Grammys: yes to Chicks, no to censorship, consolidation

by Jon Rintels, Huffington Post

Hard to escape the resounding message sent by Grammy voters as they handed five awards to the Dixie Chicks: Take This, Big Media, and Shove It!

As the Chicks themselves chronicled in their Shut Up and Sing documentary, after lead singer and Texan Natalie Maines publicly said in 2003 that the Chicks were "ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas," Clear Channel and Cumulus, two giant media conglomerates owning a combined 1,500+ radio stations, not only banned Chicks music from those stations, but in some cases organized public burnings of their recordings.

The damage to the Chicks' career is incalculable. And, witnessing the corporate media giants' public burning of the Chicks and their music, how many other artists toned-down and censored their own music and public comments? Many, no doubt. So not only was this censorship bad for the Chicks, it was bad for all artists - and, for all Americans.

This textbook example of the harm to the public that results from the Big Media conglomerates' control and censorship of the public airwaves was pointed out at the time not only by progressives, but by - gasp! - Republicans who actually supported the President and his Iraq policies. After Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said he was offended by what the Chicks had said, he went on to tell Cumulus Chairman Lewis W. Dickey Jr. that "to restrain their trade because they exercised their right to free speech to me is remarkable... It's a strong argument about what media concentration has the possibility of doing. If someone else offends you, and you decide to censor those people, my friend, the erosion of our First Amendment is in progress."

Unfortunately, control and censorship of the voices and viewpoints on the public airwaves is hardly the exception. It's just not usually so overt and ham-handed as practiced against the Chicks. But consider how long it has taken the TV networks to finally air the views of other naysayers on the President's Iraq policy. And how long it took for the nets to finally report that even before the war started, many of our own government's top intelligence officers were saying that the evidence of WMD in Iraq was thin, and that the government was twisting intelligence for political purposes.

Was it mere coincidence that at the very same time these big media conglomerates were vilifying the Chicks and/or giving the administration a pass on its Iraq policy, they were also intensely lobbying the administration to free them from the media ownership limits they loathe? One reason these limits are in place is to make sure that a wide diversity of viewpoints and voices have access to our nation's publicly-owned broadcast airwaves. Having diverse viewpoints and voices could provide a necessary counterweight to the Big Media mischief that victimized the Chicks - and the American public -- and turned a MSM that is supposed to be a watch dog on our government into its lap dog.

In 2003, these Big Media conglomerates got what they wanted from the administration when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ignored over three million public comments and eliminated or relaxed those ownership limits. Fortunately, in 2004, a federal appeals court reversed the FCC, calling its decision "arbitrary and capricious.'

Now, the FCC is again planning to gut these media ownership limits. Thanks to Grammy voters for helping us remember this recent past, so that we might act now and not be, as Santayana said, "condemned to repeat it." Send a comment to the FCC telling it to keep the airwaves open to diverse viewpoints and voices by clicking here.

article originally published at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-rintels/grammys-yes-to-chicks-n_b_41053.h....

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey