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Angels in Monterey

A visitation from the "angels of public interest" occurs in Monterey: Poor Magazine reporter TJ Johnston witnesses. FCC Chairman Michael Powell, who asked for their presence, doesn't.

After driving to Monterey, CA last Wednesday, July 21, I saw angels and there hadn't been that many since they were trendy in the early '90's.

They were not the celestial kind: these were more earthy angels from San Francisco's Media Alliance that were sighted at a rally before the only FCC localism hearing convening in the West Coast this year. They manifested themselves outside the Monterey Convention Center in response to Chairman Michael Powell's now famous query for "the angels of public interest" to speak out against media conglomeration. Had Chairman Powell not been AWOL, he would have seen the seraphim first hand.

Fellow Poor Magazine reporter Joe Bolden and I caught a ride and observed the town depicted in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row. Two hours away from San Francisco, we found it to be very touristy and yuppified. We also observed the military and Homeland Security facilities and concluded this was not a progressive hotbed.

The hearing is the fourth of six devoted to public input, or should I say outpouring, since last year's FCC ruling allowing corporations to concentrate more media outlets in fewer hands was stayed and eventually thwarted. Readers of PNN might remember the heretofore unheard uproar to our airwaves' regulators prior to the FCC commisioners' 3-2 vote. Three of those commissioners were present at the hearing, presumably to make up for Powell's absence. The Third Circuit Court in Philadelphia instructed the FCC to hear the vox populi (not just the Fox Network) before taking further action. Already, hearings took place in Charlotte, NC, Grand Rapids, SD, and San Antonio, TX (capital of the Clear Channel and SBC empires).

I took the occasion to give the FCC my two cents' worth in the almost-six hour meeting. I wore a new thrift-store shirt (Perry Ellis) and had a prepared statement for the open mic session. Long story short, a lottery was involved and I drew the wrong number. Attempts to log on to proved fruitless (I had to snail mail it).

On a panel which included Commissioners Kathleen Abernathy, Michael Copps and Michael Adelstein, big media's usual suspects (Hearst-Argyle, Telemundo) were represented. But Hard Knock Radio's Davey D drew applause for his remarks of corporate radio's "public service." Despite what he calls their smoke and mirror act of changing to more community-oriented broadcasting, "they're not institutionalized. They can't just be nice guys doing you a favor!" Davey D was done the favor by Clear Channel's KMEL by taking away his severance package after he spoke on his public firing in the wake of 9/11. He also spoke of recording artists' fear of intimidation and blacklisting if they interview with competing stations. Clear Channel not only owns 1200 stations in the US, but is also a leader in performing venues and outdoor promotion. Davey D also cited the dearth of community affairs programming, often relegated to 5:00am on Sundays. Despite advertising for the "Clear Channel Fund," their service does not include voter registration campaigns or election coverage. According to Davey D, Clear Channel also failed to credit members of the hip-hop audience for monitoring content and making recommendations to the stations once those changes were implemented.

"Distinct communities are ignored," said Hawaii Localism Coalition delegate Sean McLaughlin, when local coverage is de-emphasized. He urged for a "home rule" of community airwaves, including local, diverse ownership, mandatory set-asides for local media resources and more local oversight.

Heartened that the FCC got an earful at the meeting, I still feel obligated to make Poor Magazine' position on corporate use of or common space known to the world. Here is the prepared statement I brought:

"My name is TJ Johnston, Community Journalist for and Poor News Network. I am representing the staff and editors of Poor as well as myself.

"Poor Magazine is a grassroots, nonprofit, nonhierarchical organization dedicated to providing media access, education, and advocacy to very low- and no-income youth and adults as well as creating a radio show on KPFA-FM 94.1, an online news service and a training program in media and poverty. This is as 'public interest' an outlet could get.

"The communities which PNN serves find it impossible for media conglomerates to address our issues and include our voices. In their current State, the Clear channels, the Infinities and all the other multibillion dollar media corporations are out of touch with our communities and fail to act in the public interest."

Postscript: Sakura, one of the public-interest angels, also articulated our sentiment with a sign with a quote found in Howard Zinn's A History of The United States: "The cry of the poor might not always be just, but if you don't hear it you'll never know what justice is."


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