Propaganda Review 2 Start,'Speak No Evil', by Michael Miley, (Part 1 of 3) MICHAEL MILEY,

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Propaganda Review 2 Start,"Speak No Evil", by Michael Miley, (Part 1 of 3) MICHAEL MILEY, former anchor for Radio Free Chicago on Loyola University of Chicago radio station WLUW, was twice thrown off the air for alleged indecency: once for airing the poetry of Carolyn Forche from "The Country Between Us," and a second time for airing an interview with a right-wing death-squad member from El Salvador. *** "Speak No Evil" by Michael Miley The history of FCC harassment of Pacifica has been unrelenting during the nearly 40 years since the network was created. Today, once again, Pacifica feels the need to undertake the administrative and financial burdens of fighting this latest FCC assault. And, once again, it seems entitled to prevail." --Nicholas Johnson, former FCC Commissioner, Washington Journalism Review, July/Aug 1987. In April 1987, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) launched an assault on the airwaves, dramatically broadening its definition of obscenity and indecency and withdrawing a 10 p.m. "safe harbor" for adult broadcasting. The crackdown came on the heels of a single complaint lodged against Pacifica Foundation's KPFK radio station in Los Angeles, as well as complaints against two other stations that had allegedly broadcast indecent shows. The new restrictions stirred broad controversy in the media over questions of constitutionality. But what the hullabaloo largely ignored was an even more sinister subtext: evidence supporting Pacificas claims of political harassment and of illegal collusion between the FCC and right-wing evangelical groups in efforts to engineer the crackdown. The first claim can be supported by a glance at the long history of FCC, Congressional, and right-wing harassment of the Pacifica Foundation, which operates five progressive radio stations. (See sidebar.). The second is substantiated by documents recently released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil Pacifica's most recent trouble began in the evening of August 31, 1986, after 10 p.m., when an excerpt from the play The Jerker by gay activist Robert Chesley was aired on KPFK. The excerpt, part of a program geared for gays about safe sex, dealt with two men with AIDS who share their fantasies over the phone, masturbating to satisfy themselves without contact. The play is poignant and graphic, its language explicit; nonetheless, it won high praises from the New York Times and many other publications. It just so happened--so the pro-censorship version of the story goes--that while driving home from the airport that night with his teenage son, the Reverend Larry Poland, president of the Christian right-wing anti-porn mediawatch organization called Mastermedia International, tuned into KPFK with his automatic search radio. He was appalled, he says, by what he heard. He noted all instances of four-letter words, and the next day sent off an angry letter to the FCC urging action against Pacifica. An ax was in motion. By April, the FCC issued its Memorandum Opinion and Order warning Pacifica that The Jerker broadcast had violated the indecency law, and that the broadcast was "actionable under the indecency standard as clarified today." That "clarification" amounted to a set of new guidelines. Future violations, said the FCC, could lead to revocation of Pacifica's license. The FCC also referred the Pacifica case to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Pacifica immediately arranged criminal defense attorneys for the parties involved and hired others to appeal the ruling on First Amendment and other grounds: KPFK had aired the show after 10 p.m., with all the requisite warnings, under the FCC guidelines in effect at the time; any change in FCC policy could not be applied retroactively. Furthermore, the changes in policy came without prior public or private hearings--a violation of the federal Administrative Procedures Act. The appeal was largely successful. In December, the case for criminal prosecution was dropped by the Justice Department and the FCC announced it had removed legal sanctions against Pacifica. The Commission took pains, however, to declare that it considered the broadcast of The Jerker indecent, and it has not backed down from its attack on adult broadcasting. The Right Foot of the FCC Meanwhile, Pacifica had begun to unravel secret maneuverings between the FCC and the religious right that had preceded the crackdown. In May 1987, Pacifica's lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California filed FOIA requests with the FCC for all papers surrounding the ruling and the changes in policy. They specifically requested all memoranda, logs, calendars, notes pertaining to meetings and phone conversations, and correspondence to and from the FCC dated on or after January 1, 1986. The FCC is notoriously slow when it comes to fulfilling FOIA requests, and its compliance with Pacifica's requests was no exception. The delay, in fact, compelled Pacifica to file a lawsuit. A few documents began to arrive and a picture of joint efforts between the FCC and the religious right began to emerge. Their censorship campaign, involving meetings, letters, and phone calls, was planned before Poland's complaint