Hip Hop community speaks out at Chicago FCC hearing

by Katie Yocum, DaveyD.com

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) came to Chicago, and the Chicago Hip Hop community turned out in full force.

On September 20th, the FCC hosted an historic public hearing on media ownership at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition National Headquarters, featuring two panel presentations and five hours of open mic for public comment. The panel section opened with testimony from legendary Hip Hop artist and author, KRS-ONE, and closed with testimony from Cashus D, of the Universal Zulu Nation and a leader of the Bring Back the Balance campaign. Nearly 800 Chicagoans came out to the hearing, and over 200 citizens signed up to get their 2 minutes at the mic to tell the FCC whether they feel that their communities are being adequately served by local media. The answer was a resounding "no!"

The five FCC Commissioners heard hours of impassioned public testimony, much of which seemed to focus on the idea that a community's media landscape should look and sound like that particular community. But in Chicago, where approximately two-thirds of the people in the city are black and Hispanic and half are women, women and minorities collectively own just six percent of the local Chicago TV and radio stations. According to research from non-partisan media reform organization Free Press, four national media conglomerates, Clear Channel, CBS, Tribune Co. and Bonneville International, dominate the Chicago radio market.

KRS-ONE asked the FCC, "If you have a government that is run by Big Business, how can the FCC get that Business out of radio? Right now, as we speak, I can't get my record played…I would appeal to the FCC to please help me in this situation."

Further, KRS argued: "Our culture is being criminalized by the radio stations… we are not gangstas, pimps, ho's, thugs. This is not who we are. But this is what we're being advertised as, and I think it's a public safety issue because police officers listen to the radio as well…"

KRS-ONE left the room to a standing ovation. When a handful of huge media companies decide what music gets played via automated playlists on radio stations across the country, local culture is either misrepresented or not represented at all.

It is at this intersection of music and culture and FCC policy that I think Hip Hop communities across the country need to continue to be engaged. Hip hoppers have already entered the battle – Immortal Technique rapped about media consolidation on "4th Branch" (on his 2003 album, Revolutionary Vol. 2); Dead Prez articulated a similar frustration on "Radio Freq" (on their 2004 album, Revolutionary But Gangsta); and Hip Hop historian, DJ and activist, DaveyD, has been writing about it for years. Hip Hoppers who are fed up with having their culture gutted and criminalized and misrepresented have a real stake in this fight to change the media landscape, and there are several ways to get involved.

• Learn about the Bring Back the Balance campaign, which was launched in 2006 in solidarity with the Universal Zulu Nation, and which urges Hip Hoppers to band together and demand that urban radio stations diversify their playlists.

• Get informed on the debate through the many organizations that are already working on these issues (Stop Big Media Coalition, Youth Media Council, Reclaim the Media, Future of Music Coalition, Hip Hop Congress, to name a few).

• Join FCC Commissioner Adelstein in the call for the FCC to create an independent panel to address the sorry state of female and minority media ownership in media markets across the country before new regulations allow even further consolidation. File your comments with the FCC here.

• Attend the next public FCC hearing and tell the FCC what you think.

The FCC has held a total of six public hearings across the country to seek public comment on its media ownership rules. This was the first hearing in which the Hip Hop community stepped up to the plate and made a significant impression on the debate, and I hope it's not the last.

To listen to KRS-ONE's testimony, as well as excellent testimony from a few other panelists at the Chicago hearing, go here: www.stopbigmedia.com/=chicago.

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