PHILADELPHIA – Nearly 300 people protested monopoly control of the media at a rally and march to ABC, NBC and Clear Channel Radio headquarters here on May 12. Sponsored by a coalition of anti-war and grassroots media activists, the protest blasted pro-war bias in reporting and further deregulation of the media industry by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Protesters also called for legislation that supports a free, diverse local media. Five corporations control most of what the public sees, hears and reads today: Fox, General Electric Co., Viacom, Disney and AOL Time Warner.
The march attracted much attention on the two-mile trek. Colorful signs and banners promted drivers to honk their horns in support. “All We Want Is the Truth,” “War Is Just A Spectator Sport For ABC and NBC” and “Reclaim the Media” were just some of the slogans on the homemade signs.
The protesters first stopped at ABC headquarters chanting “ABC – What’s the score? Why don’t you show us the war on the poor?”
Cheri Honkala, Kensington Welfare Rights Union director, spoke about the lack of coverage of the domestic crisis where 675,000 people have recently lost their jobs, 43 million go without health care coverage, 60 million are living in poverty, and with budget cuts gutting drug and alcohol rehab programs. Honkala recounted when KWRU led homeless families to camp out in the Capitol in Harrisburg, then-Gov. Tom Ridge said, “You’ve made your point now go home.” The media was there but never reported on the issue, she said. “We depend on the independent media to tell our story.”
The crowd then crossed the street to rally in front of NBC headquarters. NBC is owned by General Electric, which has contracts with the Pentagon. Many speakers denounced the blatantly pro-war and pro-Bush coverage tying the bias directly to the corporations and their ties with the White House.
Pete Tridish, technical director for the Prometheus Radio Project, spoke about the Telecom Act of 1996 and how it led to the deregulation of the media industry. Currently the FCC is considering new regulations, which would lead to further deregulation and monopolization of the industry. Among the proposals is one to allow a single company to own TV stations that reach 45 percent of U.S. households instead of the current 35 percent. The major networks favor eliminating any cap. The vote is scheduled for June 2. Michael K. Powell, son of Secretary of State Colin Powell, chairs the FCC.
Deregulation allowed Clear Channel Radio to buy up 1,200 small radio stations. Clear Channel then fired local news staff and replaced them with machines, which gives recorded news. Clear Channel is widely known for its censorship of music, banning over 100 songs, including anti-war songs or songs by any artist who spoke out against the Iraq War. Clear Channel also sponsored a number of pro-war rallies.
Clear Channel’s Vice Chair Tom Hicks is closely connected to George W. Bush. He is a member of the Bush Pioneer club for elite (and generous) donors, according to Take Back the Media website.
Sasha Costanza-Chock, a graduate student in communications at the University of Pennsylvania, described the interlocking Board of Directors of all these corporations, saying, “Media and government are playing a game that short changes the American public. The results are unfair coverage, uninformed Americans and complacent politicians.”
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Terrie Albano contributed to this article.