With weeks to go before the Chicago FCC event on the proposed Comcast/NBC merger, discussion on the proposed merger and its consequences are heating up.
There's the narrow question which will be the focus of the Chicago FCC event on July 13: Should the FCC approve the merger? On the one side, you have folks in favor of the merger like the Teamsters who say the merger would be "very much" in the union's interests (it won't; expect more layoffs) and Chicago mayor Richard M. Daley who claims that the companies have been "good corporate ctizens" (despite evidence to the contrary).
On the other side, you have folks opposing the merger like former employees of NBC (who happen to sit in the U.S. Senate), almost all non-white people, a bunch of people in South Los Angeles, and just about every activist group to the left of the Federalist Society.
Among the camp that oppose the merger, which is large and passionate, there is a difference in opinion as to tactical considerations. Some groups are calling for the merger to be blocked altogether. Others, many others with the guts to speak up are tacitly supporting the merger, probably because the merger would be a disaster for the company like other media mergers -- though it'd also be a disaster for more than just the company.
Comcast is trying to allay concerns, and the government vows to take a critical eye on the merger. It's important to remember that what's happening is not a done deal -- not by a long shot, and that while power can be intimidating, it's also very fragile, as we have seen time and again. Plus, remember that corporations have taken a black eye as of late, which leads many to critically examine the corporate edifice and posit possible alternatives. So be sure to attend the hearing, and stay tuned to this website for new developments.
Chicago Media Action at U.S. Social Forum 2010 - A Workshop
"Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue:
Lessons from Latin America and the U.S."
Thursday, 06/24/2010 - 3:30pm to 5:30pm - Location: Cobo Hall: D2-09
Chicago will play host to an FCC public forum on the proposed Comcast/NBC merger to be held on Thursday, July 13th, from 1pm to 8pm at Northwestern University Law School in downtown Chicago. This was the same locale where seven years ago a bunch of us gathered to discuss media concentration in a more general sense, at the Midwest Forum on Media Ownership in the run-up to the dramatic media ownership uprising of 2003.
The stakes couldn't be higher. The major corporate media have been slightly deconcentrating in recent years, and corporations are checking out of the journalism game, but if Comcast completes its proposed buyout of NBC/Universal from General Electric, that could foretell a trend where internet service providers -- phone and cable companies -- could buy up content media producer conglomerates.
If the merger goes through, you can expect the following:
* Comcast/NBC will kneecap of Hulu
* Comcast/NBC will censor your blog
* Comcast/NBC will shut out black-owned cable networks
* Comcast/NBC will be racist
And Comcast is doing everything it can to make sure the deal goes through:
* Comcast is deploying a massive lobbying army, including 78 former government employees
* Comcast is paying coin-operated think tanks to deliver reports that, unsurprisingly, support the acquisition of NBC Universal
bought off convinced the governors of Pennsylvania, California, and New York to support the merger
But there's a lot of resistance to the proposed merger: * ...by members of Congress
* ...by media advocacy groups
* by the House Judiciary Committee (or at least certain members of the committee)
* ...by sports fans, including fans of the Olympics
Past hearings like can often seem like pro forma events, like the broadband event in Chicago held just four days before Christmas 2009. But don't dismiss the potential of such events -- it can help raise awareness, build momentum, and coupled with an FCC quadrennial media ownership review coming soon and investors feeling lackluster about the merger, and recent history of public involvement changing the calculus on media ownership matters, the future is yet to be lived.
(Note: A version of this post first appeared at Free Press's "New Public Media" page here.)
I'm not in any way convinced that the present public media system, which is controlled by elite trustees, professional journalists, corporations, and government, is worth funding permanently. Respectfully, unless we first address the more fundamental issue of who controls "public" media, we doom ourselves to repeat the mistakes of the past, only on a bigger scale and with better technology and software.
The waste in the PBS and NPR system nationally and locally is shameful, particularly executive salaries. (We'll talk more on executive salaries in a future post.) The fact is that public access and community radio operations are able to do much more with much less money.
Let's instead make the best of the innovative, vibrant community production we already have - programming that actually serves and engages and is from, of, and by marginalized communities.
We ought to make some of the better public access and community radio programming of limited circulation available to lots more people through the respective local, larger public broadcast outlet(s). Pay these creators $10-$50,000, provide training and a little cash, pay a little to lease the community facilities where these shows are made and you make a good news or public affairs show great and available to the masses. Under this scheme, a weekly show could be brought in at maybe $200,000 - $350,000 a year. That sure beats the millions spent on "quality" "professional" shows like Moyers' replacement "Need to Know" and its local kindred. We require larger programming spaces where community groups and their needs and concerns are royal.
Therefore, we first need governance structures that permit approaches like this to happen and that don't perpetuate old, tired failures. Committed journalism workers have a limited but important role to play in station governance - don't get me wrong. But they need a lot of oversight, lest they help take us to war, misery, and ruin yet again. No, the elite at PBS and NPR outlets who call themselves professionals are not our gods, our parents, or our "partners".
We, the public, must instead, and at all times, be their bosses. Or they can hit the road.
