T Dog’s Think Tank: We are pissed

The FCC came to Chicago last Thursday, for public hearings on media consolidation and diversity.

The whole thing was webcast for the world to hear on the FCC’s website, and yours truly hooked it up to listen for eight hours. Eight loooong hours…

The FCC was there at Operation PUSH, and if you listed to the webcast- hell, you’d think Bears QB Rex Grossman was one of the commissioners. Grossman and the FCC have a lot in common – both apparently suck at their job.

We’re just about as happy with the media as we are with the CTA. Both are run by pomous windbags who don’t seem to care about the public. And both are in broken-down condition.

Media consolidation over the past decade has been blamed for the rise in taseless programming in prime-time (mainly of the reality kind) to layoffs at media outlets, from less local programming to voicetracking at radio stations.

All of this and more was complained about Thursday night. With the event held at Operation PUSH, you know racial overtones were the order of the day. Of course, with Chicago being one of the most segregated cities in the nation, this came as no surprise as the issue of race (from the Grant Park Children’s Museum to O.J. to McNabb to the Jena 6) dominated the headlines all week.

Many complained about how the local media treats the areas of the city’s West and South Sides, both with almost predominately African-American neighborhoods.

On the local news, it is not uncommon to see it start off with stories about crime from these parts of town, which has been the case for decades. Every time you turn on the news, or log on to the city’s two newspapers’ websites, you see stories about who got murdered, shot, or raped. One murder reported on one of the papers’ websites recently even got the location wrong. What is the point of this? To drive web traffic? For TV ratings?

You are correct, Oh great one!

And the media bias even extends into the South Suburbs,which are being portrayed as “economically struggling”, even though Flossmoor, Olympia Fields, Richton Park, Country Club Hills, and Matteson are among Chicago suburbs with the highest incomes, with many of those high-income earners African-Americans. Is racism at work here? Well, duh?

Then there was the issue of minority hiring at these outlets and the way minorities are treated there. One lady who spoke at the hearing claimed that she is being racially harassed at a TV station she works and had to file a complaint with the EEOC.

Another issue was minority ownership. Chicago is the largest major market with the fewest minority owners in the country. The only black radio station owner in town is Melody Spann-Cooper, who owns Talk outlet WVON-AM, and broadcasts on 1690-AM through a sub-leasing deal with Clear Channel. The historic Chicago Defender is on life support and now run from Detroit. The new media incentives on the paper’s website heralded by publisher Roland Martin (such as video and podcasts) were disassembled after he left. Many are calling for the restoration of the minority tax certificate, which was abolished in 1995.

There were a host of other issues as well. There were complaints about radio, particularly with many local independent artists and labels, slamming local stations for refusing them airplay. One even charged the industry with payola, with an artist claiming that a local mixer at a station was charging them $25,000 for one play. Others complained about the same songs being played repeatedly and too many commercials. Even old-school rapper KRS-One called out WGCI.

And to top it off, radio is giving talentless hack Britney Spears a shot to return to her former glory. You know you smell a rat when her single Gimme More has been declared a “success” by a dying medium. You don’t know which one is more desperate. Even in her decrepit condition, she can get on the radio while more deserving independent artists can’t. That rat must be paying for Spears’ freight.

And yes, there were complaints about cable TV, from lack of a la carte to how minorities are portrayed on BET and VH1.

Hispanic broadcasters didn’t go unscathed, either. One Hispanic individual complained about the domination Univision had over the Spanish-speaking market; others complained about NBC Universal’s ownership of Telemundo, and layoffs at its WSNS-TV in Chicago.

And there was the subject of the Iraq War. Many complained about how news have become nothing but propaganda machines – not allowing contradicting views of the war. Many want the Fairness Doctrine restored.

And there were more complaints, from the lightning to how many minutes people got to speak.

But there were defenders of the media there as well. Many TV and radio stations trotted out their employees and charitable organizations that works with these companies. Former WGCI boss Marv Dyson blamed radio’s problems not on consolidation, but on the “me too” attitude that plagues the medium. He supports consolidation, but not until a significant amount of minority ownership has been achieved.

But one thing that irked yours truly were the number of those praising the corporations that owned these media outlets – people who are truly hacks. The lone exception was WGN-AM host John Williams, who made a good point about the radio station losing its localism if it was forced to be sold off .

As you know, The Tribune Co. is in the process of being sold to billionaire Sam Zell, and he needs FCC approval to keep his properties – WGN-AM, WGN-TV, and the Chicago Tribune – intact. While the cross-ownership rules bar one company from owning a radio, TV and a newspaper in one market, Tribune’s combo was grandfathered in – they owned the properties before 1975 when the rule took effect.

Zell got support from many prominent Illinois politicians, including Democratic senator Dick Durbin, and chances that the Tribune will be busted up is unlikely.

The interesting thing about the meetings Thursday is what wasn’t brought up. The XM/Sirius merger for one – how is this going to effect customers of satellite radio? What about the shoddy reporting of the Sun-Times- who like the rest of the media- don’t give a damn about Chicago. Who else could give Jay Mariotti a prominent position at the paper so he can use it for personal attacks?

Or WGCI’s firing of morning personality Howard McGee for syndicated lout Steve Harvey? A clear example of getting rid of a local voice for one from New York and one who doesn’t know much about Chicago, despite having a local show here in the mid 1990’s. McGee’s firing came despite the fact he was number one in adults 18-34 demo for his morning show.

And of course, what about former WMAQ-TV reporter Amy Jacobson appearing at the Stebic house last July wearing a bikini, caught on tape by rival WBBM-TV, which was there in the neighbor’s yard only to embarrass her. WMAQ didn’t do itself no favors, by firing Jacobson.

XM/Sirius aside, all of this demonstrates that Chicago is sick of big media, their antics, and the way they treat our communities. We are tired, mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore!

The sad part about all this is the FCC (at least the commissioners not named Adlestein or Copps), looked like they were hardly interested. They acted like we were a bunch of whiny individuals who need to get a life.

Bullshit. Chicago’s residents – from all walks of life – all colors, all religions – want better from the companies who serve us through the public airwaves – the airwaves WE OWN. The FCC mission is to make decisions regarding telecommunications that serve the public interest, not major corporations.

While the FCC is hell bent on answering for right-wing groups like the Parents Television Council on indecency, it won’t do a damn thing for anyone else, particularly minorities, who clearly lack representation in media and is a more pressing issue. You guys are not doing your job.

Let me cut to the point: either do your job to serve the public interest, or we’ll elect politicians in 2008 who will no doubt replace you.

To listen to some of the testimony from the hearing (and KRS-One calling out WGCI), click here (thanks to StopBigMedia.com)