2, transnational corporations claiming to be American citizens
are likely to win permission to complete their conquest and
consolidation of U.S. mass media, both broadcast and print.
Their servant is Colin Powell's son, Michael, chairman of the
Federal Communications Commission and the most anti-public overseer
of the public airwaves since passage of the Federal Communications
Act of 1934.
intent on nullifying the public hearings process, has doubtless
committed a host of felonies in smoothing the way for the final
conglomerization of broadcasting. The beneficiaries of the political
power that grows out of radio and television ownership have
enforced a near universal silence on the issue. In addition
to the media giants that already control the vast bulk of what
is electronically seen and heard in the United States, the print
opinion leaders of The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and
The Washington Post have all urged final deregulation of broadcasting,
so that they might sit at the feast table with the handful of
broadcast and cable conglomerates.
of silence is designed to ensure that we hear nothing but what
rich white men in suits want to say - forever.
It is impossible
to exaggerate the consequences that flow from corporate monopolization
of media. However, it can be argued that effective electronic
media monopoly has already been achieved through the Telecommunications
Act of 1996, legislation that the FCC describes as allowing
"any communications business [to] compete in any market
against any other," but which in practice allows the big
fish to swallow up the less big while exterminating the small.
of effective Black access, the airwaves have long been a wasteland.
In a fundamental political sense, all corporations resist
popular power and speak a common language of profit - including
Black-owned media corporations, once they have gained sufficient
foothold in the marketplace. The corporatization of the media
message has proceeded without interruption since well
before the FCC's Fairness Doctrine was finally discarded, in
imposed responsibility on broadcast owners to encourage and
facilitate the airing of all sides of controversial issues.
In the late Sixties through the Seventies, FCC rules were interpreted
as requiring stations licensed to serve Black audiences to demonstrate
that their programming provided the public with practical avenues
of access to the airwaves. As a result, Black-oriented radio
stations got "Blacker," whether they were owned by
Blacks or not. Television stations, which assumed responsibility
for serving all segments of the community, felt compelled
to create or carry syndicated programs tailored to African Americans.
For a brief
time, Black journalism and public affairs programming proliferated
in markets large and small, empowering political movements in
these localities. However, aspiring business voices within the
Black community combined with the general corporate cacophony
to shift the discussion away from public access to the airwaves.
Instead, Black ownership became the political objective - a
game that large corporations knew they could control. The Black
community became spectators in the buying and selling sport,
their actual access to the airwaves dependent on the
program whims of owners. With a very few exceptions, local news
staffs shrank or disappeared from Black radio.
some Black entrepreneurial players became rich - very few, actually,
considering the potential that existed at the turn of the Seventies
- by the beginning of the Eighties grassroots Black politics
was crippled. African American activism had been informed by
mass organizational strategies. Black-oriented media - including
radio outlets owned by whites anxious to demonstrate sensitivity
to Black opinion and conform to the FCC's community access
rules - were no longer forums for grassroots expression. A political
vacuum imploded over much of urban America, filled crudely and
to little organizational effect by Hip Hop music storytellers.
It became possible to say that the Civil Rights Movement was
dead - certainly, you couldn't hear it breathing.
the self-congratulatory noises of the small Black media class,
very little of substance was gained by shifting the focus from
Black popular access in favor of limited Black ownership. Minorities
have never owned more than 3 percent of U.S. media. Today, minorities
own just 1.8 percent of broadcasting - and that includes white
women! The "stand-alone" Black radio station,
locally owned and responsive to local activists, is all but
extinct, as are stand-alone stations in general. (Radio's Clear
Channel chain, which grew from 40 stations to 1,200 outlets
under deregulation, owns six stations in Minot, North
Dakota, a city of only 37,000 people. Almost all of the programming
is automated, canned at corporate headquarters.)
terms, Black radio is stronger than ever, with by far the most
loyal listener base in the demographic spectrum. But it is generally
unresponsive to Black community action, having largely dismantled
the news organizations that once empowered local activism.
