Swans Commentary » swans.com June 19, 2006  



The Telecommunications Act Of 1996
Bonanza for Clear Channel, Radio for Conservative Voices


by Seth Sandronsky





(Swans - June 19, 2006)  Ten years is time enough to see who gains from a political bill. We turn to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which changed the Communications Act of 1934 limiting the total number of radio stations that could be owned in a market or community.

The political context for this? Investment capital has to expand. At the same time, this expansion in the marketplace requires government rules. Otherwise there would be more chaos (such as depressions and recessions). This is one reason why corporate America has armies of lobbyists trying to shape government legislation to benefit business and investor interests. And now more than ever, the media is all about return on investment for capitalists.

We often hear, read, and see media mention concerning the "free market." Supposedly, such freedom between buyers and sellers benefits society. In reality, this freedom of the marketplace is the breaking and making of legislation for the purpose of expanding big investment opportunities.

Accordingly, here is the question for the rest of us who do not invest in nor own media companies. Do government bills such as the Act of 1996 help or harm the media in terms of the public interest for consumers?

Consider radio in terms of the Act of 1996, signed into law by President Clinton on February 8 of that year. "Where previously one corporation could own only four stations in a single city, the same company now can own as many as eight. And there is now no limit to the number of stations a company can own across the nation" (Sacramento Bee, 4-2-96).

It is worth noting that in 1995 the Act passed the House and Senate for Clinton's signature on the claim that it would improve competition in the media marketplace. Something quite different than a competitive market unfolded, according to Roger D. Smith.

"Clear Channel went from owning fewer than 50 radio stations to owning more than 1,200 stations nationwide. Here in Sacramento, among the AM stations Clear Channel owns are both KFBK (1530) and KSTE (650), which results in a one-sided spew of conservative viewpoints dominating local talk-radio airwaves 24 hours a day" (Sacramento News & Review, 5-15-03).

Politically, conservative is one word for pro-war. For an example of such programming by Clear Channel-owned talk radio, we turn the clock back a year.

To counter the US public's increasing disapproval for the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, some right-wing radio hosts traveled to that nation for a "Truth Tour." Finding truth in Iraq to provide the US public with was the aim of these right wingers, who included radio host Mark Williams, recently fired from his job at KFBK.

Apparently, he was well-qualified to seek truth in Iraq. His qualifications? Williams penned an editorial slamming the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Arabs in general that ran on the Sacramento Union Web site in late 2004.

Urinating on Arafat's tombstone was a fitting way to mourn his passing, Williams wrote. The local chapter of American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) criticized the Union and Williams.

The Union's response more justified than retracted Williams' editorial. Later, ADC-Sacramento wrote a letter in protest to the California State Assembly Select Committee on Hate Crimes.

Presumably, Williams and his talk-radio comrades did their best to undo the harm done by the so-called liberal bias of the US mass media in Iraq. In this way, the right-wing talk show hosts hoped to bring positive news of the occupation to the American public on Clear Channel radio stations.

For example, Williams, speaking of the Truth Tour, criticized current Iraq war reporting. Supposedly, this type of journalism is practiced by the liberal media, so disliked by the Republican right wing.

"There are a lot of stories over there that aren't being told," said Williams. "Hey, if I want to see the enemy's perspective, I'll check out CBS or Newsweek" (SF Chronicle, 7-7-05).

The reporting of CBS and Newsweek on the attempted US colonization of Iraq, you see, nearly qualifies them for being traitors. Accordingly, PBS must have just about attained the status of enemy combatants. They are held prisoner by the US government in the war on terror, and under the Bush administration have no right to a trial as it interprets international law.

Presumably, it was up to Clear Channel employees like Williams to help the White House feed the US public good news about the war in Iraq. All that and more right-wing programming from the likes of the bigoted and drug-addicted Rush Limbaugh could and can be found on Clear Channel radio stations nationwide.

It is doubtful that to improve radio competition Clear Channel will replace Williams with antiwar activist Kathy Kelly. In a civilized nation, Kelly's peacemaking activities would make her widely known. Thus she has scant name recognition in the U.S. Why? Part of the answer is concentrated media ownership such as Clear Channel's that ignores her knowledge of truth in Iraq.

Kelly, who with Voices in the Wilderness (VitW), the pacifist group she co-founded in her Chicago apartment, spent much time in Iraqi households and hospitals. They were there to file reports on 14 years of trade sanctions, weapons inspections, US/UK bombing missions, and, finally, the US-led invasion in 2003 and continuing occupation. (Kelly and others formerly in VitW are now with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

The richer Clear Channel gets, the poorer is US democracy. This situation also harms market competition in telecommunications, not to be confused with democracy. Capitalism is not democracy, not in radio nor other areas of modern life.

Media reform is a struggle of corporate capital versus people. This struggle is not always easy to see. For more information on backing media reform that weakens the corporate grip on the public's airwaves, visit Free Press.


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About the Author

Seth Sandronsky is a member of Sacramento Area Peace Action, California, and a co-editor of Because People Matter, Sacramento's progressive paper.



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Published June 19, 2006