On November 1, 2005, Chicago Media Action with our colleagues at the Milwaukee Public Interest Media Coalition filed a petition to deny against eight Chicago-area TV stations during a rare window when it was possible to do so. We were hoping to insert a wedge to open, even if slightly, the long-shut door of television license renewals. In theory, temporary broadcast licenses would be granted to responsible license-holders to be reviewed periodically to serve the undefined terms "public interest, convenience, and necessity", and if license holders didn't meet that standard, the FCC in its power could deny licenses and award those licenses to someone else. In practice, the licenses became eternal fiefdoms to their holders and the renewal process became (and, one could perhaps argue, always was) a sad joke, where renewals were almost always automatically granted and licenses were never, ever rejected. (Understandably so; folks at the FCC tend to go into the media they "regulated". Don't want to upset your future bosses.)
Well, you should never say never. Rejections have happened twice before, but both times the FCC were under orders of an outside court to do so. Both cases are considered landmarks in expanding what meagre public involvement in broadcast licenses there was and is. And we at CMA, with our friends in Milwaukee and our excellent counsel at the Media Access Project, have taken up the cause to expand involvement further -- a cause now in its fifth year. That sounds like a long time, but considering that the famous WLBT case took fifteen years to unfold, we're still somewhat new at this.
We've likened this challenge to a very slow game of table tennis, where we fire a volley, the FCC fires a rejection back, we appeal the rejection, and the process continues. Here's the full sequence to date:
November 1, 2005: Chicago Media Action fires volley #1, the original petition to deny
June 13, 2007: FCC delivers rejection #1, claiming we didn't prove the "bad faith" standard
July 13, 2007: Chicago Media Action fires volley #2, citing new facts
July 13, 2008: FCC delivers rejection #2, claiming that quantitative issues don't apply
August 11, 2008: CMA fires volley #3, calling FCC out on its double-standard
January 12, 2010: FCC delivers rejection #3, claiming that volley #3 is repetitious
February 16, 2010: CMA fires volley #4, repeating FCC's out on its double-standard
On December 10, 2010, the FCC fired rejection #4, claiming that the buzzer has sounded and the clock has run out. But in all this time, the sitting FCC commissioners haven't weighed in, even though by all rights we have the right to appeal to the commission directly. So, as a result, on January 10, 2011 we fired volley #5 where we call on the FCC commissioners to vacate the decision. (Hey, props to Broadcasting & Cable for covering this latest appeal.) It's been so long that the next round of FCC radio station license renewals in its eight-year-long cycle are about to begin.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Here's hoping that the arc of the media activism struggle is long, but likewise bends toward justice.
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