Iqbal’s fake babies: Sir, you have egg on your face

THIS WEEK saw Dr Iqbal Survés attempt to recast himself as a wealthy philanthropist and friend of newborns everywhere fall flat amidst yet another infantile furore involving the Independent Group.

Survé and his organisation Survé Philanthropies appear to be the victim of an elaborate public relations stunt involving the handing over of a R1 million cheque in a well-orchestrated bogus bambino hoax backed up by none other than the Independent Group.

That Survés Sekunjalo Group are effectively the owners of the Independent Group should make no difference to how one views a startling case of falling victim to one’s own propaganda machine, and following years of sacrificing journalism standards to craft what can only be described as a private marketing network posing as news media.

What started out as an astonishing toddler scoop by Piet Rampedi of the Pretoria News quickly disintegrated into mudslinging and recrimination, as INM CEO Takudzwa Hove (anyone heard of him?) stood by Rampedi’s story that Gosiame Sithole and Tebogo Tsotetsi had ‘become parents to a record-breaking ten babies born at a private Pretoria hospital.’

“The first red flag about the story was the sheer coincidence that it came a month after a Mali woman gave birth to nine babies,” wrote Mahlatse Mahlase of EWN, one of the first news outlets to debunk the story as an elaborate if fanciful con.

“Such pregnancies are exceedingly rare. Yet, shortly after that birth, a South African supposedly followed with 10. In fact, the interview by Independent was done the very month the Mali woman gave birth” she says.

As Jasmine Stone of 2OceansVibe opined: “The fact that it’s solely IOL with the inside scoop, and in particular, journalist Piet Rampedi (notorious for his role in the fake SARS ‘rogue unit’ stories from years back), only adds further intrigue.”

Yesterday the Health Department issued a striking rebuttal of INM’s claims of a government coverup, stating that their claims appear to be a ‘journalistic error’ since there is currently no evidence of the existence of the decuplets.

The family of the purported father of the babies, Tebogo Tsotetsi has also issued a statement denying their existence:

“The family has resolved and concluded that there are no decuplets born between Tebogo Tsotetsi and Gosiame Sithole, until proven otherwise and wishes to apologise for any inconvenience and embarrassment.”

For our nation’s press barons, this means war

THE PAST weeks have seen a tit-for-tat ‘media war’ between local publishers INM and Tiso-Blackstar.  Online periodicals and journos are all weighing in. What started out as a sequel to the recent Sunday Times debacle — an opinion piece published by Independent Media, written by one Iqbal Survé — has snowballed into quite a large ball of, well muck.

It all started when The Sunday Times, a weekend paper owned by Tiso Blackstar,  was cast ‘under the spotlight’ after its editor, Bongani Siqoko, ‘apologised for a violation of the press code and alleged manipulation of several news stories’ including the so-called SARS ‘rogue unit’.

All good and fine, but then press baron Survé resorted to a hatchet job which really ruffled feathers. Instead of tackling the Sunday Times,  Survé chose to smear by extension a reputable sister daily, Business Day. Apparently the Budlender report leads credence to the assertions.

Survé claims, “Sekunjalo are victims of Business Day and its shenanigans and defamatory campaign. There are desperate attempts to characterise the Sekunjalo Group in a negative way using the same Goebbels strategy.”

Which is a bit rich, considering the Cape Times’ own Goebbels strategy. The resulting verbiage escalating into a veritable diatribe against the Tiso Blackstar group in general.

All a case of sour grapes?

Survé’s “The hypocrisy and lies of Business Day”  was perhaps aimed at settling scores from an ealier bout of criticism. One which began with the Independent Group’s self-inflicted Desnois controversy, (a media story about the media), shortly after Survé himself, bought the entire group, with a bit of help from the PIC, (a government pension fund).

Thus we witnessed The Times responding with a spin story all of their own, claiming “PIC voiced ‘concern’ about running of Independent Media” 

This elicited a strange denial from PIC, which was also moved to reveal its shareholding in South Africa’s press, providing information which parliamentarians in the opposition have been trying to get hold of for decades. Surprise, surprise, it turns out that PIC lists:

1. Independent News and Media South Africa – 25%

2. Tiso Blackstar – 10.999%

3. Naspers 16.585%

4. Caxton – 0.955%

5. Primedia – The PIC is exposed to Primedia through an Private Equity Fund

That is a hell of a lot of press share equity for one pension fund, in effect the government own some serious media clout.

And so Independent Media responds to PIC

Or were PIC responding to PIC?

