Blogs

FCC Levies Largest Collective Fine in History of U.S. Broadcasting

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 3:01 PM EDT

"Payola" is the term for a practice in which radio broadcasters accept gifts and money from recording companies in exchange for playing music those companies select. Payola is fairly common, and actually legal if, when they play a track, radio broadcasters disclose who paid them to play it. (The FCC's rules on payola are easy to find, and quite clear.) Of course, you never hear a radio DJ saying, "We've been paid $3,000 to play this next J. Lo. track, so enjoy!"

The FCC is sending a message to change all that. Clear Channel Communications, CBS Radio, Entercom Communications, and Citadel Broadcasting have been fined a collective $12.5 million and will now be required to track every gift they receive worth more than $25. The fine is the largest in the history of American broadcasting.

My favorite part of the ruling, though, is this:

On top of the fines, the radio companies voluntarily agreed to launch a new program for independent artists... This local artist showcase commits the industry to 4,200 hours of airplay across the four companies between 6 a.m. and midnight.

In a previous payola investigation, Sony BMG Music Entertainment -- which includes Arista Records, Columbia Records, and Sony Music -- had to pay $10 million after then-New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer went after it.

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Mia Farrow Calls Beijing 2008 the "Genocide Olympics"

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:52 PM EDT

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Mia Farrow's targeted pressure to curb the Darfur genocide "could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper in the New York Times.

For two years, China has used its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council to protect the Sudanese government from UN sanctions. More than half of Sudan's oil exports go to China, and Beijing is the Sudan's leading arms supplier. But Mia Farrow last month started a campaign to spur Beijing into humanitarian cooperation. She called on Steven Spielberg to use his position as an artistic adviser to the Games to pressure China. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, she warned, Spielberg could "go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games." Four days later, Spielberg sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao. Days later, China dispatched a high-ranking official to Sudan.

The turnaround is "as a classic study of how a pressure campaign, aimed to strike Beijing in a vulnerable spot at a vulnerable time, could accomplish what years of diplomacy could not," writes Helene Cooper. China has still not agreed to sanctions. But it's been less than two weeks since Farrow's op-ed. And according to J. Stephen Morrison, a Sudan expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, China values its image more than this oil from Sudan. "Their equity is to be seen as an ethical, rising global power," Morrison says, "not to get in bed with every sleazy government that comes up with a little oil." And the Olympics have been a major source of national pride. The night Beijing won the bid to host the Games, I joined about 200,000 revellers celebrating in Tiananmen Square, dancing and singing; it was the biggest gathering there since 1989.

SC House Hell-Bent on Violating Women's Rights to Promote Fetus'

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 2:22 PM EDT

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Update in the controversy surrounding a new South Carolina abortion bill: The state senate has removed the provision that would force a woman to view her ultrasound before going through with an abortion.

The state's only female senator, Linda Short (D-Chester), says the revised bill will likely pass the Senate. Some members of the House are gearing up for a fight despite being warned by the Attorney General that making a woman look at something she doesn't want to is against the law. Read more about the drama here.

—Nicole McClelland

Sundance Channel's Green Living Show Debuts Tonight

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:38 PM EDT

If you're going to use electricity tonight, you may as well do it watching Sundance Channel's new green living show, "Big Ideas for a Small Planet" (9 p.m. E/P).

In true Sundance tradition, "Big Ideas" is a series of short documentaries. But they're not the drab, depressing kind. Instead, they feature cutting-edge technologies and brilliant inventors bent on saving the earth.

Each episode has a theme, and tonight's is alternative fuels. You'll meet a couple who'll retrofit your gas-guzzling vintage ride into a clean machine, see an Indy 500 driver get better torque and pull using ethanol, and feel the rush with a monster trucker who fries chicken and then uses the grease as gas. These are people who don't just "talk the talk" about being green; they "drive the drive," as one quips. (That this first episode is about alternative fuels and a later one is about green vehicles is probably no coincidence: the show is "sponsored by Lexus," who has a new hybrid SUV on the market.)

The series doesn't end when you click off the TV. "Big Ideas" is just part of a larger line of programming, web features, and blogs called "The Green." Viewers can check out easy tips for green living, watch video clips, or learn more about environmental issues on "The Green" section of Sundance Channel's site, for which TreeHugger provided much of the content.

But lest you think Sundance the only cable channel targeting green viewers, the Discovery Channel is launching an entire network devoted to everyday green living next year.

—Jen Phillips

FDA Sued For Politicizing Women's Health

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:08 PM EDT

The famed Family Research Council ("defending family, faith and freedom") is accusing the FDA of "politicizing women's health." Because before Plan B came around a woman's body was her own business? Right. The scoop, over at TBM.

Hunger Strike Begins for Stanford Students

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 1:05 PM EDT

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, students at Stanford University are holding a hunger strike until their administration agrees to pay all university workers a living wage. The students will be filing regular dispatches of their progress, with photography, for Mother Jones.

