Return to Nicholas Johnson's Main Web Site

Nicholas Johnson and Media Reform

Media Reform Organizations
KGAN-TV License Challenge
Johnson's FCC Years
Post-FCC Activities
Current Writing and Activities

NOTE: This page serves two functions. It provides links to media reform organizations and other resources of value to media activists. It also provides academics, activists and other interested persons references to former FCC Commissioner Nicholas Johnson's past and current media reform writing and activities. In both, this site offers little more than a small sampling of relevant material.

The page is designed to give the reader a sampling, and a general sense of the kinds of material that may be found with a diligent search of the Web, either directly or by way of Google and other search engines.

The sampling of material linked from this page includes (1) Media Reform Organizations, (2) Johnson's FCC years, (3) Post-FCC Activities, and (4) Current Writing and Activities.


Media Reform Organizations

Johnson maintains his ties with media reform activists. The current FCC's actions tend to discourage some from participation, but citizen action is still possible. Here are sample links (no organization was deliberately omitted) to some organizations' Web sites you will probably find useful. (Parenthetical references are to the programs of the larger organizations' you can link to from their main Web sites.) Given the 2500-plus attendance at the May 2005 Free Press National Media Reform Conference in St. Louis, it's obvious that there are now 100s of media reform organizations and that this is in no sense a complete list. But a search of these sites, or using search engines on the Web, will provide links to many more.


Center for Creative Voices in Media

Center for Digital Democracy

Center for Public Integrity, The

    including its "Well Connected" industry-tracking databases

Common Cause (Media and Democracy)

Consumer Federation of America (Telecommunications; and Communications & Media Policy)

Consumers Union (Telecom & Utilities)

Free Press

The Free Press list of links to over 150 additional media reform organizations
Iowans for Better Local TV

Media Access Project

Media Alliance

Media Policy Program (The Campaign Legal Center)

Prometheus Radio Project

Reclaim the Media

Sinclair Stations-Related

Iowans for Better Local TV

Sinclair Action (Media Matters for America) 

Ted Remington's "The Counterpoint" Blog

Sinclair Corporate, News Central and KGAN


Books, Journals, Articles and Films
See below
Benton Foundation

New America Foundation

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
Media Content Creators and Critics
Center for Media and Public Affairs, The


Danny Schechter's "News Dissector" Blog

and Web page of books and films
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)


Grade the News (Project for Excellence in Journalism and Committee of Concerned Journalists)

Media Matters for America

and its Sinclair Action Web site
including Media for Democracy 2004
Media Tenor (Institute for Media Analysis)

Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, The

Project Censored

KGAN-TV License Challenge

Iowans for Better Local Television have filed a Petition to Deny the license renewal of Sinclair station KGAN-TV, Cedar Rapids Iowa. The timeline was that the station needed to file its application for license renewal by October 1, 2005; opponents had until January 1, 2006, to file any comments or Petitions to Deny.

A video of the group presenting its Petition to the KGAN-TV station manager on December 22, 2005, is available in a number of formats from The general IBLTV Web site,, noted above, has general information about IBLTV, its Petition to Deny, and media reform generally.

The group's Petition, in MSWord format, is available, as is a Supplement, in pdf, filed on December 29. About 470 pages of Exhibits and Declarations accompanying the Petition are available at the FCC in Washington and the Reference Desk of the Public Library in Iowa City, Iowa. Some may become available online as links from the IBLTV Web site as well. Counsel for Sinclair/KGAN-TV responded with its formal "Opposition," to which IBLTV responded on February 15 with a formal "Reply" and accompanying "Appendices" (both, like the Petition, also in MSWord format). KGAN-TV filed a "Motion to Strike" the "Reply;" to which IBLTV filed an "Opposition to Motion to Strike" (also in MSWord format) on March 11.

As there are additional developments they will be posted here, and probably also on the IBLTV Web site.

Current Writing and Activities

Nicholas Johnson's interest in amateur radio, communications, computers, cyberlaw, electronics, Internet, journalism, libraries and information science, radio, satellites, telecommunications, television, and related subjects has lasted a lifetime -- beginning long before his appointment as a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission in 1966. As a result, many of the thousands of screens available through links from his Web sites relate to one or another of these subjects. It would be impossible, and serve little purpose, to try to duplicate all of those links from here.

