The Airways are Owned by the People

On December 1, 2011 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) held a hearing in Atlanta inquiring about the “Information Needs of Atlanta”. It was hosted by Atlanta Congressman John Lewis, and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Cluburn. The event took place at the auditorium of the Georgia Tech Research Institute. 

This was last hearing for Michael Copps who will be retiring the end of December 2011. 

I was asked by WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 (Radio Free Georgia Broadcasting Foundation) to represent the station on the panel. 

I have been involved in community media since 1991 when I began producing a local public affairs show (Just Peace) on WRFG-Atlanta. Shortly after I was elected to WRFG’s Board of Directors. 

In 2002, I was selected as chair of the board and held the position for 7 years. This encompassed organizing an FCC hearing in Atlanta in 2003 on deregulation 

This was when the FCC, under Michael Powell (a President George Bush appointment), was about to attempt to make sweeping changes to relax media ownership rules, further allowing a more consolidated and less diverse media landscape. The FCC seemed to prefer to vote under cover and in secret it appears as hardly any official FCC hearings on the issue were to be held so communities organized their own hearings. This is what we did at WRFG. Ours was the last hearing in the country in 2003 before the FCC was to vote on the issue. While all FCC Commissioners were invited, Democratic FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathon Adelstein attended the event. Copps reported last night that in 2003 three million people responded by contacting their Congresspersons expressing opposition to the deregulation efforts. Next week the FCC will yet again consider ownership rules – go to the FCC website at www.fcc.gov for more information. 

The point is, Americans obviously get concerned about media at critical times but it needs to be consistent and once again we need to step up to the plate as it were. As Michael Copps said last night at Georgia Tech, to a crowd also composed of Occupy Atlanta activists, that if you are concerned about issues other than the media then the media needs to be at the very least second on your list because your major area of concern won’t likely get the coverage you need if the media is all the more consolidated and less diverse.

Below are my comments at the FCC hearing in Atlanta on December 1, 2011. We had five minutes to speak. I also thanked Commissioner Copps for his service as one of the few and rare public servants who actually has advocated for the people and in the public interest. 

I was on Panel One with the theme being “The State of Atlanta’s Media”.  — HG

I represent community owned radio in Atlanta – WRFG – Radio Free Georgia –– offering voices from a vast diversity of people and opinions to empower individuals and communities. We stand against sexism, racism, classism, militarism and anti-immigrant chauvinism. Community radio “educates and informs the public in return for public investment.” Commercial media instead sells products for profit.

It has been found in the history of capitalism that privatization and consolidation of wealth leads to inequities, poverty and pain.  And we have witnessed degradation and relaxation of regulations in virtually everything we’ve established in America that offers some kind of public commons that benefits the people rather than corporations. It is said that unregulated concentration of wealth led to today’s economic debacle, yet many want more of the same formula. This is insane. It has to stop.

We have seen this concentration in media. Today we have 4 corporate giants controlling vast numbers of radio stations and reaping billions of dollars at the expense of independent news. Media in America represents corporate America. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The public spectrums that commercial interests use to transmit their signals, are owned by us – the people. Yet the government has allowed these interests to use the spectrums for free to then monopolize and make billions of dollars while offering next to no public service. It’s payback time. This cannot continue.

Democracy demands informed voters. With corporate media, however, we have a population tainted by information delineated by commercial interests rather than the breadth of views and opinions of an independent public media system. Given that the FCC has failed to regulate media in the public interest the situation cries for integrity and independence.

What does Atlanta need? It needs more non-profit community media and the existing non-profit media needs financial support on an on-going basis, rather than teetering on edge by consistently having to go to it’s listeners for funds – like a bake sale. Alternatives need to be adapted and planned for immediately.

Here are three recommendations to support and build community media:

For one – The government auctions off frequencies and there are plans to do more of this. This is the ultimate of gross privatization.  Yet, these frequencies are owned by us, the public. Instead of auctioning them off they should be given to communities across America for public and non-profit broadcasters and public television. They are ours after all.

Secondly – Commercial media should be required to pay for the right of making use of the frequencies, owned by us, that they use for their own financial benefit. This is a gift from the public that they do not deserve. Substantial license fees from commercial media should be immediately implemented and the fees should be used to fund public and non-profit broadcasters and public television in a Public Media Trust Fund.

Thirdly  – There should be a $300 media tax credit for Americans  – tax payers will check the media entity they want their money to be assigned to, and/or have the money go into the Public Media Trust Fund.

Occupying Wall Street demonstrators protest economic inequities in America. The Occupation of Media needs to be included  – and that means occupying the FCC and the airways to demand that public/community radio be prioritized as a necessary public commons and there must be incentives and opportunities offered to make that a reality.

