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Posts tagged with 'The Wavelength'

The Wavelength: Court To FCC: Do Your Freakin’ Job! Plus: How the NewsCorps Scandal Impacts U.S. Media

Posted Jul 11, 2011 @ 2:57 pm by
Filed under: Media Impact, Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

Welcome to the final edition of The Wavelength, a bi-weekly roundup of news and analysis focused on media policy. Stay tuned for more reporting on the ongoing impact of media policy from members of The Media Consortium.

photo by Howard Lake/Flickr creative commons

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium Blogger

Just when it seemed that the wave of media consolidation had reached tsunami proportions, a new court ruling is easing the troubled waters.

As Amy Miller and Lori Abbot of Public News Service report, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to block revisions to current FCC regulations which would further relax media cross-ownership rules. This ruling is a major victory for media reform advocates who say any further consolidation could severely challenge the notion of a free, independent press.

As previously reported, the new regulations would have likely had an adverse affect on local news reporting and diversity. Making the situation even more awkward is the FCC’s own recently issued media review, which posits the need for more localism and more diversity.

The upshot, write Miller and Abbot, is this: “In addition to preventing one company from owning both print and broadcast stations in the same market, the rulings mean more competition and more opportunity for women and minority ownership of media companies.”

The decision sends a clear message to the FCC that it has a mandate to prioritize public interest over corporate interests, a point it’s been somewhat confused on in the past.

News of the World Scandal Continues

In a case of media behaving badly, the UK’s News of the World—a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the US’s Fox News—ceased publication after being caught red-handed in an embarrassing scandal. Reportedly, the paper, which was founded in 1843 and has a circulation of 2.8 million, hacked the cellphones of families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, murder victims (including 13 year-old Milly Dowler), and celebrities. NoTW reportedly deleted voicemails from Dowler’s cellphone, causing her family to believe she hadn’t been killed.

Hitting where it hurts

Blowback from the scandal is hitting Murdoch hard. As blogger John Nichols  writes in The Nation, “the damage is running deep, as members of Parliament… have called for placing a hold on the anticipated purchase by News Corp. of British Sky Broadcasting, a hugely-profitable satellite TV enterprise that Murdoch has coveted for years.”

The inquiry by Scotland Yard and the British government is just getting started, Nichols says, adding the sordid episode should raise questions about the Murdoch media empire’s practices in America: “Should Americans be appalled by a scandal in Britain? Certainly.”

Also in The Nation, D.D. Guttenplan blogs about the scandal, which, he notes, “wiped some $2.5 billion off the value of News Corporation, [Murdoch's] US-based holding company.” The larger issue, however, is that “Rupert Murdoch has been operating what amounts to a private intelligence service” which “gives News Corporation a kind of leverage over inquisitive regulators or troublesome politicians wielded by no other company on earth.”

But wait, it gets worse. As Adele Stan writes for AlterNet, Wall Street Journal CEO Les Hinton, a former executive chairman of Murdoch’s UK operation, has been implicated in the scandal. In 2006, Hinton told Parliament that the hacking was the work of one rogue reporter — a claim which has been revealed to be a lie. The WSJ, Stan says, did not disclose “the role its chief executive played in delivering misleading testimony before the British parliament” — which raises troubling questions about the paper’s ethics, especially considering its ties to the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity foundation.

In other media policy-related news:

  • Truthout has launched a new column, Ladydrawers, which addresses gender bias in comic book.
  • New America Media reports on controversial Pulitzer-winning-journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who recently revealed his illegal immigrant status.

Farewell, fondly

This week’s blog marks the final edition of the Wavelength, which started last March—right around the time AT&T announced its proposed $39 Billion merger with T-Mobile.

Over the past four months, the implications of the proposed mega-merger have reverberated through both the Beltway and the blogosphere, dominating much of the reportage around media policy. Other top stories included the Microsoft-Skype merger; the outcry over the latest instance of the FCC’s infamous “revolving door”; the ongoing debate over Net Neutrality; and a growing concern over privacy issues with regard to popular social media websites and mobile phones.

We’ve also taken a look at the state of media with regards to freedom of the press, independent journalism and censorship, both in the U.S. and abroad. While this picture has often been depressing – especially when detailing the connections between right-wing media, conservative political agendas, and corporate influence — there’s also plenty of reason for optimism and hope. Bright spots include the potential of alternatives to mainstream media like Low-Power TV to become a home for digital diversity; the ongoing exposes of WikiLeaks; the role of social media in Arab Spring; and reports of new collaborative efforts between international press outlets reporting on corruption and violence in foreign countries.

As we wrap up the Wavelength, we’d like to give a big shout-out goes out to the Media Consortium member organizations who released informative and revealing reporting week after week. As the Murdoch scandal illustrates, this coverage is invaluable, since the notion of “fair and balanced” journalism practiced by Fox News, the WSJ, and other mainstream outlets appears to be as much a hoax as the false hope perpetuated by NoTW that Dowler was still alive.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

The Wavelength: FCC Decries Lack of Media Diversity, Stymies Low Power TV

Posted Jun 27, 2011 @ 3:16 pm by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Roxeteerby Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Local coverage and diversity are in short supply in today’s media landscape–especially when it comes to broadcast and cable TV. But there is hope. In markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, Low Power TV (LPTV) has emerged as a viable alternative to network and cable TV, offering 24-hour programming and locally-produced news shows for ethnic communities in their own languages.

