Inspired by Saul Alinsky, FCC 'Diversity' Chief Calls for ‘Confrontational Movement’ to Give Public Broadcasting Dominant Role in Communications
August 25, 2009Mark Lloyd, the FCC's chief diversity officer, called for a "confrontational movement" to combat what he described as control of the media by international corporations. Lloyd wants to re-establish the regulatory power of government through robust public broadcasting and a more powerful FCC.
Lloyd expressed his regulatory call to arms in his 2006 book, “Prologue to a Farce: Communications and Democracy in America” (University of Illinois Press).
In the book, Lloyd also said that public broadcasting should be funded through new license fees charged to the nation’s private radio and television broadcasters, and that new regulatory fees should be used to fund eight new regional FCC offices.
These offices would be responsible for monitoring political advertising and commentary, children’s educational programs, number of commercials, and content ratings of the programs.
Frequently referencing one of his heroes, left-wing activist Saul Alinsky, Lloyd claims in his book that the history of American communications policy has been one of continued corporate control of every form of communication from the telegraph to the Internet.
“Citizen access to popular information has been undermined by bad political decisions,” Lloyd wrote. “These decisions date back to the Jacksonian Democrats’ refusal to allow the Post Office to continue to operate the telegraph service.”
Lloyd claimed that neither technology nor liberal reforms have been able to overcome the damage caused when government fails to give everyone an equal voice.
Throughout history, Lloyd said, “[t]he most powerful communications tool was deliberately placed in the hands of one faction in our republic: commercial industry.”
“Neither Progressive era reforms nor new communications technologies have been able to correct the problems resulting from government abdication of a responsibility to advance the equal capability of citizen discourse,” Lloyd added.
“Corporate liberty has overwhelmed citizen equality,” he wrote.
Government, Lloyd said in his book, is the “only” institution that can manage the communications of the public, arguing that Washington must “ensure” that everyone has an equal ability to communicate.
“The American republic requires the active deliberation of a diverse citizenry, and this, I argue, can be ensured only by our government,” he says. “Put another way, providing for the equal capability of citizens to participate effectively in democratic deliberation is our collective responsibility.”
Lessons for Radicals
Lloyd relies heavily on the left-wing radical Saul Alinsky in explaining his strategy.
Alinsky (1909-1972) was a community organizer and activist from Chicago and the author of the book, Rules for Radicals, which opens with an acknowledgment "to the very first radical ... Lucifer." As for political tactics, Alinsky said, “The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away. In this book we are concerned with how to create mass organizations to seize power and give it to the people. This means revolution."
With Alinsky as the political guide, Lloyd outlines nine “lessons” that people can draw on when trying to combat international businesses.
1. “Organizing people must be a priority. In order to counter effectively the power of major corporations we understood that we had to be able to demonstrate the support of hundreds of thousands of people. As Alinksy wrote: ‘Change comes from power, and power comes from organization. In order to act, people must get together.’”
2. “Understand where people stand on your issue. Once we were clear that we needed to drum up the support of people, we needed to understand what people knew about our issues. As Alinksy wrote, ‘if people feel they don’t have the power to change a bad situation, then they do not think about it.’”
3. “Connect with groups that have already organized the community. Our means of reaching local communities was through existing national organizations. We reached out to groups that had large constituencies and articulated our message by identifying how our goals fit their core interests.”
4. “The strategy must have an inside and an outside game. For media reform, this means we needed to embrace the necessity of operating both in and outside Washington [D.C.].”
5. “Don’t wait for events to unfold on their own. Pressure, pressure, pressure. If we wanted events to work in a direction that would benefit us, we knew we needed to push. We needed to apply pressure and to direct that pressure not at the government, but through the government at our true opposition – the broadcasters. Alinsky again: ‘The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain constant pressure upon the opposition.’”
6. “Communications is a priority. Again drawing from Alinksy, we understood that ‘one can lack any of the qualities of an organizer – with one exception – and still be effective. That exception is the art of communication.’ It is not just a matter of getting media to cover your campaign. That is, undoubtedly, a part of it, but it is also about getting the sort of attention you want, so the public and your opposition see you and your issues the way you want to be seen.”
