Edward O. Fritts
President and CEO
Natioinal Association of Broadcasters
1771 N. St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Fritts:
I am in receipt of your (the FCC's) letter
of March 5 warning me of
severe consequences should I fail to cease broadcasting over your
airwaves--or what you doubtless ASSUME to be your airwaves. I take here
this opportunity (given that I consider the ruttish dispositions of the
FCC to be generally prompted by orders from yourself) to respond.
First of all let me disabuse you of the
notion that the airwaves belong to
you. They neither belong to you, nor to your wealthy business associates.
In fact, your theft of this national resource is now being called very
much into question by the American people.
Your $70 billion ripoff in the digital
conversion scam has been
denounced by the New York Times and others. Your base commercialization
of the airwaves has offended millions. Your practice of twisting,
distorting and suppressing the news in order to please advertisers has
subverted democracy. Your skill at "delivering audiences" to those same
advertisers has alienated and marginalized the same public you profess to
serve. And last but not least, your gifts of money to members of Congress
have punified and enfeebled the American electorate--those who still
bother to vote, at any rate.
Perhaps it is for these and other reasons
that Congressman David Bonior
"One of the fundamental tenets of our democracy
is to ensure that
diverse interests have opportunities to express themselves at different
levels, and that they are not locked out in a monopolistic, globalized
fashion. It is as fundamental as free speech. Radio is perhaps the most
qualified of any media outlet to provide community access. It is a
relatively inexpensive medium to produce and is well-suited to cover
community issues and local music. Unfortunately, today's radio is the most
concentrated and formulaic medium in the country. Providing licenses to
low power FM radio stations would create new opportunities for local
voices to be heard in their communities."
Congressman Bonior has begun to circulate
this letter in the House of
Representatives, and so far has picked up 27 signatures.
I also feel compelled to say a few words
about your subversion of the
Federal Communications Commission. The FCC was set up in 1934. It was
given the mandate to regulate the airwaves in the "public interest,
convenience and necessity." What we have seen from the FCC instead,
thanks largely to you and your predecessors at the National Association of
Broadcasters, is six and a half decades of imcompetence and mismanagement.
How did acting in the "public interest" come to be construed as handing
out broadcast licenses only to the rich? I would venture to say that your
monetary gifts to those who hold power may have had something to do with
Now comes the FCC--perhaps realizing its
past sins and hoping in some
small way to undo the damage done--with a proposal to legalize low power
radio. The proposal has been pushed by a new, somewhat independent-minded
commission chairman. You, however, have opposed it. One of your stooges
in Congress, Rep. Billy Tauzin, has even in a fit petulance threatened to
de-fund the FCC, which he refers to as an agency "out of control."
Admirable though may be the new chairman's
intentions, the problem with
his proposals is that they don't even begin to erase the aforementioned
six and a half decades of mismanagement. The book STANDARD RATE AND DATE
SERVICE lists 29 commercial radio stations licensed in the city of San
Francisco alone (not including the greater Bay Area). These are: KABL-AM,
KCBS, KEST, KFOG, KFFG, KGO, KKSF, KLLC, KMEL, KNBR, KOIT-AM, KOIT-FM,
KYCY, KZOL, KNEW, KBLX, KBRG, KDFC, KFRC-AM, KFRC-FM, KIOI, KIQI, KITS,
KSAN, KSFO, KSOL, KTCT, KVTO and KYLD. That's a lot of stations all
broadcasting essentially the same insipid, commercial pabulum. Perhaps
something should be done to remedy this situation. Maybe bring about more
diversity! Yeah, there's a novel idea!
Yet, now that the Commission has finally
taken steps to legalize
low-power radio, it finds that there really isn't that much room left in
the spectrum to accomodate such stations--even under the most liberal
policy change up for consideration, i.e. a relaxing of both second and
third adjacency spacing regulations. In fact, the FCC's "Notice of
Proposed Rule Making" specifically cites our city as an example:
"...in San Francisco no LP100 station could
be located with a 2nd
adjacent standard, but two such stations would fit if there were no need
for 2nd and 3rd adjacent channel protection standards,"
So now we find ourselves in the absurd
position of having 29 full-power,
monster stations on the air in San Francisco, literally gobbling up the
available spectrum, leaving room for only two 100 watt stations under the
new proposals. What are the rest of us supposed to do now, fight over
these two crumbs? This situation has been brought about as a direct
result of yours and the National Association of Broadcasters' influence
over the FCC--and of the Commission's sixty-plus years of allocating
broadcast licenses only to the rich.
I probably don't need to remind you of
the First Amendment arguments
which have been raised in defense of micro radio. You've probably heard
them all before. But just for the record, let me quote to you from the
words of my own attorney in response to your FCC's "Notice of Apparent
Liability" issued against me in 1993:
"It is the obligation of the FCC to construct
and enforce its regulation
framework in such a way as to safeguard the First Amendment right of free
speech for all persons, regardless of their economic power. By totally
prohibiting low-power, micro radio, the Commission has failed to comply
with its congressional mandate to regulate the airwaves in the public
interest, has exceeded the limits of the power conferred upon it by
Congress, and is violating the Constitutional rights of micro broadcasters
and their listeners." (Louis N. Hiken, in the matter of Richard L.
Edmondson; NAL/Acct. No. 415SF0024; SF-93-2073, Nov. 24, 1993)
You, of course, reject such free-speech-based
arguments supporting micro
radio. In fact, I have heard your attorney, Jack Goodman, argue that the
American people have no First Amendment rights whatsoever when it comes to
the use of their own airwaves. It is a pity that the people who control
the airwaves of America hold such views.
In the above communication to your FCC,
Mr. Hiken went on to cite the case
of Metro Broadcasting Inc. v. FCC, as well as an administrative case
before the Commission involving the Syracuse Peace Council. In ruling on
the latter matter, the FCC, ironically, argued in FAVOR of applying First
Amendment principles to broadcasters--regardless of the "spectrum
scarcity" issue. While there may be a finite number of broadcast
frequencies, the Commission upheld, this is no less true of the computers,
delivery trucks, ink and newsprint which are used in the production of
printed speech. In the Commission's own words:
"...We simply believe that in analyzing
the appropriate First Amendment
standard to be applied in the electronic press, the concept of
scarcity--be it spectrum or numerical--is irrelevant. As Judge Bork said
in Trac v. FCC (801 F.2d at 508), 'Since scarcity is a universal fact, it
can hardly explain regulation in one context and not another. The attempt
to use a universal fact as a distinguishing principle necessarily leads to
analytical confusion.'" (2 FCC Rcd 5043, 5055)
The Commission went on to state:
"The First Amendment was adopted to protect
the people not from
journalists, but from the government. It gives people the right to
receive ideas that are unfettered by government interference. We fail to
see how this right changes when individuals choose to receive ideas from
the electronic media instead of the print media. There is no doubt that
the electronic media is powerful and that broadcasters can abuse their
freedom of speech. But the framers of the constitution believed that the
potential for abuse of private freedoms posed far less a threat to
democracy than the potential for abuse by a government given the power to
control the press." (Id. at 5057)
Do First Amendment principles apply to
the airwaves or not? You and
your FCC cannot have it both ways. You cannot use the "spectrum
scarcity" argument only when it's convenient.
The way the FCC--at your instigation--has
regulated the airwaves would be
comparable, say, to a government agency charged with regulating the
distribution of ink and newsprint. Suppose that agency had for six and a
half decades, allocated ink and newsprint only to the wealthy. Then, once
the nation's stockpiles of both were nearly exhausted, suppose that agency
initiated a rule making proceeding, saying, "Now that the ink and the
newsprint are almost gone, we thought we might change our rules slightly
and allow poor people to have a little of what's left."
This is essentially what the FCC is saying
with regard to micro radio. The
only difference is that ink and newsprint, once used, are depleted. The
airwaves, on the other hand, Mr. Fritts, are recoverable; the imbalance
which currently exists can be rectified.
Let me make one final point in closing.
In your (the FCC's) letter to me,
you (it) state(s) the following: "Radio stations must be licensed by the
FCC pursuant to 47 U.S.C. s. 301." The fact of the matter is, I have had
a license application pending with your FCC for nearly four months now.
Why doesn't your FCC rule on my application? I call upon you, Mr. Fritts,
to request of your friends at the FCC that they rule favorably upon my
application and issue me a license to broadcast. I have no desire to
violate 47 U.S.C. But there are compelling reasons why San Francisco
Liberation Radio (SFLR) needs to be on the air now.
SFLR is a voice for poor and homeless people
in the city of San
Francisco. This city's homeless population has been estimated at
14,000. Presently these 14,000 people have almost no voice in the
media. For years now the city of San Francisco has habitually
confiscated the property of homeless people, taking from them their
blankets, shopping carts, prescription medicines, etc. These
confiscations have taken place without regard for Fifth Amendment
guarantees against seizures of property without due process.
On Nov. 13, 1993, the San Francisco Chronicle--in
a rare feat of
journalism for that paper--reported on a spate of shopping cart seizures
which had then recently occurred. According to that report, San Francisco
Police had been "quietly confiscating" homeless people's shopping carts
for "more than a month." Top city officials were said to be "chagrinned"
at learning of the seizures. ("SF Police Confiscate Homeless People's
Carts," San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 13, 1993, p. A17)
While the Chronicle might have us believe
such property seizures were a
once-in-a-lifetime aberration, homeless people and homeless advocates in
this city know better.
On Feb. 9, 1999, I interviewed Sister Bernie
Galvin of Religious Witness
with Homeless People. During this interview I inquired, "I know at one
time in this city there was a problem with police confiscating homeless
people's belongings, their shopping carts and so forth. Is that still
Her reply: a sober, "That continues."
Here's another interesting fact for you
to chew on, Mr. Fritts: In the
five years since the Presidio Army Base closed, the housing on the base,
formerly lived in by military personell, has stood vacant--this despite
repeated cries--and even a referendum passed by the voters--that it be
turned over to homeless people. During that same five years, according to
the Department of Public Health, 682 people died homeless on the streets
of this city. Died while the housing which might have saved their lives
On Feb. 17, 1999 more than 700 members
of Religious Witness With
Homeless People, including homeless people themselves, began a 21 day fast
in an effort to have the same Presidio housing made available to homeless
people and to stop the property confiscations and other repressive
measures. That fast ended on March 10. At the closing ceremony, Father
Louis Vitale, a Franciscan priest and pastor at St. Bonifice Church, said:
"You know, the scriptures, Judeo-Christian
scriptures anyway, talk about
the powers and principalities--you know these powers, the
dominations--that seem to take over the institutions which run our lives.
And these powers can be very good powers--and they can be fallen and be
mean powers--mean spirited like took over Nazi Germany or whatever. We
see some of that in our federal government--that won't let us have empty
housing for poor and homeless people dying on the streets. How else can
you account for that--than some mean spirit within those institutions?"
In the 1993 story on the shopping cart
confiscations, the Chronicle, to
its credit, reported on the rather tragic consequences the cart seizures
had had for one homeless man:
"Kendall Griffitts, a 25-year old homeless
man, lost photographs,
blankets, a new sleeping bag, all his freshly-laundered clothes and a
radio when his cart was seized at about 8 a.m. near the Civic Center.
Griffitts had left the cart with a friend for safekeeping, while he waited
in the breakfast line at Glide Memorial Church. 'I didn't believe it at
first, Griffitts said. 'My friend was told that he couldn't move my cart,
that I had abandoned it and it was now something like garbage, even though
we can't take carts in Glide with us...Now everything is gone. I don't
think I can replace everything...'
"'The weather is just getting cold now,'
Griffitts said, sitting on a
bench in Civic Center Plaza and fingering a new blanket someone had
donated. 'I've lost things before but nothing like this.'" (Chronicle,
Nov. 13, 1993, p. A17)
The city of San Francisco, Mr. Fritts,
is enacting policies which
endanger the lives of homeless people. It does this through these
property confiscations and through continued denial of available
housing. It is necessary for SFLR to remain on the air at this time to
continue to speak out against these measures. One can only speculate how
much worse the situation might become were our small voice to disappear
from the airwaves.
I realize, Mr. Fritts, that it may be hard
for you, from your position of
privilege and power, to empathize with those who are homeless. But I want
you to understand one thing: that in demanding that I leave the airwaves
you are essentially asking me to forsake and abandon the Kendall
Griffittses of this city. This I would find very hard to do.
At the risk of repeating myself, I again
ask that you use your powers of
persuasion to urge the FCC to grant my license application. I know that
you will probably not do this. So here is an alternate proposal: you and
your friends in Congress, at the very least, back off and quite trying to
shut us down.
San Francisco Liberation Radio
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