More than 300 artists, radio managers, politicians and members of the public packed the Wayne State University Law Center Auditorium in Detroit on Tuesday (June 2) to hear both sides of the Performance Rights Act and how broadcasters and performers/artists could be affected by the pending House and Senate legislation if passed.
The event, billed as "Awareness for Fairness" and arranged by House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, a Democrat from Detroit, included what's become the usual cast of characters for such public events: Well-worn Motown greats Dionne Warwick, Supremes member Mary Wilson, Martha Reeves, Duke Fakir, Sam Moore and current hip-hop star Rhymefest appeared on the panel in favor of the legislation that would levy fees on broadcasters for airing artists' recordings. While Radio One syndicated host Rev. Al Sharpton did make a brief appearance and spoke about how the legislation would hurt minority broadcasters, other radio management representatives from Radio One, Clear Channel, CBS Radio and Greater Media attended but did not speak. Karole White, head of the Michigan State Broadcasters' Association had been invited by Conyers to attend and speak, but she reportedly informed Conyers' staff that she would be in Chicago.
Reports on the event were mixed. A pro-royalties source told R&R that several members of the public testified that they had come to support broadcasters "but after hearing the testimony of the artists, said they were glad to learn something new" and were now in support of the legislation.
One broadcast source said, "A decision was made by broadcasters not to participate in the forum because of the belief that it would not be a fair venue for discussing the negative impact of a performance tax on Michigan broadcasters and minority stations." The source added, "Conyers promised [Radio One CEO] Alfred Liggins and [chairman] Cathy Hughes a congressional hearing and has not abided by that pledge.... This was a staged event. It was a 'let's bash radio event' created to embarrass radio. It was stacked against us."
MusicFirst spokesman Martin Machowsky disagreed with the broadcaster's assessment: "People who came into the room opposed to the Performance Rights Act left it as supporters of act because they heard both sides of the story. They heard the reasoned position of artist and musicians, and they rejected the blatantly inaccurate messages they have been hearing on the radio.
"And nothing was stacked against them. They were invited before the event. How can they look at themselves in the mirror and make that argument? Their arguments are just over the edge. This is the worst kind of politics."