Free Radio Berkeley - Legal

The FCC's Priorities: Public or Profit?

Reprinted w/o permission from Extra! Update * February 1995 (a publication of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting).

The Federal Communications Commission is supposed to make sure the airwaves are used in the public interest. More often, it has ensured that they are used for corporate profit.

Questions of control of broadcast licenses rarely get rasied by the corporate-owned media. Something of an exception occurred recently when two networks questioned each others' broadcasting licenses: NBC alleged that Fox, owned by Ruper Murdoch's News Coporation, is a foreign-owned company and therefore under FCC rules should not be allowed to control U.S. staions; Fox retored that GE, which owns NBC, is a corporate felon - which could jeopardize NBC's own licenses. (See Extra!, 11-12/94).

Even this limited public debate over corporate control of broadcasting seems to be too much for the FCC. "One source close to the case said FCC chairmen Reed Hundt thinks press coverage of this has become a circus," Daily Cariety (12/9/94) reported. The FCC for a time imposed a gag order on the NAACP's pending challege to Fox's licenses on the grounds of foreign ownership.

But more rather than less coverage is needed of decisions involving who gets to control the airwaves, which - according to U.S. law - are owned by the public. Otherwise, corporate interests' behind-the-scenes influence will prevail. Well before the news broke of Newt Gingrich's $4.5 million offer from the Murdoch owned HarperCollins, Daily Variety (12/9/94) already noted that "Republicans in Congress may be ready to rally to Rupert Murdoch's rescue" by intervening with the FCC. Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio) has called for an end of restrictions on foreign control and even suggested that Fox should not be penalized even if it has been violating the law (Variety, 12/12/94).

The FCC has already granted Fox numerous favors, waiving restrictions on syndicating its shows, allowing Fox to broadcast into the U.S. from Mexican stations, and granting Murdoch a waiver allowing him to own a TV station (WNYW) and a newspaper (the New York Post) in the same market.

Meanwhile, the FCC is seriously considering easing limits on ownership (Variety, 12/19/94) - such as allowing networks to own an unlimited number of TV stations, as long as they don't reach more than 50 percent of the U.S. population. (Currently, networks are limited to 12 stations and 25 percent of the population.)

While this deregulatory spree seems tailored to please the corporate broadcasters the FCC is supposed to be regulating, the agency is getting tough with at least one broadcaster: The FCC is trying to silence Free Radio Berkeley, a 15-watt radion stations that operates without a license. (The FCC will only grant a license to stations with 100 or more watts, putting broadcasting beyond the reach of most individuals.) The FCC was particularly perturbed that Free Radio Berkeley founder Stephen Dunifer was teaching other people how to set up their own micro-watt radio stations (without interfering with other stations) for less than $1000.

ACTION ALERT: You can contact FCC Chair Reed Hundt to let him know what you think the FCC's regulatory priorities should be. Write to him at the FCC, 1919 M Street NW, Suite 814, Washington, DC 20554. (fax: 202-418-2801; e-mail: Please send copies of your letters to Sam Husseini at FAIR.

To find out more about microwatt broadcasting, contact
Free Radio Berkeley
1442 A Walnut St. #406
Berkeley, CA 94709
phone 510-464-3041

End of article.

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