The response contains a a real clanger since the writer obviously hasn’t read Chapter 4 of the TRC Report special commission on the media, and is unaware of our own litigation subsequent to the publication of the report.

So this statement is just plain wrong and idiotic. “It is regrettable that the media did not have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This would certainly have surfaced the shenanigans of anti-transformation forces in the media and the network of journalists of a particular generation.”

Not to be outdone,  former 24.com editor, Chris Roper weighed in that “Dr Survé is making our democracy sick”. Resulting in an Op-Ed piece by Ayanda Mdlulu, published by the PIC, sorry INM, labeling Roper a racist. Racism at the centre of Roper’s attack on Independent Media

Roper’s ad hominem attack against Survé  though badly conceived (surely 24.com is making democracy sick?), was certainly camp, “think of Iqbal Survé, that apparent love-child of a strutting peacock and a cheap piñata. ..Dr Iqbal Survé has already done massive damage to the status of a free press in South Africa. Nobody takes his (and I use the word “his” advisedly) newspapers seriously,” opined Roper.

NM veteran Dougie Oakes’ was however more balsy and to the point.

Time to go, Iqbal paints a picture of an ailing news organisation. “I’ve never come across a newspaper where a persona non grata list of letter writers forms part of its editorial policy,” writes Oakes. Chilling but not hard to imagine, given the machinations of the former Argus Group.

Meanwhile, Hans Pienaar revealed that Vrye Weekblad was all just a right-wing front, which allowed the Nationalists to negotiate a better deal with the ANC.

READ: Chris Roper’s bizarre denial, ‘there is no media war’

 

Medialternatives predicted collapse of O’Reilly empire

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The man who stiffed journalists of payments and who controlled the Independent Group with an iron fist is no longer a media baron. The much-reduced Irish-owned Independent Group has been sent packing back to Ireland, thanks to a deal which saw the group’s South African assets bought out by local investors. This is not surprising since this writer warned about the O’Reilly ponzi scheme and impending bankruptcy with its unintended consequences for journalism some time ago.

Medialternatives War Newsroom Questionnaire

A journalist complains about your newspapers overly vigorous support of the War. What is the correct response?

a) Promise to crush and slaughter all resistance from the lower echelons until the seventh generation.

b) Harangue said journalist for not reading up on the business tactics of Atilla the Hun.

c) Fire without warning and dock pay with no option of redress thereby guaranteeing severe penalties for such action.

d) Publish defamatory reports accusing the journalist of being a sissy.

e) Send your horde of macho gunslinging war correspondents into battle, and then hope your skillful redefinition of War as a Peaceful yet somewhat Violent Undertaking, goes unnoticed by the public.

f) Promote journalist to OP-EDs while fending off criticism from the Pentagon.

g) Cosy up to the perpetrators of violence in the hope they will reward your company with advertising.

h) Deny everything and engage in rebuttals like: What journalist? There’s no such journalist.

Once again, South Africa’s print media does the two step shuffle.

News that INM are considering selling off their loss-making South African newspaper division should come as no surprise. The heavily indebted company whose majority shareholder is the Bank of Ireland has been plagued by a number of scandals.

The latest involving allegations of complicity in a corruption case involving Auction Alliance was exposed by the muckracking periodical Noseweek Magazine.

Medialternatives has reported on a number of INM scandals such as the failure by the company to investigate its own director Brian Mulroney who was rapped over the knuckles by the Canadian press for his part in a Canadian Airbus kickback scam.

Then there was  brown envelope scandal involving kickbacks to journalists at the Cape Argus which did receive local coverage while the newspaper group dispensed with Anti-War dissent and failed to report it had lost a case against yours truly.

Need we remind you that former Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj received a highly paid position at INM after the company ran a series of articles alleging corruption?

Or that the company published articles alleging that the apartheid propoganda chief Cliff Saunders was never in South Africa, and was “outside the country” when the State of Emergency happened.

Never trust a media company run by a mobile telecoms operator, and never forget,  the apartheid regime deployed embedded journalists to write panoramic stories about “our boys on the border”.

Payments to disgraced INM board member under scrutiny

One can only wonder if the threatened closure of the London Independent newspapers, is a ruse to deflect attention away from a scandal involving non-executive director Brian Mulroney? Readers will remember that Independent, which publishes South Africa’s Star and Cape Argus, is in the process of being restructured amidst a controversy which refuses to go away.

Denis O’Brien, the telecoms billionaire who most recently bailed out the group has introduced a resolution calling on shareholders to stop a €100,000 annual payment to a company owned by Mulroney. Mulroney is under investigation by the Canadian police because of a bribery and kickbacks scandal involving German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber.

O’Brien has also called on shareholders to cancel a €300,000 annual payment to former chief executive Sir Anthony O’Reilly in respect of his position as president emeritus of the firm. The current board under Hillary says O’Reilly is not entitled under contract to such a payment, but will argue that the resolution is moot.

The company’s board, on which O’Brien has minority representation, is also likely to refuse to put to the AGM O’Brien’s call for a detailed schedule of all board member expenses since the start of 2000 to be prepared by a firm of independent accountants and circulated to all shareholders.

There was no comment from O’Brien, the marauding minority shareholder who is apparently also seeking at the AGM to remove company chairman Brian Hillary and to replace senior independent director Baroness Margaret Jay, a tory conservative. One can only hope shareholders will come to their senses and realise the O’Reilly dynasty is over and the only way to save the company is to move on with doing business, which is about printing newspapers, not investing in Wedgewood crystal, 18 Century Mansions and chandeliers.

Independent Group on verge of collapse

One has got to feel a little sorry for the fact cats at Independent right now. No sooner had they restructured the company to spin off their South African billboard advertising operation with the renamed INM outdoor, when the man who owns 26% of the company Denis O’Brien blocked the sale by calling a shareholders meeting. The result could put a permanent end to the O’Reilly dynasty. In order to bankroll the conglomorate, and keep titles such as Independent and Independent on Sunday afloat, the O’Reilly’s have to pay banks some 50 million Euros this month, which would have come from the sale of INM Outdoor.

It appears billionaire investor O’Brien wants to get rid of the O’Reilly shareholding once and for all by masterminding a collapse of the company which would allow him to cherry-pick assets. Needless to say, INM CEO Gavin O’Reilly is accusing O’Brien of having no interest in the core-business, which is surely newspapers and the newspaper industry?

Although the group has some 135 titles, when it comes to business, it is all about baked beans and crystal and O’Reilly whose interests in Heinz and Waterford Wedgewood, no longer amount to anything, will surely realise the time to make an exit is now.

Gavin O’Reilly’s father, Tony is world renowned for taking an Irish brand of yellow journalism worldwide, in an aggressive expansion of interests which blurred the boundaries between what was considered acceptable practice in the industry, and outright manipulation of news — what media critic Noam Chomsky calls the “manufacture of consent”.

Under the O’Reilly’s control, the Independent Group became merely another advertising and publicity department of commerce and real estate which was allowed to dictate and in certain circumstances fabricate news to conform with editorial policies that were driven by a boardroom populated with neo-conservatives and members of the oil industry.

Full story can be found on the Guardian

INM board mischief, mere window-dressing?

Deposed Ivan Fallon

IT’S amazing what difference a week can make in the lives of today’s corporate executives. Take the changing fortune of deposed INM board member Ivan “The Terrible” Fallon, or the fate of media tycoon, Tony O’Reilly, replaced by son Gavin?

After the INM night of the long knives, with one other O’Reilly clan member already tipped to walk the plank, Gavin appears to be the only O’Reilly member with any staying power on the slimmed down board, and one could be forgiven for enjoying a bit of schadenfreude as this palace putsch plays itself out.

The move, labelled as a form of weightwatchers for executives in the media world, will apparently address “trenchant attacks” by dissident shareholder and telecoms billionaire Denis O’Brien who last year commissioned a report which claimed the INM board had too many members allied to O’Reilly.

Tony O’Reilly, a controversial figure has been embroiled in a bitter war of words with O’Brien, said he will retire as chief executive and as a director of the board on 7 May – his 73rd birthday

O’Reilly is still the largest individual shareholder in INM after the Bank of Ireland, with 28.5%, and has been the strategic driving force behind the company for the past 36 years.

His son Gavin, who is currently chief operating officer, will maintain his reign on power, by becoming chief executive-designate with immediate effect and will thus succeed his father in May.

O’Reilly is apparently eager to bury the hatchet with arch-rival O’Brien who will be given three seats on a slimmed down board of directors.

However, such moves have not quelled criticism of the inclusion of Canadian Brian Mulroney, a long-time O’Reilly supporter at the centre of a storm surrounding a bribery and corruption scandal, who is the subject of an international inquiry into financial dealings whilst in office, where he was once the progressive conservative party Prime Minister before stepping down. Mulroney is also accused of taking bribes from German arms-dealer Karlheinz Schrieber, and more recently, of encouraging sponsor-representation at board-room level in INM’s many overseas operations.

South African media analysts have entertained the public with rumours that INM could be selling off its local operation, but there is very little chance that O’Brian will be giving up his stake in the market. Rather, we are likely to see a complete meltdown before anything happens as the group fails to heed warnings by the public to come clean on the Mulroney scandal.

SPONSOR-PAID PRESS DEBACLE:Ongoing saga of the lying Irishmen and the D. F. Malan Organisation

IN several articles published in the print media over the last 18 months referring to my dispute with the Independent Group and Media24 and the ongoing attempt to gain a fair hearing, media hypocrisy has been taken to new heights. Not only do these articles contain inaccuracies, half-truths and outright lies, but they deceive the public and go far beyond what may be considered fair comment, or reasonable criticism.
For example, Karen Breytenbach, a person who can hardly be called a struggle journalist, has succeeded in penning an outright lie, framing my spat with Media24 within the context of an unresolved dispute with the Independent Group, who one dare say, still has the power to call the shots, but is rapidly diminishing in stature as its pro-business, pro-war boardroom populated by petrochemical industry cronies and Irish capitalists dilly daddles with an embarrassing relationship created by Clear Channel Independent – a company which has contaminated the press with sponsor representatives from industry, stifling criticism and the watchdog function of the media in the process.

Newspaper Tycoon, Gavin O'ReillyOil and property tycoon Sam Montsi for example, is listed by Forbes.com as sitting on the board of Sasol and Independent as well as a local property investment group Gensec – a conflict of interest if ever there was one, while O’Reilly continues to forget “his company” is, for all intents and purposes, in hock to the Bank of Ireland, and has a controversial partnership with Bush crony, Lowy Mays, whose Clear Channel corporation has been implicated in deals with Halliburton and a range of advertising and public relations firms which have blurred the borders between what one might consider to be mass media and big business.

Labour debacle

Breytenbach writing in the Cape Times and referring to my CCMA case in which an in limine or elimination hearing found nothing more than that I was an independent contractor and fell outside the boundaries of the Act – came to the startling conclusion that I had somehow lost a legal battle and deserved what I got from Media24 (a company which still refuses to acknowledge its complicity in the Apartheid regime and has yet to apologise for its participation in crimes against humanity).

To put the matter straight, as I have been trying for the past 18 months, Breytenbach’s conclusion should be considered ultra vires or beyond the powers of the particular commission – a farce of a hearing which was held without access to legal representation, and merely to assess the position of workers such as myself who fell into a flannel grey area caused as a result of the newspaper industries casualisation of its workforce. MWASA the Media Workers Association in a similar case brought to prevent a rationalization process that began in 2001, may have thrown in the towel, but my blue-collar battle with white-collar criminals who deny our labour rights continues.

I still maintain (however hard this may seem) that since I was a de facto employee at Independent, and prevented from conducting my own business in the normal way – as a freelancer able to invoice for services rendered and able to sell my labour to the highest bidder – I should have had some recourse to the labour courts. Instead Independent chose to fulminate on not having to pay, since, to my astonishment, and despite actually receiving an invitation by the outspoken social commentator, Sandile Dikeni to write for the Cape Times, I was now simply a correspondent “doing this for a hobby” and “if we paid you we would have to pay letter writers”.

I was aghast at the sheer vitupurativeness of senior staff, like the late Stephen Wrottesley, since having been forced onto the company payroll despite my protestations and after three years of regular appearance in the paper, I was now being told that this fact meant nothing in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, and Independent could not be held liable for such an oversight.

A fraud by any other name

Regardless of the Oxbridge outlook and Constantia carpeted legal implications, I successfully sued Independent in the Small Claims court and was awarded a smidgeon of the monies owing to me as an “independent contractor” this after the dismissal of struggle stalwart Gael Reagon, for questioning Independent’s coverage of the Iraq War. This fact, like many others about my case, was never published, nor were any questions raised after several former Independent employees complained about the Group’s one-sided war coverage.

Nevertheless Breytenbach chose to perpetrate a lie, referring to me as an “unsuccessful serial litigator”. Having sued the Cape Times and won, and after a protracted struggle in which Anthea Garmen of Rhodes University Journalism department weighed in on the merits, I would have thought that the matter would have been laid to rest, but instead, the paper decided to champion the cause of racism, both within the citadel of Anglo-American largesse as well as at Media24.