While LPTV offers incredible opportunities for ethnic communities, as I reported here and here for New America Media, these stations face considerable challenges, including an unfriendly regulatory landscape and the weighty influence of the big-bucks telecommunications industry, which just wants LPTV to go away so it can claim the full digital spectrum.

Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers LPTV a secondary service with no legal protection from interference or displacement by broadcasters – which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for LPTV to thrive, since its future is uncertain.

Localism Lacking, FCC Study Says

Ironically, the very same FCC that is preventing LPTV from gaining a stronger foothold recently issued a report, titled “The Information Needs of Communities,” which lays out how localism has suffered from media consolidation. In her analysis of the FCC study, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis found that “Local journalism has not been able to keep up with a changing media landscape, leading to a significant drop in quality in-depth reporting.”

Shared News is Bad News for Localism

Futhermore, according to Free Press, a nonpartisan media advocacy group, “Across the country, hundreds of TV stations have quietly merged newsrooms, circumventing the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership limits at the expense of independent, local journalism.” As noted in the FCC study, almost one-third of local news airing on full-power TV stations is actually produced by other stations. According to Free Press, there are nearly 80 markets “where these deals are in place, involving more than 200 stations.”

Free Press’ newest campaign, “Change the Channels,” includes an interactive map highlighting eight markets where this practice is especially egregious.

Echoing Corporate Media-Speak

AlterNet’s Don Hazen spotlights products of the right-wing echo chamber—and how those messages impact public conversations. Hazen gives two examples: “The first message is: ‘We must raise the retirement age or the economy will collapse.’ And two: ‘Social security is bankrupt.’ These two statements have been repeated thousands of times in and on American media. Yet there is not one scintilla of evidence that either one is accurate. But they have lodged themselves into the mainstream of American thought, constantly repeated by corporate media, as if they are obvious truths.”

The men behind the curtain are the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires who have usurped America’s political agenda by using the media as an echo chamber – themes that are explored in a new documentary produced by Brave New Films.

More Scrutiny For AT&T Merger

State agencies are increasingly concerned about the potential harm the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger would wreak on consumers. As Public News Service’s Mark Scheerer writes, “In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has asked the government to ‘carefully evaluate’ whether it will harm the public interest by stifling competition.”

A PSC spokesman says this is a “significant” concern to the agency.

Less competition, Scheerer explains, “could lead to higher rates or a lack of incentive to improve wireless broadband service.” The article also notes that the merger is under investigation in three states, including New York.

Merger Supporters Paid Off With Corporate Cash

AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick analyze GLAADgate, which erupted after GLAAD’s president Jarrett Barrios was forced to resign after signing a statement of GLAAD’s support for the AT&T/T-Mobile deal with the FCC despite GLAAD’s board voicing opposition to the merger. After the statement was released, it was revealed that AT&T contributed $50,000 to GLAAD in what’s looking like a quid pro quo.

But that’s just the tip of the cash-for-shills iceberg. Rosen and Kushnick note that AT&T has leveraged more than 300 nonprofit groups, including “labor unions, trade associations, state and local politicians, and private corporations” into supporting the merger. These groups include the American Foundation for the Blind, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Puerto Rican Coalition, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Communications Workers of America and the AFL-CIO. The NAACP, for instance, received over $1 million from AT&T in 2009 alone.

AT&T can do this because they have “deep pockets,” as Rosen and Kushnick explain:

In 2009, the AT&T Foundation doled out over $60 million to nonprofits and other causes.  In addition, in 2010, AT&T paid out nearly $20 million to influence the political process and legislative decisions; it contributed $3.7 million to America’s two major political parties (56% to Republicans) and another $15.4 million to lobbying activities.  During the first three months of 2011, AT&T spent $6.8 million on lobbyists and in to lawyers related to the T-Mobile deal.

But, Rosen and Kushnick write, a larger question remains: by taking AT&T’s cash, and then singing the company’s praises, are these organizations violating guidelines which state a tax-exempt entity “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities”?

Is Facebook Censoring Political Speech?

Social media network Facebook has been widely praised for its role in Arab Spring—the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that have brought political change to the Middle East—but it may be engaging in censorship in the United Kingdom.

As Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann reports, “Labor unions and student activists in the United Kingdom are organizing a massive strike of public workers to protest cuts planned by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government. They’re hoping to draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets to join the workers in an across-the-pond version of the Wisconsin demonstrations that captured national attention in March.

“But over the past few days, as activists worked to promote their plan, they ran into a problem: Facebook… was blocking the strike organizers’ website, www.j30strike.org.”

