Reclaim the Media

September 6, 2009

The AP reports that after weeks of constant attacks by the right wing, Van Jones has resigned as Special Advisor for Green Jobs at the Council on Environmental Quality. Below is the letter he sent to chair Nancy Sutley: I am resigning my post at the Council on Environmental Quality, effective today. On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide. I have been inundated with calls - from across the political spectrum - urging me to “stay and fight.” But I came here to fight for others, not for myself. I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for the future. It has been a great honor to serve my country and my President in this capacity. I thank everyone who has offered support and encouragement. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the clean energy future. I will continue to do so, in the months and years ahead. Read more.

September 4, 2009

Reporting from Sacramento - In the long-running battle between cable television and satellite, the cable TV industry is quietly trying to persuade the Legislature to levy a tax on its competitors. With just six days left in the legislative session, cable advocates in Sacramento want lawmakers to slap a new 5% tax on satellite service to match the 5% franchise fee that cable companies pay to string or bury their wires across public property and into homes. Cable companies argue that it's matter of fairness. They say it is not right for them to pay a fee, while fast-growing satellite providers -- DirecTV and Dish Network -- don't have to pay anything for the right to beam their signals into people's homes from space. Satellite companies disagree, saying such a tax discriminates against their 3.6 million customers in California, especially rural residents living in remote areas not served by cable. Satellite providers shouldn't be penalized with a tax because they use innovative technology and don't have to dig up the streets or people's backyards, DirecTV says. Read more.
Two radio station towers were torn down early Friday by the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) in the Lord's Hills valley in Snohomish County, WA. The towers, owned by station KRKO, have been a source of controversy for years. A sign left at the scene claimed responsibility by the ELF. "Due to the health and environmental risks associated with radio waves emitted from the towers, we applaud this act by the ELF," stated Jason Crawford, a spokesperson for the North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office. "When all legal channels of opposition have been exhausted, concerned citizens have to take action into their own hands to protect life and the planet." For the past eight years, opponents have waged a legal battle against the towers, arguing that AM radio waves cause adverse health affects including a higher rate of cancer, harm to wildlife, and that the signals have been interfering with home phone and intercom lines. Read more.
The group Earth Liberation Front is claiming responsibility for toppling two radio station towers in Snohomish County early Friday morning. The FBI is taking over the investigation. The towers, owned by station KRKO and known as North Sound 1380, are located on Short School Road and 129th St. SE in the Lord's Hill Valley. "What they used was a machine called an excavator, it has a front arm off the front end of the machine. They stole it out of the yard," Andy Skotdal, president and general manager of KRKO. "They went and attached it to the tower and pushed one of them over and pulled the other one down." Read more.

