Day 2.2 at the National Conference for Media Reform

This is about the part of the conference after lunch on Saturday.

Media Policy in a New Congress and Administration

I was back in the same room for the two afternoon sessions.  Moderated by Ben Scott with Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

I don’t know about you but policy discussions can be rather dry and boring.  These gentlemen made it very entertaining and engaging without dumbing anything down.

The early part of the session was about Low Power FM (LPFM), and how this needs to be expanded to reach more communities.  Existing broadcasters claim interference issues, but the FCC has commissioned a study and the science says LPFM will not cause interference problems.  Rep. Doyle has a bill HR 2802 (text) that will accelerate LPFM’s expansion throughout the US.

Here are two quotes from the Commissioners from the December 11, 2007 Third Report and Order.

Copps on still holding the existing commercial broadcasters to their public interests obligations (pdf),

As important as LPFM is, however, let’s never allow ourselves to see it as a complete substitute
for full power service. Nor should we ever be lulled into a mind-set that says, “Well, let low power cover that stuff and let the full power stations continue on their happy way.” The American people still rely on full power stations for much of their news, information and entertainment. And those full power stations are on the air because they pledged to serve the public interest in return for being allowed to make what is still a very good living. The emergence and strengthening of LPFM does not affect our duty, in any shape, manner or form, to ensure that all broadcasters serve the core public interest goals of localism,
competition and diversity.

Adelstein on the local nature of LPFM stations and regulations that promote it (pdf).

In addition to these reforms, we preserve the non-commercial, local nature of LPFM stations by
prohibiting most sales of licenses and outright ban any transfer or assignment of construction permits. Preventing the creation of a market for the sale of LPFM licenses and construction permits will help protect the true local quality and community service orientation of LPFM stations that have made them thrive.

Perhaps more than any measure in this item, I am especially pleased that we have tightened
LPFM ownership rules. Simply put, we cannot allow what has happened to commercial radio to happen to LPFM. Accordingly, I strongly support the fact that we reinstate the restrictions on local LPFM ownership. In doing so, we explicitly recognize that “doing away with the locality restriction could threaten its predominantly local character, in particular the hallmark of the LPFM’s station’s local character, its local origination of programming.” And, equally important, we clarify that repetitious, automated programming does not meet our local origination requirement.

So contact your US Representatives and tell them you support HR 2802 and they should too!

Adelstein also talked about some other regulatory ideas that I think would be great.  That broadcasters must have on their web site, they all have web sites, what actions they are taking to meet their public service obligations.  Also identifying when things are being sponsored especially video news release, those PR  (public relations) pieces that are distributed to “news rooms” to present information in a news
style format.

On the issue of the transition to digital TV, the FCC commissioners are worried about the process the US is taking in this, which is not very thoughtful or coherent.  Copps said that the UK is taking 5 years, doing education in cities, then making a switch on one, just one station in a market/city and seeing if everything is going well.  Thanks to this experience, the US is going to have a test market in Wilmington NC.  Copps also learned from an engineer working on the new antenna on the Empire State building that TVs will have to re-scan on the transition date.  The FCC knew nothing about this, and I couldn’t figure out what it meant.  Does it mean my converter box will need to re-scan for available channels that day, a mild annoyance, but not unsurmountable, or something more troublesome.

Both commissioners addressed programming on the digital stations.  Since existing broadcast stations could have as many of 6 channels, what were they going to do with it?  The commercial broadcasters really have no plan.    As I scan through my TV here in Minneapolis on Sunday afternoon at 2:55 PM I see what they mean.  Our local Public Television station has Chanel 2 and 17.  Channel 2.1 has an informercial like programming on its main channel for pledge drive, and Cleveland Orchestra on 2.2.  On 17.1 – weather, 17.2 MN channel which seems to be very culturally orientated, 17.3 their kids channel,  17.4 their create channel which has lots of cooking and crafts, seems like the programming is very sponsor driven, and 17.5 the channel that is always weather.  Meanwhile channel 4 has paid programming,  channel 5.1 ice skating, channel 5.2 local news rebroadcast, channel 9.1 and 9.2 (channel 9, 23, and 29 all run .1 as HD and .2 as standard defintion) has paid programming, channel 11. 1 is golf, 11.2 is a national weather feed, 23.1 and 23.2 is paid programming, 29.1 and 29.2 is Twins baseball, and 45.1 is paid programming.

So if the commercial broadcast stations can’t fill up one station with programming that isn’t paid, what do think will happen with the 4-6 stations they could utilize.

Owning our Own and Reaching the Masses

This session was hosted by Davey D and the panelists were “Grouchy” Greg Watkins of Allhiphop.com, Arianna Huffington of the Huffingtonpost.com and Lizz Winstead, co-creator, Air America Radio and The Daily Show.

This session wasn’t the most useful to me.  I was hoping to get more about getting people to read this blog.  Huffington said that we could submit blogs to her and her staff would review them for posting on her site.  So that would be a good way for me to get traffic.  Winstead talked about her new on-line show and that is pretty interesting.  I thought Grouch Greg was the most useful of the panelists for getting our message out.  He said know who your audience is and given them the content they want.  He also talked about using the technology (remember not just internet) that your community uses to get information out, text messaging is huge for his community.

On media reform in general there were some great points.  Winstead talked about for some people, some news is shocking, especially if it bursts their world view, and that these folks need baby steps to be brought around, and she uses humor to do that.  There was also the complaint about the lack of follow up questions in what pass for journalism, targeting Wolf Blitzer specifically for this omission.  The other point that was brought up was why are “journalist” asking questions, like “Why did Obama stay with his church after Rev. Wright made comments like he did?”  As Winstead put it, “wondering aloud should not be a profession you are paid for.”  They should be talking to Obama and getting that question answered.

Media Reform Begins with Me

The evening plenary session was a good time, it started at 8 PM and ran until 10:45 PM, like the Oscars it ran late.  There were many good speakers and the emcees were very fun.  Senator Byron Dorgan was very good, so was Michael Copps, and Naomi Klein.  Naomi Klein was my favorite because she talked about how if Obama gets elected that isn’t enough, we have to keep the pressure on as he will have corporate pressures trying to get him to compromise too much.  Basically hold his feet to the fire to have progressive change happen.

Post party at the Kitty Kat Club

I was feeling a bit bummed out on Friday because I didn’t really connect with anyone.  It is a very different feeling from my organization’s conference where I know hundreds of people well and really get out and socialize.  I did better on Saturday and had dinner with Bon of Washington, we had set next to each other for the morning workshops and across the aisle from each other in the afternoon sessions.  At the end of the afternoon sessions Bon and I connected with Papi from DC and we talked about going to the Kitty Kat Club after evening plenary session for the party.  I mentioned that not only did I know where it was, but I had a car, and I wasn’t going to drink (yes this made me a bit popular).    For the plenary session I sat with Bon and his roommate Dennis (through the conference web site) of Iowa.  The four of us went to the Kitty Kat Club for some further socializing.

It was really fun, I met a local reporter with Lavendar who also works with producing plays.  I connected him with Papi who is an award winning playwright.  At one point we left Papi and head down to Blarney to hear a live rock band and met some other conference attendees.  Papi was really appreciative, apparently he connects with people superficially that talk about staying connected, but then at the end of the night are driving away waving to him, not really connecting.  I am going to stay in contact with them, they were all nice guys.

Skipping Sunday

Sunday consisted of one workshop period and the send off session.  There was a good session, and the send off plenary looked good, but the almost 15 hour day of sessions, plus staying out until 2:30 AM, starting at 8 AM, made me a bit burnt out and I skipped the day.

-Josh

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