Media: More Free Speech On Radio

The Center for American Progress and Free Press recently released a report confirming the stunning lack of balance in talk radio.

June 28, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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More Free Speech On Radio

The Center for American Progress and Free Press recently released a report confirming the stunning lack of balance in talk radio. According to the report, 91 percent of talk radio owned by the top five commercial stations is conservative. Ninety-two percent of these stations (236 stations out of 257) do not broadcast a single minute of progressive talk radio programming. The report has spawned a far-reaching debate over the imbalance in talk radio, with conservatives raising false claims about free speech, claiming “bloody murder…censorship…and propaganda.” “There is little free speech or free choice in a market system that pushes out one-sided information 90 percent of the time on the radio,” said John Halpin, one of the report’s co-authors. Progressives, including several members of Congress, have unfortunately allowed the right wing to control the debate on this issue, focusing their legislative attempts at reinstating the Fairness Doctrine, a federal regulation that was repealed in 1987, required broadcasters to devote airtime to important and controversial issues and to provide contrasting views on these issues in some form. Reinstating that doctrine is not the answer. With talk radio being one of the most widely used media formats in the country and reaching an estimated 50 million listeners each week, it is imperative that progressives reclaim the debate from the right wing and instead address the increased concentration of talk radio ownership that has occurred over the past decade. As report co-author John Halpin stated, “If we break up concentrated ownership, and encourage greater local accountability over radio licensing, and still end up with lots of conservative talk, then so be it. We don’t think this will happen but at least the playing field would have been made more level.”

The right wing has baselessly twisted the debate about the structural imbalance of talk radio into one about free speech, claiming progressives “want to revive a policy to require broadcasters to present multiple viewpoints on controversial issues.” Michelle Malkin titled her post about the CAP/FP report “Fairness Doctrine Watch.” Jonah Goldberg of the National Review stated, “Does anyone really believe liberals would even entertain this renewed passion for the fairness doctrine if talk radio were overwhelmingly liberal? It just strikes me as so transparently opportunistic and unprincipled.” “This next one may make you think twice about freedom of speech,” announced a Fox News host on Wednesday. But the CAP/FP report does not argue that the Fairness Doctrine should be resurrected. In fact, the report specifically states that this likely would not correct the massive imbalance in talk radio“[T]he Fairness Doctrine was never, by itself, an effective tool to ensure the fair discussion of important issues. The Fairness Doctrine was most effective as part of a regulatory structure that limited license terms to three years, subjected broadcasters to license challenges through comparative hearings, required notice to the local community that licenses were going to expire, and empowered the local community through a process of interviewing a variety of local leaders.” Thus, legislation that would singularly revive the Fairness Doctrine is misguided, failing to address the more important issue of media ownership. “Simply reinstating the Fairness Doctrine will do little to address the gap between conservative and progressive talk unless the underlying elements of the public trustee doctrine are enforced, in particular, the requirements of local accountability and the reasonable airing of important matters.”

A MISGUIDED APPROACH: With conservatives wanting to shift the debate into one about the Fairness Doctrine, some progressive members of Congress proposing remedies that do not primarily address the problem. Some progressives in Congress have called for “reinstituting” the Fairness Doctrine, possibly introducing legislation to revive the rule. This approach would not mitigate the structure of a talk radio system that fails to meet the public interest and spends 90 percent of its time churning out one-sided talk. In fact, the report warns, “Misguided policy solutions may also lead to unintended consequences that reduce the diversity of speech on the radio rather than expand it.” Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) said he will introduce legislation today “that would prevent any future president or the Federal Communications Commission from reinstating the Fairness Doctrine.” Congress is clearly gravitating around the Fairness Doctrine; progressives should understand, however, that simply reviving the Fairness Doctrine will not ameliorate talk radio imbalance.

REAL SOLUTIONS LIE IN OWNERSHIP: Talk radio reform proposals should address the pressing issue of concentrated ownership and ineffective regulation in order to promote balanced news coverage. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 eliminated ownership caps, there has been a 34 percent decline in the number of radio station owners, allowing conglomerates like Clear Channel to increase market share from 40 stations to over 1,200. As a result, women, minorities, and small local owners have been deprived of opportunities to participate. Leading progressive radio talker Ed Schultz recently debunked the right-wing claim that there is a “free market,” explaining that the market is being controlled by a few ownership groups that are forcing conservative talk shows into local markets. “I beat Sean Hannity in Denver. I beat him in Seattle. I beat him in Portland. I beat in San Diego. How many markets do I have to beat Hannity in before I get 200 or 300 stations? It’s an ownership issue,” Schultz said. “The fact is, it’s market opportunities and liberal talkers, progressive talkers are being held to a totally different standard than conservatives.” Congress should propose legislation that addresses the ownership problem, promoting diversity by restoring local and national ownership caps, for instance, allowing no entity to control more than 10 percent of total commercial radio stations. Last week, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) introduced the Local Community Radio Act, potentially prompting “hundreds of new low-power [local] FM radio stations to sprout up around the country.” Said Doyle, “We have announced legislation that we believe has the potential to revolutionize what Americans hear on their radio.”


ADMINISTRATION — ‘SHADOW GOVERNMENT’ OF PRIVATE CONTRACTORS EXPLODES UNDER BUSH: A new report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform concludes that, under the Bush administration, the “shadow government of private companies working under federal contract has exploded in size. Between 2000 and 2005, procurement spending increased by over $175 billion dollars, making federal contracts the fastest growing component of federal discretionary spending.” These big government contractors make huge profits at the expense of taxpayers. According to the report, federal spending to Halliburton “increased over 600% between 2000 and 2005.” The Government Accountability Office recently found that the government has wasted at least $2.7 billion to Halliburton on “overpriced contracts or undocumented costs.” Federal contracts to companies like Halliburton have grown five times faster than the overall inflation rate and almost twice as fast as the growth in other discretionary federal spending. A record level of “nearly 40 cents of every discretionary federal dollar now goes to private contractors.” Unfortunately, the enormous increase in federal contracts has not been paired with increased oversight or accountability. According to the Washington Post, “the number of federal procurement workers responsible for overseeing spending has not kept pace” with the increase in federal contracts, resulting in contracts soaring “far beyond approved estimates.” A 115 percent increase in noncompetitive contracts has further added to the accountability problem. As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Scott Lilly said in a recent report on the issue: “[C]ontractors play a central role in the delivery of critical government services. … Corrupt and ineffective management of government purchasing therefore places all of the government’s responsibilities at risk.”

The government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has released a new report detailing the “failures by [Federal Emergency Management Agency] FEMA and the federal government…at nearly every stage of preparation for and response to Hurricane Katrina.” Specifically, CREW found that FEMA failed to implement the “Southeast Louisiana Catastrophic Hurricane Plan,” designed to “evacuate residents and position resources pre-hurricane; provide power, water and ice to hurricane victims; and provide short-term shelter and longer-term temporary housing.” CREW notes that the day before Katrina hit, FEMA Deputy Director Patrick Rhode sent an e-mail to Director Michael Brown’s assistant with the subject line, “copy of New Orleans cat plan,” stating, “I never got one — I think Brown got my copy — did you get one?” Such accounts of incompetence echo the findings of other recent reports. A Government Accountability Office report revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency publicly downplayed the risk of asbestos inhalation — which is often released during home demolition — to New Orleans residents and failed to deploy air monitors in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. Separately, an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that “federal agencies responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita doled out more than $2.4 billion in contracts that guaranteed profits for big companies.” Congress is working to address some of these issues, with the House voting to limit the use of cost-plus contracts. That bill is currently stalled, awaiting action by Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-CT).

