Protesters Blast FCC Media Policies


Crowd control was not a problem at a March 22 protest at the FCC's headquarters.

Protest organizers had estimated that 1,000 people might show up to complain about Republican FCC chairman Michael Powell's media ownership policies, but the actual number was more like 60. Maybe it was the freezing wind that kept so many away from the marquee event for numerous citizen groups participating in Media Democracy Week.

The star of the event — Powell — was also a no-show. He had vacated the FCC's building to attend an afternoon meeting elsewhere, FCC spokesman David Fiske said.

The smattering of protesters seemed to have a good time taunting Powell and waving placards reading "Billionaires Support Media Monopolies" and "Regulate Cable: Preserve Open Access."

One man in a derby and topcoat gave his name as Daddy Warbucks.

Powell has built a reputation as a regulator willing to let the market dictate the size and power of media companies. But, in the last year, the courts have been affecting media ownership rules more than Powell's FCC.

The protest's main attraction was mock evangelist Rev. Billy, who declined to give his real name.

He capped his sermon by urging his listeners to march by the FCC's door and send a message to Powell not to let media firms collapse into a few conglomerates.

"Michael, if you can hear this, this is Rev. Billy," said the man in priest's collar and white dinner jacket. "We see your father on television a lot. We know that he has a lot of stock in AOL Time Warner. We know you have some money to retire with, if you serve them well now in your role as chairman."

The jab referred to Powell's role before becoming FCC chairman in the AOL-Time Warner merger, even though his father Secretary of State Colin Powell, then a private citizen, served on the AOL board and held stock in the company.

Rev. Billy said the event was "the beginning of a great movement in which media will be democratized" and free of programming that has "the little Mickey Mouse in the corner."

The group gathered around Rev. Billy on a curb across the street from the FCC's 12th Street entrance.

A few uniformed security guards were stationed outside the door to ensure order and a handful of Washington, D.C., police cruisers stood at the ready nearby.

No Angel, Yet

Rev. Billy ended by ridiculing a remark Powell made in 1998 about the FCC's role in protecting the public interest through regulation of the mass media.

In a speech, Powell quipped that he hadn't been visited by the public-interest angel to instruct him how exactly to carry out the FCC's public-interest duties.

Some of Rev. Billy's angelic followers wore homemade wings.

"Go for it angels," Rev. Billy instructed the shivering angels, who headed for the FCC's front door where they tried to leave Powell a public-interest crystal ball.