and continued after it--significant because the FCC is prohibited by its ex parte rules from receiving private transactions from a complainant after a complaint has been lodged. End, "Speak No Evil," (Part 1 of 3) Next, Response 21, "Speak No Evil," (Part 2 of 3) ** End of text from cdp:propaganda.rev ** /** propaganda.rev: 7.21 **/ ** Written 10:13 am Nov 9, 1991 by ppaull in cdp:propaganda.rev ** Propaganda Review 2 Start,"Speak No Evil, " (Part 2 of 3) Several key letters were among the documents pried loose by the FOIA request. The first, dated July 9, 1986, was sent to FCC Chair Mark Fowler by Brad Curl, National Director of the National Decency Forum (NDF). Curl thanks Fowler for his time at past meetings and states that the NDF will discontinue opposition to his tenure "in hopes that your assistants might have time to thoroughly research the law and the arguments in favor of our position on FCC decency enforcement." He goes on to tell Fowler that he has "had a good talk with your General Counsel, Jack Smith, and he seems willing to cooperate on some decency actions;" he then agrees to give the FCC what Fowler apparently asked for: "I will take action to publicize the need for more documented citizen complaints. Jack Smith said he would be more than willing to cooperate on a few Tsend a message' cases." The letter winds up revealing past pressures: "If we are satisfied that there is significant response to our deep concerns about the material reaching our children, we will abandon our growing campaign to secure new FCC leadership." The second letter, dated July 23, was written to FCC General Counsel Jack Smith by Paul McGeady, General Counsel for Morality in Media, one of the National Decency Forum's subsidiary organizations. In it, McGeady lays out his case for a more pro-active role for the FCC in enforcing community standards (and in determining these standards itself). He urges action against violators in the form of fines, revocation of licenses, and civil sanctions, since civil suits are so much easier to win than criminal ones. McGeady advises Smith to stop passing the buck to the Justice Department, especially since criminal convictions require that "a transgressor be found guilty Tbeyond a reasonable doubt,'" while civil sanctions only require "preponderance of the evidence" and "clear and convincing" evidence. He notes that the notion of community standards could be applied "without specification as to what community was referred to." A third letter mentions Smith's reply in September 1986 to a letter from Donald Wildmon, executive director of the National Federation for Decency, another NDF progeny. Wildmon had wanted FCC to take action against independent station WPTY-TV in Memphis for its broadcast of the R-rated movie The Rose. Smith's response was, "I do not believe this presents the kind of airtight case that you want to push at this time. We are inquiring into a couple of other cases which we think may be more clear violations. I think you should agree with our reasoning on this matter." Smith later defended this action, saying that "one of the obligations [of the FCC staff] is to inform citizens as to how to file complaints." A fourth letter, particularly damning, was sent by Curl to the then out-going Fowler on February 23, 1987. Curl thanks Fowler for initiating three inquiries and states that "we will be especially grateful if you can complete these three cases before you leave, as you promised me in our last phone conversation." Since this letter was received privately after the complaint for The Jerker broadcast, it too, violates ex parte rules. Though the Reverend Larry Poland has yet to be directly implicated in these behind-the-scenes maneuverings, it's hard to imagine that Mastermedia was exempt from the NDF's call in July 1986 to make documented complaints. Mastermedia would certainly not have left the monitoring of the airwaves to chance; it would target potential offenders. Regardless, Jack Smith phoned Poland a couple of weeks after receipt of his letter to tell him "he's going to be famous," almost commending him for his efforts. The call, another violation of ex parte, certainly suggests that the FCC and Mastermedia were engaged in a joint censorship effort. The Left Foot of the Broadcast Industry After the FCC issued its new restrictive guidelines in April 1987, a petition for reconsideration was filed by the national ACLU, the People for the American Way, and three public television networks (NPR, PBS, and APR). On December 29, the FCC issued an opinion refusing to modify its position and withdrew the notion of a safe harbor altogether. As a result, on January 28 of this year, public television networks and twelve media reform groups joined together to file an appeal of the denial. With Action for Children's TV as the lead appellant, the coalition is charging that the guidelines are "in violation of the First Amendment," "arbitrary and capricious," and "otherwise contrary to the law." Pacifica--which cannot be a formal party in this appeal--is watching it closely. To this date, the FCC has never clarified just what it considers indecent. Journalists never know which words might offend the FCC. Phrases like "up the gazoo" are generally considered candidates for obscenity by broadcasters who are polled; they're also convinced their stations would