Reclaim the Media

December 8, 2009

Within hours of the announcement last week that Comcast had agreed to acquire a controlling interest in NBCU and its vast array of broadcast and cable properties, Andy Schwartzman of the Media Access Project sent out an e-mail to reporters raising concerns and calling on the government to scrutinize it carefully. No one in Washington policymaking circles was surprised. For more than three decades, Schwartzman has been working for open and diverse media -- that is, policies that limit media concentration, insure access to media by citizens and encourage diversity in media ownership. Those goals have regularly brought him into conflict with media companies and their seemingly irresistible urge to merge. The battles have been fought mostly at the FCC and in the courts. In this interview with TVNewsCheck Editor Harry A. Jessell, Schwartzman spells out some of his concerns about the Comcast-NBC combination, which includes his belief that it will put all TV broadcasters outside of the NBC family at risk. He also explains why the FCC's cash-for-spectrum proposal is a bad idea. Read more.

December 7, 2009

On the eve of this week's international climate summit in Copenhagen, 56 major newspapers in 45 countries issued a joint editorial calling for dramatic action on climate change. No first-rank US papers took part. A number of major US titles evinced support for the project, even conceding that they agreed with everything in the editorial, but stopped short of signing up, leaving the admirably independent-minded Miami Herald as the sole representative of the world's second biggest polluter. It is hard not to be struck by the parallel with the Kyoto agreement when the US stood to one side as the world began to move against climate change. Read more.

December 6, 2009

With technology changing Americans’ media experience at breakneck speed, it might seem quaint to worry about the merger of an old-style cable company with a beleaguered broadcast TV company. But there is much to be concerned about in Comcast’s proposed takeover of NBC and its sister company Universal Studios. The pairing of the nation’s largest cable company with one of the leading television broadcasters, which also owns several popular cable networks, could limit choices and raise prices for viewers and advertisers. As they evaluate the proposed merger, antitrust and communications watchdog agencies should also consider the risks to the emerging business of delivering video entertainment over the Internet — the main competitive threat to cable TV. Read more.

December 4, 2009

Comcast's proposed $30 billion purchase of NBC Universal is a bad deal for consumers, as well as for net neutrality. If approved, the purchase will create yet another instance where a company that delivers digital content will have a profit motive to discriminate against other content providers. The FCC should stop this deal, partially because it furthers media consolidation into too few hands, but also because it flies against the prevailing wind of net neutrality, as envisioned by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. (What is "net neutrality?" Here's an explainer). Read more.
Hours after Comcast and General Electric announced their intention to form a massive joint venture centered on content properties, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps issued a statement that was sharply skeptical of the deal. "It will come as no news to them that they face a steep climb with me," he said as Comcast and GE pursue regulatory approval. Copps said he continues to have concerns about "so few (media companies) controlling so much." Is Read more.
It’s been nearly a year since Public Knowledge and the Silicon Flatirons Center held its FCC Reform conference, and the FCC has moved slowly but steadily towards addressing many of the concerns raised at the conference and the paper submitted beforehand. One concern raised by a number of the conference participants was some of the unintended consequences of the Government in Sunshine Act. The Sunshine Act was intended to ensure that agency business is not done behind closed doors. This is certainly a noble goal, but by prohibiting more than 2 Commissioners (3 is a quorum for the 5 member FCC) to meet unless an open meeting is held and public notice is given, power has trickled down to unappointed and unconfirmed FCC staffers, who are under no such prohibition and who serve as secret brokers for their bosses. After staff finish their horse trading, the actual open meeting is like “Kabuki theatre” - Commissioners read from prepared statements, there is little or no debate and the outcome is predetermined. Read more.

December 3, 2009

The headline read: "Next up on KENC radio, a wedding." It might have gone off without a hitch, too, if a Federal Communications Commission agent hadn't read it, investigated and found Stayton's nonprofit, low-power community radio station and the fellow who operates it -- the groom -- allegedly violating government code. Faced with the possibility of a $10,000 fine and forfeiture of his broadcasting gear, Ken Cartwright announced Thursday that at 5 p.m. Read more.
Even though President Obama pledged he would “take a back seat to no one” on Net Neutrality, the big phone and cable companies are pulling out all the stops to derail it, including deploying Karl Rove-style scare tactics within our communities and using their massive resources to block Obama’s agenda. In the first nine months of 2009, they employed nearly 500 lobbyists and spent some $74 million to influence Congress and the FCC. Their misinformation has even convinced Glenn Beck that Net Neutrality is an attempt by Obama to take over the Internet. Who will protect the online rights of marginalized communities against the raw profit motive of big business? We urge leaders in our community not to yield to the underhanded scare tactics that corporations like AT&T have used on our communities. Read more.
For weeks, newspapers have reported in their business pages on a possible Comcast-NBC Universal merger (announced today), as a business story.  The merger is more than a routine business story.  The merger signifies massive media consolidation.  This consolidation gives one company—Comcast—enormous control over the speech shaping Americans’ lives and shaping our democracy. The merger puts Comcast in control of MSNBC (a 24 hour news channel with an enormous impact on public opinion), CNBC (which impacts public opinion about Wall Street, now a hotly debated political question), NBC network (whose nightly news show averages eight million viewers, many times that of cable shows like those on Fox News), and 27 television stations (which generally have programs covering local news). Read more.