September 3, 2009

As dozens of companies pledge not to advertise on Glenn Beck's Fox News Channel show after he called President Obama a racist, and as his controversial on-air behavior draws more scrutiny, the mayor of Mount Vernon, Wash., is presenting him with a key to the city. Mayor Bud Norris announced that Beck, who grew up in Mount Vernon, will be on hand to accept the award Sept. 26, which Norris will also proclaim "Glenn Beck Day." Tickets for the Saturday evening event are $25. Beck's advertiser abandonment has snowballed since he called Obama a racist on July 28, adding that he believed the president has "a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture." Read more.
If the events of the past couple of months are any indication, the future of foundation-funded, nonprofit journalism looks pretty good right now. Consider:
  • Sheri Fink’s 13,000-word investigation into the facts behind the deaths at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Center put foundation-funded journalism (in this case, by the Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellowship in Health program and by the Sandler Family Foundation’s support for Fink’s employer, ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative reporting outfit) on the mainstream media map;
  • A gathering at the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation’s Pocantico estate of about two dozen nonprofit news organizations, including the Center for Public Integrity, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and several local online news operations from San Diego, Seattle, Texas, St. Louis and elsewhere, led to the formation of a new Investigative News Network that may become a delivery vehicle for foundation funding for a number of media operations, as well as an opportunity for networked collaborative reporting;
  • And at least two states, Vermont and Illinois, have approved legislation authorizing the so-called “L3C” corporate structure, which (as Jim Barnett writes at his blog) “allows a corporation to take on investors who are willing to accept varying rates of return - or possibly none at all.” This L3C option could give budding nonprofit journalism outfits access to both philanthropic and straight-up private investor money.
Read more.
Health-care reform is said to be in trouble partly because of those raucous August town-hall meetings in which Democratic members of Congress were besieged by shouters opposed to change. But what if our media-created impression of the meetings is wrong? What if the highly publicized screamers represented only a fraction of public opinion? What if most of the town halls were populated by citizens who respectfully but firmly expressed a mixture of support, concern and doubt? Read more.
(A review of BLOOD AND POLITICS: The History of the White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, by Leonard Zeskind) Humans have tremendous capacity for ignoring failure. If we can envision something, we struggle to engender it, even if generations fail in the attempt. Science fiction often furnishes inspiration for such dreaming - Jules Verne’s submarine, for instance. Then there are the race-science fictions, misbegotten fantasies of genetic purity that have inspired nightmares from the Third Reich to Southern bigotry to anti-immigration panic. Adolf Hitler and Jim Crow are dead, but their departures merely signify the end of eras, not the end of the ambitious ignorance they represent. Recent months have borne witness to the persistence of these dolorous fantasies. Throughout the spring, reports of hate group activity were alarmingly frequent, culminating with the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI releasing a report on increased recruitment levels for these groups. The numbers of enlistees as well as the number of groups in existence have reached levels unseen since the early 1990s. This is not a provincial matter: On April 11 a Boston VFW nearly hosted a “Patriot Action 2009’’ rally co-organized by the relatively young groups Volksfront and East Coast White Unity. As the Globe reported, after the VFW canceled the event, the groups relocated to New Hampshire. Read more.

August 31, 2009

Argentina's president sent a media reform bill to Congress on Thursday, saying it would strengthen democracy by reducing the control of a handful of companies that dominate broadcasting. Many people in the industry agree with the need to overhaul broadcasting regulations drawn up during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, to reflect huge technological changes, but the government proposal has sparked controversy. President Cristina Fernandez, who has fallen out with the country's biggest media group Grupo Clarin (CLA.BA) and often criticizes news media, said the new broadcast law would challenge private companies' domination of the airwaves. Read more.
The U.S. military is canceling its contract with a controversial private firm that was producing background profiles of journalists seeking to cover the war that graded their past work as “positive,” “negative” or “neutral,” Stars and Stripes has learned. “The Bagram Regional Contracting Center intends to execute a termination of the Media Analyst contract,” belonging to The Rendon Group, said Col. Wayne Shanks, chief of public affairs for International Security Assistance Forces–Afghanistan. Read more.
An Anchorage consumer group is pushing for state regulation of Alaska cable television. Only one city in Alaska has regulated cable TV rates: Juneau. In contrast, in most Lower 48 communities, the rates cable companies charge customers are locally regulated, the Federal Communications Commission says. So how has lack of regulation affected Alaska? Badly, according to AkPIRG, the consumer group. Read more.

August 28, 2009

Comcast, the nation's largest cable television provider, can grow bigger if it wants to after a federal court decision Friday that tossed out a rule preventing cable companies from controlling more than 30 percent of the U.S. market. The rule, set by the Federal Communications Commission in 1993, has been in legal challenge nearly since its inception, with cable companies arguing that it was unconstitutional and the FCC and some consumer advocates saying it was necessary to prevent one company from controlling the market and gouging consumers. The FCC imposed the cap after Congress passed the 1992 Cable Act, which said the agency must set "reasonable limits" on the number of customers a cable company can have. Read more.

