MEDIA MASH: Third Graders Parody KPFA

Berkeley Third Graders Perform Musical about KPFA-Pacifica Struggle

Leave it to Berkeley. Third-grade students in the Room 201 history class at Cragmont Elementary School put on a musical farce called "The Good News," based on the struggle to free radio station KPFA from the clutches of its Pacifica parent. Eight- and nine-year-olds played characters called Lynn Chaplips, Mary Franco Cherry, Dimne Sowyhme (pronounced So-why-me?), Menace Burnside and Harry Defensky (in reference to Lynn Chadwick, Mary Frances Berry, Nicole Sawaya, Dennis Berstein and Larry Bensky, respectively, the main protagonists in the epic and essentially unresolved struggle over progressive community radio).

Nancy Silver, the third graders' teacher, explained to the Berkeley Voice, "We were studying free speech, and when we started talking about KPFA ... the kids really wanted to know more. They were excited because this is a historical, local story about standing up for what you believe in."

The activities during the period under study included the controversial firing of station manager Nicole Sawaya, a rash of other firings, protests, gag orders, arrests, lockouts and the eventual reclaiming of the station by the original staff (sans Sawaya).

True to local political loyalties, Chadwick and Berry are pilloried in the third graders' show. But the musical score perhaps helped to rewrite history, as Joan Baez and Tina Turner sing a duet of "We Shall Overcome" as the chain's fall from the station's front door.

While KPFAers didn't participate in the project, which took 2000 hours of teacher and student time and a grant from the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, they did see the show, as it was performed in front of 150 parents, teachers and friends. In the Berkeley Voice, Nicole Sawaya offered, "I'm thrilled, the story lives on." Dennis Bernstein called the performance "the most joyous moment of the year."

Media Cartels and Broadband Access

The Masher understands that "media cartel" does not have the same ring as "media monopoly." But get used to "Cartel," now used by Ben Bagdikian, the grand critic of media ownership concentration, because is the most accurate terminology to describe the interlocking and overlapping ownership in our current advanced stage of the media ownership problem.

Last week AT&T got the green light from the Justice Department to complete its $58 billion purchase of cable company MediaOne. In return for the permission, AT&T agreed to shed its 25 percent share of Roadrunner, the US's second largest high-speed access provider, which is currently owned by MediaOne. This purchase (pending FCC approval) makes AT&T the country's largest cable company. But as The Industry Standard's Media Grok reports, that's the easy part.

Regulators have had a challenge sorting through the layers of media ownership. "Those deals have posed a particular challenge for antitrust regulators," writes Stephen Labaton in the New York Times, "because of complex interlocking ownership interests." How complex? Well, AT&T has a controlling interest in ExciteAtHome, the largest cable-modem service provider. The second-largest service is Roadrunner, and MediaOne owns one-fourth of that. So does Time Warner, the second-largest cable company. Time Warner is being acquired by America Online. And MediaOne and Time Warner both "have large interests in Time Warner Entertainment, a programming and cable operating company," Labaton explains. Got all that? (Read the article here; registration to the Times site is required.)

Considering that a Microsoft break up is virtually assured, might AOL-Time Warner and AT&T be the next subject of a big anti-monopoly intervention? Max Frankel, writing in Sunday's New York Times magazine, thinks so. In the context of broadband access to the Internet over cable television lives, Frankel writes, "If not soon reduced in size, all the overgrown media monsters will follow in the path of Microsoft, abusing their control over both the conduits and the content of communication to destroy competitors and elude regulations." (Read the article here; again, registration to the Times site is required.)

Broadband access is the media issue of the future, and Jeff Chester of the Center for Media Education is working overtime to make sure we know what is at stake. Check out his site: www.cme.org.

The Enemey of my Enemy is My Rightwing Friend

Think progressives are fundamentally frustrated or seduced by the Wall Street boom? Think things are so bad it's necessary to team up with right wingers to fight corporate intrusion? The Masher thinks no, but Gary Ruskin thinks yes. Ruskin, who runs Ralph Nader's group Commercial Alert, says, "It looks to me like there's an increase in anti-corporate sentiment on the right, while at the same time there is a decrease in anti-corporate sentiment among liberals."

As a result of liberals' lack of support -- or a perhaps a desire for a broader base -- Nader has decided to dance with Phyllis Schafly and her "Eagle Forum" to fight commercial exploitation in schools. They are joining together to battle Channel One, a corporation which made $30 million in profits last year by delivering advertising-soaked TV to eight million public school students each day. The unlikely duo is also fighting the ZapMe corporation, which gives computers to schools and them collects demographic data on the kids while feeding them a steady ad diet.

All this is reported by Ruth Coniff in "Left-Right Romance" in the May issue of the Progressive. Normally the Progressive is pretty straight forward about its likes and dislikes and its moral outrage. But Coniff's piece is a complex one, without a clearcut conclusion. Her reporting also revealed that conservative consultant Ralph Read had gone to work for Channel One and so had a former top aid to Paul Wellstone, with Wellstone seemingly supporting Channel One. The Masher doesn't like ads in the schools but finds Nader's doing the lindy with Schalfy not any better than Ralph doing the globalization funky chicken with the odious Pat Buchanan.

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