Check out their first report, and learn more about why they are fasting, at this page. Check that link in the coming days for more on the students' fight.

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FDA Sued For Politicizing Women's Health

| Fri Apr. 13, 2007 12:39 PM EDT

Here's a new one: The Family Research Council is accusing the FDA of "politicizing women's health." Because before Plan B came around a woman's body was her own business? Right.

Yesterday a coalition of groups including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America filed a lawsuit against the FDA for its decision to approve the nonprescription sales of Plan B, Barr Laboratories' emergency contraceptive. Among its litany of complaints, the lawsuit accuses the FDA of violating the law by allowing the same drug to be distributed simultaneously by prescription and over the counter (uh, what about that "all-day non-drowsy relief"?), and it also names names, charging that the decision was made after "improper pressure" from Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Patty Murray.

"There are a lot of concerns," a spokesperson for the FRC told the Washington Times. This despite the fact that Barr has taken unprecedented steps to ensure the drug does not get into the hands of those under 18 and the uninformed. The company has agreed to send "anonymous shoppers" into pharmacies to test compliance with the age restriction, to distribute with the drug a booklet about its proper use, and to exclude gas stations and convenience stores from selling Plan B at all.

The improper pressure mentioned in the suit refers to Clinton and Murray putting a hold on the confirmation of current commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach until the FDA acted on the recommendation to approve OTC status. FRC said the decision to approve Barr's application is "very clearly caught up in political dynamics, and I would go so far as to say there is electoral politics involved here." Susan Wood, former director of FDA's Office of Women's Health, points out that the senators simply urged the agency to make a decision one way or the other, after months of stalling, and "didn't say what the decision should be."

Coed Half-Naked Hunting

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 10:22 PM EDT

Some archaeologists say the image of caveman as macho big-game hunter is just a figment of our 20th Century imagination. Then what were Neanderthal gender roles? Faye Flam asks in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Did primitive peoples form relationships, the males playing father to sons and daughters, or did we act more like our chimpanzee and gorilla cousins--promiscuous, violent, with males fighting over the females?"

Most likely, fathers took more care of their kids as males and females approached the same body size. Human men and women are closer in body size than chimps. "In species with males and females closer to the same size, the sexes are more likely to work in pairs, cooperate, and share the burden of protecting their young," Flam writes. "So determining how long ago we reached our current ratio should point to when our ancestors stopped organizing themselves like apes and started acting more like people."

Speaking of prehistoric gender roles, this study is about two years old, but its absurdity is timeless: A researcher at Texas A&M University somehow demonstrated that female monkeys like playing with pots and pans. "Just like boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars whereas female monkeys prefer dolls" the Washington Post reported without irony, along with about 36 other news sources. "Males also played with balls while females fancied cooking pots." They quoted the researcher, Gerianne Alexander as saying, "The differences apparently date far back in evolutionary history to the time before humans and monkeys separated from their common ancestor some 25 million years ago."

So when in evolutionary history did monkeys learn what pots and pans are all about? Actually, that discovery launched the earliest known era of stay-at-home motherhood, by enabling moms to put dinner on the stove while their boys were out playing baseball with monkey dads. I saw it in Planet of the Apes.

A few years earlier, the same psychologist demonstrated that female monkeys like pink and male monkeys like blue. Maybe the next study will prove that monkeys associate white with weddings and black with funerals. Except for Chinese monkeys, who would, if they could, wear red to weddings and white to funerals. No doubt there are mental differences between the sexes due to hormones. One recent discovery was that men pay more attention to crotches than women, as shown in this eye-tracking study. (Scroll down). But that monkey study has such blatantly unscientific bias; it's like a university psychology department conducting research into whether or not African Americans are innately drawn to cotton.

Imus Loses His Bully Pulpit

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 6:48 PM EDT

CBS dropped Don Imus' morning shock-jock radio program, Imus in the Morning. Read more on The Riff.

Imus Loses His Bully Pulpit

| Thu Apr. 12, 2007 6:40 PM EDT

imus.jpgCBS dropped Don Imus' morning shock-jock radio program, Imus in the Morning. In case you've been living under a rock, Imus called the Rutgers women's basketball team, who placed second in the women's NCAA championship, a bunch of "nappy-headed hos." Although many black groups expressed their dismay to CBS, Imus's ratings went up after the April 4 remark. Here's an example of the market not taking care of itself, I guess. Fortunately, CBS (and MSNBC, which dropped the simulcast yesterday) did the right thing.

Ironically, Imus was scheduled to apologize to the team in person today.

An interesting thought problem: Clearly, what Imus said was more racist than sexist ("hos" notwithstanding). But it's interesting that his racism was stimulated by women's basketball and not men's. Why do racism and sexism seem to get so perversely intertwined?