Facebook has since responded with an official “oops, we didn’t mean it.” But, as Baumann points out, “as an increasingly important means of communication and social and political organizing, it’s important—for Facebook and its users—that the company be seen as a neutral party in debates over political issues.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

The Wavelength: WikiLeaks Isn’t Sexy Enough for U.S. Media

Posted Jun 13, 2011 @ 3:41 pm by
Filed under: Media Impact, Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

image courtesy csalia/flickr creative commonsBy Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium Blogger

While mainstream media news cycles have been dominated by political sex scandals, important global stories have gone under-reported. According to AlterNet’s Rania Khalek, many of these stories were broken by WikiLeaks. Khalek spotlights five key revelations of 2011, including:

  • How WikiLeaks spurred on the Tunisian uprising, which in turn led to similar uprisings in Egypt and Libya and has been dubbed “Arab Spring.”
  • The “Guantanamo Files,” 700 classified documents that “paint a stunning picture of an oppressive detention system riddled with incoherence and cruelty at every stage.”
  • The “Pakistan Papers,” which show that U.S. allies are “among the leading funders of international terrorism.”
  • A series of cables documenting “a race to carve up the Arctic for resource exploitation” — released just as Secretary Clinton met with the Arctic Council to discuss oil exploration.
  • Some 2,000 cables exposing “how the United States, with pressure from Exxon and Chevron, tried to interfere with an oil agreement between Haiti and Venezuela that would save Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, $100 million per year or 10 percent of the country’s budget.”

This startling information, Khalek concludes, is “just the tip of the iceberg.” Yet, apart from The Nation, which is running a series on the Haitian cables – read it here and here –  these stories “have received little attention in the US press.”

FCC Delays Ruling on Media Ownership

Over the past 15 years, numerous federal deregulatory actions have paved the way for unprecedented consolidation, which has severely impacted both competition and diversity. It all started with the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) has been at the epicenter.

In the current climate, any further consolidation – such as the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile and Microsoft/Skype mergers – could affect consumers in drastic ways. Yet without legal intervention, we might be headed for a new era of massive media consolidation.

As Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes, in 2007, the FCC “loosened the restrictions on a 35-year-old ban on newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, giving new allowance for a single company to buy and operate both a major newspaper and a radio or TV station in the same market.” If the new cross-ownership rules are upheld, there would be nothing stopping a single media company from owning an unlimited number of radio, TV, and print media outlets in the same market—a move that could effectively gut the notion of a free, independent press, as well as any separation between giant media conglomerates.

Last February, a coalition of media advocacy groups (including Prometheus Radio Project, Media Alliance, Media Access Project, and Free Press) challenged the FCC in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Among their concerns, Prupis notes:  “loopholes in the commission’s rules could allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size” and “media consolidation could prevent an increase in minority-owned stations and stifle the creation of local news programs.”

The FCC’s Media Ownership review was expected June 6, but it appears to have been delayed indefinitely. Commissioner Robert McDowell said it would be “awkward” for the FCC to rule prior to the outcome of the court’s decision. McDowell has been a proponent of further deregulation, which he believes could prop up the flagging newspaper industry.

The FCC Kills the Fairness Doctrine – Again.

“How many times does it take to kill a federal rule before it’s really dead?,” wonders Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer. The rule in question is the “Fairness Doctrine,” a Truman-era policy enforced by the FCC “to ensure broadcasters presented balanced views in their coverage of controversial subjects.”

The policy was abolished in 1987, but conservatives have feared it would be resurrected by the Obama administration and liberal Democrats. No worries, according to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who stated he fully supports “deleting the Fairness Doctrine and related provisions from the Code of Federal Regulations.”

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Roundup

The AT&T/T-Mobile merger continues to be a much-discussed topic in both media and regulatory circles. As Truthout’s Prupis reports, Sprint and media advocacy group Free Press have separately filed “Petition to Deny” papers with the FCC, arguing that approval of the $39 billion deal would lead to higher prices and fewer choices and doesn’t serve the public’s interest. AT&T denied the allegations, calling the opponents “the usual suspects.”

In other AT&T/T-Mobile-related news, Media Alliance Executive Director Tracy Rosenberg wrote about a recent California Public Utilities Commission hearing on the merger for Oakland Local. Despite Rosenberg being outnumbered by shills from “Astroturf” organizations, the commission voted to investigate the deal, signaling that concerns over its impact are serious enough not to simply rubber-stamp it.

Finally, AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick debunk myths AT&T has been perpetuating about broadband, including:

  • “In the 22 states that AT&T controls, consumers will never get true broadband service.” This is because AT&T’s U-Verse runs on copper wires, not optical-fiber cables, and thus isn’t capable of speeds faster than 25 Mbps.
  • “As it builds out its wireless network, AT&T is systematically undercutting its higher-performing wireline broadband network.”
  • “There will only be a marginal improvement in service, far less than what is taking place in other advanced countries and championed as “4G,” and customers will be paying more.”

WSJ Board Member’s Questionable–and Profitable–Alliances

The collusion between news organizations and partisan political groups has resulted in some eyebrow-raising partnerships, and raised questions about whether the mainstream media is truly fair, balanced – and unbiased.

