Aug 27, 2008
most of us know about the transition to digital TV are two things.
The first thing we know is that some people will need converter boxes
on their old TVs to receive the new digital broadcasts. The second
thing we know is that digital broadcast technology will enable high
definition TV. As far as corporate broadcasters and the FCC are
concerned, that's all we need to know, and those are the boundaries
of legitimate public discourse.
the FCC and broadcasters are actively concealing from the public is
that digital broadcasting technology enables thousands of new digital
TV channels on the public broadcast spectrum, all of which
broadcasters have allocated to themselves without the inconvenient
public scrutiny issuing thousands of new station licenses might have
attracted. Thus minorities and women, local entrepreneurs, colleges
and universities, community, civic and labor organizations and local
governments who otherwise might acquire a portion of the new digital
TV channels and used them to broadcast local news, arts, information
and public service in hundreds of US markets have been frozen out of
the chance to serve the public over the public's airwaves without
even the bother of public explanation or debate.
captured by the private broadcasters it is supposed to police and
regulate, the FCC has been tasked with selling this piece of grand
theft digital as a public service, and farmed out the job to the
notorious PR firm of Ketchum Communications.
Watch, Ketchum Communicaitons are past masters of corporate
disinformation, responsible for a string of suspect activities
ads for tobacco firms denying the links between smoking and disease,
and promoting the myth that low-tar cigarettes are somehow less
PR for the KOOL Jazz Festival, intended to pretty up the name of Big
fake business-funded science organizations toutling the "safety"
of pesticides, hormones and food additives;
on, smearing and facilitating the firing of pro-environmental FDA
as early as the nineties, the labeling of environmentalists as
"terrorists", and the suing of investigative journalists, and
conducting a 30 city PR blitz against an EPA report on the health
effects of dioxin, one of the most toxic chemicals ever made;
hiring TV host and syndicated columnist Armstrong
Williams to discredit public education and shill for the
administration's No Child Left Behind Act, and manufacturing dozens
of fake video news releases which were distributed to hundreds of TV
stations where they were broadcast as news.
Ketchum's elaborate "public education" campaign
on digital TV makes no mention of any obligations broadcasters might
have to serve the public over publicly owned spectrum. It is
calculated to confine public input on the DTV transition to those
things the public must to in order to passively consume whatever
commerical broadcasters decide to give them.
part of this campaign, the FCC has announced plans to send staffers
and commissioners to 80 cities across the country in what looks
suspiciously like a "Not
Listening Tour" between now and February 18, 2009. With few
exceptions, FCC staffers and commissioners will be totally unprepared
to explain their complicity in handing over the digital airwavces to
commerical broadcasters who not only don't have programming for the
new channels, but who will probably squat on the new frequencies till
some profitable use appears. For the most part, the FCC won't be
entertaining questions about why broadcasters are not obligated to
broadcast news, local public service or other local content on the
new channels, or why consumers ought to prize high definition TV over
high quality content. The FCC will be talking. But it won't be
in 2003, the FCC's OK of unlimited consolidation of print and
broadcast media inspired a wave of public revulsion which almost
nobody predicted, and almost nobody in the mainstream print and
broadcast media reported. Nonetheless, it resulted in millions of
letters and emails to the FCC, millions more signatures on petitions
to Congress, and consequent intervention by the courts and congress
nullifying the FCC's decree. It also resulted, to hear some tell it,
in the formation of a self-aware movement for media justice in cities
and towns around the country. If such a movement really exists, this
may be its defining moment.
there is indeed a movement for media justice, when the FCC
commissioners and corporate PR flacks from Ketchum and the NAB fan
out on their "Not Listening Tour" to 80 cities between September
and February 2009, aiming to misdirect public attention on the
digital TV question, citizens and communities will give them an
earful, whether they're ready to hear it or not. Just as in 2003,
the FCC decision and congressional legislation to privatize the
entire digital TV spectrum are a train already on the tracks and in
motion. Only a vast public outcry can derail them.
new Congress and a new administration in and of themselves are
absolutely no guarantee that the transformation of public digital
broadcast spectrum into the unregulated private property of existing
broadcasters who have failed the tests of localism and public service
every day for decades, will not be consummated in February 2009.
While Republican and Democratic presidential candidates are both well
aware of the issues involved in the digital transition, neither
seems willing to question this theft of public property.
Obama's chief advisor on telecom affairs, a black attorney who has so far raised the Obama
least $500,000, presumably from broadcasters and their lawyers,
is William Kennard. As the FCC's general counsel from 1993 to1996,
and its chairman from 1996 to 2001, Kennard is arguably one of the
fathers of this monstrously crooked deal, and of the disastrous
Telecommunications Act of 1996. Upon leaving government at the
beginning of the Bush administration, Kennard became managing
director of media buyout operations for the bipartisan Carlyle
Group. With the Bush administration having moved the ball downfield
for broadcasters the last eight years, commercial broadcasters expect
their interests to prevail over the public's no matter who runs
Congress or the White House.
are the first round of cities and dates slated for the FCC's "We're
Not Listening" tour. If Ketchum Communications, the FCC and the
National Association of Broadcasters, and the mainstream media can
confine the story, and restrict the public conversation to converter
boxes and high definition TV, a vast realm of public digital property
will pass into unaccountable private hands, for nothing, and maybe
forever. But if citizens come out, speak out and act out in the
presence of each other and the FCC's corporate flacks, then maybe -
just maybe the Congress, the courts, the FCC and a new administration
will have to listen. Whether they want to or not.
cities on the first round of FCC's Digital TV "Not Listening Tour"
New York, New
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