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Armed Forces Radio

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. INHOFE. Mr. President, we have heard some discussions, some debate by the Senator from Iowa, Mr. Harkin, on his amendment No. 2438. I oppose this amendment, and I have prepared and have filed a second-degree amendment that I will offer after all time by Senator Harkin has expired.

I guess I would ask the question as to why should the Senate mandate what programming our troops can listen to or deny their opportunity to choose. Currently, under this system, our troops communicate with their local radio stations by offering feedback that shapes the local programming.

Simply put, if the troops do not like what they are hearing, they call the radio station and ask that the programing be changed. It seems to be fair to me. It is called the market. If there is no market for it, why should we be doing it?

Now, as Senator Harkin himself has stated, fair and balanced programming options are offered to all 33 radio stations worldwide. It is the individual radio stations that establish the programming based on its audience's preferences. The stations decide what programming is in the greatest demand.

Worldwide, the second-largest audience request is to play all 3 hours of Rush Limbaugh. Only 1 hour is currently made available through the AFRTS. However, some stations choose not to carry his program at all, even for the 1 hour of availability. That is their choice to make based on the troop feedback.

You might say at this point, if the troop feedback is that they want all 3 hours, and some stations do not play any, and the most that any stations play is 1 hour, then if any change should be made in terms of complying with the market, it should be that.

Now, Senator Harkin and his charts would have you believe the only program on the radio is Rush Limbaugh. But what about the 24 hours of National Public Radio or DOD's commitment to begin airing liberal talk shows by Al Franken and Ed Schultz? Furthermore, Rush Limbaugh currently represents only 3 percent of the weekly scheduled programming. That is 3 percent. I don't know why they are so worried about 3 percent.

Now, the liberal talk radio--this is important as to having a benchmark of 1 million listeners. It is important to know there is a reason why they choose programming. One is, they do not choose any at all unless it has 1 million listeners.

Let's put that chart up. It is kind of hard to read, but I will explain it in a minute. Prior to this fall, no liberal talk shows had over 1 million listeners. Rush Limbaugh has approximately 15 million listeners weekly. AFRTS's policy is to ``provide a cross-section of popular programming.'' To this point, there have been no significant audience demands to rationalize adding progressive programming or liberal programming.

For the record, Limbaugh was added to the programming menu after troop listener demand had been heavy and sustained for many years. At the time, Limbaugh's audience had grown so large that failure to include his show would have violated AFRTS's policy of providing a slice of domestic talk radio.

There is no truth to the minority's assertion that liberal talk radio has been kept off of AFRTS for political purposes. That is a pure fabrication. The truth is, as this chart shows, the minimal market demand that exists for liberal talk shows did not meet the listenership requirement for programs to be played on AFRTS.

The AFRTS standard is a ``national syndication and one million listeners per week.'' It has to be a nationally syndicated program, and it has to have a million listeners per week. That goes for all programming, as this chart clearly shows.

Now, two liberal talk shows have achieved 1 million listeners in 2005. If we look at this carefully, we will see that in 2004 there were no liberal talk shows on AFRTS because none of them had an audience of 1 million listeners. There is a change between 2004 and 2005 and that is Ed Schultz and Al Franken both were able to get a million listeners. Therefore, we changed the programming. We are responding to the demand out there. If there are a million people who want to listen to them, we will give our troops a chance to do the same thing.

As it turns out, right now, the AFRTS stations will have access to the two top conservative and the two top liberal shows. The conservative ones are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. And the liberal ones are Al Franken and Ed Schultz.

Still, Senator Harkin is not satisfied. Senator Harkin claims conservatives are propagandizing AFRTS's programming. Well, I only ask, which sounds more like propaganda, programming which is freely chosen by listening troops or programming mandated by the Government? Furthermore, if there are significant numbers of letters from troops decrying the current AFRTS programs, I know my office has not received one.

In my travels visiting troops, I have not heard of one. In fact, I know I have been, by count, to Iraq, into those areas where we have our troops stationed, more times than any other member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. When I am over there, I have yet to have one person come up to me or have one letter in our office saying they are dissatisfied with the programming and that they demand more liberal programs.

All I see here are Senators trying to subsidize liberal talk radio because they do not have anyone to compete with popular conservative radio talk shows.

Now, the amendment also calls for an ombudsman, as if the amendment is not bad enough in trying to dictate what our troops should listen to against their will. The Harkin amendment would establish an ombudsman of the American Forces Network who would be appointed by the Secretary of Defense.