be shut down if anyone said "eat it" or "stuff it" on the air. When the April rulings went into effect, reporters from the Los Angeles Times asked FCC spokesperson Rosemary Kimball how a station could discern in advance whether its programming was in violation of the FCC's indecency rules. Her response, noted in the June 16, 1987 issue of the Village Voice: "We have nothing to tell them--that TThis is OK' and TThis is not OK.' Basically, we're going to react to programming when there's a complaint [and each situation] will be considered on a case-by-case basis." The result of this arbitrary application of "law" has been an across-the-board chilling of the airwaves. In the meantime, the Pacifica Foundation is building its own case. Despite the fact that it has spent over $100,000 in legal and related fees since The Jerker case began, future battles are on the horizon. "Pacifica sees a fight gearing up over the unconstitutionality of the new FCC guidelines and we're doing all we can to publicize the cultural issues involved," Executive Director David Salniker told Propaganda Review. "In the meantime, we're continuing our investigation surrounding the illegal maneuvers of the FCC and right-wing morality groups that led up to the new rulings." On the other side, Poland has implied in a recent letter to Mastermedia supporters that his organization needs funds for a potentially protracted legal battle. But Salniker doesn't rule out a preemptive legal attack of his own. "Regardless of which strategy we pursue--political or legal or both--we intend to show that the Pacifica Foundation is not a convenient whipping boy for right-wing groups who set about pressuring the FCC." Research assistance for this article was provided by Annette Doornbos, Nanette Leuschel, and Mary Tilson. -30- End, "Speak No Evil" (Part 2 of 3) Next, Response 22, "Speak No Evil" (Part 3 of 3) ** End of text from cdp:propaganda.rev ** /** propaganda.rev: 7.22 **/ ** Written 10:14 am Nov 9, 1991 by ppaull in cdp:propaganda.rev ** Propaganda Review 2 Start, "Speak No Evil" (Part 3 of 3) SIDEBAR: Highlights from a Chronicle of Harassment The Pacifica Foundation has long been under fire from the FCC, Congress, and conservative religious organizations. Since it was created in 1949, by journalist Lewis Hill, Pacifica has been pressured, harassed, threatened and even bombed. A full chronicle of its battles would fill pages. Here are some excerpts. 1954: The US Attorney General impounds the tape of a Pacifica broadcast after a program in which four people describe the effects of marijuana. 1960 - 63: The House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigate Pacifica programming for signs of disloyalty. Suspected artists included Norman Cousins, Carey McWilliams, W.E.B. Dubois, and Herbert Aptheker. 1962: Pacifica's New York station, WBAI, fights back with the first radio or television broadcast ever to present a sustained attack on the FBI and its director J. Edgar Hoover. The program is followed by threats of arrests and bombings, as well as pressure from the FBI, Justice Department, and major broadcast networks. 1964: The FCC renews the licenses of WBAI, KPFA, and KPFK after a three-year delay caused by the investigations. In a major victory for Pacifica, the FCC issued a policy statement barring censorship of "provocative" programs, probes of leftist ties, and obscenity. 1969: Pacifica's application to build a new station in Houston is challenged by the Christ Church Foundation on the grounds of anti-Semitism and obscenity. The application is finally granted in March 1970, and KPFT begins broadcasting. Three months later, the station is bombed. After months of inactivity by federal agents and Houston police, Pacifica mounts a massive media campaign. In October, KPFT is bombed again. Federal agents arrest a former red squad employee and Klansman. He is charged with plotting to blow up KPFA and KPFK, as well as with the KPFT dynamiting, and is sentenced in October 1971. 1975: The FCC challenges a WBAI broadcast of George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words That You Can't Hear on TV." No sanctions are imposed, but the Carlin case sets the limits of broadcasting for over a decade. 1980: A complaint is filed with the FCC against KPFA for its "indecent" programming of a four-part series on sex therapy. The FCC dismisses it, after extensive legal arguments, primarily because the series was aired after 10 p.m. 1987: The post-10 p.m. safe harbor is withdrawn in The Jerker incident. --M.M. RESTRICTIONS: Copyright 1991 by Propaganda Review. All rights reserved under the International Copyright Union, the Universal Copyright Convention, and the PanAmerican Convention. Unauthorized republication is prohibited but reprinting (or reposting in other conferences or networks) of all Propaganda Review articles is encouraged. Please contact Johan Carlisle (jcarlisle), Managing Editor, for permission. Copies of Propaganda Review magazine (with illustrated articles) are available for $6. [Note: issues #1 and #5 are out of print.] For more information, to order back issues, or to subscribe to PR ($20/4 issues; $40-libraries & foreign) contact jcarlisle (via e-mail on PeaceNet), call (415) 332-8369, or write to: PROPAGANDA REVIEW PO Box 1469 Sausalito, CA 94966


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