From September 21 - 23, media activists from across the country converged in San Francisco for a historic protest at the annual radio convention of the National Association of Broadcasters' (NAB), culminating in a march and rally on September 23 attended by well over 1,000 people.
FAIR endorsed and played an active role in the demonstrations, as did a broad slate of media, labor and human rights groups; the San Francisco-based Media Alliance was one of the key organizers.
Activists gathered to spotlight the undemocratic activities of the NAB, which is the principal lobbying and membership organization of the broadcast industry and one of the most powerful interests in Washington. According to the Center for Public Integrity, the NAB has spent $16.9 million since 1996 on pressuring lawmakers to assure corporate control of the airwaves.
It's thanks in large part to the NAB that telecommunications deregulation has proceeded with such dizzying speed in recent years. The NAB has also worked diligently to block pro-democracy measures like low power radio and campaign finance reform.
Nine activists were arrested during the protests, including Steve Rendall, FAIR's senior analyst and co-host of CounterSpin. In addition, three National Lawyers Guild (NLG) representatives were arrested while negotiating with police for access to their clients, the imprisoned activists.
On Friday, September 22, about a hundred people rallied peacefully at the main entrance to the Moscone Center, where the NAB convention was being held. Activists used creative theatre and chants-- such as "NAB, FCC, K-I-S-S-I-N-G"-- to dramatize their concerns, and offered fliers to convention delegates. Four activists locked themselves together in front of the building and were arrested.
Meanwhile, two activists gained access to the convention and disrupted the NAB's Congressional Breakfast by grabbing the microphone from NAB President Edward O. Fritts. They were not arrested, but security dragged them from the room and placed their hands over the activists' mouths to prevent them from voicing their concerns about the NAB's disruption of free speech.
After the rally, the group began a march to the headquarters of KYLD (94.9 FM), a station owned by Clear Channel, the largest radio company in the country. En route to the radio station, police ordered the marchers to leave the street and stand only on the sidewalk. As marchers attempted to comply, police became confrontational, attacking one man (later arrested) and arresting two others, including Rendall, who was arrested while following police instructions to return to the curb.
Ironically, KYLD's response to the arrival of people protesting Clear Channel's abuse of the public airwaves was to send two members of the station's morning show crew out to abuse the public directly. The two men attempted to initiate a physical fight, verbally abusing and shoving protesters. Police did not attempt to discourage the KYLD crew's aggression, though they did arrest two more activists when the marchers began to voluntarily disperse.
Arrestees spent between nine and 16 hours in jail before being released. All charges have been dropped against the nine activists, but at this writing the three NLG lawyers arrested while attempting to gain access to their clients still face misdemeanor battery charges for allegedly hitting or touching a police officer. One police spokesperson told the San Francisco Chronicle (9/23/00) that the three had been denied access to the jail because they had been "marching with the demonstration and voicing their opinion," and were therefore protesters, not lawyers. (NLG representatives routinely accompany demonstrations as legal observers.)
Saturday's events-- at which there were no arrests-- drew well over a thousand participants and included an energetic rally at San Francisco's U.N. Plaza, a march to Union Square and an impromptu demonstration in front of a hotel where many NAB delegates were staying. Featured speakers included Jello Biafra, Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman, Kevin Danaher of Global Exchange and FAIR's Steve Rendall. The satirical "Billionaires for More Media Mergers" staged a mock counter-protest, urging citizens to "Stay on your couches and off the streets!" and stating that six controlling media corporations are four too many, advocating instead for a "more efficient" duopoly on the Coke/Pepsi model.
Also on Saturday, a coalition of media activists and public radio listeners attended a National Public Radio (NPR) board meeting to rebuke NPR for its relentless lobbying against low power radio. Low power radio advocates held a press conference to initiate an "un-pledge drive," in which they called on public radio listeners to withhold their pledges until NPR reverses its opposition to low power FM service. "We're sorry that it had to come to this," says Peter Franck of the NLG Center for Democratic Communications, but NPR "must be stopped before they destroy America's best chance in twenty years for neighborhood radio."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the corporate media have responded to protests against their own power with a news blackout. The NAB protests received no mainstream press or broadcast coverage outside the Bay Area, and precious little press attention even locally. As one sign at the demonstrations proclaimed, "The television will not be revolutionized"-- at least, not if the corporate media represented by the NAB get their way. But activists seemed undiscouraged; one popular chant was "NAB, we won't rest, till you broadcast our protest."
Want to give the NAB a piece of your mind? Check out FAIR's open letter for more details and NAB contact info.
For more background information, see FAIR's NAB resources.
For non-corporate coverage of the protests, visit the San Francisco Independent Media Center.