More than a decade before schlock jock Howard Stern unleashed his campaign against the Federal Communications Commission for trampling on his constitutional right to talk about his penis on national airwaves, Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent was warning Americans about the pernicious effects of ownership consolidation in the U.S. media industry. But last week, Stern, Chomsky and other free-speech advocates had reason to celebrate. In a lengthy court decision that ran more than 200 pages, the Third District Court slammed the FCC for trying to deregulate the American system of media ownership.
In a blunt rebuke, the court determined that the FCC had relied on "irrational assumptions and inconsistencies" when it tried to relax the rules of cross-ownership that govern newspapers, radio stations and television outlets within a single market. In effect, the court told the FCC to go back and re-read its mission about regulating the airwaves in the public interest.
Among those who hailed the court decision was the Prometheus Radio Project of Philadelphia, which brought the original suit to stay the FCC's controversial decision in June 2003 that would have made it much easier for large corporations to gobble up a bigger slice of the media pie. The Prometheus Radio Project has been a major advocate of increasing the diversity of voices and views on the airwaves through low-power FM (LPFM) -- small, community-owned and operated radio stations that reach just a few miles from the transmitter. At least two unlicensed community stations in Vermont -- Free Radio Burlington and Radio Free Brattleboro -- have petitioned the FCC for LPFM licenses, thus far without success.
Another major backer of LPFM is Vermont's Senator Patrick Leahy, who recently introduced a bill (S.2505) with Arizona Sen. John McCain to speed the FCC's process of issuing LPFM licenses. Ever since low-power was created in January 2000 to "enhance locally focused, community-oriented radio broadcasting," the FCC has received more than 3400 applications for licenses. However, before the Commis-sion could fully implement LPFM, large broadcasters, represented by the National Association of Broadcasters, expressed unwarranted fears about radio interference and spooked Congress into halting the program. As a result, Congress ordered the FCC to hire an independent engineering firm to study the problem.
Well, guess what? Two years and more than $2 million later, the independent study confirmed what LPFM advocates have been saying all along: that low-power stations don't interfere with other broadcast stations. Leahy and McCain's bill, also known as the "Low Power Radio Act of 2004," is now in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.
Spreading a different kind of grassroots message, representatives from the Alliance@ IBM, a union of some 6000 IBM employees in the United States, did their part to show their solidarity with fellow IBM employees in India. On the mornings of June 21 and 22, workers arriving at IBM facilities in Bangalore, India, were greeted with leaflets introducing them to the union and inviting them to learn more about what's happening to IBM employees in Vermont and elsewhere in the United States. In particular, the leaflets tried to dispel the notion that IBM employees in the U.S. are hostile to their Indian counterparts as a result of Big Blue's decision to outsource jobs to India.
"The press and the big [information-technology] companies will tell you that American workers hate Indians. They say that Americans are angry with Indians for 'taking our jobs.' This is not true," the flyers read. "We know that, as IBM employees, there is much more that brings us together than drives us apart." The flyers go on to explain some of the reasons why Alliance@IBM formed in the 1990s, including changes made in employees' pension plans.
"On the heels of the IBM stockholder meeting, we also wanted to show IBM that we will challenge them anywhere, be it Provi-dence, Rhode Island, or Bangalore, India," explains Alliance@IBM National Coordinator Lee Conrad. No word yet on what kind of response the union has received.
Ever wonder what the war in Iraq is costing Vermonters, besides lost and disrupted lives? Well, the National Priorities Project --at www.nationalpriorities.org -- has set up a database that offers equivalent federal-budget expenditures. For example, according to the NPP database, Vermont taxpayers have contributed at least $233.1 million to the initial cost of the war. For that money, the Green Mountain State could have financed 34,975 federal housing vouchers, 4541 elementary school teachers, 27,336 Head Start slots for low-income children or 1036 new fire trucks. Or, we could have provided health-care coverage to 49,020 Vermont adults or 107,433 children.
Those figures don't include the $25 billion allocated for additional war spending, to which Vermonters will contribute $38.2 million. Its buying power? 5730 federal-housing vouchers, 744 elementary school teachers, 4479 slots for Head Start or 170 more fire trucks.
Of course, funding emergency services, housing the poor, feeding the hungry and educating children have nothing to do with homeland security, right?
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I am a historian and have been a member of the Coolidge Foundation since 1972.