Who Controls the Media?

Who Controls the Media? (1979)
Duration: 00:28:59

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Themes: Urban Challenges |

Guests: Al Chambliss, Zora Brown
Host : Lawton K. Jackson
Producer : Tony Mottley
Associate Producer : Deborah Ray

Summary: This recording of a Detroit Black Journal program on citizens' efforts to influence television and radio broadcast programming is incomplete. But despite the lack of closing credits and the fact that the recording ends abruptly in the middle of an interview with one of the guests, it does offer some insight into the concerns of black Detroiters about the behavior of broadcast media outlets.

In the approximately 25 minutes recorded on the tape, host Lawton K. Jackson appears before a live studio audience and interviews two guests who are calling in by telephone. The first guest is Zora Brown, a consumer assistance specialist with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, and the second is Al Chambliss, an attorney with North Rule Legal Services in Oxford, Miss., who was involved in challenging the programming policies of media corporations.

Although there is no specific indication of the date, it appears the program was recorded and broadcast sometime in 1979, probably in the fall. A number of references are made to a radio deregulation bill - HR 3333 - which had recently died in a congressional committee. That bill, which aimed to reduce restrictions on the amount of air time devoted to advertising and eliminate requirements for news programming, was before the House of Representatives in the spring and summer of 1979.

In his introductory comments, Jackson also mentions concerns raised by a local group about how policy changes at WDET-FM, the public radio station operated by Wayne State University in Detroit, had affected the station's programming priorities.

The first interview, with Brown, focuses on how citizens should go about trying to resolve concerns about broadcast stations' programming. Brown suggests that citizens should seek to resolve their concerns locally, through direct communication with the radio or television station, but she also provides information on how to register a complaint with the FCC if the concerns cannot be resolved locally.

In the second interview, Chambliss advises that citizens must be prepared to "wage holy war" through persistent and intense pressure on broadcasters and the FCC. Broadcast stations, he says, seldom pay much attention to the needs of the black community.

"The news of black people usually are rape, crime, some type of armed robbery," Chambliss says. "They never have, let's say, the Ebony fashion show. They'd rather televise the zoo and an elephant being born than to televise, let's say, an NAACP banquet or the Ebony fashion show, a very, very positive thing coming out of the black community."

The biggest problem, he says, is the influence of advertisers.

"I submit to you there ain't no such thing as serving the public interest in America as it relates to broadcasting," he says. "What you have to understand is the advertisers, okay, the ad agents, the advertisers control the networks."

Despite its limitations, this program does serve to highlight an important concern in the African American community about the lack of attention and responsiveness from the mass media.

Related Production Materials held at MSU Libraries, Special Collections:
Box 4, File 14, Black Images and Stereotypes in the Media” – October 13, 1991 – Show # 2300C
Box, 8, File 9, Politics and the Media – October 16, 1993 – Show # 2502
Box 8, File 40, O.J. Simpson & Media –July 5, 1994 – Show # 2538
Box 19, File 2, Minorities and the Media
Box 21, File 24, Public Control/Public Media