If you just want to browse through Johnson's articles, columns, talks and transcripts from 1996 to the present (on all subjects), your best bet may be to go directly to the annotated "Recent Publications" page, which contains links to the full text of all of them.

If you'd like some current (May 2003 to present) samples of his writing about communications-related subjects, you might want to look at:

"Censorship from State to Self," Commission on Radio and Television Policy, Vienna, Austria, October 21, 2005.

"Fork in the Road and Alternative Futures," Town Meeting on the Future of Media (FCC Forum), Iowa City, October 5, 2005.

"Why You Should Care Who Serves on the FCC," The Gazette, September 25, 2005.

"Your Second Priority" Iowa City Federation of Labor Labor Day Picnic, September 5, 2005.

"Is the FCC Wrong to Hire the Religious Right?" "The Mike Webb Show," KIRO-AM, Seattle, Washington, August 11, 2005.

"How to Violate Copyright Without Copying Anything," The Gazette, July 10, 2005.

"Public Finance and Public Broadcasting," Talk of Iowa, host Gayane Torosyan, WSUI-AM, Iowa City, WOI-AM, Ames, June 22, 2005.

"Media Responsibility and the Iowa License Renewals," Talk of Iowa, host Gayane Torosyan, WSUI-AM, Iowa City, WOI-AM, Ames, May 31, 2005 (audio and transcript).

"Broadcasting and It's Regulation: 1895-1970," National Conference on Media Reform, St. Louis, May 14, 2005 (transcript). An audio recording of the entire panel ("The FCC Past and Present" with Gloria Tristani, United Church of Christ, Office of Communication (and former FCC Commissioner); FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein; and  Nicholas Johnson, University of Iowa College of Law (and former FCC Commissioner) is available at (scroll down to "Saturday May 14 9:00 A.M").

"Media Concentration: An Historical Perspective," FCC Media Concentration Forum, St. Paul, December 9, 2004.

"Sinclair’s Political Advocacy and the Public Interest," Don Shelby Show, WCCO-AM, Minneapolis, October 12, 2004.

"Media as Politics: What's a Voter to Do?", Earlham College lecture, September 15, 2004.

"Media Talk with Dave Berkman," Wisconsin Public Radio, July 9, 2004.

"Progress or Dystopia for Community Media?", Community Media Review, Spring 2004.

"Lessons from Abu Ghraib," The Daily Iowan, May 11, 2004.

"Programming Indecency and the FCC," Tom Fudge interview of Nicholas Johnson, KPBS-FM, San Diego, March 10, 2004. And see, "Superbowls and Less Than Super Leadership,"  Don Shelby Show, WCCO-AM, Minneapolis, February 11, 2004, and "Jackson Reaction Seems Odd," Iowa City Press-Citizen, February 8, 2004.

"TV's Presidential Horse Race," The Gazette, December 16, 2003.

"The History of Media Reform: Scanning the Horizon," National Conference on Media Reform, Madison, November 7, 2003.

"Media Concentration and Democracy," Unitarian-Universalist Society, Iowa City, August 10, 2003.

"Want Free Speech Rights? Go Buy a Station," Des Moines Register, June 23, 2003.

"Forty Years of Wandering in the Wasteland," Federal Communications Law Journal, May 2003.

Johnson's FCC Years (1966-1973)

General background information about Johnson can be found with the links at the top of the page reached by clicking on "Enter Here" from the opening site at general biographical information, activities reports, and a lengthy bibliography. The bulk of that general information relates to his FCC years.

For example, many of the articles written about him, and even the articles written by him in legal publications or major magazines of general circulation, are from the FCC years, as are many of the entries in the 333-page bibliography.

He wrote two books while serving on the Commission, both of which are available here (free) in full text: How to Talk Back to Your Television Set (Little-Brown and Bantam, 1970) and Test Pattern for Living (Bantam, 1972).

With a couple of noteworthy exceptions, most of his official writing as a Commissioner involved some 400 separate, often dissenting, opinions. As of May 2005 roughly half of these (1966-1969) have been uploaded, with the remainder to come fairly soon. The link now goes to a list of those opinions by date, which contains, in turn, the links to the full text of the opinions. Once the upload is completed, he hopes to provide an annotated narrative by subject matter, with links to the opinions.

