The entire right-wing mediasphere flexed its powerful muscles last week against its only regulator, the Federal Communications Commission.
It started when Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai ignored trad itional inter-agency channels and went straight to the Rupert Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal to accuse his colleagues of "meddling with the news."
That was all it took.
Pai's beef? That the FCC would be conducting a "Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs" (CIN) to question radio and TV reporters and editors about how they determine which stories to run and which not to run. The study would also ask ask about "perceived station bias" and "perceived responsiveness to underserved populations."
As I reported at The BRAD BLOG way back in 2011, "The FCC is tasked with making sure the broadcast media -- via the limited broadcast spectrum, which is owned by we, the people -- serves the public interest. Every four years, as required by the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC m ust revisit the issue of public interest in media ownership." Despite the right-wing hyperventilation over the nefariousness of the CIN study, it's simply part of the FCC's statutory mandate, as explained here .
What's most interesting, however, is that Pai enlisted the very same right- wing Pied Pipers who have long taken control of and, indeed, dominate the very airwaves we ALL own, and which most of us agree need more diversity and public oversight -- in hopes of intimidating the new Democratic FCC Chair Tom Wheeler into providing less diversity and public oversight.
That bit of upside-down policy jujitsu was, ironically enough, enabled by the tremendous power of broadcasting over our publicly owned airwaves.
Following the siren call of Pai's piping, both Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck dutifully took to those airwaves coast-to-coast to work their 30 million or so radio listeners into a frenzy to prevent the FCC from following the agency's decades-long mandate for determining whether local broadcast news organizations are serving the "public interest" or whether they are merely producing news stories mandated by their corporate owners.
Pai's ploy appears to have worked...
After a Republican inquiry [PDF] led by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chair of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, Wheeler responded that "The Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters." He then announced the FCC, in light of the uproar, would revise its study entirely.
Wheeler's agreement to back off came, no doubt, in response to the calls and emails from the "outraged" citizenry worked into the type of lather that only 30 million disinformed Talk Radio listeners can bring to bear. (In the past, similarly disinformed anti-government right-wingers have unleashed violence and death threats.)
But there's a silver lining in this tale. Perhaps for the first time, Wheeler truly understands that the right wing of this nation is dominating our nation's radio airwaves, and that only he, as chief regulator, stands between the corporate cabal that commandeered public communications and the rest of us who deserve to have similar access to our own airwaves.
As I have been reporting for years, due to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC is powerless to change media ownership laws that allow one corporation to own as many radio stations nationwide as they can buy. Only Congress can change this corrosive law that, by virtue of monopolizing the national conversation, has polarized our nation.
But the FCC can and must enforce rules that, even though they are at the margins, are meant to protect the rest of us from the same kind of onslaught Wheeler has just experienced. The FCC must learn whether news offered over our public airwaves in a given community reflects the community's needs or only the parent company's corporate line. It must similarly prevent radio stations from using OUR airwaves to promote candidates of only ONE political party.
My non-profit project Media Action Center's case requesting the FCC enforce comparable time rules will hit Tom Wheeler's desk any day now. We are also asking that the FCC deny right-wing radio's argument that they may exclusively support Republican party candidates over our public airwaves because, as they are now claiming in hopes of skirting both the spirit and intent of the law, right-wing talk radio is "bona fide news". You can assist this effort to return Alice back from Wonderland by signing our petition to "Tell the FCC: Talk Radio is NOT Bona Fide News!"