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Black Agenda Report

FCC Spreads Digital Disinformation on TV Transition

Bruce Dixon

Thanks to corporate media's longstanding refusal to report on itself, along with a multimillion dollar campaign of public disinformation paid for by the FCC on behalf of commercial broadcasters, high-def TV and converter boxes are all most of know about the switch to digital TV. Last Monday, September 8, Wilmington NC became the first community in the nation to cease analog TV broadcasting and switch entirely to digital. Existing broadcasters gathered to rejoice at the prospect of hundrds of new digital channels which they receive free of charge, with no noticeable public interest obligations, and for which they don't even have programming.

Black Agenda Report was there to ask broadcasters and the FCC some of the questions real journalists should have posed.

The airwaves used by cell phone companies, along with radio and TV broadcasters are by their very nature a scarce and limited resource legally recognized in the US and every country on the planet as public property. Radio and TV broadcasters in the US are licensed and permitted to use this scarce and limited public property to make vast and private profits on the legal condition that those broadcasters must serve the public interest.

In practice this is a meaningless condition, ill-defined and never enforced. No radio or TV station in 75 years has had its broadcast license yanked for failing to serve the public interest. Nonetheless, the Federal Communications Commission does exist and is charged with safeguarding the citizens' interest in the broadcast airwaves which are, in theory owned by the public.

A major concern of the FCC these days is the transition from analog to digital television. The FCC has spent millions of dollars on a supposed campaign of public education on the transition from analog to digital TV, a campaign some say exclusively serves the interest of commercial broadcasters while deliberately omitting vital information the public needs in order to determine

whether broadcasters are using the public spectrum in the public interest, and whether the switch to digital TV benefits anybody except broadcasters.

Last Monday Wilmington NC became the first city in the nation to cease analog TV broadcasts in favor of digital TV. Black Agenda Report, with the help of the Communications Workers of America was on hand last in Wilmington NC, where we questioned FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, FCC Commissioner Michael Kopps, local broadcasters and representatives of the National Association of Broadcasters, and ordinary citizens on those matters covered neither in the FCC's massive PR campaign on digital TV, nor in the mainstream reporting on the digital TV transition, such as,

  • why nobody but existing broadcasters were offered any of the tens of thousands of new TV channels made possible by digital TV,

  • why thousands of new stations will come on line in a few months but no new broadcast licenses will be issued, and

  • whether the FCC will enforce any requirements on broadcasters to use the new channels for news, educational and childrens programming, or locally produced content of any kind.

We began by asking FCC Chairman Kevin Martin what difference digital TV would make in getting broadcasters to serve the public interest, and why no minorities or other possible new players who might have been interested in operating a local broadcast TV station never got a chance at any of the thousands of new TV channels.

This video is about 8 minutes long.  A somewhat longer version will be posted later today on the Black Agenda Report YouTube channel.

Times and Places of FCC's Digital TV "We're Not Listening" Tour Still Not Available

The FCC commissioners are fanning out across the country in an 80 city 'We're Not Listening" tour, carrying the corporate-friendly "consume-and-be-happy" and "shut up and watch" messages to a community center or auditorium near you.  Trouble is, the FCC is unable to tell audiences in major cities like Atlanta, where this reporter is based, where they will be a scant ten days in advance.

So, yes, the FCC IS coming to your town to tell you about the blessings of digital TV.  The calendar dates are posted here.  But you'll have to keep calling them at 1-888-225-5322 till they decide to tell you just where and what time.  Maybe it's because they really aren't that keen on hearing from the public after all.

For more information on the digital transition, see these Black Agenda Report articles

Grand Theft Digital

Big Media Steals 5,100 Digital TV Channels

The FCC and the Emperors of TV Have No Clothes

Communities Excluded, Public Deluded on Digital TV

and the blog

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Bruce Dixon is based in Atlanta and can be reached at bruce.dixon(at)

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