FCC Dog and Pony Show Moves to Seattle

Tomorrow, FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein will go through the motions of another “public hearing” on the agency’s media ownership rules review. This one will happen in Seattle on the campus of the University of Washington.
Sounds like it’ll be the same old song-and-dance the folks at the Richmond hearing got last week, except this time the public only gets 30 minutes to speak. That’s because in Richmond the FCC held a six-hour forum; Seattle’s show only runs from 9am to 12:30pm. The last 30 minutes belong to the people.
The strong community of media democracy activists in Seattle are preparing quite a few festivities to go with the official frivolity. The coolest of the bunch will take place tomorrow night, during an “action for media democracy” which will feature Chuck D & the Fine Arts Militia sharing the stage with Commissioner Adelstein. Quite the spectacle for all involved; I hope someone records it.
Seeing as how Seattle has also successfully deployed a mosquito fleet of microradio transmitters for past media events, my dream for tomorrow’s FCC visit is for a person to walk up to the microphone during the 30-minute public comment window, hold up a radio, and flip the switch. Coordinating by cell phone, someone back at a microradio station could then launch into a two-minute statement.
Broadcasting in the FCC’s face, the disembodied citizen could (briefly) laud the virtues of review and reform. But since action tends gets the goods, and some of the public already recognizes this, the FCC needs to consider the consequences of allowing the unrestricted corporatization of mass media. The health of democratic discourse isn’t all that’s at stake here. There is also the potential for a backlash from the consumer/public as more media consumers stop consuming and start building alternative conduits to talk to each other, as citizens.
After the obligatory thank-you’s and such, the DJ flips the transmitter off. A couple of seconds of static fill the auditorium, then the radio is lowered and silenced, and our “commenter” turns and heads back to their seat.
The looks on the faces of everyone on stage would be priceless.
On Tuesday, Michael Powell remarked at a press conference that he heard nothing new at the public hearing in Richmond, and he reiterated his view that more public input on the issue of media ownership is worthless. If I lived in Seattle and were working hard to organize events around visiting FCC officials tomorrow, I think I would be pissed.
Confronting the FCC with the very real existence of media successfully operating outside its authority would definitely be new, especially for Copps and Adelstein, who weren’t part of the low-power FM radio action in D.C.
Michael Moore (via Jello Biafra) has made the phrase, “don’t hate the media, become the media” a rallying cry for those involved in media democracy activism and advocacy. It’s hard to see how 120-second spurts of pleas to officials predisposed to ignoring you advances this goal. I can understand the value in dissent itself, and directly speaking with FCC Commissioners is somewhat empowering, but when leaders are ignored they cease to lead.
If Michael Powell, the embodiment of the FCC itself, is arrogant enough to dismiss what hasn’t even yet been said in Seattle, can someone in Seattle be arrogant enough to diss him back? In the presence of other Commissioners? Sounds heady, but it’s eminently doable.
The next scheduled “public hearing” on the FCC’s media ownership rules takes place later this month in Durham, North Carolina. Durham, ironically, is home to one of the affiliates of the Human Rights Radio Network, a microradio station founded on the principles of Mbanna Kantako – the popularly-described “godfather of the microradio movement,” who is still a free man after 16 years of unlicensed broadcasting (and counting).