August 27, 2009

The Seattle Times and several neighborhood news Web sites in Seattle are joining forces as part of an interactive journalism project. Kathy Best, managing editor with responsibility for, said the sites are among the leading neighborhood newsgathering operations in Seattle, staffed by professionals who share The Times' journalistic values. Suki Dardarian, managing editor of The Times' print editions, said, "We're thrilled to be part of building something that can help this community and at the same time contribute to the profession of journalism." Read more.
What stood out most as Caster Semenya faced reporters at last week’s track and field world championships was that she’s just a kid. Baby-faced and leery, she parceled out answers to ostensibly innocuous questions. “What was your running background before this year?” But a more insidious query lurked for the teen: What kind of freak are you, anyway? That’s the real question the world wants South Africa’s new star athlete to answer. The International Association of Athletics Federations has demanded Semenya, who won the 800-meter gold last week, submit to a sex test; bookies are taking bets on the results. But whatever the IAAF’s shameless doctors conclude, the verdict about Semenya is already in—she’s a monster. What remains is to determine what type of monster we’re gawking at. A hermaphrodite? An intersexual? A genetic boy whose parents raised him as a girl? Or just a mannish woman, after all? Read more.
The digital divide doesn't exist. It's the definite article that causes problems, implying there's an easy way to think about the issues surrounding the inequitable access to technology -- and perhaps an easy solution. We can just bridge the gap, right? But anybody who's seen Cloverfield or I Am Legend knows what happens when a mass of people tries to cross a bridge to escape a bad situation: a bottleneck forms, infighting destroys group solidarity, and then something unforeseen destroys the bridge. (Or, less monster-centric, we may simply lack the requisite know-how to build a bridge that works.) Read more.

August 25, 2009

As more journalists seek permission to accompany U.S. forces engaged in escalating military operations in Afghanistan, many of them could be screened by a controversial Washington-based public relations firm contracted by the Pentagon to determine whether their past coverage has portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light. U.S. public affairs officials in Afghanistan acknowledged to Stars and Stripes that any reporter seeking to embed with U.S. forces is subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion. Read more.
T.S. Eliot was wrong. August is the cruelest month. As we head toward next month's congressional face-off on a national healthcare bill, the news media are infatuated with town hall meetings. Over and over, we see angry citizens screaming about a Big Government takeover of the healthcare system, shouting that they will lose their insurance or be forced to give up their doctors and denouncing "death panels" that will euthanize old people. Of course, none of this is even remotely true. These are all canards peddled by insurance companies terrified of losing their power and profits, by right-wing militants terrified of a victory for the president they hate and by the Republican Party, which has been commandeered by the insurance industry and the militants. But the lies have obviously had their effect. Recent polls show that support for healthcare reform -- reform that would insure more Americans, would force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and prevent them from capriciously terminating coverage, and would provide competition to drive down costs -- is rapidly eroding. Read more.

August 24, 2009

Look for major action from the FCC against Apple/AT&T on the iPhone, as well as other exclusive wireless deals. USA Today reports that the FCC will discuss at its regular meeting Thursday a three-part probe:
  1. Wireless competition;
  2. Barriers to entry and investment
  3. consumer billing, including wireless contracts
Read more.
When Hugo Chávez won the Venezuelan Presidential election in 1998, he immediately implemented one of his primary campaign platforms, the rewriting of the Venezuelan Constitution of 1961. This new constitution included a broader scope of social, economic, cultural, political and civil rights. A popular referendum was held to elect qualified citizens to make up a Constituent Assembly whose job was to draft the new constitution. This constitution was truly written for the people and by the people. One of the articles in the constitution required the restructuring of the Venezuelan oil industry in order to provide a more equal distribution of resources and wealth to the Venezuelan people. For the economic and political groups who traditionally held power and who had benefited greatly from this oil profit, this shift in structure and fortune was not at all welcome. Since then, this large block of private media (whose ownership belongs to the most powerful businessmen and corporations) has worked toward removing Chávez from power and slowing the revolutionary process.1 Since Chávez won the presidential election and the traditional political parties Acción Democratica and COPEI lost power, the news media has become the greatest weapon of the opposition in a war against the Chávez administration. Read more.