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Life Arts    H2'ed 4/4/14

Sue Wilson Outlines Citizen Action to Take Back Our Public Airwaves

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For the first time, the FCC is actually using its power, not just to deny future JSA's, but to roll back the JSA's it had approved under less public interest friendly Chairs.

It's a big deal.

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JB: It seems like a never-ending battle. Those with the big bucks always seem to find ways around the system - either by using their corporate or political muscle or just by doing whatever they want. I assume it's way too early for us to rest on our laurels. What would it take to get those reports rolling and act upon them to restore some fairness on the airwaves?

Sue: It always comes down to citizen action, doesn't it? But getting the FCC to respond requires more than just stunts, they require intense research and legal execution (and often political pressure.)  Let me please point you to my not for profit project, the Media Action Center.  Through MAC, we have launched two key actions which the FCC will have to decide. The more recent, a Petition to Deny the broadcast license of KDND, the Entercom Sacramento radio station which literally killed a woman in a water drinking contest, will be decided by the FCC staff.

But we have another complaint which must be decided by Chairman Tom Wheeler himself, and could go before the full commission.  I have written at length about this here and here at OpedNews, but in short, we are asking the FCC to enforce a rule, the Zapple Doctrine, which says if a broadcaster gives airtime to supporters of one political candidate, it must give comparable time to supporters of the opposing candidate.  This has been pending since May 2012, but it is only since Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin's office inquired about it that the FCC has paid any attention. I am hopeful it will be resolved before the midterm elections.

JB: Me too. If readers want to know more and do something concrete to turn things around, what do you suggest?

Sue: It starts one community at a time. All broadcasting is local, and the local stations, be they TV or radio, are supposed to serve the public interest. The best thing people can do is to form local watchdog groups to monitor and meet with station management.  As I have written before, research on what your local stations are actually doing can be used to file serious cases at the FCC.  But it does take a commitment from local people to do the legwork.

Here is a new idea:  April 2, the Supreme Court ruled in McCutcheon vs FEC that wealthy individuals may donate unlimited dollars to candidates, political parties, and political action groups.  We might call this "Citizens United II."

But think about this a moment: where does all that donated money go?  Most of it goes directly to local TV stations to buy political ads .

Stations must air any ad paid for by a candidate, and they may not fact check those ads.  Simply put, candidates have the right to lie to the public as much as they want.

Not so with ads paid for by third parties.  Stations do not have to accept them, and if they do, and if that ad lies to the public, we can hold the station LIABLE.    

What would it take to do that? It would take local people monitoring and fact checking those ads. (This is no small task, but nothing worth doing comes easy.)

Ideally, it would be good to get a lawyer to sue the station, but there is a question of standing.  In theory,  only those directly defamed by an ad can sue. But what about the public, whose interest is not being served by political ads that lie?  We have rights as well.  

But short of suing a station, merely meeting with station management and issuing a report about the station's activity can have the desired effect.  (Public embarrassment does work, yes it does.)

JB: Does a template exist for such a scenario? We're such timid creatures and not very creative. I'm thinking that such a script could make it easier, more palatable for the public to jump in.

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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