The Nation Institute and AlterNet recently published an article about Wall Street Journal editorial board member Stephen Moore’s questionable affiliations with right-wing activists. Adele Stan reports, “The paper is matched only by Fox News in its unabashed alliance with political advocacy organizations associated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers and noted conservative funders who run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in the United States.”

Moore has been profiting handsomely from speaking at events organized by Americans For Prosperity and other conservative groups, which raises ethical concerns, Stan writes: “Moore’s involvement with such a blatantly political organization — one whose agenda aligns so obviously with that of the GOP — is an anomaly for an editorial board member of a national newspaper.”

Moyers: Media Seduction Has Become Toxic

The WSJ and Fox aren’t the only MSM outlets with questionable ties to the private sector. Speaking on Democracy Now, legendary journalist Bill Moyers points to relationship between defense contractor General Electric and television network NBC — which broadcasts political commentary show “Meet the Press” — as an example of “the consensual seduction of the mainstream media.” He calls this “one of the most dangerous toxins at work in America today.”

Moyers goes on to say that “The intimate relationship intertwining “mainstream media with power, corporate power, government power… is something that, without the antidote of independent reporting and analysis… we would be in a dark, dark pit with no light shining on us.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

The Wavelength: Your So-Called Private Life

Posted May 31, 2011 @ 1:04 pm by
Filed under: Media Impact, Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

digitaljournal.com/flickr creative commonsby Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Smart phones are hip, trendy, and loaded with user-friendly apps. But these devices also collect and store your personal information, leaving huge security gaps.

The prevalence of spyware in mobile technology and  social networking sites has huge implications as a privacy issue, since users have no way of knowing who’s peeping, or for what purpose. New concerns over mobile and Internet privacy have been raised at the federal and state level, and there’s already push-back from some of the major players in the tech industry.

Privacy Please

As Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) writes for Care2, recent studies indicate smart phones and other mobile apps are being used as remote spyware. Franken, one of the leading advocates for Net Neutrality and other media policy issues on Capitol Hill, notes that researchers found that “both iPhones and Android phones were automatically collecting certain location information from users’ phones and sending it back to Apple and Google—even when people weren’t using location applications.”

One particularly disturbing aspect of these revelations is that location information could be used by cyberstalkers. Franken notes he’s been contacted by battered women’s organizations on this issue, but as the senator states, there are “a range of harms that can come from privacy breaches.”

Stronger federal law concerning mobile broadband security is needed, Franken argues.

“Right now, once the maker of a mobile app, a company like Apple or Google, or even your wireless company gets your location information, in many cases, under current federal law, these companies are free to disclose your location information and other sensitive information to almost anyone they please — without telling you. And then the companies they share your information with can share and sell it to yet others — again, without letting you know.”

Social Networking Privacy Bill Faces Opposition from Facebook and Twitter

The widespread popularity of social networking has also resulted in widespread concerns over privacy. Yet, as Truthout’s Nadia Prupis reports, “Facebook, Google, Skype, and Twitter have joined forces to oppose an online privacy bill in California that would prevent the companies from displaying users’ personal information without explicit permission.”

The bill in question is SB 242, a.k.a. the Social Networking Privacy Act. Introduced by California State Senator Ellen Corbett (D), the bill would create stronger privacy guidelines, and also require social networking sites to remove personal information, if the user requests, within 48 hours. A failure to do so would result in a $10,000 fine per instance.

Facebook and other sites say such privacy protections could harm their business. But legislators weren’t so sure. California’s Senate Judiciary Committee, which passed the measure on May 16, called the threat to privacy “serious,” adding, “[It] is unclear how requiring that default settings be set to private would unduly restrict the free expression of users who elect to disseminate their information.”

Tweeting Back at Comcast

Former FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell-Baker’s pending move to Comcast has been met with loud cries over conflict of interest. As Public News Service’s Mark Scheerer reports, more controversy has erupted, this time over Reel Grrls, a Seattle media training summer camp for young women, which sent out a tweet denouncing Attwell-Baker’s new job.

“Following Reel Grrls’ Twitter post,” Scheerer says, “a local Comcast vice-president immediately rescinded its annual $18,000 donation to the girls’ program. Comcast then apologized, calling it an action by an ‘unauthorized employee.’ By then, says Reel Grrls director Mallory Graham, the media had picked up the story and support came pouring in.”

The story goes on to note that non-profits like the Center For Media Justice (CMJ) helped to raise more than $14,000 for the program, allowing Reel Grrls to politely decline Comcast’s offer to restore the funding. The upshot of the whole episode: Reel Grrls’ will focus its summer program on free speech issues.

An Open Internet, Communities of Color, and Astroturf Orgs

Afro-Netizen recently picked up an op-ed by CMJ’s Malkia Cyril on digital diversity as it relates to Net Neutrality. Cyril writes:

In the fight over who will control the Internet, big companies like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast are hoping they will win a pass on FCC oversight and public interest protection leaving them free to make as much profit as they can even if the service they provide is gated and discriminatory. Some civil rights groups are legitimately concerned that protecting the public from discrimination online -especially the poor and people of color- from the proven abuses of Big Media companies will result in those companies refusing to build out high speed broadband to rural communities and poor urban communities.

