Angels And Demons

May 15, 2009 -- 1:44 pm PDT

Daryl P. Friedman's picture
Daryl P. Friedman

No, I'm not reviewing a movie. But I am giving "two thumbs up" to another drama I witnessed two days ago.

The U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee passed a critical bill on Wednesday. The bill was H. R. 848, The Performance Rights Act; it seeks to close the "corporate radio loophole" and make radio pay for the content it uses, compensating artists for the performance of the recordings that bring in $16 billion to the broadcast industry.

The Chairman of the Committee (also a lead sponsor of the bill) was Rep. John C. Conyers, Jr. Rep. Conyers began in Congress in 1965, the year the Civil Rights Act was passed. And for the 44 years since that landmark legislation, Conyers has been a civil rights stalwart, a passionate protector of minority rights, and generally, a champion of "the little guy." So, it's no wonder that he sided with the working musicians of America over corporate broadcasters, and championed "The Performance Rights Act."

So imagine my surprise when Radio One, a minority-owned company that targets African-American listeners, attacked Rep. Conyers on their stations around the country. Radio One owns more than 50 stations and last year earned more than $300 million, but its owners think artists shouldn't get even one penny in performance royalties. Even worse, Radio One used the public airwaves to go after Rep. Conyers, accusing him of "trying to murder black radio" according to station owner Cathy Hughes. The station organized protests against Rep. Conyers in Detroit and DC. To suggest that Rep. Conyers would do anything that would hurt black radio is to ignore history and to ignore his voting record.

Despite tremendous pressure brought on by Radio One and the broadcasters' lobbyists, Rep. Conyers held his ground, marshaled his colleagues, and got the bill passed 21-9. This was an important first vote and a major milestone.

Angels 1, Demons 0.