Clear Channel Stations Draw Ownership Protests

Protesters around the country sent a message yesterday (May 29), urging federal regulators not to allow large media companies to increase their control over television, radio, and newspapers. The demo

Protesters around the country sent a message yesterday (May 29), urging federal regulators not to allow large media companies to increase their control over television, radio, and newspapers. The demonstrations were staged just four days before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was scheduled to consider eliminating many restrictions on media ownership in the same city.

Another proposal would raise an existing market cap that prevents any one company from owning a combination of TV stations that reach more than 35% of U.S. households.

In Los Angeles, about 60 people marched outside Clear Channel talk radio station KFI with signs reading, "No Choice, No Voice: Reclaim Our Airwaves."

"We're frozen out," said Karen Pomer, a member of the group Code Pink, which organized the protest and also rallied for peace during the war in Iraq. "All of this is benefiting conservative voices." Protests were planned at Clear Channel stations in 14 cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco.

A protest in New York was organized by United for Peace and Justice NY, an anti-war group. About 150 people picketed outside station WWPR and carried signs that read, "Farewell Free Speech, We'll Miss You" and "The Airwaves Belong to the People, not Clear Channel."

Protesters say Clear Channel stifles diverse points of view by programming local stations with national shows. But a Clear Channel spokesperson said the media coverage of the protests is evidence that diverse viewpoints are not ignored.

"Americans today have more diverse choices for entertainment, news and information than ever before," said Andrew Levin, Clear Channel's senior vice president for government affairs. "Radio is the only medium I know where the customer can switch providers at 60 mph."

The San Antonio-based chain has become a favorite target for those who oppose deregulation. The company now owns 1,200 stations nationwide, including nine in Los Angeles.

FCC chairman Michael Powell has said the regulatory changes are needed to reflect a market altered by cable TV, satellite broadcasts, and the Internet. If the FCC fails to act, outdated rules will be swept away by court challenges, he said. Relaxing restrictions on media ownership is opposed by the two Democrats on the FCC and backed by the three Republicans, including Powell.

Opposition to relaxed rules has brought together a wide variety of groups, from celebrities such as actor Richard Dreyfuss to the National Rifle Association.

Proponents include large media companies such as Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns television stations as well as the Fox network. Murdoch is also seeking regulatory approval for his purchase of a controlling share of the satellite television service DirecTV.

Opponents say that large media companies have already put independent producers of TV shows nearly out of business. Most of the programs now aired on national networks are produced by the companies that own those networks. That kind of concentration leads to companies relaying more on low-cost reality shows rather than taking chances on scripted shows that represent more diverse viewpoints, critics say.


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