She goes on to express her concern over media advocacy organization the Minority Media and Telecommunication Council (MMTC), calling it an “Astroturf” outfit whose positions on the open Internet issue happen to coincide with those of the telecommunication companies, while appearing to champion increased minority broadband access.

As Cyril points out, there’s a perplexing disconnect there. “What doesn’t make sense is that groups like MMTC would deny that the financial relationship between them and the same media companies that are blackmailing the communities MMTC claims to represent, has an impact on their position on open Internet protections.”

Who You Callin’ a Slut?

On May 24, MSNBC talk-show host Ed Schultz referred to conservative radio personality Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut.” Though Schultz was publicly rebuked and quickly suspended by MSNBC after his remark, Yana Walton of the Women’s Media Center blogged that sexism isn’t OK, even when it’s directed at someone whose politics you don’t agree with. Though Walton says Schultz has historically been a supporter of women’s issues, she also notes:

In a media climate where Talkers Magazine’s “Heavy Hundred” list of the top talk radio hosts only included 12 women with their own programs, (plus two women co-hosts), such comments dissuade women from entering into political talk radio careers. Thus, such comments widen gender disparities in media even further and contribute to a climate where half of America’s voices and priorities are not heard.

Walton also praised MSNBC for their handling of the issue, saying the cable network’s “decision to place the issue of media sexism front and center was commendable, and today they set the example for other networks who are often guilty of media sexism, yet aren’t even beginning to address the problem.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

 

The Wavelength: Attack of the Media Mega-Mergers! Skyprosoft, AT&T-Mobile and more

Posted May 16, 2011 @ 1:49 pm by
Filed under: Media Impact, Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

by Eric Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Creative Commons, Flickr user Chris PirilloAnother day, another media mega-merger. The latest? Microsoft is buying Skype, the Internet communications company, for $8.5 billion.

So exactly what does the Skyprosoft deal mean for consumers? That’s the eight-point-five billion-dollar question. Public News Service’s Mark Scheerer says the deal could be beneficial if – and this is a big ‘if’ – “Microsoft will more strongly embrace network neutrality and other policies aimed at keeping the Web free.”

Net neutrality is a key component to the merger because, according to the Media Access Project’s Mark Wood, “without an open internet, large and anti-competitive carriers like AT&T and Verizon will have the power to cripple potentially competitive services such as Skype’s that will depend on access to existing networks.”

Should Telecoms Break Up?

AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick make a case for the break-ups of the telecommunications trust, which provides “overpriced and inferior service, and [is] systematically overcharging the hapless American consumer.”

Citing crusading muckraker Ida Tarbell, who went after the Standard Oil monopoly a century ago, as an inspiration for the project, Rosen and Kushnick argue that the recent spate of mergers and acquisitions has put the telecom industry on a similar course of anti-competitive behavior. The answer, they say, is divestiture, which “will lead to increased competition, lower costs and better service.”

FCC’s Revolving Door Keeps on Spinning

Federal Communications Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is the latest FCC official to land a cushy job at—you guessed it—a telecommunications company. In June, Baker will be moving to work as Comcast’s senior vice-president for government affairs. As Truthout’s Nadia Prupis notes, Baker advocated strongly in favor of Comcast during the commission’s review of the $30 billion merger with NBC Universal earlier this year.

Specifically, Baker objected to proposed FCC requirements for Comcast-NBC “to maintain fair and competitive operations over the airwaves and online, show a minimum amount of local and children’s programming and make high-speed Internet access available to 2.5 million low-income households.”

Senate Probe Focuses on Mobile Security

Truthout’s Prupis also reports that Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) is leading a Senate probe into privacy issues raised by smart phones and other mobile broadband-enabled devices.

Recent concerns over privacy issues have put companies like Google and Apple—whose officials testified Tuesday in Washington—on the hot seat. As Prupis notes, “Legislators on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law said that without sufficient privacy measures, mobile devices carry the genuine potential for security breaches.” However, the Senate panel’s intent isn’t to limit innovation, but “create strong consumer protections as mobile technology continues to evolve.”

Post-merger, Comcast Lags on Localism

According to a recent study by Free Press (PDF available here), Comcast-owned Telemundo stations haven’t kept promises made to feature more local news – a key condition of the Comcast-NBC merger. While the study suggests that a poor commitment to localism for Telemundo stations was a pre-existing condition, dating back to NBC Universal’s 2002 purchase of the Spanish-language network, it also found that “Comcast has committed to increasing local news production in only six of the 15 communities served by its Telemundo owned-and-operated stations (O&Os).”

The report also found numerous discrepancies in Comcast’s FCC localism filings, including falsely claiming that advertising constituted local news and failing to include descriptions of programs it claimed were local, making it “difficult for the public and the FCC to determine with any accuracy whether the programming listed actually meets the merger commitment.”

Revisiting Protest Music

What does protest music have to do with media policy? Well, when’s the last time you heard Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” on the radio?