and corporate print media feel they can ignore Black political
demands. Managers point to Black faces on the screen and Black
bylines in their news pages. However, actual coverage, the essential
product, is governed by corporate imperatives.
without a demand
Rights and Black Power Movements were mass activities whose
fortunes were closely tied to the behavior of mass media. The
frenzy of Black newsroom hiring three decades ago occurred in
response to Black activism. African Americans demanded that
media provide coverage of Black struggles, or be considered
"part of the problem." The FCC and corporate media
temporarily accommodated these demands, allowing a brief expansion
of the social space in which the Black political drama was acted
out. That door is now virtually closed, and will remain so,
no matter how the FCC rules in June, unless Black organizations
retool their strategies to force a media response.
be clear to everyone that the corporate media is an active enemy
of popular power in the United States. It is also true that
Black-owned or managed radio is not generally responsive to
Black political concerns. (The exceptions are well-known, and
do not need to be complimented for doing the right thing.) We
must return to basics - and this applies to activists of all
ethnicities. The demand must be for coverage of community
concerns and events. Nothing else matters. That means Black
activists must measure media by the coverage it affords their
activities, rather than the station's roster of Black employees
or the race of the owners or managers.
In a society
such as ours, events do not exist unless media covers them.
Demonstrations are organized primarily for the purpose of garnering
news coverage. Success or failure is measured, first, by whether
the media show up at all and, secondly, in how the story is
framed. It is ridiculous to continue treating media as somehow
removed from the structures of power. Activism is not defined
by FCC rules. When media act as the enemy, treat them that way.
If coverage is what is necessary, go to the source - with the
intent to disrupt their activities and destroy their reputations.
are media veterans, and know from intimate experience that mass
broadcasting and print are the weakest links in the chains of
power. Their product is public credibility, a fragile quantity.
Relatively small numbers of determined activists can snatch
it from them. They are uniquely defenseless against demonstrations,
inherently so. We have seen managers cower at the mere thought
of being visited by angry activists - not because of possible
threats to their FCC licenses (although this was once a consideration),
but in fear of being exposed as just another business on the
their fancied positions as arbiters of the public good. It is
the reason they spend huge sums on promotions to convince the
public that they are "on your side." This investment
is wasted when it is dramatically proven that community accountability
is a myth. Moreover, once it becomes clear that the community
demands outlets that respond to popular concerns, and
will retaliate against the reputation of stations and newspapers
that ignore community demands, media relent every time. Reputation
and good will make up the largest portion of their corporate
value, a highly perishable commodity.
protest campaign must consider media as a secondary or even
primary target. Media managers must be confronted with a choice:
either provide coverage of legitimate community demands, or
become the object of protest.
the free pass
are often given a free pass, while providing little more than
music as proof that they are on anyone's side but the owners.
Yet Black media are central to any mass organizing effort, since
that's where the people are. Just as white-owned newspapers
cannot be allowed to ignore Black concerns by simply pointing
to the presence of Black reporters who do not show up at demonstrations,
or whose stories are given limited exposure, or who may be downright
hostile, so Black-owned or managed radio stations cannot be
environment, failure to confront media means political impotence.
It does not take much to shake up businesses that pose as community
resources. As a last resort, go after their advertisers, directly.
"Boycotts" of broadcasters are not in themselves effective,
since they cannot be enforced and are unlikely to have measurable
results in the ratings. However, actual demonstrations to publicize
boycotts do have effects. Valued retail advertisers can also
be picketed for supporting the offending broadcasters, just
as the South Africa divestment campaign targeted U.S. corporations
and financial institutions that bolstered the white regime.
The local car dealership does not relish the idea of paying
for the privilege of becoming the target of community wrath
aimed at the station with whom it advertises.
Michael Powell may complete the corporate consolidation of media,
but in the end, sales and audiences are local. Go for the weakest
link in the chain. Powell can't do a thing about that.
comments are welcome. Visit the Contact
Us page for E-mail or Feedback.
here to return to the home page