Finally, I agree with Commissioner Michael Copps when he said there should a PBSS – a Public Broadcasting System on Steroids. He said “That can’t be done on the cheap, and we’ll hear laments that there’s not a lot of extra cash floating around these days. But other nations find ways to support such things. The point is we need to start talking, start planning, now.”  Indeed. Let’s do it!


Free Press www.freepress.net

Black Agenda Report www.blackagendareport.com – articles by editor Bruce Dixon

State Budget Battles and the Future of Public Media (2011)


All books by media scholar Robert McChesney, Professor in the Department of Communications, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

HEATHER GRAY is the producer of “Just Peace” on WRFG-Atlanta 89.3 FM covering local, regional, national and international news. She has been involved in agriculture advocacy and communications for 20 years in the United States and internationally. She serves on the Pacifica National Radio Board of Directors and lives in Atlanta, Georgia and can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net

More articles by:

Heather Gray is a writer and radio producer in Atlanta, Georgia and has also lived in Canada, Australia, Singapore, briefly in the Philippines and has traveled in southern Africa. For 24 years she has worked in support of Black farmer issues and in cooperative economic development in the rural South. She holds degrees in anthropology and sociology. She can be reached at hmcgray@earthlink.net.

Weekend Edition
March 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Michael Uhl
The Tip of the Iceberg: My Lai Fifty Years On
Bruce E. Levine
School Shootings: Who to Listen to Instead of Mainstream Shrinks
Mel Goodman
Caveat Emptor: MSNBC and CNN Use CIA Apologists for False Commentary
Paul Street
The Obama Presidency Gets Some Early High Historiography
Kathy Deacon
Me, My Parents and Red Scares Long Gone
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Rexless Abandon
Andrew Levine
Good Enemies Are Hard To Find: Therefore Worry
Jim Kavanagh
What to Expect From a Trump / Kim Summit
Ron Jacobs
Trump and His Tariffs
Joshua Frank
Drenched in Crude: It’s an Oil Free For All, But That’s Not a New Thing
Gary Leupp
What If There Was No Collusion?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Bernard Fall Dies on the Street Without Joy
Robert Fantina
Bad to Worse: Tillerson, Pompeo and Haspel
Brian Cloughley
Be Prepared, Iran, Because They Want to Destroy You
Richard Moser
What is Organizing?
Scott McLarty
Working Americans Need Independent Politics
Rohullah Naderi
American Gun Violence From an Afghan Perspective
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Why Trump’s Tariff Travesty Will Not Re-Industrialize the US
Ted Rall
Democrats Should Run on Impeachment
Robert Fisk
Will We Ever See Al Jazeera’s Investigation Into the Israel Lobby?
Kristine Mattis
Superunknown: Scientific Integrity Within the Academic and Media Industrial Complexes
John W. Whitehead
Say No to “Hardening” the Schools with Zero Tolerance Policies and Gun-Toting Cops
Edward Hunt
UN: US Attack On Syrian Civilians Violated International Law
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Outside History
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: The Long Hard Road
Victor Grossman
Germany: New Faces, Old Policies
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
The Iraq Death Toll 15 Years After the US Invasion
Binoy Kampmark
Amazon’s Initiative: Digital Assistants, Home Surveillance and Data
Chuck Collins
Business Leaders Agree: Inequality Hurts The Bottom Line
Jill Richardson
What We Talk About When We Talk About “Free Trade”
Eric Lerner – Jay Arena
A Spark to a Wider Fire: Movement Against Immigrant Detention in New Jersey
Negin Owliaei
Teachers Deserve a Raise: Here’s How to Fund It
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What to Do at the End of the World? Interview with Climate Crisis Activist, Kevin Hester
Kevin Proescholdt
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke Attacks America’s Wilderness
Franklin Lamb
Syrian War Crimes Tribunals Around the Corner
Beth Porter
Clean Energy is Calling. Will Your Phone Company Answer?
George Ochenski
Zinke on the Hot Seat Again and Again
Lance Olsen
Somebody’s Going to Extremes
Robert Koehler
Breaking the Ice
Pepe Escobar
The Myth of a Neo-Imperial China
Graham Peebles
Time for Political Change and Unity in Ethiopia
Terry Simons
10 American Myths “Refutiated”*
Thomas Knapp
Some Questions from the Edge of Immortality
Louis Proyect
The 2018 Socially Relevant Film Festival
David Yearsley
Keaton’s “The General” and the Pernicious Myths of the Heroic South