But broadcasting, local radio and TV, is a public/private partnership: the public owns the airwaves needed for transmission; private business own the buildings, equipment, etc. needed to broadcast programming. When private business goes into broadcasting, it makes a deal with the public: a free license from the Federal Communication Commission - if it agrees to "serve the public interest, convenience, and necessity." Physical scarcity is the foundation of all broadcast law.
Then there's the concept of "private censorship." Because of the physical scarcity of frequencies, the Courts say big corporations who are licensed to broadcast over our airwaves have no right to prevent people of the community access to being heard on the radio. in the 60 days prior to an election, if broadcasters sell or give time to one major political party candidate or its supporters, they must, by law, offer comparable time to the opposing major political party candidate or its supporters. (See Section 315a of the Communications Act and the Zapple Doctrine.)
The Media Action Center has been monitoring talk radio stations owned by Clear Channel and Journal Communications in Milwaukee since May 9th, the first day of the Walker/Barrett campaign in Wisconsin. We will release detailed results of that monitoring May 22nd, but suffice it to say that supporters of one major political party are getting short shrift, and they have been complaining to the Talk stations demanding equal time, and they will soon be complaining – loudly – to the Federal Communications Commission to immediately enforce comparable time laws under Zapple. (The FCC is the law enforcement agency on broadcasting issues.)
But those Talk Radio giants are also violating the First Amendment rights of supporters of candidates whom they are not allowed to be heard in the midst of the election. "Private censorship" comes down to a matter of access, says the Supreme Court of the United States. In 2011, Clear Channel lawyers argued that given the internet, the concept of physical scarcity was no longer needed. TheU.S.Third Circuit Court of Appeals shot them down: "The abundance of non-broadcast media does not render the broadcast spectrum any less scarce. The Supreme Court's justification for the scarcity doctrine remains as true today as it was in 2004...
The imbalance we are seeing on the publicly owned airwaves in Milwaukee and Sacramento and elsewhere proves that broadcasters are stamping out the First Amendment rights of liberals and the rest of us, not the other way around, as right wing talkers in every corner of the country would have us believe. Yes, it is censorship for the government to tell hosts what they may or may not say. But when Clear Channel and other radio license holders put one political point of view on our public airwaves to the exclusion of all others, that is private censorship, and lucky for us and the people of Wisconsin, in the 60 days before an an election, that is illegal.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
The Public Airwaves and Private Censorship
Via Cognitive Dissidence from the DailyKos, I thought this hit the right note about talk radio. Having been in it myself, for the last 10 years of my 25 year career, this issue has been allowed fade from the discussion. Conservative talk radio is taking my part of the public airwaves and squeezing out my share and my voice (in general). The following says it all for me: