We Want the Airwaves blog! Watching the degradation of our media...
Friday, February 02, 2007 Fighting for it
I heard this guy interviewed on Sam Seder's show Wednesday*, and he was talking about how the FCC is trying again to allow more media consolidation - basically, to remove all restrictions on a single media company dominating any and all markets. That means it's time for everybody to start leaning on your reps about how we need to roll back to the pre-Murdoch limits on media ownership. This is a tough issue for legislators, because if media owners get pissed off at them, they are likely to be targets of the media thereafter. Of course, if your reps are Democrats, that's not really an issue, is it - they are already targets by virtue of that "D" after their names. Here are a few links for reviews of the book, interviews of him by others, and where you can hear Robert McChesney, too.
A letter writer to Romenesko makes a point I was previously trying to make but does so much more succintly.
As the New York Times has learned, to its apparent chagrin, when a newspaper quotes anonymous sources, it is substituting its credibility for that of the source. Given the current public opinion of American journalism, should the Times be using its credibility to advance the interests of Scooter Libby, Ahmed Chalabi or anybody else unwilling to stand up for what they say? Should anybody?
Not only is the paper substituting its credibility, arguably a paper has a greater degree of credibility to offer (or it least should) than self-interested politicians advancing an agenda. As I wrote before, I think this has the bizarre effect for casual readers of giving the words of anonymous sources more credibility generally than those sources would have if they are named. Statements by anonymous sources written in the Times are essentially read as statements by the Times itself.
Ever since the RIAA started filing lawsuits directly against people for sharing music online, we've wondered why no one fought back and took the case to court in the US. As the courts in Canada have noted, simply having the IP address of someone you believe to be sharing an unauthorized file isn't enough evidence to prove that person was file sharing. Earlier this year, a US judge, trying to clean up some of the details in the old, old, old Napster case, also specifically noted that making files available is not the equivalent of distributing -- which is what all the RIAA cases charge. However, when presented with the option of just sucking it up and paying $3,000 to $10,000 and going on with your life, or spending time in court, paying lawyers' fees and risking huge fines nearing a million dollars, the prudent choice for many is to simply take the deal. It's almost a form of legalized extortion. Doing the right thing is almost always going to be more expensive and more painful than just giving in. However, Broadband Reports points to the case of one woman who is fighting back and says she's willing to go to court to fight the charges the RIAA has filed against her, because they're not right. She points out that she had never even heard of Kazaa. The details suggest that perhaps a friend of one of her kids was responsible for the file sharing -- but, that certainly suggests that the RIAA got the wrong person. While the internet account may be in this woman's name, the burden should be on the RIAA to prove who did the actual sharing -- not who owns the account. It's the same reason why they can't sue an ISP for someone doing unauthorized file sharing on their system. Meanwhile, the quotes in the article show that, once again, the RIAA (and the reporter) don't even seem to understand the issues being discussed. They repeatedly refer to "illegal downloading," when that isn't even what the RIAA has been filing lawsuits over. They're suing over uploading or sharing -- not downloading. Yet all of the quotes from the RIAA avoid the actual issues raised by this case (how do they prove the woman actually did infringe on their copyrights), and pops out the soundbites about how downloading is evil. In the past, unfortunately, when these types of cases have come up, the RIAA has simply dropped the case and moved on. Hopefully, they won't be allowed to do that in this case -- and will be forced to show how they can get actual evidence that the person they're accusing uploaded an unauthorized file to someone else.
Defending your rights in court really is necessary to keep them.
Sunday, February 27, 2005 The False Mathematics of the RIAA by Barry Ritholtz says that downloaders buy songs they would never buy and the industry's current practice of failing to develop talent tailored to the larger audience and blaming poor sales on file-sharing is mismanagement. The article also cites some useful sources:
The Bush administration has decided to abandon the effort by Michael K. Powell, the outgoing chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to relax the regulations that have prevented the nation's largest media companies from growing bigger and entering new markets, government officials and industry lawyers briefed about the decision said today.
In a final slap at Mr. Powell, the Justice Department will not ask the United States Supreme Court to consider a decision last year by a federal appeals court in Philadelphia that sharply criticized the attempt to deregulate the rules and ordered the commission to reconsider its action.
Big media companies have been urging the administration to get involved in the case. But its decision not to recommend that the Supreme Court take the case sharply reduces the odds that the justices would intervene. The court had set next Monday as a deadline for the parties to file their initial papers in the appeal.
Officials said one reason the administration decided not to seek Supreme Court review is that some lawyers were concerned that the case could prompt the justices to review related First Amendment issues in a way that could undermine efforts by the commission to enforce indecency rules against television and radio broadcasters. Over the last year, the agency has issued a record number and size of fines, and has been pressed by some conservative and other advocacy groups to be more aggressive.
If, as now expected, the appeals court decision withstands legal challenge by some media companies, it would prevent the biggest media conglomerates from expanding.
