Oct 2 2000

NAB 2000

San Francisco Chronicle Gives Short Shrift to NAB Protests

In what amounts to a news blackout, the September 21 – 23 demonstrations at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) convention in San Franciscoreceived no coverage in any major mainstream press or broadcast outletsoutside the Bay Area.

Given that the protests were meant to spotlight the undemocratic activitiesof the NAB and of corporate media in general, the lack of coverage isdeplorable but perhaps not a surprise. What’s more remarkable is that eventhe city’s major hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle, ran no newsstories focusing on the demonstrations.

The Chronicle‘s coverage consisted of one news article detailing the arrestof three National Lawyers Guild representatives who were attempting to gainaccess to jailed protesters (9/23/00) and one item reporting (incorrectly,as it turns out) that all charges against the nine arrested protesters hadbeen dropped (9/26/00). Before the protests, the paper also ran an op-edaddressing the local impact of the NAB’s lobbying (9/18/00).

While the opinion piece was welcome, the Chronicle‘s news pages havedevoted only half a sentence to activists’ political concerns (9/23/00),noting that the arrests had occurred while protesters were attempting “tocall attention to what they contend is government sanctioning ofmonopolization of the airwaves.”

In contrast, San Francisco’s alternative weekly, the Bay Guardian, featuredextensive coverage of the NAB protests and the issues behind them. The San Francisco Examiner‘s coverage was less in-depth, but still outpaced the Chronicle‘s, with three news articles about the issues behind the protests(9/20/00, 9/21/00, 9/24/00), one noting the four earliest arrests (9/22/00)and one examining the NAB’s revocation of the press credentials held by Bay Guardian reporter Steve Rhodes and other independent journalists (9/26/00).

The NAB’s expulsion of Rhodes and other independent media from the MosconeCenter, the site of the convention, is itself newsworthy and should alarmjournalists everywhere. A credentialed reporter for the Bay Guardian,Rhodes had his press credentials seized while he was photographing fouractivists who had locked themselves together in the Moscone Centerentranceway.

When Rhodes requested an explanation, the NAB’s Jack Knebel told him “Youare part of the problem.” “I told him again that I was a reporter for the Bay Guardian,” writes Rhodes, “and he repeated that I was part of the problem.” Police escorted him out of the building under threat of arrest.

An NAB PR official has since apologized for the incident, as has SanFrancisco Police Chief Fred Lau. The Society of Professional Journalists has spoken out strongly against the NAB’s actions (Bay Guardian, 9/27/00), noting that when a group “whose members control the vast majority of broadcast news outlets nationwide considers working journalists to be part of the problem, then the American media has reached a sad and scary state of affairs indeed.” But no mainstream media other than the San Francisco Examiner have covered the NAB’s decision to ban selected members of the press.

Another underreported story is the fate of those activists arrested duringthe demonstrations. FAIR’s September 26 update on the protests reported thatall charges against the demonstrators had been dropped; unfortunately, thatinformation was based on false statements made by the San Francisco districtattorney’s office to the Lawyers Guild.

In fact, the DA is pressing misdemeanor vandalism charges against twoactivists arrested during the September 22 demonstration outside thebuilding housing Clear Channel radio stations KYLD and KMEL. The glass paneof a door to the station was cracked– it is unclear by whom– during aconfrontation in which KYLD “Doghouse” morning show crew members Dan “Elvis”Lay and Joseph “Big Joe” Lopez shoved and verbally abused demonstrators,apparently broadcasting the incident on their morning radio show. (SeeFAIR’s September 26 Activism Update.) Lopez and one other crew member haverecently been charged by police for another, unrelated “prank.” Charges arenot being pressed, however, against Lay and Lopez for their actions during the Clear Channel protests.

The Chronicle has not followed up or corrected its September 26 story, “City Drops Charges Against NAB Protesters.”

ACTION: Please contact the San Francisco Chronicle and ask why its news coverage ignored the substance of the media democracy protests against the NAB. You might also urge them to follow up continuing stories emerging from the protests, such as the NAB’s press credentials policy and the DA’s prosecution of the activists arrested at Clear Channel.

CONTACT:Matthew Wilson, Executive EditorSan Francisco Chroniclemfw@sfgate.comPhone: 415-777-1111Fax: 415-896-1107

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc your correspondence to fair@fair.org.

For more information on the NAB and the protests, see FAIR’s NAB resources

For more details on the incident at KYLD, see FAIR’s open letter to Clear Channel

For non-corporate coverage of the protests, visit the San FranciscoIndependent Media Center

See also Steve Rhodes’ full account of his expulsion from the Moscone Center