SAN FRANCISCO — Roughly 100 protesters sounded off outside the National Association of Broadcaster’s convention at Moscone Center Thursday morning, mocking those inside, and protesting what they called “corporate control” of the media.
“They see the airwaves not as free speech but as a money-draining system,” said Fairness and Accuracy in the Media Program Director Janine Jackson. “Is the current system working for the people? It’s not working for the people of color who are under-represented and undervalued as an audience. It’s not working for people who want campaign finance reform, so information can be delivered through free airtime instead of million dollar air ads. And it isn’t working for community members – less than one-half of one percent of content on (commercial radio) is local news.”
Protesters conducted a speak out emceed by the “National Association of Brainwashers.” They dressed up as archetypes of corporate and commercial domination of radio and included “Howard Sternum,” who matched his near namesake in both height and crudity. “Hey, I’m on 554 radio stations,” he said. “You think I got there by being smart? Dumb it down; double-oh-dumb, that’s what I say.”
“Rob Berbaron of ‘Billionaires for More Media Mergers’” made an appearance, saying “Two ideas is one too many – but the illusion of choice is very important. Coke and Pepsi! Gore and Bush!”
Then there was a stunning drag queen – who bore a striking resemblance to Terrilyn Joe – representing overly glamorous news anchorwomen everywhere.
The Brainwashers introduced speakers of a more serious nature from FAIR, Media Alliance and Poor Magazine.
“I’ve traveled through a lot of states, and the condition of homeless and poor people in San Francisco is just appalling,” said Barbara Huntley-Smith, an Illinois AIDS worker who is now training at Poor Magazine. “But would the big, mainstream media listen to me? Do I look rich? Do I look like I have money? I’m black, and the media doesn’t think black people have much to say. The only chance I got was at Poor.”
Huntley-Smith wasn’t the only one irked at corporate media for turning a blind eye to certain issues. Carolyn Scarr of Berkeley, with the Ecumenical Peace Institute, showed up with a graphic display meant to draw attention to the ongoing plight of Iraqis under U.S. sanctions, a story she says the NAB has chosen to ignore in favor of “parroting the U.S. State Department.” And a number of Berkeley bicycle organizations rode laps around the convention centers hoping to highlight the vast influence the automobile industry holds over broadcast media.
While many of the protesters were part of larger organizations, more than a few showed up on their own recognizance. Exonerated KPFA protester Khalil Jacobs-Fantauzzi led a field trip of his students at Real Alternative Programs High School to see what goes on inside at the convention and outside at the protests. Brad Johnson trekked all the way up from Modesto to protest NAB-backed legislation currently stalled in the Senate attempting to scrap implementation of low-power FM stations (LPFM or microradio).
“My wife and I and our church applied for an LPFM license; we’re hoping to set up a community radio station,” said Johnson. “The NAB has been spending money on three different bills trying to shoot down LPFM. It’s a vicious monetary circle – NAB sponsors politicians, politicians buy advertising and the money comes back to NAB.”
Also out on his own – well, not quite on his own – was Oakland’s John White. With his two young children in tow, White held a sign reading “Members of the NAB sell my kids’ ears and eyes. We must stop the exploitation.” In support of free speech, White’s son’s sign carried the message the toddler chose to impart: “Let’s go to the zoo.”
The demonstration coincided with the keynote address of Colin Powell at the NAB convention. A spokesperson from the NAB was not available for comment.