Oh, so it's really important to keep the censorship angle, and they're afraid a court decision would mean they can't be as bad as they already are. I see.
Saturday, December 18, 2004 Bill Moyers' great work
NOW: For the nearly 20 years she has been in Congress, Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has fought for fairness on the airwaves. Her latest legislation on the topic is HR 4710, "The MEDIA Act," which would reinstate the fairness doctrine and ensure that broadcasters present discussions of conflicting views on issues of public importance. Read the transcript of a web exclusive conversation between Bill Moyers and Congresswoman Slaughter below. Also on the NOW site: find out more about the fairness doctrine and media consolidation. Via Best of the Blogs.
FCC BETS ON MONOPOLIES: TEDDY ROOSEVELT TURNS OVER IN GRAVE
True to President Bush's odd celebration of people and policies seemingly at odds with his own administration, Bush has often celebrated Teddy Roosevelt, who broke up America's big trusts and monopolies -- while Bush and his team build them up.
Today, the FCC ruled in a contentious battle to deny wholesale rate access to competitors of regionally monopolistic Baby Bell firms, like Verizon. Why is this important?
Because we are going to see rates to businesses and household consumers rise. We are going to see incumbents entrench themselves in old technologies with slower rates of innovation. The powerful forces that were driving costs down while at the same time generating new and bold innovations in information technology are being strangled.
The problem is that collusive interests are undermining the will of the U.S. Congress which tried to make absolutely sure that facilities that the Baby Bells inherited after the break-up of AT&T were made available at fair rates to competitors who could not be expected to create massive new regional and national facilities to reach consumers.
Basically, Michael Powell wants to make sure he has a job when this gig is over.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Most musicians and artists say the Internet has helped them make more money from their work despite online file-trading services that allow users to copy songs and other material for free, according to a study released Sunday.
Recording labels and movie studios have hired phalanxes of lawyers to pursue "peer to peer" networks like Kazaa, and have sued thousands of individuals who distribute copyrighted material through such networks.
But most of the artists surveyed by the nonprofit Pew Internet and American Life Project said online file sharing did not concern them much.
In 2002, I was an on-air commentator at MSNBC, and also senior producer on the "Donahue" show, the most-watched program on the channel. In the last months of the program, before it was terminated on the eve of the Iraq war, we were ordered by management that every time we booked an antiwar guest, we had to book 2 pro-war guests. If we booked two guests on the left, we had to book 3 on the right. At one meeting, a producer suggested booking Michael Moore and was told that she would need to book 3 right-wingers for balance. I considered suggesting Noam Chomsky as a guest, but our studio couldn't accommodate the 86 right-wingers we would have needed for balance.
When we look at the media's role in the 2004 election, we make a mistake to focus on election coverage per se. The basis for Bush's victory was in place way before 2004. At the end of last year, a huge study done by the University of Maryland's PIPA, the Program on International Policy Attitudes, found that most of those who got their news from the commercial TV networks held at least 1 of 3 fundamental "misperceptions" about the war in Iraq (and some held 2 or 3 of them):
-- that Iraq had been directly linked to 9/11
-- that WMDs had been found in Iraq
-- that world opinion supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
Viewers of Fox News, where I worked for years, were the most misled. But strong majorities of CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN viewers were also confused on at least one of these points. Among those informed on all 3 questions, only 23 percent supported Bush's war.
How can you have a meaningful election in a country where, according to polls, half or more of the American people don't know who attacked us on 9/11? They think Saddam Hussein was involved.
Among the reasons some of us worked for Bush's defeat was to get a new Federal Communications Commission. Many of us were ready to fight for the elevation of commissioner Michael Copps, a Democratic appointee, to FCC chair, replacing Michael Powell, Colin's son. Powell is the best friend of the media conglomerates. We need to stop Powell from any further media concentration over the next 4 years, and unions need to be in the forefront of that resistance.
Thanks to media deregulation started during the Reagan administration, and unfortunately continued by Bill Clinton: there are now 8 companies that largely determine what Americans see, hear and read through the media -- 8 companies sitting on the windpipe of the First Amendment.
We can thank Clinton's Telecommunications "Reform" Act of 1996 for the right-wing Clear Channel's dominance of radio and for the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group becoming the biggest TV chain in the country. Clear Channel owned 40 radio stations before the Telecom bill and 1200 soon after. Sinclair had 11 stations before the bill, and now has 62 TV stations.
TV news is dominated by 5 corporations.
Cohen says the movement to change this has never been stronger. I hope that means we will soon be strong enough.
People who casually use the term "piracy" to refer to the unauthorized exchange of copyrighted music, movies, books, and software would gain a deeper understanding of the terms they use by picking up the highly readable book Villains of All Nations: Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age by Marcus Rediker. This recently released study (Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-5024-5) describes the lives and political significance of pirates at the period of their greatest growth during the early eighteenth century.