HEALTHCARE — BUSH ATTACKS POPULAR CHILDREN’S HEALTH PROGRAM: Speaking at a White House event yesterday, President Bush “criticized a push by Democrats and some moderate Republicans to broaden a popular children’s insurance program,” the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Supporters of the program want “to take incremental steps down the path to government-run healthcare for every American,” said Bush. Despite Bush’s spin, what supporters actually want is to make sure millions of children don’t go without health coverage. The current program covers more than 6 million youths nationally, a large percentage of whom come from low-income working families. “Legal authority for the program expires in a few months, and its reauthorization is generally considered the most important healthcare decision Congress will make this year.” Both Democrats and moderate Republicans want “to use the reauthorization as a springboard to provide coverage” to the roughly 7 million children who are still uninsured. According to Sherry Glied, a Columbia University professor who studies the uninsured, SCHIP “seems to be the main explanation” for why “the number of uninsured children has dropped from about 10 million to about 7 million from 1997 to 2006.  In a statement yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said it was “disheartening” that Bush is “opposing” a “plan to provide health coverage to millions of American children.” The Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up the measure soon. “Policymakers should firmly reject proposals that seek to promote private coverage standards at the expense of children’s health and well-being, and ensure, instead that SCHIP builds upon its record of providing appropriate, high-quality coverage to our nation’s children,” stated Karen Davenport, the director of health policy at the Center for American Progress. 


Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and 36 of his House colleagues called for a hearing into the role Vice President Dick Cheney played in the 2002 die-off of about 70,000 salmon near the California-Oregon border. The letter wrote, “Did in fact the vice president of the United States put pressure on midlevel bureaucrats to alter the science and circumvent the law in order to gain political votes for his re-election or the election of other people in Oregon?”

“A massive car bomb exploded at a street-side bus depot during Baghdad’s Thursday morning rush hour, killing at least 22 people and wounding more than 40 others in a tremendous explosion that set fire to scores of vehicles.” Elsewhere, 20 headless bodies were found “on the banks of the Tigris River.”

“U.S. commanders plan a summer of stepped-up offensives against Al Qaeda in Iraq as they tailor strategy to their expectation that Congress soon will impose a timeline for drawing down U.S. forces here.”

In a new Pew poll, people in countries “as diverse as Canada, Peru, Ukraine, China and India” identified environmental problems such as global warming as “the leading threat the world faces…outranking concerns about nuclear weapons, ethnic hatred and AIDS.”

“[A] look at emergency rooms around the nation shows that wait times — and their health consequences — are increasing everywhere. The problem isn’t confined to hospitals that serve mostly the uninsured.” Affluent areas are “seeing the same problems they’re seeing in the urban areas,” one doctor said. 

“Three former leaders of Exodus International, often described as the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry, publicly apologized Wednesday for the harm they said their efforts had caused many gays and lesbians who believed the group’s message that sexual orientation could be changed through prayer.”

2.2 million: Number of people currently imprisoned in the United States. “Prisons and jails added more than 42,000 inmates last year, the largest increase since 2000.”

A survey of Labor Department employees, thought to be “the first step by the Bush administration to revise the rules to restrict access to family leave,” ended up finding “a broad consensus that family and medical leave is good for workers and their families, is in the public interest and is good workplace policy.”

And finally: Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) loves Batman. He will “appear in the upcoming installment of the big-screen Batman franchise, ‘The Dark Night,’ slated to be released in 2008.” According to Roll Call, Leahy told his barber on Wednesday that “he hadn’t had a trim in a while, since he had let his hair grow out for the role. The Senator also mentioned a recent all-night filming session that went on ‘too damn long.'”

500: Number of Christian families who have left the Dora district in Baghdad because of the “chaos.” “The flight of Dora’s Christians is an example of how the initial phase of the U.S. security crackdown here has failed to establish security and stop the sectarian ‘cleansing’ of Baghdad’s neighborhoods.”

Violence is surging against women in Afghanistan. While the “lives of Afghan women and girls have improved vastly since the 2001 fall of the Taliban…this month has seen a rising number of attempts to quash these advances with threats and violence.”

The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing yesterday examining the legal basis for holding detainees at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, the lawyer who prevailed in his argument in Hamdan that President Bush’s military commissions were unconstitutional, told the committee, “Guantanamo is Uncle Sam’s recruiting poster of jihadist recruitment.”

And finally: Former Sen. Dean Barkley (D-MN) is on the market for a mate. Barkley has a profile on, where he says that he is looking for a woman “younger than him, whose turn-ons would include ‘brainiacs,’ ‘erotica,’ and ‘thunderstorms.’” He also admits, “I am a star trek nut along with star wars.”

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