A Tampa Pirate and the FCC

Corporate consolidation of the media serves a purpose, but it isn't ours

In the mid-1990s, at the peak of the pirate radio movement's noble struggle to free the airwaves from the hideous plague of homogenous commercial programming, more than 1,000 small micro-powered radio stations blossomed across the country, broadcasting eclectic local programming directly to their communities.

Here in Tampa, we had at least eight stations on the air, each providing a unique voice to diverse segments of our community. With Puerto Rican gospel, Haitian newscasts, local hardcore, hip-hop, free jazz, government conspiracy theories and Mr. Rogers available at different frequencies all across town, it was a great moment for radio in Tampa. The variety didn't last long, however.

Beginning in November 1997, the Federal Communications Commission, at the behest of their corporate cronies in the National Association of Broadcasters, began a major nationwide crackdown on unlicensed community stations. Homes were raided, transmitters were seized, numerous constitutional rights were violated, and some unlucky DJs even had their entire record collections confiscated by the feds (I barely got mine back after a painful plea bargain).

With their storm trooper assaults on low-power radio stations, the FCC successfully snuffed out community-based broadcasting and legitimate civic participation on the airwaves in favor of maintaining corporate profits and shitty programming intended to entertain the already over-sedated lowest common denominator. Now, six years later, in the midst of what many are calling the worst presidency ever, it's not at all shocking that the FCC, with Colin Powell's son at the helm, has officially reinforced its position as the corporate media's muscleman in a nationwide protection racket.

On June 2nd, against the wishes of over 150 members of Congress and most of the American public, the FCC made the historic partisan decision to concentrate more of the nation's mass media into fewer and fewer greedy little hands.

"Relaxing the rules" they call it.

Not surprisingly, we didn't hear much about this unprecedented deregulation scam in the mainstream news here in Tampa. We've already been the unwitting guinea pigs in one of the FCC's heinous media consolidation experiments for awhile now: The Tampa Tribune, WFLA (Ch.8), and TBO.com have all been owned by the same company, Media General, under a special exemption to FCC ownership rules. Five of our local radio stations are owned by Cox Enterprises, six by Viacom, and a whopping nine are owned by Clear Channel, the sleazy corporate ogre (1,200 stations nationwide) that staged dozens of vehement pro-war pep rallies across the country during the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

It's clear that Tampa Bay's media market is already a virtual monopoly of profit-driven companies with cookie-cutter mentalities. But imagine what it could look like in the future now that the FCC has opened the door to allowing a few companies to dominate what everyone sees, hears, and reads. Hello Big Brother!

The FCC says its new ownership rules are "carefully balanced to protect diversity, localism, and competition in the American media system." Chairman Powell even had the audacity to say that the rules he muscled through will "foster a marketplace of ideas, and ensure that broadcasters continue to serve the needs and interests of their local communities."

Others disagree. "That's complete bullshit!" says Doug Brewer, the former radio pirate whose Temple Terrace station was shut down during the 1997 raids. "It's the same old game, the CEOs with the big money are paying off the head codknockers at the FCC to get what they want just like they always have. You're gonna see less and less diversity with these rules and more corporatized crap."

Notorious micro-broadcaster Lonnie Kobres, whose Lutz Community Radio also was silenced in 1997, agrees: "The suppression of alternative news and views is an element of martial law. This is the worst thing the FCC has ever done."

Even some Republicans are getting nervous enough to announce some apprehension about the damage being wrought. "I think there is reason for concern about the amount of media concentration that exists," said Senator John McCain. "I just don't know where the line is."

In truth, that line was crossed a long time ago. Contrary to the neo-conservative agenda, the founding fathers didn't intend for there to be concentrated private control of the media in this country. The whole concept is inherently undemocratic and prone to conditions of oppression. When three or four profit-driven multinationals control the means of disseminating nearly all information, our democracy is in serious trouble.

If there's ever been a need for a free and independent press to combat the special-interest propaganda machines and provide people with different perspectives and viewpoints, it's right now. Fewer than a dozen corporations already control the bulk of mass media in the United States. They're not interested in making sure we're a well-informed population; they're more concerned with turning us into more submissive consumers.

The Bushites, of course, know well the supreme power the media hold in shaping public opinion. They've been obsessed with stifling public debate over their policies since they took power. There's no room for journalistic integrity or asking questions in a tyranny. If the newsrooms of the nation don't conform to the right-wing political agenda, then proponents of that agenda can now just buy them all.

Sick of being persuaded to buy more useless products instead of being empowered to make informed political decisions? Tired of being force-fed blatant lies and sedative trash from every channel on the dial? Pitch a fit today folks, it may be our last chance.

For more detailed insight on media consolidation see www.FAIR.org and www.publicintegrity.org. Kelly Benjamin is a former radio pirate, politician, and occasional freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected].


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Kelly Benjamin

Kelly Benjamin is a a community activist and longtime Creative Loafing Tampa Bay contributor who first appeared in the paper in 1999. He also ran for Tampa City Council in 2011...
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