The AFL-CIO released a Cornell University study on Jan. 28 about Clear Channel, one of the country’s top largest media conglomerates and a lightning rod in the debate around media consolidation. The report — “The Clear Picture on Clear Channel” — was commissioned on behalf of a coalition of several AFL-CIO media and entertainment unions, including the AFM.
“This analysis brings into sharp focus the downside impact of media concentration on workers and their communities,” said Paul Almeida, president of the AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees. “Clear Channel is the ‘poster child’ for what’s wrong with media consolidation and the FCC’s continued deregulation of this industry,” Almeida said.
A PATTERN OF RECKLESS GROWTH
In 1996, Clear Channel owned just 43 radio stations. Today, the company is the largest radio owner in the country, with 1,239 radio stations dominating the industry and 20 percent of all radio industry revenues.
In fact, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 paved the way for the company to acquire nearly 1,200 radio stations over a six-year period.
Clear Channel also operates 44 amphitheatres, 51 theatres and various clubs and arenas throughout the U.S. and more abroad.
“Not only has Clear Channel radically altered established methods of doing business in the industries in which it is dominant including radio, concert promotion, live theatre and outdoor advertising, but it has also engaged in practices directly antithetical to broadcasters’ traditional goals of serving their local communities,” said AFTRA President John Connolly.
DESTROYING LOCALISMIN THE NAME OF PROFIT
According to the report, Clear Channel’s prime focus is providing advertising vehicles for its customers. But, according to Linda Foley, president of the Newspaper Guild-CWA and one of the AFL-CIO’s leading strategists in the fight against FCC deregulation, “Clear Channel’s relentless obsession with the bottom line has meant cutting jobs to cut costs and if localism, community interests or quality have been sacrificed in the process, so be it.”
The report is critical of a host of Clear Channel cost-cutting measures including “voice tracking,” which allows D.J.’s to record programs in one location and have them aired in other markets as if the programs were live or locally produced. The report says this business practice has had a “detrimental impact…on localism, diversity of programming and possibly public safety.”
A REAL EMERGENCY…AND NO ONE AT THE SWITCH
Cited as an example of the “lack of live personnel that impeded the activation of the emergency radio response system following a local emergency,” is a train derailment and resulting hazmat emergency that occurred in the spring of 2003, in Minot, North Dakota.
The catastrophe caused the release of a cloud of noxious gas but when local officials tried to alert the community to the danger through the town’s eight radio stations, they discovered that six of them — those owned Clear Channel — had no personnel on site. Hundreds of people were hospitalized.
According to Tom Carpenter, national director of News/Broadcast for AFTRA, in its quest to implement voice-tracking nationwide, Clear Channel is openly engaged in misleading the public in many of its venues. Announcers are often encouraged to manufacture public appearances; disc jockeys fabricate live calls to the station and the company routinely coaches its employees in “sounding local” by providing cheat sheets about local people, places and events.
“Needless to say, the public interest of the community is not served by such duplicitous business practices,” said Carpenter, who worked with the AFTRA New York local in keeping voice-tracking out of New York City. “In fact, Clear Channel has been fined for misleading radio listeners into thinking that a national contest was only available to local listeners. And the jobs lost to voice tracking along with severe salary compression are significant.”
LOCAL MUSICIANS SUFFER, TOO
According to the report, Clear Channel’s dominance creates near insurmountable obstacles for local recording artists and musicians.
Because of its interests in related industries including radio, venue ownership and concert promotion, research and ticket sales, the company serves as a virtual gatekeeper and controls the two gates that artists have to pass through to have a career in this industry.
According to IEB member Ray Hair, president of AFM Local 72-147 (Dallas/Ft. Worth), “Control of concert tours and radio playlists prevents local artists who may have a following from getting the opportunity to be heard on the airwaves, and in fact contributes to what many people identify as the ‘vanilla-izing’ of radio around the country, eliminating true diversity.”
The study also details at length Clear Channel’s growing web of influence in the political arena, a troubled history of adversarial labor relations and pattern of scofflaw behavior that has resulted in Clear Channel being sanctioned by federal and state agencies.
Chelli Penigree, president of Common Cause, singled out the report’s examples of the Clear Channel money trail “which details a carefully crafted, money-driven development of insider connections not only with George W. Bush but with the rest of the Republican-controlled federal government as well.”
For example, the report details:
- Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays contributed over $50,000 to Bush’s 1998 gubernatorial campaign and between 2000 and 2002, Clear Channel political contributions amounted to $1 million with 75 percent going to Republican candidates.
- The Justice Department’s current antitrust chief, Charles James, formerly headed the antitrust department at the Washington law firm that represented Clear Channel when the company sought regulatory approval for its later successful purchase of a radio broadcasting company.
- Clear Channel Vice Chair Tom Hicks significantly contributed to Bush’s personal fortune before he entered politics, when he purchased the Texas Rangers baseball team, netting Bush $15 million.
- The report cites Clear Channel’s pro-Iraq war rallies and, in a blatant example of outright censorship, the firing of an award-winning radio personality for speaking out against the war. Meanwhile, other Clear Channel stations have been criticized for dropping ads paid for by the Democratic National Committee.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Besides the AFL-CIO, participating organizations in the development of the Clear Channel study included the AFM, Equity, AFTRA, IATSE, the Communications Workers of America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians (NABET), the Newspaper Guild and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGA-E).
“These groups have been actively fighting the unfettered deregulation of media ownership across the country and believe that the Clear Channel profile provides a compelling case for imposing reasonable limits to ensure that media consolidation does not override public policy and diversity concerns,” said the Newspaper Guild’s Foley.
For a copy of the report, send an e-mail to email@example.com or call (212) 863-4260.