The Grand Rapids Community Media Center (GRCMC) has an interview with Jeff Smith of the Grand Rapids Institute for Democracy (GRIID) on the status of GRIID’s FCC license renewal campaign. The interview, published in the August 2005 issue of the GRCMC’s Catalyst newsletter provides an update on where the campaign is at and how citizens can get involved:
Catalyst: Give us an update on the campaign tell us what is happening:
Jeff Smith: Every eight years, broadcasters have to renew their licenses with the FCC in order to operate in the public interest, convenience and necessity.
Catalyst: Do all broadcasters have to renew at the same time?
Jeff Smith: It’s staged by regions of the country, 2005 is for licenses renewals for Michigan’s television broadcasters. We’ve presented to over 40 groups in the past year and what we’ve found since then are the following observations:
- Almost everybody we talk to had no idea that the airwaves were public property, they thought the companies who use them own them.
- Since people thought broadcasters own the airwaves, they didn’t realize that they have an obligation to the public. People didn’t realize that there are certain things that in the language of the FCC is serving the “public interest, convenience and necessity.” While this language that is somewhat vague and never really been worked out what that means in much detail except for a few instances. For example every TV broadcaster has to put a minimum of 3 hours a week of children’s educational programming on their channel. And they have to identify it as educational programming. If they don’t do that it’s grounds to have their license taken away from them.
So people aren’t aware of the obligations which includes the idea that broadcasters are required to keep a public file that anyone in their area has a right to come see the public file. If the broadcaster doesn’t let you see that that’s grounds to have their license taken away. All these are simple things that people just don’t know and stations aren’t telling them.
- It’s not that people didn’t have a sense that there are problems, flaws or failures in particular TV news programming, regarding what information is being given to the public. But when you can present folks with hard data and content analysis over several years, 7 in particular from GRIID alone, then they are like, OK, I suspected that they weren’t really giving us very good election coverage but I didn’t know to what degree that meant. That solidified for a lot of people the already growing suspicion that they don’t have a lot of confidence in news media anyhow.
Every where we go during the campaign people have been very excited when they realize there is not only a certain level of transparency required of broadcasters but there are possibilities for accountability. The campaign has been a very good organizing and educational tool, irregardless of the outcome, it’s been a very good for raising awareness in general and bringing more attention to the community media philosophy of making media and thinking critically about it.