WASHINGTON – Putting aside their own competitive interests, representatives of more than two dozen of the nation’s top talk shows held an unprecedented private meeting over the weekend to brainstorm strategies against what they agreed are government plans by to squelch critical political speech on radio.
Organized by Brad O’Leary, author of the new book, “Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech,” and Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND, the group chose one attendee to be spokesman and chairman of the coalition – syndicated host Roger Hedgecock of San Diego.
A daylong discussion today focused on what was described as the “imminent threat” of so-called “localism” requirements that will subject radio programming to the review by panels of community activists who will evaluate station content. These panels will be empowered to make recommendations for programming changes and challenge at the Federal Communications Commission the licenses renewals of stations that don’t heed their advice.
Last month, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., submitted an amendment to the D.C. Voting Bill which would require the FCC to “encourage and promote diversity in … media ownership” and reaffirm FCC authority to mandate the presentation “of opposing points of view on issues of public importance.”
Also of concern to the hosts and producers gathered in the nation’s capital was a decision last week by Clear Channel, the nation’s largest owner of radio stations, to mandate the creation of local advisory boards by June at all of its properties. The move was seen as pre-emptive as the industry anticipates an FCC stacked with Barack Obama appointees will soon require stations to answer to panels of community activists.
In February, the FCC floated several proposals to require stations to better serve local communities, including establishing community advisory boards to consult stations on programming.
“We are materially increasing our commitment to community programming, increasing our accountability and broadening our public-service contributions in every local market we serve,” said John Hogan, president and chief executive officer of Clear Channel. “We believe when radio focuses on servicing local communities, it is radio at its finest.”
Going forward, Clear Channel stations will be required to air a total of 12 minutes of public service announcements daily and 84 minutes per week. Community leaders will be invited to submit information for future PSAs. In addition, the company will choose one national cause to be highlighted company-wide each quarter for coordinated campaigns.
The FCC is currently composed of two Democrat and two Republican commissioners. Obama has nominated a new chairman, Julius Genachowski, which would give Democrats a 3-2 majority once he is confirmed.
As WND previously reported, Genachowski advocates creating new media ownership rules that promote a diversity of voices on the airwaves. In fact, Genachowski is credited with helping craft the Obama technology agenda, which states: “Encourage diversity in the ownership of broadcast media, promote the development of new media outlets for expression of diverse viewpoints, and clarify the public interest obligations of broadcasters who occupy the nation’s spectrum.”
“Such language is bureaucratese for government control,” says O’Leary. “So-called ‘public interest’ requirements would put broadcasters at the mercy of local review boards. Such boards would, of course, be politically charged entities with the power to bar any broadcast content that is not deemed to be in the ‘public interest’ of the local community.”
O’Leary says the plan amounts to the development of party-approved “commissar committees” to censor the kind of lively and free-wheeling debate America has known since the scrapping of the so-called “Fairness Doctrine” by President Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission in 1987.
By demanding radio stations answer to local community watchdog boards to ensure programming is “balanced,” “fair,” “diverse,” “tolerant” and “serving the public interest locally,” O’Leary says the rules and legislation being planned will once again make talk radio accountable to politicians, political activists and bureaucrats at the FCC.
Hedgecock, also a WND columnist, called for the creation of a national “tea party-style” grass-roots movement to subvert plans he and the other participants agreed were direct, frontal assaults on First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
Representatives of the FCC and the Obama administration were unavailable for comment over the weekend.