"? Or will the arena of ideas remain a free market?
Once more, the only entity "regulating speech" are the top five radio conglomerates, who are systematically locking opposing viewpoints out of the marketplace.
There is no "free market" in radio.
None. it's a very small market, limited by technical considerations. If
we can develop digital radio to the point where there are hundreds of
available stations in a market, and anyone can put up a stick and
broadcast, then we can talk. But for now, the declaration of a supposed
"free market" is a huge red herring.
This is not an issue of free speech, folks. There is already censorship on the airwaves. For the FCC to NOT act, and allow the status quo to stand would be a violation of the First Amendment, as well as a violation of their Constitutional mandate to regulate commerce. What we have right now is open censorship of opposing viewpoints on OUR airwaves, and an abdication of responsibility by the FCC.