Opinion - The airwaves belong to the people, not corporations

The FCC should establish a public media trust fund

At WRFG (89.3 FM), Atlanta's community-owned radio station, we stand against sexism, racism, classism, militarism, and anti-immigrant chauvinism. Community radio "educates and informs the public in return for public investment." Commercial media instead sells products for profit.

In the history of capitalism, privatization and consolidation of wealth have led to inequities, poverty, and pain. We have witnessed a relaxation of regulations in virtually everything we've established in America that offers benefits to people rather than corporations. It is said that unregulated concentration of wealth led to today's economic debacle, yet many want more of the same formula.

We've seen this concentration in media. Today, four corporate giants control vast numbers of radio stations and reap billions of dollars at the expense of independent news. The media in America represent corporations. But it doesn't have to be this way.

The radio spectrum is owned by us, the people. Yet the government has allowed commercial interests to monopolize it for free and make billions of dollars while offering next to no public service. This cannot continue.

Democracy demands informed voters. With corporate media, however, we have a population tainted by information delineated by commercial interests rather than the views and opinions of the public. Given that the FCC has failed to regulate media in the public interest, the situation cries for integrity and independence.

Atlanta needs more nonprofit community media and its existing nonprofit media need financial support on an ongoing basis, rather than always having to go to their listeners for contributions, like a bake sale. Here are three recommendations to support and build community media:

First — The government auctioning of radio frequencies is the ultimate in privatization. But these frequencies are owned by the public. Instead of being sold, they should be given to communities across America for public and nonprofit broadcasters and public television.

Second — Commercial media should be required to pay for the use of the frequencies. This is a gift from the public they do not deserve. Substantial license fees from commercial media should immediately be implemented and the fees should go into a trust fund to benefit public media.

Third — There should be a $300 media tax credit, with taxpayers deciding which media entity their money should be assigned to, or it would go into the public media trust fund.

Occupy Wall Street demonstrators protest economic inequities. The occupation of media needs to be included — and that means occupying the FCC and the airwaves to demand that incentives and opportunities be offered to support public radio.

Finally, I agree with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps when he said there should a PBSS — a Public Broadcasting System on Steroids. He said, "That can't be done on the cheap, and we'll hear laments that there's not a lot of extra cash floating around these days. But other nations find ways to support such things. We need to start talking, start planning, now." Indeed. Let's do it!

Heather Gray is a board member and on-air host at 89.3 (WRFG-FM).

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