Thursday, April 30, 2009

Who owns the airwaves?

A small group of right-wing broadcasters own all but two of the AM radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area. These right-wing broadcasters have a history of cutting off profitable but politically incorrect (a.k.a. "liberal") content in order to make room for more right-wing talk show hosts on their stations, even if this results in less profit for their radio stations, because they place their political beliefs ahead of profit. So, does this mean that the right wing should be allowed to dictate what political beliefs are allowed to air in the local area?

According to the right wingers, the answer to that question is "Yes." Their notion is, "we paid for it, we own it, we have a right to put whatever programming we want on the radio stations we bought and paid for." For right-wingers, it's a case of property rights -- being able to use their property any way they wish.

But what is their property? Well, that's where things get fuzzy. First, it is clear that all of their physical infrastructure -- the radio tower, the transmitter, the studio, etc. -- is their property. And of course their actual content is their property. But none of this would be useful without the third thing that is their property: Their license to use a particular slice of the frequency spectrum in order to broadcast their drivel.

Without that license, all their expensive equipment would be useless. I could come in and broadcast right over the top of them using my own AM transmitter setup. And the only thing that makes that license useful is that it is enforced by the government. I.e., every broadcast radio station in the country can exist only because the government grants them a license to exist. Otherwise people like me, with RF radio experience and capabilities, would just broadcast our own drivel to the world over the top of these people, and every frequency you tuned to would be either weird mishmash of various people trying to broadcast their own opinions, or unintelligible garble.

In short, the public airwaves are public because they must be public in order to have any value at all. A private party cannot simply say "I own 1540AM" because there are thousands of us out here who have the capability to broadcast on 1540AM, and would do so if there were no law prohibiting us from doing so. A private party can "own" 1540AM only if all of us who have the capability to broadcast on 1540AM -- i.e., WE THE PEOPLE (also known as "the government") -- grant them a license to "own" 1540AM. If KRTR (Rightwing Talk Radio for the masses!) is to have any value at all, it is only if they can somehow obtain from the public (We the People) a license giving them the exclusive right to use a particular frequency. Otherwise all those assets they do own are useless.

So now that we've straightened that out: What gives 1540AM KRTR more right to have their views aired on 1540AM than I have? Well, we've established that it's not because they somehow "own" the frequency 1540. I can broadcast on 1540 just as well as anybody else can, using simple equipment that I can create from surplus gear from the Bay Area's many electronic surplus stores. All they "own" is a GOVERNMENT-GRANTED LICENSE to broadcast on 1540AM. Right now, they can broadcast their views on 1540AM -- and prevent my views from being broadcast on 1540AM -- only because they can call up the FCC and have me arrested if I broadcast my views on 1540AM. In short, GOVERNMENT is the only thing that gives them more right to broadcast their views (and lock out my views) on 1540AM. And that's wrong. Government should not be giving one right-wing oligarch more right to have his views broadcasted than mine. That's government-enforced censorship of my views.

Thus all the shorts-crapping of the tightie righties as they shit in their pants over the thought that the government might actually require them to air *all* views if they are to retain their monopoly on the public air waves. Because they are scared of competition. They are scared that if people can hear both left-wing and right-wing ideas on the public airwaves, that people might choose left-wing ideas. They want their government-granted monopoly, and they want it on their terms, terms that prevent me from broadcasting my own views on 1540AM. In short, they are the ultimate in welfare whores, who have wheedled special treatment from the government to give them more right than me to have their views aired on 1540AM, and who will use government to shut me down if I dare broadcast my own views on 1540AM. They claim to be "free market advocates", but that's just a lie. The very fact that they would call the government in on me to arrest me if I dared broadcast my own views on 1540AM shows it's a lie. What they are, are a bunch of oligarchs who have bribed the government into giving them an exclusive right to have their views and only their views broadcast on 1540AM, and who have no problem with calling in the government to censor my views if I dare broadcast them on 1540AM. They exist only because they're government welfare prostitutes, and there is no free market involved at all -- and cannot be, as long as they have a government-granted monopoly.

-- Badtux the Radio Penguin


  1. My Frosty Friend -

    First, I agree that the media is disproportionately skewed to the right because fat-cats with money can buy networks and build radio empires. Second, I understand that law & tradition is that the airways belong to the public.

    But the idea of government ruling on content makes me nervous. Maybe that's because no one has explained HOW the fairness doctrine would be implemented.

    What has me edgy is that any legal machaninism we introduce today - even if implemented impartialy - leaves the hooks in place to be abused when conservatives have power. And they would NOT be impartial in silencing US if they could.

    So this falls into the category of "Be Careful What You Wish For.."

  2. Uhm, excuse me. We had the Fairness Doctrine for close to 40 years -- 1949 to 1987 -- and did not see any of the negative stuff you mention.

    We know how it works, and we know how it is enforced -- the person attacked complains to the FCC, the FCC enforces it, this isn't something the FCC itself initiates, this is something that an individual who is attacked and wants equal time must initiate. The fact of the matter is that this is not something new. This is restoring something which should not have been eliminated in the first place. The public airwaves are not a place for partisanship or single-sided attacks with no ability to respond by the target of the attacks, especially when the Internet and cable TV are available for all the partisanship you'd ever want. We know how it was enforced during the 40 years that it existed, and none of the evil shit you're predicting happened during those 40 years.

    In the end, it's a matter of fairness. If a right-winger attacks me on the Internet, I just post a response to him, and people can read my response just as easily as they read his original attack. If a right-winger attacks me on talk radio because he views penguins as Satanic and evil and believes that the penguin agenda will be the death of America... well, that's a different story, because I do *not* have equal ability to respond there, because the right-winger has purchased a government monopoly on use of the public airwaves. Well, what I say is this: Okay, so he purchased a monopoly. We just make it a *conditional* monopoly. Like it's supposed to be. So after Rush "Viagra-brain" Limbaugh attacks the evil penguin agenda, the stations he is carried by can either give me equal time to explain the penguin agenda of equal rights for all Americans whether penguin or straight (perhaps by requiring Rush himself to give me equal time if he is to continue being carried by their station), or the government takes away their monopoly on 1540AM. Like I said, we know how this works. We had it for forty years under Democratic and Republican Presidents both. This isn't something new. The only reason the tighty righties oppose it is because they're scared to death that if they have to give equal time to supporters of the penguin agenda as well as to opponents of the penguin agenda, their public that they're trying to brainwash might choose to support the penguin agenda rather than their agenda of hate. It's got nothing to do with free enterprise -- it's a fucking government-granted monopoly, for cryin' out loud, a government monopoly isn't free enterprise *by definition* -- and everything to do with them soiling their panties because they might get some ideological competition for their agenda of hate.

    - Badtux the Agenda-wielding Penguin

  3. I am not opposed to what you propose, but I am trying to understand the implementation.

    Suppose Rush goes of an a tear abut Obama is going to ban all handguns. I know he's not, but Obama has more to do than demand equal time. So can anyone else challenge the lie?

    Suppose Rush goes on about how awful and corrupt the New Deal was, how it deepened the Great Depression, etc. FDR is dead, so who can challenge the lie?

    Rush goes off on how lower taxes under Saint Ronnie healed the recession, not mentioning the deficit spending RR used to stimulate the economy... Who can challenge?

    I admit, there's a LOT about this I don't understand, but I don't think I am in the minority in my ignorance. What are the limits are and who decides. As I mentioned before, under a Bush-like POTUS, can the rules be twisted to deny free speech?

  4. Well, Richard Nixon was President for almost eight years and was every bit as vile as George W. Bush, while being much smarter. Why don't you go look at the Presidency of Richard Nixon and see if he managed to use the Fairness Doctrine to impose censorship? I mean, this is history. The Fairness Doctrine actually existed. Did Richard Nixon somehow use it to impose censorship upon the public airwaves? You don't have to ask theoretical questions about this, just go back in your history books and see!

    (Hint: The answer is *NO*).

    I mean, the answers are *there*. You don't have to ask hypotheticals about how the Fairness Doctrine works. It was in effect for almost forty years. All you have to do is go look at how it actually worked, you don't have to speculate because we've already been there, done that. It's as if you're speculating on whether sending a man to the moon would cause the moon to explode like an over-ripe grape. Dude. We've *DONE THAT*, and the bad stuff you speculate about didn't happen.

    - Badtux the History Penguin

  5. The Fairness Doctrine worked well and is needed once again obviously.

    After all we own the airwaves and the position you take is the correct one. Talk whore radio and Fux whore news are the only ones that would take the position that you are wrong and didn't love America and pose a threat to our freedoms.

    Nothing from the new FCC board. It's like they don't exist. The two pricks who were at the helm for the last eight years pulled all kinds of shit. The new chairman is a corporate boy whose name does not come to mind but maybe he likes things just the way they are. Adelstein and Copps are still there who I admire a great deal because they did such a great job informing us of how we were going to get screwed. The dims are now the majority so it's time to get moving on something but that is expecting too much I'm sure.

  6. Thanks, BT. I've been chanting this same mantra for over 30 years (as the rightwingnuts bought up the spectrum licenses) and never received any answer other than that the Golden Rule applied (i.e., those with the gold make the rules).

    I also couldn't help thinking (along the way) about why it didn't work like that under Nixon, who certainly was smart enough to figure out the self-serving rationale.

    Russ Baker's book on the Bush Family Secrets says that was one of the many reasons why Nixon was outed by GHWB's CIA plant Alexander Butterfield's offhand mentioning of the taping system in the White House. Nixon didn't do a whole lot of what these guys really wanted back them - remember the negative income tax?

    And then the much better (more effective anyway) guys assumed control of the Repugns and quickly transformed themselves into the Rethugs. (Rove moved into the power position at this time.)

    Thanks again for your most compelling review of the facts.

    Obama seems to love Bush's foreign policies so far. Wonder how he'll change these.


  7. I'm completely with you on this one Badtux. The fairness doctrine did work. What we got now ain't working or there wouldn't be such an end run around mainstream media. Gotta love the tivo and internet.

    I wonder if cable companies will ever start offering alJazeera as a choice?

  8. you should also mention that there used to be ownership limitations in markets (5-5-5, then 7-7-7, now sort of unlimited), meaning 5 tv,fm,am and you couldnt cross-own -- if you owned a tv, no paper etc (unless grandfathered) ---

    fucking murdoch owns 2 tv stations in ny and the post and the wsj. clear channel owns like every radio station. until the fcc under reagan, that couldnt happen


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