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U.S. News
Protesters urge FCC to tune out monopolies

Friday, May 30, 2003

By Adrian McCoy, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Consolidation of the radio industry has created a monster, say media activists and critics. And further deregulation in broadcasting will only create more of them.

Yu-Lan Tu, center, helps direct the chants by protesters outside the offices of Clear Channel Communications yesterday in Washington, D.C. The radio giant was targeted by picketers from coast to coast who worry television could become like radio: deregulation in1996 allowed companies, like Clear Channel to amass hundreds of stations and cut costs by replacing local shows with national programming. (Lawrence Jackson, Associated Press)

A group of protesters marched in front of Clear Channel Radio's Pittsburgh headquarters in Green Tree yesterday. They were part of a national protest against what they term the "FCC media giveaway" -- an upcoming Federal Communications Commission ruling that they say could turn the 800-pound gorilla of corporate broadcasting into a 1,000-pound gorilla.

Protests took place in other cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland and Phoenix.

Yesterday's protest here drew about 35 people. It was organized by several local groups -- the Rosenberg Institute for Peace & Justice, Code Pink's Pittsburgh chapter and members of the Thomas Merton Center.

In 1996, the Telecommunications Act raised the limits on the number of radio stations a company could own, spawning behemoth companies like Clear Channel and Infinity Broadcasting.

On Monday, the FCC may relax ownership rules even further, enabling TV companies to own newspapers in markets where they have TV stations, raising the limit on the number of TV stations one company can own, and allowing ownership of TV and radio stations in the same market.

That, says anti-deregulation activists, would create more monopolies, and result in less of a community connection and less diversity.

The marchers beat on drums and chanted, while passing motorists honked their horns. They carried signs that read: "Clear and Present Danger," "No Media Monopoly," and "1,225 stations, 130 million listeners. This is not what democracy looks like."

"The airwaves are under assault," said protester Patti Dunmire. "The FCC is giving away what are traditionally public airwaves."

Another marcher expressed concern about what consolidation in media is doing for news coverage. If one company owned 500 cable channels, Albert Petrarca said, "It doesn't mean we're getting 500 points of view. What's going to suffer is the dialogue that's necessary for a healthy democracy."

A representative of Code Pink's Pittsburgh chapter had a pink slip -- as in women's undergarments -- that read "You are canned for assaults on free speech" -- which the group plans to send to Clear Channel top brass.

Organizer Nathaniel Glosser of the Rosenberg Institute said his group, whose mission is to fight violence and intolerance, took on this cause because "There's no way to do that without a free press."

The message the protesters are trying to send is simple, said organizer David Meieran. "Stop the media monopoly -- no more Clear Channels." The goal, he says, is to prevent or delay next week's vote and continue to lobby against the proposed changes.

"Clear Channel is a poster child for what happens when media deregulation occurs," Meieran said. "We don't want it to happen to TV and the rest of the media."

Clear Channel owns more than 1,200 radio stations, including six in the Pittsburgh area: WDVE-FM, WXDX-FM, WWSW-FM, WJJJ-FM, WKST-FM and WBGG-AM. It's the world's largest radio company, and also dominates the concert promotion business and billboard advertising.

"If you ever wondered why it seems like the same seven songs are playing on every radio station in the United States, you can thank Clear Channel Communications and its takeover of radio stations. ... We can't let the same thing happen with television stations and newspapers, and that's just what could happen if the FCC gives more power to the media companies on June 2," said Andrea Buffa, of Global Exchange and Media Alliance, one of the national organizers of the protest.

Clear Channel management maintains that its stations continue to operate as local, community stations, and that programming and music decisions are made by individual station managers based on the specific market they're in.

"Clear Channel Radio stations are managed and operated locally by people who are deeply committed to providing our community with outstanding programming and community service," said John Rohm, Clear Channel regional vice president, in response to the protests. "We stand with our satisfied listeners, advertisers and the community at large, as we continue to find positive ways to serve them through our stations and our people."

Protesters yesterday said they also object to Clear Channel's use of voice-tracking, in which one DJ can be on the air in several markets; its "cookie cutter" approach to programming; and what they view as the company's conservative political agenda. Several Clear Channel stations across the country organized rallies in support of the war in Iraq.

Adrian McCoy can be reached at amccoy@post-gazette.com.

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