While all of the broughaugh over the collapse of the shortlived, Nigerian-funded Thisday and the potential demise of the lords of the new capital was going on, I had quietly snuck off and gained employment elsewhere only to be brought down to earth with an almighty thud. Despite issues such as freedom of speech — I was now threatened with a gagging order after a Media24 boss fired me for challenging an editor, without so much as a hearing, (a story I had written about a black jazz musician had been rejected out of hand) — I found to my horror that the press were no longer interested in press freedom, but rather freedom for those who, to use George Orwell’s words, “owned the press”.

While the labour/discrimination case drags on, the South African press continue to muzzle me in order to prevent criticism of my dismissal without a fair hearing, along with my complaint about racist editorial policy, the continued use of racial profiling, anti-Semitism and de facto racial segregation in the newsroom, amongst other things. As I write this, it appears I am going to be denied access to a fair hearing in a legal wrangle that has gone into its third year.

I am flabbergasted and stymied by the lack of interest shown by my associates, in either case, despite having to fend off legal attacks by billion rand corporations, and being forced to watch the Sean Johnson’s of this world living it up in Llandudno, and seemingly oblivious to the conceits which had created empires and petty fiefdoms, one of which has now gone so far as to purchase the commercial use of the numeral 24 outright and continues to make claims as to its final ownership – this despite mathematicians pointing out the absurdity of such a position in the face of quantum mechanics and chaos theory — I keep hope alive — the strange belief that press freedom means freedom for the press, not simply freedom for those who bankroll the presses.

Outright Manipulation

While Breytenbach manipulated the facts to make it seem as if I had lost my claim against IndependentPinocchio of the Press group, and the press ignored press releases from the Freedom of Expression Institute and the Alternative Media Forum, I approached then Press Ombud, Ed Linington, who insisted that if I wanted a review of the offending articles, I would have to sign away my civil rights. I proposed an amendment that would reference the Bill of Rights, only to be told: “It’s either our way, or the highway.” Needless to say I chose the highway.

The Alternative Media Forum, an ad hoc group of media activists then brought an Access to Information request to determine what records, in such cases such as mine and the MWASA case, Independent were hanging onto without bothering to inform the public. The application was denied, in Tony Howard’s words: “There is no such thing as the right to be informed.” Directly contradicting the Press Code it would seem is a daily occurrence.

Cast adrift into an ocean of antipathy for my position, I encountered Zulpha Khan, a news anchor at Heart 104.9 who refused to believe such a thing as press corruption was possible. Blinded by slavish obedience to authority and a servant mentality that could see no wrong with her master, she promptly had me arrested for doing the devils bidding – simply raising my voice – apparently in a paroxysm of outrage at the ineptitude of cram-collage journalism, I had threatened blue murder. My criticism won the day. Under cross-questioning in court by my attorney Michael Jennings, Khan eventually broke down and blurted out the following: “He never threatened me”. Well then, asked the judge, who did he threaten?”

Having been charged for literally challenging authority and asking uncomfortable questions, my raised voice was now being exaggerated to appear as if I was about to blow up or attack the press bosses with machine guns and anti-personnel bombs. That we should be so lucky. Media hacks fail to see that I have been vindicated, and my allegations are real. As we speak another episode of this saga is about to play itself out as fraud charges continue to be leveled against the perpetrators of falsehood.

Earlier allegations of fraud, placed before the Cape Town Fraud Unit during 2007 have, not surprisingly, considering the DA-lead coalition in the city, been unilaterally withdrawn by the senior state prosecutor. No reasons have been given. Instead, I have been forced on the defensive, defending myself against gagging orders, interdicts and attempts to have me put away for petty offences – my experience would surely not raise eyebrows in the former Soviet Union.

Not everything is so bleak. Not only have I been acquitted by the travesty which played out in the Magistrates court 13, but the law is perfectly clear. Although a regrettable incident, it is not an offence to verbally menace a building when in fact, there was no immediate danger, nor any threat was implied at the time. Strange though it may seem, the law does protect its citizens from supernatural beliefs, future dangers, spurious signals and in a sense Khan was accusing me of having shouted: “Theatre” in a Fire Station, or worse, promoting regime change at Newspaper House.

World Wide Weather Report

All the news reports emanating from a single journalist from SAPA had a common theme, at first they played up the nature of the alleged threat. Then they attempted to provide reasons for my acquittal. At no time was there any examination of the evidence given. Khan’s testimony was carried verbatim. Her cross-examination and subsequent dismissal as an unreliable witness who made up a Daily Voice version of the “truth” as she went along, oblivious to the real world, was not carried at all.

