As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I recently attended the National Conference on Media Reform in Boston. FCC Commissioner Michael Copps presented at one of the sessions (“The FCC at NCMR: a National Town Hall”). I did not take video of his presentation, but I wanted to share a few things Commissioner Copps had to say.
First, I need to note a few things about Michael Copps. He has had a long and illustrious career as FCC Commissioner– he has taken the job seriously, attempting to use the powers of his office for truly advancing the public good. Perhaps you are thinking that all FCC commissioners should be doing this, but the long history the organization proves otherwise. Copps is extremely for the principled stance is taken if the FCC and for what he has accomplished at the FCC.
Consider, for example, Copps’ stance regarding the recently approved merger of Comcast and NBC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Copps In January 18th, 2011 the FCC and the United States Department of Justice allowed Comcast to buy NBC Universal. Michael Copps was the only commissioner of the FCC to vote against the merger. Here’s what he had to say:
I searched in vain for the benefits (…) Pardon me, but a deal of this size should be expected to yield more than the limited benefits cited. (…)
In sum, this is simply too much, too big, too powerful, too lacking in benefits for American consumers and citizens…. I would be true to neither the statute nor to everything I have fought for here at the Commission over the past decade if I did not dissent from what I consider to be a damaging and potentially dangerous deal (..) At the end of the day, the public interest requires more-much more-than it is receiving. The Comcast-NBCU joint venture opens the door to the cable-ization of the open Internet. The potential for walled gardens, toll booths, content prioritization, access fees to reach end users, and a stake in the heart of independent content production is now very real.
To put Copps’ stance in perspective, Barack Obama’s carefully handpicked Commissioner, Julius Genachowski, and all the other commissioners, voted to approve this hideous merger, leaving Michael Copps standing alone as a matter of principle.
Here are some of Copps’ comments at the Boston Media Reform Conference session I attended:
– Copps has always believed that government regulation could be a force for public good.
– Before Michael Copps joined the FCC, there had never before been a public hearing offered by the FCC. Since he’s been a Commissioner, there have been more than 50 public hearings.
– Copps has focused on not-inside-the-Beltway issues.
– The Republicans are arguing “hands off the Internet,” so that the telecoms can control the Internet. This goes to the heart of the future of democracy, and thousands of journalists are “off the beat” on the story.
– America is starved for factual news reporting., Yet how many facts are permanently buried, never made known public? We have lots of opinion, but opinions need to be based upon facts.
– The resolution of all major issues rides on how they are portrayed by the media.
– The Internet is not yet filling the role traditionally fulfilled by newspapers and broadcast networks. Most of the news we still see (90-95%) is produced originally by newspapers and broadcast networks.
– We need to bring back licensing regimens for the public interest is invited and it controls the renewals of station licenses. This would encourage broadcasters to talk to people about what to cover. It would help keep minorities from being stereotyped.
– In the 1930s, a quid pro quo was reached. The airwaves belong to the people of the United States, and stations are offered licenses to use those airwaves and they must use them to cover the public interest.
– Citizen action can still work, even though a small number of people in the United States hold vast economic and political power, and even though their money has immense influence.
– Copps is concerned about net neutrality in the short term. “There’s lots of room to do mischief.” He further noted that wireless is not included in the regulations that have been issued by the FCC. Long-term, he is even more worried. New technologies always end up getting controlled by corporate interests. The FCC has issued regulations with which he has called the Internet and “information service” under the 1996 Communications Act, rather than designating the Internet a “telecommunications service.” No other country in the world has gone down this road. What this means is that the FCC is not going to take charge to make sure that net neutrality is enforced.
– “We need to recommit ourselves to reforming the media, of, by and for the American people.”
Economist Joseph Stiglitz spoke at the National Conference for Media Reform this past weekend, focusing in on some of the many of the conflicts that are inherent to news media. I videotaped his presentation (see below).
The most obvious conflict is between wrongdoers (e.g., banks) who are actively hiding their wrongdoing from news reporters. For example, the Federal Reserve had been hiding the fact that it used U.S. tax dollars to bail out foreign banks, a fact that was recently revealed. But there are many other types of conflicts. For example, accurate information is a public good. Unfortunately, there is not a strong incentive for producing accurate and essential information, “because everyone benefits from this.” Exacerbating this problem is the fact that there are strong private incentives for distorting information (e.g., by financial institutions or the ). The upshot is that we hear ridiculous claims by those positioned to benefit from that false information (e.g., that the economic stimulus was necessary and effective).
Here’s another conflict: Much of the “news” is a byproduct of advertising. This creates a conflict of interest because the “new” provider will try inevitably attempt to be sensitive to the economic needs of the advertisers. This bias is far more dangerous when it shows up in newspapers than when private parties issue their own press releases, where we all expect such information to be biased.
