NOW Foundation Broadcast Project
||We commit to continue building a mass movement where
we are leaders, not followers, of public opinion. We will continue to move
feminist ideals into the mainstream thought, and we will build our media
and new technology capabilities to control our own image and message.
- NOW Declaration of Sentiments, 1998
Did you know that the airwaves are owned by the public, and that Congress recently gave away spectrum (i.e. use of the airwaves) for digital broadcasting to megacorporations? There are only nine controlling media companies, and they own almost every broadcast station, cable channel, magazine and newspaper. Collectively their annual revenues are $115 billion. Yet they pay no rent, no fees, no taxes no charges at all for the use of the public airwaves. And now they are receiving new spectrum worth up to $70 billion as a gift from Congress
Why has Congress given free use of our airwaves to major corporations
for decades? Because broadcasters argue that, in return, they will provide
a public good. They have been obligated to "serve the public interest,
convenience and necessity" for 65 years. Yet 87% of all sound bites from
"experts," such as doctors and lawyers, are male; 92% of these "expert"
men are white. Less than 13% of guests on weekend public affairs programs
are women. Broadcasters are obligated to provide children's educational
programming, yet only 10% of children's educational shows have female stars,
and stations have argued that shows like The Jetsons and Wheel
of Fortune qualify as educational.
New technology will dramatically change what we see and how we interact with our television. Most broadcasters will soon switch to digital technology, which will allow one television station to convert its single station to four or five channels and dramaticallyimprove the sound and picture quality. Internet technology and broadcast technology will merge to make interactive television a reality for the average consumer.
Congress has control of the airwaves. In 1996, they decided to give
the digital spectrum away for free to major corporations. This giveaway
is estimated to be a $40 - $70 billion resource. In return, these major
corporations are supposed to serve the public interest. But the FCC-- the
agency that oversees the spectrum -- has not yet determined what obligations
broadcasters will have to their communities. In fact, on May 1, 1999, the
10 largest television markets began using the new technology, and a hearing
has not even been scheduled to discuss public interest obligations. Broadcasters
have argued that any guidelines for public interest should be voluntary.
NOW Foundation and other civil rights groups are asking for true community
access to the public airwaves.
NOW Foundation Campaign
Through our history, most of the messages that the public receives by and about feminist activists are filtered through the lens of the news media, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a dramatic change. NOW Foundation, and other community groups and voices, ought to have as much access to the public airwaves as Time Warner, Disney, GTE, and other media giants.
NOW Foundation has joined forces with a broad range of organizations to push for well-defined and enforced public interest obligations for broadcasters. First the broadcasters convinced Congress to give them free airwaves in exchange for providing services to the public, and now the networks argue that they ought to be able to decide which public interest obligations they choose to honor. In reality, the public has not gotten any payback for the corporate giveaway and there is not going to be any, unless we band together.
Our current system of media monopoly was established in 1934. New digital
technology gives feminists the most significant opportunity in 65 years
to crack the multinational corporations' stranglehold on television. If
the public demands that the FCC impose real obligations for broadcasters
to serve the public, NOW Foundation and other community voices may have
a space in the new digital technology wave.
Coalition Demands for Better TV
The NOW Foundation is on the steering committee of the People for a Better TV Campaign (www.bettertv.org) which proposes the following mandatory obligations for broadcasters:
1. Educational Programs and Services
Set aside a minimum of 7 hours each week to provide quality educational programs or significant educational services (such as data transmission for schools). Air no more than four commercials, no more than sixty seconds long, per hour during children's programs.
3. Public Affairs and Political Programming
Air one hour of public affairs programming every day per channel with at least an equal emphasis on local issues and needs, including free and fair political discussion. Such programming should air in visible time periods during the day and evening. News shows should not be used to satisfy this public affairs programming requirement.
4. Channel Space for Public Service Media
Set aside channel space for noncommercial media, such as NOW Foundation and other public interest groups.
5. Public Service Announcements
Run one public service announcement for every four commercials, with at least equal emphasis placed on independent and locally produced PSAs addressing a community's local needs and PSAs that have a national focus. PSAs should run in all day parts including in prime time and at other times of peak viewing.
6. A Content Based Ratings System
Provide the public with much more information, from a variety of independent sources, about the nature (such as violent or sexual content) of the programs being broadcast, as they are being broadcast.
7. Financial Support for Public Service Media
Set aside a percent of gross revenue to support noncommercial local and national public service media. Set aside a percent of gross revenue for the station's own public interest programming obligations.
8. Community Outreach and Accountability
Invite public input regarding community needs and interests on a regular basis. The call for requests for public input should be accessible to people with disabilities, including sign interpreters for the deaf and audio services for the blind. Report quarterly to the public on findings. Disclose public interest programming and activities on a quarterly basis, matched against the ascertained community needs and interests.
10. Reporting on Diversity Efforts
Make an effort to reflect the nation's diversity in programming, political discourse, hiring, promotion, and business opportunities within the industry. Report quarterly to the public on these efforts.
11. Closed Captioning and Descriptive Services
Provide more closed captioning and descriptive services for the blind.
12. Privacy Protection
Give consumers the power to prevent the collection of information about their personal program or product choices.
13. Rate Protection
Abide by the Federal Communications Commission regulation of rates for pay perview programs.