Despite the testimony of another Heart 104.9 witness who could not verify anything that Khan said was true, and the inadmissibility of a third witness’ testimony, the station manager no less, who was busy doing her hair I imagine, and not at the scene at the time, the news reports carried the authority and stamp of approval of the South African Press Association (SAPA) and the plethora of news titles in which they appeared.

The story multiplied itself online, until it had made its way around the globe. One Irish radio station went so far as to publish the story as a strange but true factoid on their website, neglecting to correct the obvious error that contaminated each and every report, I had complained about the spiking of a story about a black jazz musician, not a black magician. A Dutch blogger corresponding from Cape Town labeled me a weirdo. If I was a crackpot, there was no threat and if there was, it was unintelligible gibberish. To date the Mail and Guardian Online is the only news service to have corrected this serious error of fact. I am still waiting upon the lying Irishmen – O’Reilly and Associates to correct their mistakes, and the D F Malan Organisation – Lobotomedia24, and its many incarnations to do the same.

Although vilified by the establishment media which has sort to stamp out dissent and to impose its colonial worldview on its employees, as well as unsuspecting readers, I have no doubt that a third-wave of anti-establishment, alternative media will spring up in the vacuum created by the destruction of the titles such as New Age which was created in the wake of 1976, and The Vrye Weekblad, which was birthed during the eighties student revolt. This third wave media, I predict is already in the offing. It’s emergence can be seen in individual blogs that criticize monopolies and cartels, it can be found in microzines that carry the reality of life in the streets, and it can be heard in podcasts that actually broadcast content superior to that found on SABC or any of the officially sanctioned outlets.

The gulf between the reality of the new media and the old, I predict, is going to be so huge, that when it eventually grows up, we will jettison the old media entirely. The press bosses who brainwash the public will disappear. The puppet-masters who control the news will be cut-loose. We will witness a renaissance, an enlightenment in which all opinions, voices and ideas are heard. There will be no story too controversial, or too hot to handle. We will have press freedom, not simply freedom for those who own the presses.

Clear Channel Media Bends the Rules

ONE of the world’s largest corporate media companies has drawn fire from critics. The de facto owners of South African dailies Cape Times and Star newspapers, Clear Channel Communications, the holding company of Clear Channel Independent is raising hell in Iraq, and has even been accused of cosying up to George W Bush and the Religious Right. Here’s an extract from a recent expose, published in the City Pages

THERE are many facets of Clear Channel’s corporate personality. The company continues to branch out, forging a presence in everything from theater to photography exhibits to halftime shows at sporting events. And it has a syndication arm that produces the Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura Schlessinger programs.

In fact, there is a political bent to the company that has been quite conservative. After 9/11, for example, a widely circulated memo contained a list of suggested songs that station managers might want to consider too sensitive for listeners, including “Imagine” and “Peace Train.” (During the controversy that followed, the company claimed that the list reflected the opinions of the executives who compiled it and did not constitute an official company blacklist.) After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a number of Clear Channel stations sponsored “Support the Troops” rallies that critics called naked pro-war endorsements of the Bush administration. Additionally, the company, which does not have its own news division, recently dropped its affiliation with ABC News Radio and partnered with Fox News to air hourly updates on some stations.

The company’s founder, L. Lowry Mays, is a close friend of the Bush family and has maintained professional and political ties with both Bush the elder and the son. When George W. was the governor of Texas, Mays was appointed to the state’s technology council in 1996; he later contributed $51,000 to Bush’s reelection campaign in 1998. Between 2000 and 2002, entities associated with Clear Channel–through PACs, soft money, and individual contributions–forked over $1 million to political campaigns, with 75 percent going to Republican candidates.

“You’re dealing with a super-large tastemaker who can make or break people more than any other company in any industry,” says Mick Spence, a Minneapolis entertainment lawyer. “‘Tastemaker’ has a positive connotation most of the time, but in this case, it’s all determined on marketability of any product. That’s what Clear Channel does.”

“We’re a big company, and you have the good and the bad,” counters Dan Seeman, the vice president and general manager for Clear Channel Radio Minneapolis-St. Paul. “It’s frustrating, because a lot of the perception is myth.” Still, he allows, “We have a lot of resources, and we take advantage of those resources.”

