By Sue Wilson
Special to The Bee
The First Amendment protection of freedom of speech is a treasure. I stand up for the rights of Rush Limbaugh, Garry Trudeau, Bill Maher and everyone else to have their say, whether I agree or not (outside incitement to violence). I do not condone censorship.
But private censorship has crept into our public airwaves, and we must stand against it.
I’m not talking about newspapers that didn’t print Trudeau’s Doonesbury strip, a daily 30-second read. Newspapers are private enterprise: Anyone with enough capital can start a newspaper and write what they will. Nor cable programs like “Real Time with Bill Maher,” which produced 35 hours of lefty snark in 2011. Cable TV is private enterprise: when people write a check to Comcast or Direct TV, they pay private contractors, via cable or satellite, to bring programs from Playboy to Disney into their homes.
I’m talking about local TV and especially local radio, where a host like Limbaugh dominates the dial with right-wing commentary for about 750 hours each year. Broadcasting is a public-private partnership: The public owns the airwaves needed for transmission; private businesses own the buildings, equipment, etc. needed to broadcast programming. When private business goes into broadcasting, it makes a deal with the public: a free license from the Federal Communication Commission if it agrees to “serve the public interest, convenience and necessity.”
Broadcasting differs from newspapers and cable; the number of frequencies available in one community are few, so only a limited number of local stations are possible. Physical scarcity is the foundation of all broadcast law.
In Sacramento, Clear Channel Communications broadcasts about 190 hours per week of one-sided political talk over three giant stations, KFBK-AM, KGBY-FM and AMFM Holding’s KSTE-AM. Clear Channel management disputed that at a recent meeting with Media Action Center, Sacramento Media Group and Occupy Sacramento. But general manager Jeff Holden said he’s very comfortable airing only one-sided political talk on three stations – during an election year.
But Clear Channel is violating the First Amendment rights of all who equally own the public airwaves, disagree with right-wing politics, but are not allowed to be heard at all. It is a matter of access, says the Supreme Court.