The Fight to Reclaim Public Broadcasting
Publication: Aug 01
6 x 9
An absorbing account of one of the most contentious battles for community media control ever waged in the U.S.
A riveting narrative of the price of politics, money, and ambition, and an inspirational account of how ordinary people can prevail over powerful interests, Air Wars tells how a grassroots movement of concerned citizens at WQED in Pittsburgh was able to overcome enormous institutional influence in their quest for public accountability.
These citizens believed strongly in public television's unique mission to serve the diverse social and cultural needs of local communities. When their own station neglected this mission in the search for national prestige and bigger revenues, they felt profoundly betrayed.
Jerold Starr exposes the political and commercial pressures that made strange bedfellows of the top officials of public broadcasting, the Democratic Party establishment, Pat Robertson and the Christian Coalition, home-shopping and "infomall" king Lowell "Bud" Paxson, and billionaire right-wing publisher/philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife.
What began as a bitterly contested local struggle that disturbed the serenity of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood later became front-page national news with revelations of presidential candidate John McCain's influence-peddling scandal on behalf of media mogul Paxson. This was followed by congressional resolutions attacking the FCC's authority to regulate noncommercial educational broadcast licenses. The "Pittsburgh case" promises to be in the news for some time to come.
Far beyond Pittsburgh, Starr looks at how the reform movement has spread to major cities like Chicago, Phoenix, Jacksonville, and San Francisco, where citizen activists have successfully challenged public stations to be more community responsive.
Finally, he outlines an innovative plan for restructuring the public broadcasting service as an independently funded public trust. Joining this vision with a practical strategy, Starr describes the formation of Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting, a national membership organization with a grassroots approach to putting the public back into public broadcasting.
"Jerry Starr’s Air Wars is the Common Sense of the Information Age. With passion, intelligence, wit, and integrity, Starr tells us how the public broadcasting system has gone so wrong, and how we, as citizens, can organize to change it. Best of all, Starr talks of his own history, winning battles to preserve and extend genuine public television in Pittsburgh."
—Robert W. McChesney, author of Rich Media, Poor Democracy
"A step-by-step, blow-by-blow account of how the public was robbed of its most precious, cultural resource, the public airways, and how citizen action can take it back."
—George Gerbner, author of The Future of Media
"Jerold M. Starr's Air Wars explains where public television went wrong and why we need noncommercial broadcasting today more than ever....By weaving that tale together with a critique of commercial television and a vision for a more democratic public broadcasting, he shows why television should continue to be of interest to scholars concerned with the health of our public life."
"Air Wars documents how so many of the country's 'public' and 'noncommercial' stations have become almost indistinguishable from commercial ones, and how many boards of directors are a self-protecting elite against attempts to create a truly independent, well-funded noncommercial television system. He gives a formula for action for groups all over the country who are already in the trenches and need all the help they can get."
—Ben H. Bagdikian, author of Media Monopoly
"In this stirring book, Starr provides a rigorous analysis of the U.S. media and the decline of public television, as well as a step-by-step handbook for community activists who wish to reclaim local television and radio stations...Starr's work is not only a model of American idealism and community organizing, but an engrossing narrative as well."
Table of Contents
1. Trouble in Three Rivers City: WQED Debt Comes Due
2. Corporate Media's Threat to Democracy
3. The Broken Promise o f PBS
4. The Battle to Reform WQED
5. Old Wine in New Bottles: Reproducing the Station Culture
6. What Am I Bid? Stripping Assets at WQED
7. Round Two, the Battle over WQEX
8. The Killing of WQEX and the Final Showdown
9. Other Fronts: Putting the Public into Public TV
10. Public Broadcasting in the Public Interest: Toward a Democratic Alternative
Appendix: Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting