Archive | April, 2003

Growing Awareness of the Media Monopoly Threat, But Will It Do Any Good?

I haven’t blogged much about the ongoing media consolidation debate recently because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere new, different or interesting. Yes, it’s still important but mostly it’s the same refrain: FCC Democrats Copps and Adelstein keep going to public hearings and advocating for more restraint; FCC Chairman Powell says he already has all the public input he needs and he’s ready to plow forward. Then, every week or so a new commentator or interest group weighs in to urge the FCC to slow down and not to let the media barons take it all. For instance, today a bunch of well-known musicians sent a letter to Powell urging him not to give away the store.

The most positive recent turn of events is that the issue is slowly leaking into the mainstream news arena. The issue of media ownership has gotten consistent press since last Fall, but it’s always in the business pages, and almost never on TV or radio, so it might as well not exist for the average American. By and large, the mainstream media treats it as a business issue, handled by reporters who cover the media business, not as a political and democratic issue.

But it seems like the regional hearings that are going on bring the topic to the front page of local papers in the cities hosting the hearings. Local events that have national significance seem to elevate issues for newspaper editors. And that’s a tremendously good thing. Even better, local hearings also bring TV coverage, which is probably most responsible for getting the issue onto people’s radars.

Even this morning, NPR’s Morning Edition did a piece on the musicians’ letter to Powell. Even though NPR may not reach a truly mainstream audience, such a piece arguably hits more people than a story on page 4 of the New York Times Business section.

Unfortunately, my biggest fear is that this coverage and attention is too late to do any good. The FCC’s public comment period is long over, and Powell is prepared to push the FCC hard and fast to wrap up its media ownership rules review by its self-imposed June deadline. Although the FCC’s two Democrats are clearly on the side of the public interest, that’s not enough to stop a speeding train.

There does seem to be some hope in getting more members of Congress sticking their nose into the issue. That’s where greater public awareness becomes important. Congresspeople listen to the their constituents, and they really listen to the front page of their local newspapers. It is still Congress that makes the laws and sets the funding for the likes of the FCC, so there is the possibility that influential congresspeople, like the Senate Commerce Committee, could put some major pressure on the FCC to ratchet down it’s deregulatory orgy.

Even better, Congress can rewrite laws making it easier for the FCC to keep and defend its media ownership rules in the first place. Keep in mind that it is the Congressionally drafted and passed Telecomm Act of 1996 that mandated this ownership rules review in the first place, not to mention putting the ownership deregulation ball in motion.

The real test is whether Congress can be convinced to actually do anything. Sure, they can talk up a storm, grill FCC Commissioners in committee, put out press releases and send letters to Powell. But when push comes to shove, the only thing that makes a difference is legislation, and if Congress won’t change it or write new ones, then not a goddamn thing will change.

So, let’s say that I’m not terrifically optimistic, even if I know there’s still some hope that Rupert Murdoch and Clear Channel can be held back a bit in their quest to own every damn media property.

In the end, though, I can’t help but think that we’re just begging and groveling to hold on the last few crumbs. And I fucking hate to be in that position. I keep thinking that there has to be something more than lobbying the FCC and Congress not to take away our daily gruel after they’ve already thrown us from our homes and stripped us naked.

We need to take it back. We need a radical media call to arms. And, that, my friends, is where I’m blogging next.

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Catching Up & A Call To Mobilize Against Media Ownership Deregulation

Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten behind in posting archives of the mediageek radio show. I just posted the April 18th show where my guests were media scholar Robert McChesney and Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, who were a great help in getting listeners to call in during WEFT’s pledge drive. You can listen to this show on the radioshow page.

McChesney has started a new media reform organization, along with Nation Magazine journalist John Nichols, called Free Press. they’re sending around this message to help mobilize people against media deregulation:

Dear Friend,

If you believe that we need a free and independent media in the United States, we need you to send an email to Congress right now telling them so. Go to now, or stay here and let us explain.

On June 2, big money special interests and the Federal Communications Commission plan to further relax or eliminate the remaining significant media ownership laws. They call it “deregulation,” but it is no such thing. It is actually “re-regulation,” such that all the choice radio and TV licenses can go to fewer and fewer massive firms, and these firms can buy up far more newspapers and cable TV systems and channels than was ever possible in the past. If you like what has happened to radio since its ownership rules were scrapped in 1996, you’ll love what is about to happen in the rest of the U.S. media. It can get worse. Much worse.

The majority of the FCC members are under the thumb of the massive media conglomerates that are demanding these changes so they can get bigger and face less competition. They are working to rush these changes through without any public involvement.

The AFL-CIO, Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America and leading religious and civil rights groups have argued that the changes go too far. Yet, polls show that most Americans do not know that the FCC is preparing to dramatically shift the landscape of American media, journalism and democracy.

Only concerted effort on our part can stop the FCC.

In the next few weeks, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee will hold crucial hearings on the proposed deregulation.

Public comments will determine whether or not Congress allows Big Media to have their way.

Please go to One click will send your message to Congress and the FCC demanding they preserve current media ownership rules for the sake of a diverse, independent, and competitive media.

If we lose this fight, the likely stampede of mergers will give a handful of large corporations greater influence over what is– and is not — reported in the news. The quality of media will get even worse as the public’s ability to have open, informed discussion with a wide variety of viewpoints declines, eroding the foundations of our democracy.

No matter what your issue, media reform is integral to it. As they say, You control the news, you control the views.

Finally, please send this message to everyone you think might be interested via email. We can win this fight.

Bob McChesney & John Nichols

Thanks to my fellow communications grad student Andrew Ó Baoill for passing this along to me.

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This AP article in USA Today takes a rosy survey of Estonia’s relative technological advancement, especially in comparison to other former soviet republics:

“Dubbed E-Stonia by some, the country ranked No. 8 out of 82 countries in putting the Net to practical use in a recent World Economic Forum report. The country ranked No. 2 in Internet banking and third in e-government. …

Many Estonians who now rely on wireless phones never had a landline phone. And most who now use the Internet to pay bills have never used a Western-style checkbook.”

This interests me primarily because my ancestry is Estonian (my paternal grandparents both immigrated after WWII), and it’s not a country you hear much about, even though it survived the collapse of the Soviet Union better than most. I’ve never been there, though I do want to go.

It’s also interesting to note that Estonia’s banks are mostly foreign owned, which is why they brought Internet technology so easily. Estonia is also where the popular file sharing program Kazaa was coded (hence the double vowel — Estonian is full of long double vowels, like in my last name, Riismandel).

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Robert McChesney On This Friday’s Mediageek Radioshow

Media scholar Robert McChesney will be my guest on this Friday’s mediageek radioshow (5:30 PM Friday at 90.1 FM for those of you in Central Illinois). It also happens to be pledge drive time at my station, WEFT, and Bob is a true pledge drive pro, so I’m very happy he’s offered to be on. Bob said he might also be bringing along Matthew Rothschild, editor of the Progressive magazine, but we won’t know until the show actually happens.

McChesney’s most recent book is Our Media, Not Their’s, which he co-authored with John Nichols of the Nation Magazine.

They both also have an article on FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in the April issue of the Progressive. In it they chart Copps remarkable exceptionalism in defending the public interest within an agency that more often adjudicates between competing corporate interests:

“But the big media had not figured in the Copps effect. Unwilling to roll over and allow the crushing of some of the last vestiges of regulatory protection for real diversity in media, Copps began to raise public interest concerns with a force not heard on the FCC since Nicholas Johnson challenged the corporate line back in the 1960s or Clifford Durr battled the networks as a progressive New Dealer in the 1940s. …

To understand how remarkable Copps’s questioning of the commission’s course is, consider what had been status quo for the FCC. Recall that former FCC Chairman William Kennard acknowledged that before he took the job in 1997 he was advised by a longtime FCC member that his job was ‘to referee fights between the very wealthy and the very, very wealthy,’ with the public entirely uninvolved in the FCC’s affairs.”

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State Bills to Mess With Our Communications Rights

The good folks at the Electronic Frontier Foundation are keeping watch on a whole slew of state laws in the making aimed at massively restricting our rights to communicate electronically.

The proposed bills generally prohibit four categories of activity:

1. Possession, development, distribution or use of any “communication device” in connection with a communication service without the express authorization of the service provider.
2. Concealing the origin or destination of any communication from the communication service provider.
3. Possession, development, distribution or use of any “unlawful access device.”
4. Preparation or publication of any “plans or instructions” for making any device having reason to know that such a device will be used to violate the other prohibitions. …

Under existing law, those who have legitimately purchased communication services (e.g., cable TV, satellite, or broadband Internet services) are free to connect whatever they like to the wires they pay for, so long as they do not violate any otherwise applicable law. So, for example, you are free to connect a new TV, PC, VCR or TiVo to a cable television connection that you pay for. …

The proposed super-DMCA statutes reverse this traditional rule. … This provision would make you a criminal for simply connecting a TV, PC, TiVo or VCR (all of which can “receive” communication services) to the cable TV line in your living room without your cable company’s permission. It could also make you a criminal for connecting a Wi-Fi wireless gateway (which can “retransmit” Internet traffic) to your DSL or cable modem line without the permission of your ISP.

And, let me also note that restrictions along the line of category four above would be clear violations of First Amendment rights to free speech, since they aim at placing a prior restraint on publishing information. It’s important to recognize that there’s nothing illegal about publishing instruction manuals on making bombs, growing marijuana or hacking telephone systems to place free long-distance calls, even if the activities themselves may be illegal. Thus, states cannot (and should not) be able to punish you for publishing plans for how to circumvent your cable company’s stupidity, even if doing so is illegal in your state.

It’s stupid laws like these that everyday convince me more about how absolutely moronic, useless, corrupt and coercive government really is.

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