Small Group Protests at FCC


A protest at the Federal Communications Commission Friday was not a
crowd-control problem for law enforcement.

Earlier, protest organizers estimated that 1,000 people might show up to
complain about Republican FCC chairman Michael Powell's media-ownership

The 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
building to attend an afternoon meeting elsewhere, FCC spokesman David Fiske

But the smattering of protesters who made it 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 a reputation as a regulator willing to let the market dictate the
size and power of media companies. But in the past year, the courts have
affected media-ownership rules more than Powell's agency.

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 [Inc.]. We know you have some
money to retire with if you serve them well now in your role as chairman.'

That was a jab at Powell for participating in the merger between America
Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. before becoming chairman even though his
father, Secretary of State Colin Powell, was then a private citizen serving on
the AOL board and held AOL stock.

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 regular order, and a few Washington, D.C., police
cruisers stood nearby.

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 listeners wore homemade

'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.