Why I no longer support NPR

An open letter to Jane Christo, General Manager of WBUR Boston

Jane Christo
General Manager
WBUR
Boston University
890 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA  02215
2003 November 09

Dear Ms. Christo:

I have received your latest request for support. I regret to inform you that I no longer give money to National Public Radio (NPR) or its news stations, such as WBUR Boston. Here's why.

I began supporting WBUR over 20 years ago, when I first moved to Boston. I stopped in 2000, when NPR lobbied congress to restrict licensing of low power FM radio stations (LPFM).

NPR claims that LPFM will interfere with their own radio signals, but this isn't credible. Properly operated radio transmitters don't interfere with adjacent channels, and tests of LPFM transmitters bear this out. The real reason that NPR opposes LPFM is that they fear competition for radio spectrum and sponsorship dollars.

I find this kind of rent-seeking generally offensive, and I think the world would be a better place if there were more local media, such as LPFM. However, the issue for me is much more profound than just the number of stations on my FM dial.

There are other media organizations that also seek the power of government to suppress competition. Examples include record labels, represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and movie studios, represented by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

While NPR faces competition from other broadcasters, the RIAA and MPAA face competition from computer networks, such as the Internet. And while it is easy enough to shut down a radio transmitter, there isn't any good way to suppress speech on the Internet.

Instead, these media organizations seek to control the Internet by controlling computers, and by controlling the ways that people can use computers. For a variety of technical, legal, and economic reasons, controlling computers comes down to controlling the software that runs on them, and controlling software comes down to controlling the programmers who write it.

I am a computer programmer, so this is a matter of vital importance to me. Over the last few years, media companies have used the force of law to

I consider that my legal right and technical ability to write, run, and distribute software are very much at risk here.

I hope you can understand that this is a polarizing issue for me. I still value NPR, and WBUR, and the programming that they provide. But by acting against LPFM, NPR has thrown in their lot with the other big media interests. Until that changes, I absolutely will not support NPR or any NPR news station.

Sincerely,

Steven W. McDougall


Notes

fear competition for radio spectrum and sponsorship dollars
Members of the Prometheus Radio Project make this claim in various interviews, for example, at http://www.spectrum.ieee.org/WEBONLY/resource/jul03/nfcc.html and http://oldsite.prometheusradio.org/press_npr.shtml; however, I can't find an authoritative source for it. If anyone can refute this claim, I would be interested in hearing from them.
controlling the ways that people can use computers
For further discussion, see the 2001 October Crypto-Gram Newsletter
polarizing issue
Ms. Christo sent me a very nice reply pointing out that "WBUR is owned by Boston University and operates independently from NPR." Apparently, she does not undestand what a polarizing issue is.

Steven W. McDougall / resume / swmcd@world.std.com / 2003 Nov 09