Both Sides of the Story?

& WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS Playlist for April 10, 2016

Fair and balanced used to be a significant principle for journalists before it became a catchphrase for Fox News. Perhaps there is a bit of sarcasm involved in that network’s use of the phrase, but it does appear that current broadcasters have different agendas. Back in 1949 the Federal Communications Commissions established the Fairness Doctrine which required broadcast license holders to present information about controversial issues in balance, in essence to present both sides of the story. The policy was controversial throughout its lifespan (mainly with arguments that it was government infringement upon free speech) and the Fairness Doctrine eliminated in 1987, although some language remained in FCC policies until 2011.

What role does folk radio play in being “fair and balanced” in 2016? A phone call from a listener has me pondering this question.

On Sunday, I began my radio show with a set of songs and a discussion of Bruce Springsteen‘s decision to cancel a concert in North Carolina as protest of the states passing of HB2, a controversial law that repeals a recent ordinance passed in Charlotte which would have granted transgender people the right to use bathrooms of the gender they identify with. HB2 repeals Charlotte’s ordinance and effectively enforces the states anti discrimination laws, preventing municipalities in North Carolina from extending protection that covers sexual orientation and gender identity. The state’s anti discrimination laws also cover minimum wage, so local towns and cities could not set their own standards.

In announcing that he would not perform in North Carolina, Springsteen wrote:

Right now, there are many groups, businesses, and individuals in North Carolina working to oppose and overcome these negative developments. Taking all of this into account, I feel that this is a time for me and the band to show solidarity for those freedom fighters. As a result, and with deepest apologies to our dedicated fans in Greensboro, we have canceled our show scheduled for Sunday, April 10th. Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.

Bruce Springsteen and the late Pete Seeger performing at Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009

Bruce Springsteen and the late Pete Seeger performing at Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009

I make no bones about it… I strongly approve of Springsteen’s actions. In an age where politicians are more concerned about knocking each other and in some cases introducing hatred in their campaigns, the media often ignores the real issues. By taking a stand, Springsteen arguably reached more people and drew more attention to the situation in North Carolina than the media has done since Governor Pat McCory signed HB2 into law on March 23. Some critics have complained that Springsteen’s boycott only hurt the ticket takers, vendors and other individuals who lost a days pay due to the cancellation of the concert. While that is regrettable, perhaps it does send a message to those who live and work in the state that this law is causing hardship.

Another performer made her opinion known about the situation in North Carolina, although her actions were ultimately different from Bruce Springsteens. Singer-songwriter Erin McKeown chose to play two concerts in North Carolina over the weekend, and her reasons for doing so were also in line with protesting HB2.

Erin is well known for lending her voice to causes of social justice. She is a former board member and strong supporter of the Future For Music Coalition and works with non-profit organizations on issues of media justice and immigration reform.

Erin McKeown

Erin McKeown
Photo by Merri Cyr

An active voice on social justice issues and culture, Erin was a 2011-12 fellow at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and she has blogged and hosted for WNYC New York Public Radio. A former board member of the Future of Music Coalition, McKeown has also worked closely with a range of non-profits focusing on her core concerns of media justice and immigration reform.

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About Ron Olesko

For over 40 years, Ron has been a radio programmer with WFDU-FM in Teaneck, New Jersey. He created WFDU-FM’s TRADITIONS in 1980, a show that he continues to host and produce every Sunday afternoon from 3 to 6pm Eastern Time.

He’s the president of and booker for the Hurdy Gurdy Folk Music Club in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, and is a regular contributor to Sing Out! as well as the host of the Folk Music Notebook blog on this site. Ron can also be found emceeing concerts and festivals around the NYC/NJ area.

A lifelong Mets fan and a rabid soccer geek, Ron is a Red Bull season ticket holder since their inception and will most likely be in his seat when not in the studio.


Both Sides of the Story? — 2 Comments

  1. If there’s something folk music does better than anything it’s understand people. And people change through lots of different motivating factors. So I commend everyone who’s engaging this and all the other types of issues that folk music has always embraced courageously. And from all angles. One perspective really gets the job done but lots of voices together singing different parts in a form of Harmony well we know how good that sounds.