Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

'Pirate Radio USA' explores how FCC limits freedom

Pirate Radio USA (2006)
Director: Jeff Pearson
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Veteran pirate radio broadcasters DJ Him and DJ Her take viewers inside the underground world of illegal, low-watt (usually 2-5 watts) radio stations, where people play and say what they want—until the FCC catches them and tramples all over their Constitutional Rights.

"Pirate Radio USA" is a funny, fast-paced, and important documentary that chronicles a decade of struggle by activists and operators of low-wattage micro-radio stations against the FCC and a United States Congress that seems more interested in adhering to the whims and wishes of media corporations than in the Constitutional rights of American citizens. It's a film made by someone who knows its subject well, as director Jeff Pearson and his partner in production and radio broadcast crime Mary Jones are both longtime radio pirates themselves.

The film shows the means and methods of micro-broadcasters across the United States while documenting a troubling and intentional pattern of abuse of the authority and outright Constitutional violations by the Federal government through the FCC. The filmmakers and their subjects focus primarily on the concerted efforts to quash the First Amendment rights of the micro-broadcasters, but what should be of far greater concern to all Americans is the way the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are also played fast-and-loose or outright ignored by the Feds when it comes to pirate radio. (If there's no protection from illegal searches and seizures of personal property, nor any guarantee of due process in the courts, then freedom of speech is pretty much non-existent because no one will dare use it. And THAT is what it seems the FCC has been trying to achieve in the pattern of behavior documented in this film.)

Although Pearson's admitted liberal biases occasionally shine through (such as an irrelevant reference to the "stolen" Presidential election in 2000, and a misfocused coverage of the Seattle WTO riots), "Pirate Radio USA" is mostly an evenhanded film that shows that a talented filmmaker with an honest heart can make an entertaining and informative documentary without having to distort facts or edit interviews to make subjects say or do things they never did (I'm looking at you, Michael "Fahrenheit 9/11" Moore and Ben "Expelled" Stein). It's an excellent piece of work.

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, "Pirate Radio USA" is worth checking out. Even if you aren't particularly interested in pirate radio and low-watt broadcastiong (although at the end of the movie, I guarantee you'll feel like heading down to Radio Shack for the equipment needed), you'll have your eyes opened to the way the Federal government is stomping all over the Constitution.

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