December 2, 2009

Teeth are gnashing and swords are being drawn in response to the news that Comcast is poised to snarf down 51 percent of NBC Universal—the other 49 percent owned by General Electric. The deal would give Comcast, already the nation's biggest cable company and ISP, control over a huge swath of video content. "This is the most important media merger since Lucy married Desi," declared Andrew Schwartzman of the Media Access Project. "The merger clearly threatens to transform video markets nationwide. Although the details of the deal have not yet been announced, I am strongly concerned about the market power enjoyed by a Comcast/NBC combination. No one entity should have control over such a large audience." Read more.
Newspaper publishers will now be able to set a limit on the number of free news articles people can read through Google, the company has announced. The concession follows claims from some media companies that the search engine is profiting from online news pages. Under the First Click Free programme, publishers can now prevent unrestricted access to subscription websites. Read more.

November 30, 2009

The FCC has asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to hold off making a decision on the many challenges to the FCC's media ownership rules until it has had a chance to conduct its Quadrennial Review next year. The FCC is required to review its ownership rules every four years to determine whether they are still "necessary in the public interest". As a result of the last review in 2006, the FCC, under then-chairman Kevin Martin, loosened the ban on newspaper-broadcast crossownership, but took no further action, saying no further action was in the public interest. Foes of any further deregulation opposed any loosening of the ban as too much deregulation, while those looking for the FCC to scrap the ban or loosening multiple station ownership limits in a single market complained it was insufficiently deregulatory. Read more.

November 29, 2009

In the three years since its launch, the English-language spinoff of Mideast news network Al Jazeera has been airing on cable and satellite in more than 100 countries, including the United States and Israel. Now it's coming to Canada. Yesterday, the CRTC gave the green light to the Qatar-based network Al Jazeera English, noting it "will expand the diversity of editorial points of view in the Canadian broadcasting system." Toronto-based satellite service Ethnic Channels Group Ltd. submitted the broadcast request in February. Al Jazeera English (AJE), based in Doha, Qatar, broadcasts international news around the clock. Since the launch of the English service, its management has met the challenge of reshaping a network that once served one corner of the world and expanding to international markets. Ma Read more.

November 27, 2009

When it comes to independent, agitational journalism, the standard is Amy Goodman and her radio/television institution, Democracy Now! Goodman and her staff often finds themselves accosted by officials, foreign and domestic. This happened again on Thursday. But it didn't happen in East Timor or Burma. Goodman was detained by our neighbors to the north. Canadian border officials held Goodman in Vancouver for 90 minutes when she attempted to enter Vancouver to attend events launching her new book, Breaking the Sound Barrier. But the Canadian Border team didn't care what she was there to do. They wanted to know what she was going to say. They demanded to see her computer and notebook. They searched her car. They returned her passport with papers demanding she leave the country within 48 hours. Read more.
There has been a great deal of concern about language in the recent FCC call for rule making on network neutrality. The FCC notice is intended to developed a definition of net neutrality along the lines proposed in the rule making. The concern is directed at language that would permit network operators (I always use the words network operators because these rules would apply to Internet and non-Internet networks) to conduct ‘reasonable network management. This Ars Technica article makes one glaring error; there is nothing about ‘tiering‘ that violates net neutrality, but it is a bad idea for a lot of other reasons. Read more.
As a child, I was drawn to Cookie Monster's manic love for baked goods, but my most vivid recollection of Sesame Street is Gordon. I can't remember when I first saw him, whether he was having one of his chats with Oscar about O’s grouchy outlook on life or whether he joined in a song urging us to do something good for ourselves, but I do recall his presence: warm, joyful, thoughtful and firm. Not a caricature or stereotype of a Black man, Gordon represents Sesame Street's greatest value for me as a father—a world where people of color are celebrated without being tokenized, satirized or exaggerated. Read more.

November 25, 2009

Extending broadband Internet access to all Americans is “the great infrastructure challenge of our time,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said today. Genachowski made the remarks during a noon talk at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service in Little Rock. Earlier in the day, he and U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., participated in two panel discussions on broadband access at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. “Broadband is to us what railroads, electricity, highways and telephones were to previous generations: A platform for commerce, a platform for economic competitiveness, for helping address major national challenges like education and health care, for connecting people with each other,” Genachowski said at the Clinton School. Read more.
With the deaths of at least 12 journalists in Monday’s massacre in Maguindanao, the Philippines has earned the dubious distinction as the world’s most dangerous place for journalists to work, according to an international media watchdog. In a statement on its website, the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said the country effectively supplanted Iraq, where an armed conflict has been raging, as the most dangerous place for journalists. Read more.
AT&T doesn't like the idea of new regulations mandating unfettered access to the Internet, and recent comments from the Obama administration that connected the issue to censorship in China have really gotten under its skin. The telecom giant responded forcefully this week to remarks by White House deputy chief technology officer Andrew McLaughlin, who said that free speech and network neutrality are "intrinsically linked." Net neutrality rules are being crafted by federal regulators that would restrict Internet service providers such as AT&T from blocking or prioritizing content on the Web. Read more.

November 24, 2009

Congress should not waste any time when it returns from its Thanksgiving recess on a bill that would allow for local radio programming to flourish. There is no good reason not to pass the Local Community Radio Act before year end. The bill, which was passed by the House Commerce Committee on Oct. 15 and the Senate Commerce Committee last week, would clear the way for low-power FM (LPFM) stations to fill the dead air between commercial stations on the radio dial. Read more.