7. “Research is key. We took not only message and public opinion research seriously, we took seriously our obligation to research the activity of our opposition. Our research entailed not only public opinion polling, but academic papers presenting economic and social analysis, legal research…and grassroots research involving the inspections of dozens of televisions station’s public files.”
8. “Establish a broad base of funding and never stop raising money. Alinksy is right that people are a source of power, but without adequate funds organizing people effectively cannot be accomplished.”
9. “Find allies in power. If civil rights leaders such as King had the Kennedys and Johnson, and the anti-Bork campaign had Ted Kennedy, our main ally was [FCC Chairman] Bill Kennard.”
To combat the control of international business and restore government to what he sees as its rightful place in managing public communications, Lloyd calls for a “confrontational movement” to protest the present order and organize a political movement that could force government to rein the businesses in.
“If our republican form of government is perishing because communications – the infrastructure of that republic – is under the yoke of international business how, at last, do we save it?” he asks. “We must build a confrontational movement to reclaim our democracy, a movement committed to active and sustained protest against the present order.”
To do this, Lloyd draws on his experience lobbying the FCC during the Clinton administration, counseling would-be revolutionaries to follow the tactics used by other left-wing movements, such as the followers of Saul Alinsky and the people who ran the campaign to block Republican Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
"We understood at the beginning, and were certainly reminded in the course of the campaign," wrote Lloyd, "that our work was not simply convincing policy makers of the logic or morality of our arguments. We understood that we were in a struggle for power against an oppenent, the commercial broadcasters ...."
"We looked to successful political campaigns and organizers as a guide, especially the civil rights movement, Saul Alinsky, and the campaign to prevent the Supreme Court nomination of the ultra-conservative jurist Robert Bork," wrote Lloyd. "From those sources we drew inspiration and guidance."
Lloyd proposes six initial goals for wresting control of communications from the corporate interests he claims control it. As his book details:
1. “End the federal subsidy of commercial media, particularly cable and broadcast television. Broadcasters should pay for the great privileges of a federally protected license to operate a business by using the publicly owned [radio or television] spectrum.”
2. “The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) must be reformed along democratic lines and funded at a substantial level. The CPB board should be elected, [with] eight members representing eight regions of the country (New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Plains States, Southwest, Mountain States, and the Pacific Coast) and a chairman appointed by the president, with the advice and consent of the Senate.”
“Federal and regional broadcast operations and local stations should be funded at levels commensurate with or above those spending levels at which commercial operations are funded,” said Lloyd.
“This funding should come from license fees charged to commercial broadcasters. … Local public broadcasters and regional and national communications operations should be required to encourage and broadcast diverse views and programs. … Spectrum allocations should be established that create clear preferences for public broadcasters ensuring that regional, local, and neighborhood communities are well served,” he added.
3. “The FCC should be fully funded with regulatory fees from broadcast, cable, satellite, and telecommunications companies. The FCC should be staffed at regional offices, matching those CPB regions, at levels sufficient to monitor and enforce communication regulation.
“Clear federal regulations over commercial broadcast and cable programs regarding political advertising and commentary, educational programming for children, the number of commercials, ratings information about programs before they are broadcast, and the accessibility of services to the disabled should be established and widely promoted.”
4. “Universal service support provided by all commercial telecommunications providers (whether they are classified as information services or not) to fund access to advanced telecommunications services should be expanded to all nonprofit organizations, including higher-level academic and vocational schools, community centers, and 501(c) (3) organizations unaffiliated with either business or government.”
5. “Postal subsidies should be fully restored to small independent nonprofits presses. Postal subsidies should be reduced for commercial and business operations. The postal service should be returned to congressional control with the central mission of ensuring that all Americans have access to the post.”
6. “Public secondary schools should be required to include civics and media literacy as part of their core curriculum. Testing on civic, media, and computer literacy should be required and national standards set.”
For those who think any or all of these recommendations might infringe on the free speech rights of broadcasters, Lloyd says his concern is not the “exaggerated” concerns over the First Amendment.
“It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press,” he said. “This freedom is all too often an exaggeration. At the very least, blind references to freedom of speech or the press serve as a distraction from the critical examination of other communications policies.”
“[T]he purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules that would promote democratic governance,” said Lloyd. “[T]he problem is not only the warp to our public philosophy of free speech, but that the government has abandoned its role of advancing the communications capabilities of real people.”