The amendment is based on the premise that the programming decisions of the American Forces Radio and Television Service have improperly excluded liberal political radio programming and would give the ombudsman the duty of identifying circumstances under which the AFN ``has not adhered to the standards and practices of the Network in its programming, including circumstances in which the programming of the Network lacked integrity, fairness, or balance.'' I am quoting now from his legislation. The ombudsman would be required to submit an annual report.

Now, what this ombudsman provision does is it allows Members of Congress the opportunity to obstruct an already fair and functioning process by getting in between the troops and what they choose to listen to. Listed as one of the ombudsman's duties in this amendment is to initiate and conduct, upon the request of Congress, reviews of the programming of the network, AFRTS.

The creation of an ombudsman is another example of wasteful Government redundancy. But, moreover, the creation of this post would empower Members of the Senate to choose what entertainment our troops listen to. This is an attempt by the minority to impose unpopular message-driven content on AFRTS to a captive audience. The requirement for a report, et cetera, is to intimidate the 33 stations that are trying to serve our service men and women into serving special interests in Congress.

We do not need a political officer to make sure our troops get the daily dose of a certain media personality. Today, these decisions are based on the input from the servicemember and their ratings by the American people. Our troops deserve the right to choose what they listen to on the radio. What they do not deserve is their Senators taking away the right. Who are we to do this? How arrogant it is we are putting ourselves in a position where we claim to know more than the troops as to what is in their best interests. I do not believe that should be the case.

Finally, preserving the programming integrity of AFRTS must be paramount. There is another reason totally unrelated to what we talked about so far. AFRTS is a vital link between military command and troops and their families throughout the world. What we are saying is, if we have commanders in the field who are trying to communicate messages to our troops--they currently can do this. And they can do this under the Harkin amendment. However, there would be much fewer people listening in the market by adjusting the market, and these messages would not get out.

Important messages are broadcast on this network, and if the programming becomes a political football and is no longer based on what the troops want but what Congress wants, then listenership would certainly dwindle. Maintaining popular programming ensures that AFRTS remains a reliable communications link to our troops in the field. We cannot afford to play politics with such an important asset.

Now, I have a second-degree amendment, and I will be offering this at the expiration of the time of the Senator from Iowa. The second-degree amendment to the Harkin amendment describes how programs are selected for the American Forces Network, including reliance on ratings and popularity, as demonstrated by the numbers of listeners, and notes that reliance is placed on 33 local programming managers at military communities around the globe.

It would express the sense of the Senate that:

(1) the men and women of the American Forces Radio and Television Service and the Armed Forces Network should be commended for providing a vital service to the military community worldwide; and

(2) the programming mission, themes, and practices of the Department of Defense with respect to its television and radio programming have fairly and responsively fulfilled their mission of providing ``a touch of home'' to members of the Armed Services and their families around the world and have contributed immeasurably to high morale and quality of life in the Armed Forces.

Finally, the language in my second-degree amendment provides that the Secretary of Defense may--may; it does not say he has to, that he must have an ombudsman but he may appoint an ombudsman at AFRTS to serve as--this is the way we have it in the second-degree amendment--``an intermediary between the staff of the American Forces Network and the Department of Defense, military commanders, and listeners to the programming of the American Forces Network.'' You will find that this conforms to the description used to define the ombudsman at Stars and Stripes, our military print media. It is very similar to Stars and Stripes.

I find, when I am making my trips over there, they will tell me they have two ways of communicating with the outside world other than their communications with their family; one is through Stars and Stripes, and one is through the radio programming on these 33 stations.

Now, I would want to, at the appropriate time, go ahead and offer this amendment. It is my understanding the Senator from Iowa will be returning momentarily. But for a minute, I might say to the distinguished chairman, let me give an observation.

The other day I was in the elevator coming up to the floor to cast a vote. I was with two of our Democratic colleagues whom I respect very much, two very liberal Democratic Senators. They were complaining about the fact that all the talk shows are conservative and they don't have successful liberal talk shows. And they said--these were their words in the elevator--there ought to be a legislative fix to this. I said: What you guys don't understand is, this is market driven, and there is no market for your liberal trite. And for that reason, it is much more of the conservative talk shows. It is called the market, and that is what makes America work.

I yield the floor at this time.

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