Protest music has all but disappeared from the commercial music landscape, unless you count Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Yet, in an age of media consolidation and corporate-controlled media, it’s good to remember the music scene wasn’t always so timid. Recently, The Nation asked readers to list their Top Ten Protest Songs. They received an overwhelming response, with more than 3,000 entries, and even more streaming in daily.

As the editors note, “five seminal songs [vied] for consideration for the top slot: Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” Florence Reese’s “Which Side Are You On,” Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” and “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.””

The first list posted online—more are planned—includes music by Public Enemy, Marvin Gaye, Paul Robeson, John Prine, Anti-Flag, The Jam, Malvina Reynolds, Iris DeMent, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle.

World Press Freedom Day

“Press freedom is at its lowest level in 12 years,” according to Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery of Mother Jones. In honor of World Press Freedom Day, Bauerlein and Jeffery called attention to the 16 journalists currently held in Libya, as well as the two American journalists still detained in Iran (one of whom is a MoJo reporter).

Inter Press Service created a Facebook page to celebrate WPFD and compile reports on the state of freedom of the press from around the globe. It’s a fascinating list that outlines the dangers reporters face—which sometimes results in self-censorship—as well as the prevalence of censorship of political topics in other countries, especially those engaged in bloody civil conflicts. Here are a few choice stories:

  • As Amantha Perera reports from Sri Lanka, one casualty of that country’s decades-long civil war (which ended in 2009) was journalistic independence. “The media became a part of the military operation… No one was able to report objectively, there was pressure on them from all parties.”
  • In Egypt, Cam McGrath writes, the rebellion which toppled the Mubarak government has brought significant changes for reporters. “Before Feb. 11, we had strict orders not to discuss certain topics, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or (Mubarak’s political opponent) Mohamed El Baradei,” says Ashraf El-Leithy, deputy editor of Middle East News Agency (MENA), Egypt’s official news wire. “Now we have complete freedom to write about anything – without any restriction.”
  • In Mexico City, says Daniela Pastrana, the influence of drug cartels has presented distinct challenges to reporting in a state where corruption and violence are widespread, and journalists, police, and government officials are routinely murdered – resulting in collective efforts, meticulous fact-checking, and an emphasis on obtaining public records.

Ethnic Press Grapples With Media Policy Issues

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak reports for New America Media that a recent information exchange between journalists and advocates held in Boston at the National Conference for Media Reform in April helped the ethnic press address ways to better cover media policy issues for their audiences.

As Khattak notes, the exchange “addressed steps ethnic and community media can take to increase coverage of media policy issues and how to improve the quality of current reporting. [It] also examined the role of media policy advocates in crafting the best course for effective messaging on these issues and what steps they should take.”

Understanding media policy issues can help close the digital divide, which affects underserved, ethnic and minority communities the most.

The Wavelength is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here.You can also follow us on Twitter.

The Wavelength: “Underdog” AT&T Tells FCC That Eliminating Competitors Will Increase Competition

Posted May 2, 2011 @ 1:27 pm by
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image courtesy flickr/creative commonsby Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

The proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger continues to dominate media policy headlines, but the wireless merger isn’t the only game in town. AOL’s recent buyout of the Huffington Post has raised intellectual property issues, rural communities still lack speedy broadband access, and a proposed Verizon antenna in Oakland has come under fire by neighborhood activists.

AT&T an Underdog?

Telecommunications giant AT&T is many things, and an underdog in need of federal assistance isn’t one of them. Yet Colorlines.com’s Jamilah King says that’s exactly how the company is portraying itself in its proposed $39 billion dollar takeover of T-Mobile.

In its official filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), King reports, “AT&T spends nearly 90 pages describing T-Mobile’s weaknesses, while detailing the roadblocks it says it’ll face if federal regulators don’t green light the deal.” If federal regulators block the deal, AT&T argues, its customers “would face a greater number of blocked and dropped calls as well as less reliable and slower data connections. And in some markets, AT&T’s customers would be left without access to more advanced technologies.”

It’s hard to feel sorry for AT&T, though, since the deal has raised concerns that consumers ultimately will pay more for cell phone service, which could adversely impact low-income, minority, and immigrant users who rely on the low-cost plans currently offered by T-Mobile. If the merger passes federal muster, King writes, “it’ll likely mean the unheralded return to prominence of the former Ma Bell monopoly that ruled American telecommunications for most of the twentieth century.”

Competition without Competitors

As Nancy Scola writes in The American Prospect, AT&T’s 381-page FCC filing essentially comes down to this: “you can have the benefits of competition without actual competitors.”

Scola traces the history of the telecommunications industry, touching on the 1982 antitrust case which resulted in the break-up of Ma Bell (aka AT&T) into seven Baby Bells, as well as analyzing current media policy in Washington:

As a powerful company that just announced $31 billion in revenues last quarter AT&T retains great sway. The FCC often defers to the company’s role as the founders of American telecommunications. And Congress, a recipient of large sums of AT&T cash, often seems dazzled by the company’s bright lobbyists who talk in confusing but exciting ways about ‘spectrum synergies’ and ‘LTE deployment.’

