Too often, in the reporting of any big event, the tendency is to equate success with numbers. How many people attended? How many hours did they stay? How many speeches did they give? For the Chicago FCC hearing on media ownership on Sept. 20, such numbers tell a powerful story about the ways in which media consolidation have left local communities in the dark, pushed off the dial and out of the picture.
More than 800 people attended the hearing, held at Rainbow PUSH headquarters on Chicago’s South Side, and 200 people signed up to give testimony. Average citizens took time off from work to stand in line, some as early as 9 am, and many stayed until the event ended at almost 2 a.m. the next morning. Of the seven hours of public testimony, a vast majority of the public called on the FCC to stop Big Media from getting any bigger.
But these numbers only tell a part of the story. Since the FCC hearing, testimony has been pouring into our email from the citizens across Chicago. Some emails come from people who waited in line for hours and still did not get a chance to speak. Others come from people who had their two minutes at the mic, but felt like there was still much more left to say.
These personal stories and impassioned calls to action illuminate a side of media consolidation that numbers cannot capture. These testimonies put a human face on media ownership and illustrate the profound ways that ownership rules written in D.C. impact people in Chicago. Below are just a few excerpts from the testimony we have received so far.
“I’m here because my faith, my experience and my conscience compel me to ask you, the FCC, not to allow the expansion of corporate media consolidation. I’m here to ask the FCC to protect the interests of those who don’t have lots of money, power or prestige. I’m also here to ask the FCC to prioritize low power FM over translators so these independent voices have a fair shot at media expression. I’m not here to make it an ‘us vs. them’ fight. I’m here to give my voice to the questions, ‘What is fair?’ and ‘Is there a place on the dial for diversity?’
“In 2004 the United Church of Christ launched an identity campaign called God is Still Speaking. It was designed to highlight the welcoming aspect of the United Church of Christ. CBS and NBC network executives refused to sell advertising time to the UCC and concluded that the ads were ‘too controversial.’ […] As a UCC member and an ordained minister, I am appalled that a few network executives can decide that it is ‘too controversial’ for a church to publicly welcome every member of society regardless of his or her race, class or sexual orientation. The current media system’s biases should not prevent the public from being exposed to a full range of religious thought. The FCC must reconsider this decision and adopt policies that allow diverse and conflicting viewpoints to reach the public. Without media justice, there can be no social justice.”
Rev. Alice Harper-Jones, ordained minister, United Church of Christ
“Today’s news is one story fits all – if it bleeds on the South Side it leads. The bias of [Big Media’s] efficiency keeps us segregated, pits blacks against whites, haves against have nots, North Side against South Side. […] We need bridges without bias. Bridges through a variety of locally owned newspapers written by real people who live here, radio and TV stations with real live people broadcasting real news and a variety of information. We need common ground connections with neighbors all over Chicago.”
“When I was a kid my Dad told me that all the houses in Russia were painted blue. I could see the joy in his eye when he said; here in America each of ‘our’ houses are built different, they are painted different colors and they look different. He said, ‘This is Freedom!’ Let me ask you: Does most of the music you hear on most of the commercial stations sound the same? Do the different news shows sound the same? Do the voices on these stations sound the same? Are all the news shows formatted uniformly? Does it seem like everything on the radio is becoming the same? Does this sound a little like the way my dad described suppressive communist Russia? Something is wrong here. […] We are not yet in the Russia my father described. We are in America. Stop the corporate mind from painting all our houses blue. Let the clear and joyful expression of freedom ring over our public airwaves.”
Corky Siegel, musician
“There are over 1 Million LATINOS in Cook County. My name is Sabrina duArte and I am one of them. I was born and raised in Chicago, as were my parents. […]The prospect of media consolidation is insulting and detrimental to the diverse Hispanic population (Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Guatemalans, Colombians, and many more)…who deserve to see what is happening in their communities here in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. […]I’m sure you recognize and can appreciate that diverse ethnic groups struggle daily just to survive. Minority groups rely and depend upon each other, and in turn deserve to see fair and reliable broadcasts of the stories that impact their daily lives.”
Sabrina duArte, theatre and television performer
“Citizens are shut out of the media policy debate. People of color and the working poor are slim to none on the radar. That’s wrong. When we allow ‘important quality of life and economic development issues’ to be ignored and daily journalism consist of sensationalizing and distortion of infrastructural and systemic problems within our neighborhoods, cities, states, the White House, Congress and the world, we are promoting the problem. I mention print media; however the same is true with the Internet, television, radio and outdoor advertising. […] I ask that you keep in mind that we expect you to do the right thing by us when you make decisions. Keep coming back to the people and listen. We also want to see the fruit of our labor today in your upcoming decision making.”
Mary Glass, chair/CEO, Campaign Neighborhood
“Independent music had become my passion, and I have community radio to thank for that. […] Because community radio accepts and welcomes people with regard to education, experience and skill, but asks only for energy, enthusiasm, and a willingness to work to have your voice heard. Despite my age I was allowed to help lend a voice to something I cared about deeply: My Chicago. […] I would hate to think that I was the last young Chicagoan to know firsthand the value of community radio, and it would be even more of a shame to believe that young native-born urban dwellers who love the city they live in would be denied community radio’s amazing opportunities.”
Mica Alaniz, Marketing Director at WLUW 88.7fm
“Illinois PIRG works on a variety of public interest issues – public health, consumer rights, good government and campaign finance reform. Regardless of the issue however, media ownership has an impact on the public discourse and debate that occurs on all those issues. When corporate media decides to shy away from an issue that might affect advertising revenue, the visibility of our crucial public interest issues is diminished. […] Corporate media has already proved that they will always look out for their bottom line. In fact, I expect you’ll hear from a few of them today who will testify in an attempt to do just that. All we ask is for the FCC to follow its mandate and look out for the public interest.”
Brian Imus, state director, Illinois PIRG, the Public Interest Research Group
“I know first hand that ownership is the be-all and end-all of broadcasting. And that’s why I want to implore you NOT to allow further consolidation of media ownership, which already has produced nothing but more commercials, more lowest-common-denominator programming, less localism, and less diversity – but to prioritize ensuring that the airwaves are MORE diverse, and that there are MORE owners. […] I ask you today, commissioners, not only to refuse to allow large corporate owners any additional leeway in the already too generous broadcast ownership rules, but to commit to expanding localism and diversity by expanding LPFM to big cities with a rule change that would prioritize new low power applicants over translators, future AND existing, that provide no local programming.”
Shawn Campbell, founder, Chicago Independent Radio Project
“The FCC regulates media ownership and is obligated to make sure there is: competition, localism and diversity. When speaking about Spanish-language radio, two companies own all of the full-power radio stations in Chicago. That’s NOT competition. A news story translated from an English-language news wire does NOT address Latino localism. And just because these radio stations target Latinos does NOT mean it speaks to the diversity of Latino viewpoints and needs.”
Dulce Maria Mora, executive producer, First Voice/Primera Voz, WRTE – Radio Arte