So before we talk about money, we have to completely change the power relationships that determine the way decisions are made at the PBS and NPR outlets.
If it's to be more money for a programming product aimed at an advertising consultant's disappearing - dying - target demographic, count me out.
(This was written by Scott Sanders, but James Owens contributed a few thoughts too.)
see also -- "A Neutral Network Alone Will Not Build a Just Media System for Us and Neither Will Professional Journalists: Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue"
In 2002, the Federal Communications Commission -- led by policy supergenius (cough) Michael Powell -- reclassified the internet from a telecommunications service to an information service. This mattered because it removed the internet from the realm of law most closely related to universal accessibility to one potentially less so. This change dovetailed nicely with plans from big corporations -- which studies show are the cause of 95.8% of all the ills in the world -- to turn the internet into another kind of commercial carpet-bombing, money-saturated, medium with little public direction. You know, like the rest of American media.
Activists responded by suing the FCC in a court case named for a California internet service provider called Brand X -- a case which went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in 2005, the Supreme Court ruled that the FCC was in its bounds to maintain the reclassification. So then, it became incumbent to escalate the matter further, to respond with a new law that would require content neutrality by internet service providers who would itch to prioritize content, typically on moneyed grounds. That was the die cast in the Net Neutrality wars of late 2005 and much of 2006.
CMA has been a participant in the Net Neutrality wars ever since, particularly since we got burned by an ally-turned-turncoat -- Congressional Representative Bobby Rush. In late 2005, CMA was invited by Rush's staff to participate in his District Wide Assembly, and we agreed to what we thought was a successful event. However, within months, Rush had been the first Democratic party co-sponsor to the dismal COPE Act of 2006, which would have all but snuffed out net neutrality (along with public access television via the proposed national video franchise agreement within the COPE Act). It then became public knowledge that Rush had accepted a
bribe $1 million donation from SBC (the predecessor to the new AT&T;) for a community non-profit project in Rush's district. Rush thereafter became a dutiful puppet. Irony: Many of the people in Rush's underserved communities would be left out of internet deployment by the COPE Act he co-sponsored.
CMA struck back by working to galvanize opposition: We had proposed a series of protests on the COPE Act, which coalesced into an event called the National Day of Outrage in a half-dozen cities around the country. Thereafter, further activism, mostly in the PR, public lobbying, and internet meme realm, continued for the subsequent summer. Net neutrality opponents responded, outspending freedom fighters by a rate of 15 to 1. As a result, The U.S. House of Representatives easily approved the COPE Act, with a Republican-dominated house mouthing industry talking points, and Bobby Rush providing the bipartisan figleaf.
But activism from freedom fighters continued, and started to turn the tide when the COPE Act got to the U.S. Senate, shepherded by then-Alaska-Senator Ted Stevens. Ostensibly, the Evil Empire had another win in the Senate, as the COPE Act's Senate equivalent passed in a series of Commerce Committee votes, but in the course of those votes, Ted Stevens heightened awareness to a new level by opening his damn fool mouth. A single blogger from the group Public Knowledge recorded an MP3 of Stevens and posted it on the series of tubes:
"Ten movies streaming across that, that Internet, and what happens to your own personal Internet? I just the other day got...an Internet was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday. I got it yesterday [Tuesday]. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the Internet commercially.[...] They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It's not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material."
In a matter of days, bloggers and internet commentators howled in response, deeming Stevens and his minions as a bunch of know-nothing fuddy-duddies. Ironically, the corporate hacks got what they wanted from the committee -- a vote of the bill out of committee, but the response scared people from bringing the bill to a vote before the full Senate, lest everyone scream bloody murder. So the bill never got brought up, and died through inaction. A dramatic win for our side.
One argument that was leveled by pro-corporate hacks in 2006 was that network neutrality was a hypothetical fear, an exaggeration by digital Chicken Littles. But in the years since, big corporate ISPs had been caught violating network neutrality in a number of high-profile instances. One of those violations, by the blocktastic cable provider Comcast against Bittorrent traffic, evoked to a complaint by Public Knowledge and Free Press asking the FCC to enforce network neutrality violations. Then FCC-chair Kevin Martin, despite his Republican pedigree, responded to the complaint and in 2007 fined Comcast $7,000 for that violation of network neutrality.
Comcast then sued the FCC and pro-democracy forces, arguing that it had no right to rule that way in light of the 2002 reclassification of the internet as an information service. The suit was argued in the First Circuit Court of Appeals, a court with a notorious reputation for being full of pro-corporate hacks cleverly disguised as judges. And to little surprise, the court in March 2010 ruled in favor of Comcast, and struck down the FCC's enforcement authority on net neutrality, thus putting the very future of network neutrality in doubt.