Pirates, in Rediker's analysis, were more than just thieves. They created an alternative way to regard work, society, and life's pleasures in an economically and religiously repressive age. [...] Is it difficult to find a common thread between the villification of eighteenth-century pirates and the villification of people who trade or illegally sell music, moves, books, and software today? Like the old pirates, the information traders create a bounty from the work of others (the artists and writers). But at the same time, they create a new vision of information democracy that contrasts positively with the control freaks and commercial cynicism of the mainstream media conglomerates.
Information traders promote diversity, by allowing people to sample dated and unusual works. In an age where radio stations and movie studios bend their offerings to the profit-based goals of an increasingly small number of owners, this is crucial. Information traders also allow communities to form around works--something studios would like to do but are usually too controlling and hidebound to carry off.
As a constant consumer of news, Kerry says he spends a good deal of time thinking about the role of media in a democratic society. And he gets frustrated when television networks fail to live up to the responsibility that should go with a license to use the people's airwaves.
When it was mentioned that many Americans had expressed disappointment with the decision of the nation's broadcast television networks to air only three hours of Democratic convention coverage, Kerry said, "I share the disappointment. We're a democracy, and the strength of our democracy is in the ability of citizens to be informed. If the major media are unwilling to inform -- and simply because there is not a clash or a conflict or something doesn't mean (a convention) is not informative -- I personally think it's a derogation of their responsibility (that goes with using) the broadcast airwaves."
In particular, Kerry said he was upset that the nation's commercial broadcast networks -- including ABC, CBS and NBC -- decided not to air any coverage on the second night of the convention in Boston. That was the night when Illinois U.S. Senate candidate Barack Obama delivered a much-praised keynote address, Ron Reagan broke ranks with the Republican Party to criticize President Bush's limits on stem-cell research, and Teresa Heinz Kerry spoke about her husband.
"My wife gave a wonderful speech, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, it was a brilliant night," said Kerry. "I think it's very disappointing that the American people, at least the people who watch the networks, missed it. I talked to several of the anchors beforehand but, you know, that's the way they decided. Obviously, I disagreed."
Asked if he thought the decision of the networks to downplay the coverage of the convention sent a signal that told Americans not to take what happened in Boston seriously, Kerry said, "I don't know if its that message or not. I think most Americans are smart enough to understand (that it does matter)."
But Teresa Heinz Kerry, who was seated next to her husband, interrupted him and said, "That is the message, I think. I agree that it hurts."
Concerns about consolidated media, particularly consolidated media that does not see itself as having a responsibility to cover politics seriously and to question those in positions of authority, have been highlighted in recent documentaries such as Robert Greenwald's "Outfoxed," a critique of the conservative bias of Rupert Murdoch and his Fox News programs, and Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9-11." Kerry has not yet seen "Fahrenheit 9-11," but he described its success as "remarkable." And he made it clear that he shares the view of those who believe that media consolidation is a significant issue in contemporary America.
If Kerry is elected president, he will be in a position to influence the media landscape. Encouraged by President Bush and lobbyists for the major networks, a Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission sought last year to ease limits on media consolidation at the local and national levels. Kerry, who notes that he voted in the Senate to maintain the controls against consolidation, says he would set a different course by appointing FCC commissioners who are more sympathetic to diversity of ownership, competition and local control. Several days after he sat down for the interview that is recounted here, Kerry amplified the point when he promised a gathering of minority journalists that, "I will appoint people to the FCC, and I will pursue a policy, that tries to have as diverse and broad an ownership as possible."
Distinguishing himself from President Bush, Kerry says, "I'm against the ongoing push for media consolidation. It's contrary to the stronger interests of the country." Diversity of media ownership and content, the candidate explains, "is critical to who we are as a free people. It's critical to our democracy."
Our media system: is the result of a wide range of explicit government policies, regulations, and subsidies. Each of the 20 or so giant media firms that dominate the entirety of our media system is the recipient of massive government largesse-what could be regarded as corporate welfare. They receive (for free) one or more of: monopoly licenses to scarce radio and television channels, monopoly franchises to cable and satellite TV systems, and copyright protection for their content. When the government sets up a firm with one of these monopoly licenses it is virtually impossible to fail
When one considers the near non-existent coverage these same media companies offered Americans with regard to the new FCC rules, the intensity and sophistication of the millions of Americans who came out to oppose the Commission's corporate giveaway, proved a heartening sight. By the end of 2003, many members of Congress were reporting that media ownership was the second most-discussed issue by their constituents - behind only the war. By September 2003, MoveOn.org gathered more than 340,000 signatures supporting a reversal of the consolidation plan, while another 300,000 missives were sent by members of the National Rifle Association to the FCC. On top of that, the FCC reported that it had received comments from over 2.3 million others criticizing the change in regulations.