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photoessay: MEDIA DEMOCRACY ACITIVISTS CHALLENGE FCC! by Hans Bennett (english)
05 Mar 2003
On Feb.27 FCC hearings in Richmond Virginia were met with protesters and a public unified against the elimination of laws preventing media monopolies.
On Feb.27 FCC hearings in Richmond Virginia were met with protesters and a public unified against the elimination of laws preventing media monopolies.
In this photo, mother and daughter hold protest sign outside of FCC hearings. To view all photos from the day please link to:

Protesters link media issues to war, poverty, racism, and more
by Hans Bennett

On Feb. 27, the FCC held an open hearing regarding a controversial upcoming decision which critics of the FCC argue might put the control of the mass media in the hands of a few media conglomerates. The FCC is considering eliminating rules that prohibit the same company from owning daily newspapers and TV stations in the same market, that bar any one broadcast company that reach more than a combined 35 percent of the households in the country, and that prevent the four major broadcast networks from merging with each other.

Prometheus Radio Project (who spearheaded the 15 person delegation from Philadelphia has described this as “the most comprehensive reexamination of rules affecting media ownership in the agency’s history.” Philadelphia’s Prometheus Radio and other media democracy organizations from around the country (including upstate New York, Maryland, Michigan, and Chicago) traveled to Richmond, Virginia for the hearings and a morning demonstration. They were joined by several Richmond media organizations including Free Radio Richmond.

Gathering directly outside the hearings, the protesters dressed up as mad scientists in response to FCC Chair Michael Powell, who had stated earlier that much of the input from the public regarding the upcoming decision had been too “emotional” and “political.” He said he was only interested in listening to “scientific” and “empirical” studies.

Shivaani Selvaraj, lead organizer with Prometheus Radio Project in Philadelphia stated, “This will be a landmark decision that could radically change the landscape of media in this country. We’re here to show the Commissioners that the public refuses to be left out of this debate! It’s not that we’re against science. We don’t think that the FCC’s twelve commissioned studies focusing exclusively on markets and consumers constitute science. Commissioner Copps earlier warned us that they don’t know the potential implications for their actions. The FCC must extend their period for research and to hear more from the public.”

“And we have the example of radio to look to. Everyone knows that radio sucks. All the radio markets are oligopolies... Do we want media that carries a singular viewpoint? And what about news and programs that focus on regular working people, people of color, poor people, and children?”

These media democracy activists linked media issues to many different political issues. Many addressed the role the media plays in US foreign policy. One protester had recently returned from Palestine where she acted as a “human shield” to deter Israeli military violence upon Palestinians. She told me that “The realities of the military occupation of Palestine really aren’t presented by the media we see in this country. We hear about terrorists and the language of fear-mongering promoted by the government. We really don’t see what the daily lives of Palestinians are like. 3 million Palestinians are living under siege, but we are led to believe the opposite: that Israel (funded by billions of US dollars) is under siege from Palestinian attacks. US citizens bear a great responsibility in that part of the world because so many tax dollars are going there.”

Inside the hearing, several speakers from the public spoke argued that US corporate media censorship has silenced those challenging Pres. Bush’s current move to escalate the bombing of Iraq. Two representatives from the Anti-War Video Fund spoke about the Comcast corporation’s recent blocking of a commercial they produced. Set to be aired the night of Bush’s State of the Union Address (where he was making his case for war on Iraq), it contained interviews with rather mainstream US citizens voicing their opposition to the war drive.

While Operation Desert Storm killed between 100,000 and 200,000 Iraqis, the subsequent sanctions and bombings have persisted as never-ending "low-intensity" warfare against the Iraqi people. Aerial bombings committed by the US and British militaries in the name of enforcing "No Fly Zones" that were never authorized by the UN and are therefore illegal have been killing people since the early 1990s. Still, these bombings have primarily had psychological effects. The real death and destruction have come in the form of economic sanctions. These sanctions have done nothing to loosen the Saddam Hussein's dictatorial control over the nation. What they have done is claim the lives of over 500,000 innocent children and over one million people overall, according to a 1996 UNICEF report. Sanctions make it difficult for most Iraqis to access nutritious food, clean water and adequate healthcare. These problems are exacerbated even further by radioactive depleted uranium (DU) dust left over from exploded US and British DU ammunition from the 1991 war.

During the open-mic session inside the hearings, Herb Avram, editor of Philadelphia’s INSUBORDINATION magazine spoke about the lack of diversity in regards to the media’s coverage of the war on Iraq. “Despite the millions around the world that demonstrated on Feb.15 against escalating the bombing of Iraq, Bush has said he will attack without UN support—in violation of international law. The fundamental illegality and mass-murder of Desert Storm 2 has not been adequately addressed by the corporate media giants.”

Arguing that “US mainstream media coverage of US wars has never been good,” Avram said that “the proposed consolidation will make community access to alternative information even worse.” Part of the “mad scientist” contingent from Philadelphia, Avram addressed the FCC chairman’s stated desire to see “scientific” criticism. “One of the clearest EMPIRICAL examples of US military ties to the media machine is the fact that FCC chair Michael Powell is the son of war criminal Colin Powell. When the Secretary of State presented supposedly rock solid proof of the imminent threat from Iraq, the corporate media did not challenge his statements.”

When Avram was beginning to cite UN Inspector Hans Blix’s description of US intelligence on Iraq as “garbage,” he was cut off a minute early from the FCC moderator and told he was out of time.

Not one speaker from the public open-mic session expressed support for further relaxation of laws restricting media consolidation. They were joined by a handful of the 15 panelists invited to speak by the FCC who opposed the decision. Among the 4 Commissioners that sat with FCC Chair Powell, Congressman Michael Copps (one of the main figures pushing for the public hearings) was the most sympathetic to the views of the public expressed through the open-mic session. At one point he accused a panelist representing the Bear Stearns Corporation of evading his question of whether or not the FCC move would concentrate the media in the hands of only a few people. When he later made a joke about media consolidation, he drew loud applause and laughter from the crowd.

The FCC’s decision on this controversial issue remains to be seen. Other media democracy organizations are beginning to organize around the country to make sure that they have some input in the decisions. On March 7, Public Enemy rapper and writer Chuck D and others will be at an unofficial hearing in Seattle, WA. For certain, this is a controversial issue that will be at the forefront of many minds in the next few months.

For another essay written about the FCC hearing please link to:

Hans Bennett is an anarchist and independent photojournalist currently working with the Philadelphia-based INSUBORDINATION and AWOL magazines. His work has also appeared in publications such as Alternative Press Review, Maximum Rock n Roll, SF Bayview, LiP, Earth First! Journal, Anarchy, and the San Jose Mercury News.
Hans can be reached via email: destroycapitalism (at)
Or : c/o INSUBORDINATION, po box 30770, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

To view his recent photoessay documenting the Feb.15 NY anti-war demo, please link to:

To view Hans’ recent photoessay about the AWOL Magazine “Not in Our Name” anti-war benefit concert featuring Chuck D, Ani Di Franco, Saul Williams, Michael Franti, and more, please link to:

To view a partial archive of Hans’ work please link to:

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