The company’s critics are legion, including a number of high-profile media personalities. In early 2004, Howard Stern, the self-proclaimed King of All Media, was dropped from six Clear Channel stations on the grounds of profane language. Stern countered that the real reason he was dropped is that he turned against George W. Bush just as the presidential campaign was kicking into high gear. Stern, who was once a Bush supporter, repeatedly railed against the president for the war in Iraq, and against FCC chairman Michael Powell, a Bush appointee who had levied hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines against stations that carried Stern.

In November, post-election, Stern appeared on the David Letterman show, ostensibly to promote his impending move off the airwaves and onto satellite radio. But instead, Stern repeatedly talked about the threat to the First Amendment in the current era, one in which he says he cannot do or say things on the air that he did 20 years ago.

“I’m doing this because of Clear Channel,” Stern told Letterman about moving to satellite. “There’s nowhere else to do my radio program.”

Clear Channel started humbly enough, when Texas A&M alum Mays bought KEEZ-FM in San Antonio in 1972. Mays, an ex-Air Force officer who was deeply entrenched in Texas Republican circles as an investment banker, ponied up $125,000 to buy the station.

His co-investor was a local used-car salesman by the name of B.J. “Red” McCombs. In 1975, the pair bought WOAI-AM, one of the old-school 50,000-watt behemoths of the AM dial, a station whose signal could be heard at night hundreds or even thousands of miles away–a “clear channel” station by virtue of its exclusive control of the frequency on which it broadcast.

In 1958, McCombs opened his first car dealership in San Antonio and saw it rack up the sixth-highest sales in the country in its very first year. He bought and sold several sports franchises, and along the way emerged as a major player in Texas oil and real estate. Among his friends is President George Bush I.

Each time a McCombs business move paid dividends, he and Mays went on a shopping spree. The pair accrued a broadcasting mini-empire by snatching up financially fumbling stations and turning them into moneymakers. They did this mostly by changing the formats to religious or all-news programming. In 1988, the duo bought its first television station; at the time, they also owned six AM stations and six FM stations in seven cities.

In 1992 the FCC relaxed ownership regulations. Soon after, the FCC increased the number of television stations a media company could own. By the mid-1990s, Clear Channel Communications owned 43 radio and 16 TV stations.

Then came the Telecommunications Act of 1996. On its face, the bill was supposed to loosen regulations regarding access to telephone lines. Additionally, the new law was to open up restrictions on who could provide digital television services.

Tucked into the bill, however, was a provision that would further expand the number of radio stations a broadcast company could own in one market, and essentially do away with any limits on ownership nationwide. It allowed for a broadcaster to own as many as eight stations on either the AM or FM frequencies in a single market.

There was resistance on Capitol Hill, but broadcast conglomerates argued that more media concentration would actually improve the variety of radio programming. For instance, they claimed, if ABC Radio owned one “classic rock” station in a market, and ABC or, say, Infinity Broadcasting (two prominent rivals at the time), bought the other locally owned classic rock station in the market, there would be little reason for two classic rock stations. “Diversity” became the industry’s buzzword for promoting the bill.

The industry had the ear of President Bill Clinton, who was seeking reelection that year. Clinton professed to be impressed by the arguments the broadcasters made, and was almost certainly impressed by the coin they contributed to his reelection campaign. The president pushed Congress to pass the measure, which he signed in February 1996.

What followed was an unprecedented wave of large corporations merging with large corporations. AOL fused with Time Warner. Viacom became one with Infinity Broadcasting, and then with CBS. ABC merged with Walt Disney. And so on.

For all the press these huge alliances garnered, there was a ripple effect among smaller owners as well. As the industry became deregulated, a mergers-and-acquisitions boom commenced in the industry. One of the first local harbingers of this effect came in 1992, when Colfax Communications, a south Minneapolis company headed by a WCCO radio general manager, bought WCTS-FM (100.3), which had been a Christian station, for $10 million. Then Colfax, with the help of investors who had made their cash off of the Craftsman tool company, purchased KQQL-FM (107.9), an oldies station.

In 1995, KDWB-FM (101.3), long considered one of the most influential top 40 stations not on either coast, was bought by Dallas-based Chancellor Communications for $22 million, a local record, and by the end of the year the company owned KTCZ-FM (97.1), KEEY-FM (102.1), and KFAN-AM (1130). The following year, Colfax bought nine more stations in Phoenix, Milwaukee, and Boise. Two months later, in August 1996, Colfax sold all 12 of its stations to Chancellor for $365 million. Suddenly Chancellor owned seven stations in the Twin Cities.

