Over the past week, there has been a spike in attention to the KTRU sale. This newfound spirit in opposition to the sale corresponds with Texas Watchdog’s release of their Open Records Request info. (KTRU has its own Open Records Request, which I wrote the first draft of.)
The info that Texas Watchdog was able to get from the University of Houston has revealed many interesting tidbits, such as the fact that it was a KTRU staffer who leaked the story, that Rice considered lying to KTRU to get info about the station, that UH and Rice actively kept KTRU references out of public meeting minutes, that there was outspoken questioning of the sale on the UH finance and administration committee that was not covered by any media outlet, that Rice had been planning a sale since about 2 years ago, and so forth.
I hope to comment on some of this later in the week.
However, one of the more interesting developments in the KTRU saga has been a newfound voice of support for keeping KTRU on the airwaves: Rachelle Chong
President Bill Clinton appointed Chong to the Federal Communications Commission, where she was the first Asian American to serve as an FCC commissioner. She is currently a Commissioner of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates private utilities in California, including telecommunications.
The fact that someone with direct experience serving as an FCC commissioner shows that KTRU has a chance. Someone whose job it was to regulate license transfers expressly opposes the KTRU sale. She can be outspoken on the matter because she no longer sits on the commission. However, there is no reason to believe that current members, with similar legal training and background, do not have the same view as her towards the KTRU sale — they probably just know better than to comment on a pending matter.
In fact, the biographies of current members give reason to hope.
Current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Julius Genachowski, for example, was an Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator. This sort of personal involvement in student media hints that he has the background to appreciate the unique broadcasting ability that KTRU has to offer, and may encourage him to take a second look at the transfer.
FCC Commissioner Michael Copps doesn’t have student media experience — at least not listed on his Wikipedia entry. However, he does have a strong opposition to media consolidation. In fact, he has explicitly raised the spectre of “public interest” when it comes to media transfer and consolidation.
“What public interest, what new competition, is enabled by encouraging the newspaper monopoly and the broadcasting oligopoly to combine? This decision further allows the already massive television networks to buy up even more local TV stations, so that they control up to an unbelievable 80 or 90 percent of the national television audience.
Where are the blessings of localism, diversity and competition here? I see centralization, not localism; I see uniformity, not diversity; I see monopoly and oligopoly, not competition.”
Phrases like “public interest” and “blessings of localism” are the sort of key words that will be the spearhead of a pro-KTRU legal argument. With a well-written motion to deny, Copps may see the KTRU sale as a line in the sand, a place where he could stop a purely local and unique station from becoming one of syndicated news reports and rehashed classical that gets played anyways. Maybe you should write a few letters of support for KTRU to demonstrate to Mr. Copps just how important this is. And you can do that by clicking this link right here that these words are part of.
Robert McDowell may not seem like the sort of FCC commissioner who would be sympathetic to KTRU. After all, he has spent time scaring up the ghosts of a return of the Fairness Doctrine, and that sort of paranoid attitude towards media regulation does not make him seem like the sort of guy who would stop a license transfer.
But the most interesting part of McDowell’s personal history is his former position as Chariman of the Board of the McLean Project for the Arts. The MPA has the self-proclaimed mission of:
“exhibit[ing] the work of emerging and established artists from the mid-Atlantic region; [promoting] public awareness and understanding of the concepts of contemporary art; and [offering] instruction and education in the visual arts.”
Compare this to the KTRU Mission:
“The mission of KTRU as a student organization and a 50,000 watt radio station is to educate the station membership, the greater Houston community, and the students of Rice University through its progressive and eclectic programming in the spirit of the station’s non-commercial, educational license. Musically, KTRU programming will endeavor to solely feature genres and/or artists who are unexposed, or unavailable on, the Houston commercial radio dial.”
Both organizations share a dedication to public education about the arts, and bring attention to emerging and established local artists. McDowell’s experience with the MPA may give him the background and understanding necessary to sympathize with KTRU’s legal appeals and encourage him to recognize that at times, the FCC does need to operate a stronger hand on license transfers. Indeed, it is not a Democratic or Republican position, but a position of promoting local arts for the public interest.
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is used to regulating utilities. She previously served as the chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Washington Action Committee and is also a former chair of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. However, most importantly, she spent 14 years as the publisher and general manager of The Coastal Times.
The Coastal Times had a circulation of only about 5,500 (smaller than the Rice Thresher), but her experience on the paper has given her a great respect for the First Amendment, and an attitude that is much more willing than past “prudish” FCC members to stand up for speech.
Meredith Baker went to UH Law and opposes Net Neutrality, a sign that she is deeply opposed to any sort of FCC interference. Screw that.
So there are your FCC commissioners. Things may seem tough and the KTRU sale may appear inevitable. However, a quick look at your actual FCC commissioners demonstrates that the situation is not as bleak as one may think. Several members have backgrounds in local media, and some have even explicitly questioned the trend of media consolidation at the expense of local programming and uniqueness. You can help them remember the importance of local media programming and the true meaning of public interest by writing the FCC and signing onto the KTRU letter. Your voice is especially important if you live within the KTRU broadcast zone. So speak up. All you have to do to save KTRU (or at least force Rice to appeal to the D.C. Circuit) is count to three.
And KTRU is saved.