News Headlines from the Oct. 7 Radioshow

These are the news headlines as read on the Oct. 7 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Clear Channel CEO Says Less Regs for Us, More Regs for the Competition; Resurrection of the Broadcast Flag; FCC Chair Wants to Process Indecency Fines in Bulk; CBC Lockout Almost Over.

Clear Channel CEO Says Less Regs for Us, More Regs for the Competition

Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays apparently has mixed feelings about regulation. Or, perhaps more accurately, he thinks broadcast radio companies like his deserve looser rules, but satellite radio providers need more reigning in.

MaysÂ’ company, which is the largest owner of radio stations in the country, did quite well in the heady days after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 tremendously relaxed radio ownership rules, allowing Clear Channel to amass a stable of over 1200 stations.

But now after overharvesting the radio dials for nine years, Clear ChannelÂ’s profits have been in decline, as listeners flee broadcast radio for alternatives like satellite radio and the internet. The companyÂ’s revenues declined 13 percent in just the second quarter of this year.

Mays thinks the solution for his company is more ownership deregulation. At an October 3 luncheon for the anti-regulation Freedom and Progress Foundation, Mays told the hungry crowd that companies like his ought to be able to own as many as twelve radio stations in the nationÂ’s largest markets. The current limit is eight.

He justified his demand with the argument that, “If XM is allowed to have 150 channels in each market, it is a competitive disadvantage for us to have only eight.”

But it seems like Mays is juggling several different definitions for market. Satellite radio providers like XM have 150 channels for the entire country – part of the appeal of satellite is that they’re the same channels everywhere you go. So, when you take into account that XM’s market is the whole US, then Clear Channel has a total of 1200 channels in that market.

But Mays didnÂ’t stop at asking for seconds at the radio buffet. He also urged more regulation for satellite radio, such as having to obey indecency standards and preventing satellite from offering localized services like traffic, weather and news programming.

Resurrection of the Broadcast Flag
If twenty members of the House of Representatives have their way, your VCRs, DVD recorders and TiVos wonÂ’t record everything you want them to. ThatÂ’s because theyÂ’re urging the House Telecommunications Subcommittee to reinstate the broadcast flag, a technology that allows broadcasters and content producers to embed a signal which prevents electronic devices from recording television or radio programs.

Back in May the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC didnÂ’t have the authority to require electronics manufacturers to implement the broadcast flag in digital video recording equipment. So now the broadcast and entertainment industries are hitting the hallways of Congress to get the flag written into law.

Hollywood says that the broadcast flag is necessary to curtail the unauthorized duplication and sharing of its content. But the broadcast flag would also allow producers to prevent viewers from recording and using programming in ways that are completely legal under copyright law.

Amongst the Congresspeople asking for the broadcast flag are Illinois Representatives John Shimkus and Bobby Rush, and California Reps Mary Bono and George Radanovich.

The advocacy group Public Knowledge is conducting a fax campaign, providing information to help people contact their representatives about the broadcast flag. Their website is

FCC Chair Wants to Process Indecency Fines in Bulk
So far this year the FCC has not issued any fines for broadcast radio or television indecency. But that doesnÂ’t mean there havenÂ’t been any complaints. In fact, the FCC has a backlog of as many as 200 cases waiting for action.

The backlog isnÂ’t just holding up fines for indecency, itÂ’s also holding up the renewal of TV licenses, since a renewal canÂ’t be processed if there is an unresolved indecency complaint against a station.

FCC Chairman Kevin MartinÂ’s solution to the logjam is to allow the renewals to proceed if broadcasters agree to a three year extension for possible action on the complaints. Such a deal would allow Martin to retain leverage on the indecency issue, while removing a barrier to the sale of stations that are held up waiting for license renewals.

Then Martin would like the Commissioners to deal with indecency complaints in bunches, rather than one-at-a-time. Typically, complaints are handled piecemeal by the enforcement bureau, with the full commission weighing in on challenges to decisions, or on particularly difficult cases.

Martin hopes that dealing with indecency complaints in bulk will make the standards for fines more clear to broadcasters, who have often complained about the lack of firm guidelines on indecency. He also wants the Commissioners to have a more direct role in how and when indecency fines are imposed.

Martin, a Republican, has been outspoken on his desire to step up indecency enforcement, and he is thought to be joined in that view by Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps.

Nevertheless, it still isnÂ’t known when the FCC will start acting on pending indecency complaints. Also unkown is what role the FCCÂ’s new indecency czarina and anti-pornography activist Penny Nance will have, if any.

CBC Lockout Almost Over
The Canadian Broadcasting CompanyÂ’s worker lockout is just about over, after lasting more than fifty days. On Oct. 2 the Canadian Media Guild reached a tentative agreement with the CBC to return to work Voting on the new contract runs from Oct. 6 through the 9th, and workers are expected to ratify it.

One of the biggest sticking points in the lockout was the Canadian public broadcaster’s use of temporary and contract workers – the network wanted to use more while the Guild wanted to see no increases. The new agreement allows for 9.5 percent of all CBC workers to be contract or temporary – the other 90.5% must be permanent workers with full benefits. This agreement is intended to last until June, 2010.

The Guild also obtained concessions to improve the rights of temporary and contract workers. CBC workers will also see a 12.6% increase in wages over the life of the contract.

The CBC lockout radically changed the face of Canadian media for nearly two months, taking some popular radio and television programs off the air, including the nationÂ’s top national nightly news program. Many were replaced with ones from the BBC, which in turn drew complaints from British media workers who didnÂ’t want to be used as scabs in another country.

During the lockout, workers took advantage of the internet to produce blogs and podcasts about the lockout. Many workers also produced on-line strike versions of their programs, often produced from the picket line.

Much of that content remains available, even though the lockout is almost over. The Canadian Media Guild has asked its members to:
“remove as much as is possible, negative references and material related to the work stoppage from web sites, podcasts, blogging etc.”

This request has been met with criticism by many workers who do not wish to see a record of this historical labor dispute erased from the internet memory.

Tod Maffin is a CBC radio producer, technology reporter and blogger who maintained the CBCunplugged website during the lockout. That website functioned as an information hub for many locked out workers and supporters. In response to the GuildÂ’s request to remove strike-related content, Maffin wrote on the site:

“Listen. I’m a pretty huge supporter of everything the CMG negotiating team did for all of us, especially us casual/temp people. But, for the record, I’m not removing anything.”

Maffin goes on to write:
“The last 50 days changed labour communications forever. The worst thing we can do is erase history.”

If Canadian Media Guild members ratify the new contract, the CBC is expected to resume normal programming on Oct. 12.