But the mergers didn’t stop, and local radio listeners could be forgiven for losing track of who exactly was programming the music coming out of their car stereos. In 1997, Chancellor Broadcasting merged with another Texas-based broadcaster, Evergreen Media, and was christened Chancellor Media Group. The company owned 103 stations in 21 major markets. (The Twin Cities market is the 15th-largest in the U.S.) By the end of that year, Chancellor had formed a new national network called AMFM Radio.

During this age of consolidation, it became evident that nobody did mergers and acquisitions better than Clear Channel. Though the company had operated below big-media radar in its early years, its deep pockets and deal-spotting acumen left the company in a position to make major purchases at will. Clear Channel was taken public in 1984, and during the 1990s, its stock went from $4.60 a share in 1993 to $95 a share in 2000. (Mays’s sons, Randall and Mark, have taken major roles in the company’s management over time; Mark Mays is currently the CEO and president of Clear Channel, Randall the CFO and executive vice president.)

In 1996, Clear Channel bought 49 radio stations. The next year, it bought 70. In 1998, it bought Jacor Communications and its 206 radio stations to the tune of $6.5 billion. Clear Channel bought AMFM in October 1999. That acquisition, for $24 billion, netted Mays and Clear Channel 830 more stations. (To assuage the rumblings of antitrust regulators, Clear Channel quickly sold off an additional 100-plus stations for $4.2 billion.) The next closest radio competitor was Cumulus, which had a relatively paltry 230 stations at the time.

After years spent amassing its radio empire, Clear Channel began to move vertically in its acquisitions, buying up companies elsewhere in the media/entertainment supply chain. The real watershed came in 2000, when Clear Channel bought a promotions company called SFX. SFX had become a corporate raider in the booking business, buying such longstanding promotions companies as Bill Graham Presents. By 2000, SFX was staging more than 26,000 events annually. Clear Channel bought SFX for $4.4 billion, and folded it into Clear Channel Entertainment. Suddenly Clear Channel was booking thousands of concerts a year.

In addition to the radio and television stations, the concert venues and outdoor advertising, there are such holdings as Clear Channel Satellite, based in Colorado, providing a variety of satellite transmission services; Clear Channel Wireless, a high-speed internet service based in Cincinnati; Inside Radio, an industry trade publication; and Katz Media Group, an ad firm in New York City that works with 2,100 radio stations, 350 television stations, and 1,700 cable operators.

And the list goes on. Clear Channel owns Motor Sports Group, promoter of more than 600 car and cycle racing events a year. There’s Premiere Radio Networks, which distributes Rush Limbaugh and other shows to 7,800 radio stations; Prophet Systems, a company that makes the technology that allows DJs to “voicetrack,” or record radio shows in one city for several stations in other cities; and SFX Sports Group, a talent management and marketing agency that represents 500 professional athletes, including Michael Jordan and Andre Agassi. Another spin-off of Clear Channel produces the television shows Smallville and Arli$$. The company also has a stake in XM Satellite radio. And Clear Channel owns the touring rights to the Broadway productions of The Lion King, Hairspray, and a chunk of The Producers. In fact, the company owns prominent theaters both on Broadway and in Chicago.

Needless to say, it’s a corporate portfolio that goes far beyond owning an unprecedented number of radio stations. As the e-mail signature line used by many local Clear Channel employees puts it, “What other markets or what other media can I help you with today?”

As Clear Channel grew, so did resentment toward what was deemed by many an evil empire. Pop music aficionados have long decried the homogenization of radio at the hands of the company, which, they say, uses market research to formulate repetitious, lowest-common-denominator playlists around the country. (Clear Channel Radio CEO John Hogan retorted in 2003 that the company had 6,700 playlists–a sentiment Seeman echoes. “All of our research and testing for all of our stations is done locally,” he says.)

The complaints of the company’s competitors and critics were exhaustively documented in a series of stories written by Eric Boehlert of Salon.com in 2001. Boehlert wrote of Clear Channel’s alleged “pay for play” practices, recounted accusations that bands who booked shows with other concert promoters saw their airplay diminish on CC stations across the country, and compiled other charges of generally bad behavior. “Welcome to the world of Clear Channel,” Boehlert wrote, “radio’s big bully.”

Like any conglomerate, Clear Channel has sought to make its size pay off by reducing management ranks on the road to consolidation. As it snatched up multiple stations in one market, the company would merge operations, resulting in many lost jobs. According to a report published by Cornell University a year ago that was commissioned by the AFL-CIO, “Clear Channel’s cost-cutting practices” led to 1,500 to 4,500 jobs lost over four years.

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