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How Media Corporations Lobby and Pay Off Politicians
by Ben Clarke (voices [at]
Monday Sep 18th, 2000 7:13 PM
How media corporations lobby and pay off politicians to keep their stranglehold of the airwaves; and why political activists and concerned citizens should participate in the mobilization against the National Association of Broadcasters September in San Francisco.
On August 15, 2000, peaceful protestors were trampled on, shot at with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed and tear gassed by police outside the Democratic National Convention. But television news anchors who reported on the convention barely strayed from their scripted coverage President Clinton and Hillary Clinton's speeches to mention the chaotic scene unfolding outside the Staples Center.

Why is it that the mainstream media downplayed this event, generally ignored reports of police brutality and civil rights violations at the Republican Convention, and almost uniformly failed to enlighten media consumers about the issues that drew thousands of people to demonstrations in Philadelphia and Los Angeles this month?

Perhaps an answer to that question could be found across town in Beverly Hills at a Democratic Fundraising event hosted by California Governor Gray Davis at about the time the protestors were being stampeded by police horses. This event, one of numerous corporate-supported fundraisers being held throughout the Los Angeles area this week, was at the mansion of Norman Pattiz, founder and board chair of Westwood One radio. Westwood One includes Shadow Broadcast Services and Metro Networks, which provide canned news, sports, talk shows, and other programming to radio stations throughout the United States. Between its Shadow and Metro offerings and its CBS news and talk show offerings (including the G. Gordon Liddy Show and the Don Imus Show), Westwood provides programming to more than 7,500 radio station subscribers nationwide.

What do you get when corporate media owners like Westwood One's Pattiz who can cut off access to 7,500 radio stations for politicians who refuse to do his biddingtry to influence politicians with campaign contributions and aggressive lobbying campaigns? You get a national media policy that favors corporate interests. You get fewer and fewer public service requirements for radio and television stations. You get laws that legalize media monopolies. You get a media architecture that's almost completely shuts out non-commercial entities. And you get programming that�s violent and sensational, stereotypes youth, people of color, queers, and working class people, censors or dumbs down crucial issues like homelessness and the fight against corporate globalization, and is dotted with more and more commercials (even during children's TV programs).

For all of these reasons, community organizers and political activists have decided that now is the time to expose the back-room dealings of the corporate media and educate the public about alternatives to the profit-driven media structure. From September 20-23, 2000 in San Francisco, we will demonstrate outside of the annual radio convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. The NAB, which one federal official called �the most perfect lobbying machine you could ever design, is the lobby group for the broadcasting industry.

What is the NAB?

The NAB spends millions of dollars every year on campaign contributions and lobbyists to push for legislation that favors the interests of its members, which include Disney, General Electric, and Westinghouse. Founded 77 years ago, the NAB has won concession after concession for their industry from Congress and the Federal Communications Commission. Most recently, the NAB has moved vigorously, loudy, and publicly to quash the FCC's moderate legalization of micro radio. Last year, they persuaded the FCC commissioners to postpone issuing new rules controlling public interest obligations for digital television. In 1996, they were leading proponents of the Telecommunications Act, which permitted a single company to own television stations serving over one third of the U.S. public, and allowed ownership of up to six radio and two television stations in a single city. The NAB also managed to engineer the giveaway of some $70 billion in public dollars by getting politicians and the FCC to hand over the digital TV spectrum to the corporate media.

The NAB achieves its success through a combination of lobbying, campaign contributions, and access for politicians to the broadcast media that politicians rely on to get re-elected. Although its contributions to the Republican Party generally exceed its contributions to the Democrats, the NAB gives to both parties and succeeds in getting politicians from both parties to sponsor NAB-favored legislation.

According to a March 1996 report by the Center for Responsive Politics, as congress was debating the digital TV spectrum giveaway, broadcasters gave congressional candidates $871,115 in Political Action Committee and large individual donations in the first half of 1995, 69% to the GOP. Bill Clinton collected $56,100 in individual contributions from broadcasters from Jan. to Sept. 1995. Broadcasters also distributed $721,800 in soft money to party committees in 1995, 53% to Republicans.

In the 1996 election cycle, the NAB PAC distributed more than $434,000 to federal candidates, 70 percent to Republicans. They also contributed more than $58,000 in soft money, 62 percent to Democrats. In the 1997 election cycle (Jan. 1997-March 31, 1998), the NAB PAC distributed $264,050, 67% to Republicans. Their lobbying expenses at the end of 1997 were $4,680,000.

As of June 2000, for the 1999-2000 election cycle, the NAB had contributed $58,579 to Senate Republicans and $26,620 to Senate Democrats; $136,934 to House Republicans and $41,246 to House Democrats.

But the NAB and its members aren't just another industry special interest association like the National Rifle Association. NAB members also control the media that politicians rely on for re-election. For example, when the notion that broadcasters should have to pay for their licenses was to be given a hearing after passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the NAB hit the airwaves with a 'Stop the TV Tax' advertising blitz that zeroed in on members of Congress who wanted the broadcasters to pay their way. As Common Cause explains in a 1997 report, NAB members have the power to report and shape the news, including the power to control how issues affecting their own operations such as the spectrum giveaway are covered. They also control how, and if, members of Congress appear on television.

This year, the wrath of the NAB has been directed at the FCC's new regulations for licensing non-commercial micro radio stations. These small stations, which would fit in between existing radio stations, will be owned by local nonprofit and community groups and could give airtime to people whose voices and perspectives are rarely heard on commercial radio. As soon as the FCC came out with its micro radio regulations and licensing procedure, the NAB threw its weight behind legislation that would prevent micro radio from ever becoming a reality. In April, they got the House of Representatives to pass the 'Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act' to prohibit the FCC from establishing rules authorizing low power FM radio stations. Eighty-five Democrats joined 188 Republicans and one independent to pass the bill. The Senate version of the bill, which is still in committee, has 35 co-sponsors, five of whom are Democrats.

If there's one thing that activists of all stripes can agree on whether we work to protect the rainforests or obtain a living wage for workers everywhere or end police brutality it's that mainstream media coverage of our perspectives on these issues is critical to our work. That's why the thousands of activists who made the WTO a household word will join forces this September in San Francisco to put three new letters on the map: NAB.

We hope you will be there with us.

Andrea Buffa and Ben Clarke work at Media Alliance, a San Francisco-based media advocacy organization. For more information about the mobilization against the NAB, see
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assorted comments about thisdan merkleThursday Sep 21st, 2000 1:21 AM
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