Free Speech vs. the FCC
by Greg Ruggiero
from Censored Alert the newsletter of Project Censored,
"Where there is even a pretense of democracy," writes Noam
Chomsky, "communications are at its heart." Given the present
state of our society, however, it is no surprise that we find communications
not at the heart of a vibrant democracy, but rather under the heal of an
oppressive and contradictory system of commercialism, censorship, and control.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the grassroots struggle for access
to the airwaves, and the corporate/government campaign to crush it.
On Free Radio Berkeley
On Tuesday, June 16, shock waves rippled through the micropower radio
movement as a short message from Stephen Dunifer coursed through e-mail
networks across the Internet. Dunifer's message read: "We just received
notification that Federal Judge Claudia Wilken has granted the FCC motion
for summary judgment for a permanent injunction against myself and all others
acting in concert with me." Two days later Free Radio Berkeley was
off the air.
Free Radio Berkeley first took to the airwaves in the spring of 1993.
In November, 1993, the FCC busted the station, fining Dunifer $20,000 for
broadcasting without a license. In the legal battle that ensued, the FCC
sought a court injunction against Dunifer, an injunction which Judge Claudia
Wilken denied on January 30, 1995 for two reasons; first, because Dunifer
had raised significant constitutional challenges, and second, because the
FCC was unable to prove that any harm would result if Free Radio Berkeley
continued to broadcast.
Since 1978, the FCC has stopped issuing Class D licenses for broadcasting
up to 10 watts, and has prohibited all broadcasting under 100 watts. Critics
of the ban argue that the FCC regulation unequivocally favors corporate
media, permitting obese commercial businesses to use the airwaves to hoard
profits, while forbidding grassroots community groups to use the airwaves
democratically, to share information and express our cultures. Over the
past five years, a genuine national movement has been mushrooming in opposition
to the ban, a movement made up of hundreds of community groups who operate
radio stations in much the same spirit that Rosa Parks sat in the front
of the bus: to resist and challenge a dehumanizing and unconstitutional
Dunifer, like Rosa Parks, has ignited a mass movement. As a result of
his civil disobedience, hundreds, and by some counts, thousands of communities
are claiming a seat in the front of the airwaves, challenging the injustice
of the FCC's microradio prohibition. The FCC has shut down 200 stations
in the past 2 years, 6 by force, but new stations keep emerging.
In New York City, a new challenge to the FCC is being posed by communications
lawyers, Robert Perry and Barbara Olshansky & Associates, with the Center
for Constitutional Rights. On July 13, they filed papers with Federal Judge
Michael Mulkasy requesting that the FCC be restrained from raiding members
of "Free Speech", an association of NYC area microbroadcasters.
Thus, their case is called Free Speech Vs The FCC. The central plaintiff
in the case is an unlicensed 20 watt station, Steal This Radio, that broadcasts
daily on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Unlike Dunifer's case, the New
York case puts microbroadcasters in the plaintiff's seat. Perry and Olshansky
advance that the FCC is "burdening substantially more speech than necessary
to serve the government's interest in preventing signal interference and
ensuring public safety, leaving microbroadcasters without adequate alternative
channels of communications." The case also challenges procedures by
which the FCC busts stations and seizes equipment. "It's common sense,"
says DJ Thomas Paine, an STR disk jocky and plaintiff in the case. "Microbroadcasters
are citizens not consumers; we are a movement not a market. And as a movement,
we are here to remind America that it is your constitutional right to access
the airwaves in the community where you live. If the constitution is still
more powerful than corporations, Free Speech, STR, and the micropower radio
movement will win." (For documents relating to the case, see New York
Free Media Alliance web page http://artcon.rutgers.edu/ papertiger/nyfma)
Petitions for Micropower Radio
Of three currently related petitions, RM-9242 is most sophisticated.
It proposes the creation of three new classes of low power stations, one
of up to 50 watts, one 50 watts to 3 kilowatts, and a third for the creation
of temporary stations. The petition further proposes that "ownership
would be limited to entitles residing within 50 miles of a station and no
licensee would be permitted to own more than 3 stations nationwide."
(From FCC Public Notice dated March 12, 1998, Report # 2262.) The period
for public commentary on these petitions closed July 24,1998. For the complete
text of the petitions see: www.fcc.gov/mmb/asd/decdoc/ engrser.html.
Few people active in the micro radio network expect much from the petition
process. Instead, we continue to advance the strategy that the best way
to strengthen the movement is to help start new stations. Radio Mutiny,
a Philadelphia based station, made the promise that "for every radio
station the FCC visits, we will help start 10 more." When Radio Mutiny
was visited by the FCC, they went on a three month tour Johnny Appleseeding
do-it-yourself know how, and returned to Philly to organize the first East
Coast Regional Micropower Radio Conference. Richard Lee, FCC Chief of Enforcement,
was permitted to speak at the conference's opening plenary. Several weeks
after the conference, Mr. Lee returned to Philadelphia with Federal Marshals
to preside over the raid and shut down of Radio Mutiny.
Radio activists have accessibility on their side; broadcast equipment
is inexpensive to acquire and easy to operate. They argue that the 1978
ban on microradio Class D licenses (under 10 watts) was intended to strengthen
public broadcasting, a ban which has backfired in the face of democracy,
free speech, and Americans like Rosa Parks and Stephen Dunifer, who are
willing to take risks to win back freedoms promised by the US Constitution...
To inquire about obtaining equipment to start your own station, call
Greg Ruggiero is co-founder of the Open Pamphlet Series. He works with
Seven Stories Press and the New York Free Media Alliance. firstname.lastname@example.org
from Censored Alert the newsletter of Project Censored,
Summer 1998 email@example.com http://www.sonoma.edu/ProjectCensored/