Post-FCC Activities

Upon leaving the FCC in 1974, Johnson accepted a position in Washington, D.C., as chair of the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting. The work of that organization is the subject of Beth Caron Fratkin, The National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting: A Forgotten Chapter of Media Reform Movement of the 1960s and 1970s (University of Utah, Department of Communication, Master's Thesis, May 2002). (A Google or other search on "National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting" will produce hundreds of hits.)

Following his service as a Presidential Advisor to President Jimmy Carter, for the White House Conference on Libraries and Information Science in 1979, and a distinguished visiting professorship at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, during the spring semester of 1980, Johnson returned to his home town of Iowa City, Iowa. For the next 25 years he has taught media-related courses at the University of Iowa College of Law. During these years his communications-related activities also included a nationally syndicated column, "Communications Watch," hosting a PBS television program for two seasons, "The New Tech Times," service on the local Broadband and Telecommunications Commission, lecturing nationally and internationally, service on the board of VITA ("Volunteers in Technical Assistance") when it was promoting low earth orbiting satellites (little "LEOs") for cheap third world communication, and additional writing. Even though this was before the Internet and Web really took off, he was an early user of the sites that were available to him, from which he made some material available by way of "ftp" transfers. Some samples of the range of that 1980s material are available here.

Books, Journals, Articles and Films

Ben Bagdikian, The New Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon Press, 2004) [This 20th anniversary edition is the latest in the series from America's pre-eminent observer of the growing concentration of control of mass media.]

Eric Barnouw, A History of Broadcasting in the United States (vol. 1, A Tower in Babel [to 1933]; vol. 2, The Golden Web [1933-1953]; vol 3, The Image Empire [1953-1970] (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966, 1968, 1970) [When it comes to the history of broadcasting this is "the" source; an indispensable reference.]

Rosa Brooks, "Our Homegrown Third World," Los Angeles Times, September 7, 2005.

Charles Benton, "Where's the Public? Media Reform in the Digital Age," Engaging Democracy Series, Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies, Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York, January 25, 2005. [Charles Benton, Chairman of the Benton Foundation, has given his own time and talent, as well as the resources of his foundation (see above), to the cause of media reform for many years. In the late 1970s he helped organize and fund the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting which Nicholas Johnson chaired. His early 2005 insights are a very worthwhile read.]

Duncan H. Brown and Jeffrey L. Blevins, "The Role of the Public in the FCC's Broadcast Policy-Making Process: Have We Entered a New Era," paper presented to the Communication Law & Policy Division, 55th annual conference of the International Communication Association, New York, NY, May 26-30, 2005.

Kay MillsChanging Channels: The Civil Rights Case that Transformed Television (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004) [This is a book-length description of the single most significant case in the evolution of citizens' rights in media reform, the WLBT-TV case from Jackson, Mississippi, in the early-to-mid 1960s. It was a case in which FCC Commissioner Johnson played a significant role. The writing reads like a novel, the research is thorough, and it is a significant contribution to the literature regarding American, and civil rights, history generally. It's a must read for every media activist.]

For a visual depiction of the times out of which the WLBT case arose see, for example, Charles Guggenheim's Academy Award-winning film, "A Time for Justice" (38 min.; 16mm, B&W; 1994), which focuses on Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s. [Charles Guggenheim was a major figure in the creation and evolution of the American documentary. He made over 100 documentaries during a half-century career for which he was nominated for 12 Academy Awards (he won four times) as well as a George Foster Peabody Award. He died in 2002.]

Judy Muller, "Defining the Right Demographic," Morning Edition, National Public Radio, September 6, 2005.

Andy Rooney, "No Place to Hide From Ads," CBS 60 Minutes, February 20, 2005. [This is a rather unusual critique of commercialism generally, including commercialism in broadcasting, from an established on-air personality.]

Danny Schechter, Weapons of Mass Deception (Canoga Park: Cinema Libre Distribution, 2005) (film); Embedded: Weapons of Mass Deception: How the Media Failed to Cover the War in Iraq (Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2003) (book)