Another problem is that those who want information to be promulgated will be inclined to spin the information as necessary in return for the willingness of a news provider to provide coverage. When I heard Stiglitz state this, I thought of the tendency of news providers to enhance the conflict of their stories in order to make them more “newsworthy.”
Here’s another conflict: Some reporters are owned by certain politicians. If they fail to provide coverage that satisfies the politician, they will get cut off from future information.
Here’s yet another conflict. Everyone wants to be a cheerleader. Reporters tend to report good news. They want to hear that everything is OK, and that the stock market is going up up up. Hence, that is too often the way the news is spun, regardless of the facts on the ground.
Robert McChesney and John Nichols have written an excellent new book: The Death and Life of American Journalism: the Media Revolution That Will Begin the World Again (2010). This book precisely articulates a litany of bad news with regard to journalism:
- Newspapers are dying. Only 16% of young Americans read the paper. The death of newspapers has not been caused by the Internet; they been dying for two decades. They are dying because they are not exposing readers to new challenging ideas. Rather, they excel at presenting us with “weather reports, celebrity gossip, syndicated fare and exercise tips.”
- Newspapers are dying because corporate chains gobbled them up and milk them by cutting their new status, virtually eliminating investigative journalism.
- Modern-day journalism relies far too much on officials in power to set the agenda, thus making news cheap and bland; they explore important issues only when those in power bicker amongst themselves about those issues.
- Because of the loss of journalists, 50% of our news is now based on press releases issued by PR specialists and uncritically repeated on the pages of America’s newspapers.
[More . . .]
I’m in Boston attending the National Conference for Media Reform – 2011, sponsored by Free Press. I’m one of 2,500 would-be reformers on hand, learning a lot about the state of the media, but there’s not enough good news about the news these days. Countless journalists are losing their jobs, newspapers are being shuttered and important stories are thus not getting adequate coverage. On the other hand, the attendees at the conference are, as a group, affable, intelligent and capable people, as are the presenters.
Yesterday I attended a panel discussion on Wikileaks, hosted by Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow. I’ll offer some of my observations below, before presenting several videos I shot during the discussions. These videos include of all of the comments by Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald, who has made Wikileaks a strong focus of his work over the past year. I’ve also included a video of Amy Goodman’s opening comments.
In addition to Glenn Greenwald, the panel included Greg Mitchell, who has created an ongoing and comprehensive Wikiweaks series of posts, in The Nation. Each day’s entry at his blog includes multiple items, and he’s up to at least Day 132. Mitchell has just published an excellent book, The Age of Wikileaks: From Collateral Murder to Cablegate (and Beyond) (2011); I bought a copy at the conference and I’m halfway through. Mitchell suggested early in the session that the federal government has been treating Bradley Manning inhumanely to discourage future whistle-blowers. Why would that be? Many of the answers are in Mitchell’s own book. For instance, Mitchell reports that prior to the release of the “Collateral Murder” video, Julian Assange predicted:
I’m in Boston, attending the 2011 National Conference for Media reform sponsored by Free Press. The events will occur at the Seaport World Trade Center. I hope to post at least several blog posts based on the conference events. At this point, I’ll merely post an image of the conference banner:
Media Alley is reporting that the Newspaper Guild is asking unpaid writers at the Huffington Post to stop providing their written work to Huffpo, which recently AOL paid $315 million for Huffpo last month.
I’m well aware of Huffpo’s policy, which is to “pay” writers with exposure rather than money. It’s a deal that I sometimes think of offering to make. Then again, I understand the Guild’s position that when others work for free (especially when they do high quality work for free) it hurts the economic position of the 26,000 members of the Newspaper Guild.
And at least one Republican, Ron Paul, understands that our Nation’s (destructive) money pit is Afghanistan, not NPR. Every week we spend four times more on our military adventure in Afghanistan than we spend for one year on funding domestic public media (we spend a lot more on propaganda devoted for international audiences than we spend on domestic programming).
There are a few news media figure who are taking principled stands regarding the the horrific way that the United States government is treating Bradley Manning, who has not been convicted of any crime. Glen Greenwald is one of the few with scruples. Other principled voices can be read at Alternet, including Lynn Parramore, who (rightfully) suggests that we’d be outraged if we viewed a fictitious movie of someone being treated as badly as Manning, but since it’s happening in real life we don’t give a shit. Jane Hamsher of Firedoglake has admirably covered the story. Andrew Sullivan has weighed in. Barack Obama has fully earned the title of America’s Second Modern Torture President. This is not hyperbole. Bradley Manning is being tortured by the United States. We are enthusiastically treating Manning the way we treated the (mostly innocent) prisoners at Gitmo. We are doing to Manning what we criticize when other countries do it.
Dylan Ratigan of MSNBC has also presented the story with energy. The torture is bad enough, but the silence by mainstream Democrats is infuriating. We’re running a great country, aren’t we? No need to speak out about Wall Street corruption, massive problems with health care “reform,” the right to assassinate U.S. citizens, government spying on its own citizens, and not blatant torture.