The takeaway? Congress and federal regulators need to put consumers’ needs ahead of the telecoms:

In 21st-century America, mobile phones are simply far too important a technology for Washington to give them the usual treatment. With a breathtaking nine out of 10 Americans now owning a cell phone, the wireless market is one that has to work for consumers.

HuffPo Lawsuit, Boycott Highlight IP Issues in New Media Era

The AT&T/T-Mobile merger has garnered a lot of media attention, but it’s not the only merger worth scrutinizing. Truthout’s Nadia Prupis takes a closer look at reactions to the class-action lawsuit recently filed on behalf of Huffington Post’s unpaid bloggers. HuffPo was recently sold to AOL for $315 million. As Prupis reports, “the class-action suit, filed by freelance journalist Jonathan Tasini, alleges that the posts created by unpaid writers were worth an estimated $105 million, and that the profit should have been used as compensation.”

HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington is quoted as saying, “The vast majority of our bloggers are thrilled to contribute – and we’re thrilled to have them.”

Yet the merger—and the lawsuit—highlight one of the biggest issues facing contemporary journalism: The devaluation of intellectual property. For that reason, a number of former bloggers have instituted a boycott of HuffPo. As Prupis notes, “The Newspaper Guild of America, the National Writers Union and the AFL-CIO have all endorsed the boycott, with many of their members refusing to contribute to the web site until Huffington agrees to talk with the unions about how best to approach the changing landscape of online journalism.”

Rural Broadband Access Still Slow

Mark Scheerer of Public News Service tackles the issue of broadband access in rural communities – an important topic in a down economy, since faster connectivity could result in economic stimulus for small businesses, such as livestock farmers.

A new report (PDF at link) issued by the Center for Rural Strategies concludes that “communities without broadband service could be hobbled economically, losing the race to those with faster connections.”

Farmers in places like Stamping Ground, Kentucky, Scheerer says, are paying for high-speed broadband, yet receiving dial-up download speeds, which hinders efforts to “streamline and economize their livestock sales.”

The report essentially mirrors the FCC’s 2010 findings: “broadband providers are not expanding their services in a timely and satisfactory fashion.”

Activists Push Back Against Verizon Antenna

As Oakland Local’s Dennis Rowcliffe reports, a proposal by Verizon to install a powerful cellular antenna close to two schools and several residential units has been met with opposition by community groups.

“The residents, school parents and teachers express concerns about the potential health effects of sustained nearby exposure to increased levels of the electromagnetic frequency, or EMF, radiation emitted by the antennas,” Rowcliffe writes, adding that a group called East Bay Residents for Responsible Antenna Placement (EBR-RAP) has suggested several alternate sites, all of which were rejected by Verizon.

Verizon executive John Johnson is quoted as saying, “Please note that we intend to retain our rights to the city-approved location and to use it as the project site if we are unable to identify a viable alternative after further review.”

However, EBR-RAP members say they intend to keep up the pressure on Verizon until an alternate site is found.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

The Wavelength: The Battle Over Net Neutrality Rages On

Posted Apr 18, 2011 @ 2:53 pm by
Filed under: Media Impact, Report, Reports     Bookmark and Share

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Four months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) supposedly settled the issue, the battle over Net Neutrality is still raging. If anything, it’s just beginning to heat up.  On April 8, the Republican-controlled Congress resolved to repeal the FCC’s recent legislation surrounding Internet protections, and conservative activists are fighting tooth and nail to push back any apparent gains before they are realized. At the same time, media reform advocates say that the FCC’s December ruling on broadband policy did not go far enough in establishing consumer-friendly regulatory guidelines across both Internet and mobile platforms.

Meanwhile, the impact of the announced merger between AT&T and T-Mobile is still up for debate, and federal officials are raising anti-trust concerns against Google.

Genachowski comes to Oakland

Last week, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski met with mayors from the Bay Area in Oakland to tout a mobile apps contest (a partnership with the Knight Foundation) as a way to reduce the digital divide, which has left one-third of Americans without broadband access. Genachowski remarked that those facing digital exclusion were primarily immigrants, minorities, disabled people, and other underserved communities. However, as I reported for Oakland Local, the visit was perhaps more notable for what Genachowski didn’t say.

At the press conference I attended, Genachowski didn’t take any questions, so asking him about the omission of Net Neutrality provisions for wireless carriers wasn’t possible. Nor could I ask him about the upcoming threat posed to low-power TV stations by mobile TV, which could hit 20 U.S. markets this year. Mobile TV could deprive low-power stations of critical bandwidth. Many of these stations reach diverse demographics that are underserved by network and mainstream cable television.

FCC Commissioner at NCMR: System ‘Out of Control’

The lack of a two-way discussion between the nation’s most powerful telecommunications official was disappointing, especially since numerous concerns remain over how the FCC will enforce media policy moving forward. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps recently said at the National Conference for Media Reform, held April 8-10 in Boston: “just give us some sign that the FCC is putting the brakes on a system that is spinning dangerously out of control.”

