We speak with Youth Media Council director Malkia Cyril, who has been working with youth activists and people of color to take on the dominance of Clear Channel in the Bay Area. She says the 1996 Telecommunications Act “manifested in reduced voices, fewer progressive voices on the air, fewer young people able to get on the air, fewer local artists able to get on the air. … [I]n the digital age … whether or not people of color or young people have access is going to depend upon activism within their local communities.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Our next guest is Malkia Cyril, the director of the Youth Media Council, an organization dedicated to building communications power and defending the communication rights of youth and communities of color.
AMY GOODMAN: Malkia has been been working with youth, community and activist groups in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past nine years and was recently featured in the anthology, The Future of Media: Resistance and Reform in the 21st Century, edited by our previous guest, Robert McChesney. She is also author of numerous articles and reports. Malkia Cyril, welcome to Democracy Now!
MALKIA CYRIL: Thank you for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: You have been taking on the media in a big way. Talk about what media accountability means to you, a specific struggle that you’ve been involved with.
MALKIA CYRIL: Well, in the Bay Area for the last three to four years, young people, people of color and other folks of conscience have been working hard to take on Clear Channel Corporation. In the Bay Area, like in, you know, areas around the country, Clear Channel owns more radio stations than it’s supposed to. It’s not accountable with how it operates those radio stations. And, in particular, in the Bay Area, it owns both the right-wing radio station and the hip-hop radio station. It’s reorganized community affairs, so that one community affairs director is responsible for both of those stations — in fact, for all 12 of the stations that Clear Channel owns in a very small region.
So we’ve been working with community members, with organizers, with artists to really do three things. One is to increase the air time that local artists get on the hip-hop radio station. Two is hold the right-wing radio station accountable for balance and for bias. And then, three is really to push Clear Channel decision makers to really reorganize community affairs, so that it’s representative and it’s responsive to the community.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, how are they able to own — you said 12 radio stations?
MALKIA CYRIL: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: When there’s a limit of eight, isn’t there? By the FCC?
MALKIA CYRIL: Yes, there is, but in the Bay Area, there’s a small loophole, where Clear Channel does not consider San Jose part of the Bay Area. So —
JUAN GONZALEZ: And does the FCC agree with them?
MALKIA CYRIL: Yes, it has, consistently for years.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, Clear Channel is a San Antonio-based company that owns over 1,200 stations around the country.
MALKIA CYRIL: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: But how did it affect the programming at the hip-hop station? Why did you suddenly feel a loss?
MALKIA CYRIL: Well, you know, in 2001, for about five years, following the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Clear Channel decided to begin its reorganization. That reorganization started with firing of well-known advocate and host, Davey D. Davey D was a portal for a lot of community members and a lot of activists. He was the way that folks got their voice on the air. When he was fired, that symbolized a shift in how this particular hip-hop station was going to be run.
And that shift became evident over time. It manifested in reduced voices, fewer progressive voices on the air, fewer young people able to get on the air, fewer local artists able to get on the air. But more importantly, what it represented was a shift overall throughout the country and a stance that Clear Channel was taking: We don’t care about what you need, we don’t care about community affairs, we don’t care about public interest; what we care about is profit, and we’re going to do everything in our power to reorganize ourselves in such a way that we’re going to make the profits that we want.
That is evident again now today, as they get rid of hundreds of stations. The same motivation is there. It’s not about — you know, whether we stick to broadcast or we move to digital, the same power dynamics exist. So even in the digital age, you know, as we move to this whole new platform, you know, whether or not people of color or young people have access is going to depend upon activism within their local communities.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, and ironically, whether it’s Clear Channel or the television stations, they all tout the imperative to reach the young population —
MALKIA CYRIL: That’s right.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — the 18-to-25-year-old population for their advertisers. But what’s been the response of young people to organizing and demanding accountability by these companies?
MALKIA CYRIL: Well, you know, in San Antonio, you have the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center working with Texas Media Empowerment Project, responding to — by attacks from Clear Channel, right-wing Clear Channel stations, and you have, you know, this progressive organization, you know, side by side almost with, you know, the company, this massive radio conglomerate. And what you see is that the level of advertising, like you said, towards young people of color, in particular, but towards young people, in general, is so sophisticated, so heightened, but their interest in actually working with a group like the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, who’s working with young people, is nil.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about whether there is a new political landscape. You’re talking about Clear Channel, that actually was a few dozen radio stations, then grew to 1,200. This is under the Telecommunications Act, which was Clinton and Gore. You’re based in San Francisco. This is the home base of Nancy Pelosi, the new speaker of the House. Do you see that there’s any kind of difference with the Democrats, when it comes to these issues?
MALKIA CYRIL: You know, what I see is, again, when there is a fire lit by the grassroots organization by local communities, then I do believe there is an opportunity — not a different landscape, but a different opportunity — for Democrats to stand up and take a position on media reform.
AMY GOODMAN: We have only 30 seconds. What are you doing now? What are your plans? What are you going to be saying at this Media Reform Conference?
MALKIA CYRIL: The grassroots organizations that are here at the Conference for Media Reform need to — their stories need to be heard. Their stories need to be heard. Their successes need to be heard. And we need to step out of the Conference for Media Reform back into our local communities with a renewed vigor for actually change and for media accountability in our local communities.
AMY GOODMAN: If people want to find out more about your struggle in San Francisco around your hip-hop station, and then how you’re reaching out, where do they go on the web?
MALKIA CYRIL: Go to the web at www.youthmediacouncil.org.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for being with us, Malkia Cyril.