Copps’ fiery speech was only one of many highlights at the NCMR, which was attended by thousands of people that are passionately interested in changing media. Some of the most inspiring moments included panels on music journalism and localism; comics as journalism’s future; race as a media issue; and how old-school journos are adapting to today’s new media world; and performance artist Sarah Jones inhabiting a range of different characters at the opening plenary.

Truthout’s Susie Cagle has an illustrated recap of NCMR here, and an archive of GRITtv’s segments from the conference is available here.

House Disapproves of Net Neutrality

In a follow-up to an earlier story, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis writes about an April 8 resolution by Congress to repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality regulations. The vote, which passed 240-179, was largely partisan, with only six Democrats crossing party lines to support it. Republicans characterized the FCC’s regulation of the Internet as a “power grab,” questioning the agency’s authority to establish guidelines for cyberspace.

But Democrats countered that the resolution “disables a free and open Internet” and is an attempt to stifle innovation in the tech sector, a charge which is disputed by right-wing nonprofits like FreedomWorks. As Prupis reports, however, that group has received funding from both Verizon and AT&T, and the telecommunications companies “stand to benefit if the law is overturned.”

Despite the partisan rhetoric, the vote was largely symbolic, as the Democratic-controlled Senate is not expected to endorse the resolution.

Tea Party: Net Neutrality = ‘Media Marxism’

As Mother Jones’ Stephanie Mencimer reports, Net Neutrality has also come under fire from the Tea Party. Mencimer points out the irony of such a stance, noting that while an open Internet allows “even the smallest, poorest tea party group… the potential to reach a large audience,” the right-wing activists “inexplicably equate net neutrality with Marxism.”

Tea Party spokesman and Virginia Senate candidate James Radtke is quoted as saying “Net neutrality is an innocuous sounding term for what is really media Marxism.” He goes on to call it “an ideological attempt by those on the left to control the greatest means for the distribution of information ever devised.”

Yet Mencimer points out that much of the netroots activism practiced by the Tea Party has relied on an open Internet, unrestricted by ideological content, which Net Neutrality is intended to protect.

“The tea party’s position on net neutrality,” she writes, “has seemed counterintuitive, given just how badly conservative activists could be screwed by the big cable and phone companies should net neutrality rules be repealed. The whole movement has been organized online, making the Internet’s level playing field a crucial element to its success.”

Wireless Mega-Mergers and Ethnic Communities

New York Community Media Alliance’s Jehangir Khattak details how the AT&T/T-Mobile mega-merger could impact ethnic communities. The skinny: Ethnic populations “could be confronted by reduced service access and higher costs,” Khattak writes.

Khattak outlines the basic provisions of the merger and AT&T’s spin; according to the company, the deal could bring 4G LTE technology to 95 percent of the U.S. population. He also speaks with several members of the ethnic press, who voice concerns that the deal might allow the telecommunications giant to “control the quality of services, such as by dictating the available applications, software or the amount of data they’d allow to be transferred.”

Another concern: the “arcane”, “jargon-ridden” tech-speak of media policy is difficult for immigrant populations to decipher.

Khattak also notes that Genachowski’s compromise on Net Neutrality suggests the FCC Chairman is “unlikely to take the hard line, pro-regulatory stance…  expected of him” by ethnic media advocates.

Google Under Federal Scrutiny—Again

Also in Truthout, Nadia Prupis reports that Google has come under scrutiny by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice, which are considering launching an antitrust probe against the popular search engine.

As Prupis writes, “The DOJ recently approved Google’s $700 million deal with travel company ITA Software, but antitrust regulators are concerned that the acquisition may threaten competition in the travel information industry; specifically, the FTC is worried that Google could use the software to direct users to its own sites, depriving similar web sites such as Orbitz, Kayak and TripAdvisor of fair competition.”

The FTC’s interest in the case comes on the heels of DOJ’s antitrust division filing a civil lawsuit to block Google’s acquisition of ITA, citing concerns that airfare websites should have access to ITA’s software to keep competition “robust.” Though Google reportedly agreed to license that software to competitors, the FTC’s concern indicates that serious questions remain about Google’s potential to unfairly dominate the market, should the deal go through.

This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy and media-related matters by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets, and is produced with the support of the Media Democracy Fund.

The Wavelength: Original Reporting—What’s it Worth? Plus: Tracking the AT&T/T-Mobile Merger

Posted Apr 4, 2011 @ 2:42 pm by
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What do Net Neutrality, gender equality, journalistic integrity, and wireless hegemony have in common (besides alliteration)? Find out this week in the Wavelength.

[read more » ]

The Wavelength: What Does Proposed AT&T and T-Mobile Merger Mean?

Posted Mar 21, 2011 @ 2:51 pm by
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Welcome to The Media Consortium’s newest blog, the Wavelength. Every other week for the next three months, the Wavelength will be your handy guide/resource to media policy-related news and info. For media junkies, it’s one-stop web surfing. We’ll be linking to all the great content on this fascinating, constantly-evolving topic posted by TMC members, and reporting on breaking news stories and hot topics within the media policy world, from the ongoing battle over Net Neutrality and Internet and wireless regulation, to political witch-hunts and partisan crusades, to how the media reports on media issues.

[read more » ]