Of the various responses by the FCC and pro-democracy forces (and Wow! who knew four years ago that you'd put those two terms in the same sentence?), the fastest and most reliable option would be to undo the classification done by Powell back in 2002. On May 3, 2010, it was reported that FCC chair Julius Genachowski (appointed by one of the few Illinois politicians at the federal level to support network neutrality in the 2006 Net Neutrality Wars, Barack Obama) was leaning to NOT reclassify the internet as a telecommunications service. In the wake of this report, the pro-net-neutrality forces lost their collective shit, responding swiftly to what was deemed to be another capitulation to our corporate overlords. The response so was great that in just four days' time, when the FCC announced its plans for follow-up to the Comcast lawsuit, it was far better for pro-democracy forces than expected -- ranking an 8 out of 10 by one analyst (with 10 being the best).
And now, indeed this week, the anti-neutrality forces have begun organizing a response back to this faceslap at the FCC, with a massive smear and disinformation campaign backed by a $1.4 million budget. It evokes the outspending we faced in 2006 but were still able to defeat, and it appears we'll have to do again. But, as we've seen time and again, the way to defeat organized money is with organized people. So, time for us to get to work. You can take action here today, and expect more details for follow-up actions in the weeks ahead.
(Note: This post was re-edited on March 18th and updated March 21st)
Editor & Publisher published the latest article by CMA co-founders Scott Sanders and James Owens. However, E&P; editors chose to change the original title in a way that we feel obscured the primary issue of the piece -- the understanding that control of public media is a social justice issue. Truthout republished the piece with the original title and so we are linking to that version here.
The article has been re-published or linked to by Danny Schechter's Mediachannel, The Center for Media Justice, Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), Richard Prince's Journalisms, Business Week's Business Exchange???, Indigenous Peoples Literature Weblog - Dedicated to all peoples of the World, Black Agenda Report, Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media, Chicago Indymedia, Progressive Radio Network, Anarchism Today, and elsewhere. So without further ado --
A Neutral Network Alone Will Not Build a Just Media System for Us and Neither Will Professional Journalists: Control of Public Media as a Social Justice Issue - By Scott Sanders & James Owens
Media justice organizers at the Center for Media Justice and MAG-Net have recently produced a brilliant campaign plan (The Campaign for Universal Broadband) to win three policies crucial for just and democratic communication: Network Neutrality, Universal Broadband, and Universal Service Fund reform. Considering the renewed struggle required to win these goals, and to protect them afterwards, two questions seem particularly important. First, to win media access rights, social justice movements need media access. So, how do we get the kind of access that can allow us to succeed? Second, as Net Neutrality and Universal Broadband are not ends in themselves but rather the means to enable a just and democratic media system, who should produce that system? Open access to a media system controlled by the status quo will not provide the necessary means for disadvantaged communities and social justice movements to change power relations . . . (continue reading at Truthout)
Citing the FCC's "curious neutrality-in-favor-of-the-licensee....", an application for review of the FCC's decision to deny the petitions by Chicago Media Action and Milwaukee Public Interest Coalition was just filed by the public interest lawyers at the venerable Media Access Project. The 2005 petition to deny renewal of the licenses of 8 Chicago and 11 Milwaukee tv stations has begun to resemble a tin can tied to a dog's tail or a sailor's albatross -- it just does not seem to go away. It centers on the stations' near total absence of news coverage of local and state level elections.
Could this paucity of coverage possibly have something to do with Illinois' recent embarrassing lt. governor problem?
What was it Thomas Jefferson and James Madison said about an informed democracy? Gee, we can't remember now. That was so long ago. Did it have something to do with reality tv?
Here's a link to the latest filing. See CMA blog post 639 below for more background.
So, Tribune Company Uberlord Sam Zell is now on record saying that he thinks that in 2010 the Tribune company will exit bankruptcy. Mind you, that Zell's track record on predictions isn't the greatest in the world, and he might lose the reins of the company entirely. But if we assume that Zell is correct just this once, what are we to make of it?
The Tribune, like a lot of other companies in this Great Recession, is keeping business as usual -- cutting workers' jobs, raking in $66 million in bonuses for some 700 Tribune managers, and fighting against its editorial staff. Oh, and there's that scandal where Tribune rigged their content in advance.
Meanwhile, the state and future of the newspaper industry (in the United States at least) in which the Tribune Company resides is widely considered quite dismal. Concrete signs abound: Newspaper ad revenues are as low today as they were in 1965, and the main business press organ of the newspaper industry -- Editor & Publisher -- went belly up after 125 years, even killing its online edition. Even in Chicago, the other major daily newspaper also filed for bankruptcy and had evidently been handling its bankruptcy proceedings a lot worse than Tribune.
Much has been written about the fate of the U.S. journalistic enterprise -- about how the collapse happened, about how the collapse is exaggerated, about how the future of journalism will be different, about how newspapers are no longer needed, even questioning the efficacy of following the news. What seems to be happening is that the corporate establishment seems to be exiting the enterprise of journalism, which potentially opens a golden opportunity for the independent media establishment (such as it is) to take the reins and establish. But resources -- staff, time, and especially money -- are badly needed, and that's hard to come by these days, leaving independent media in a state even more precarious than their corporate brethren.
This is a question to consider: how to help supercharge the independent media. Two friends and allies of CMA and of media activists everywhere -- Robert McChesney and John Nichols -- discussed this on Democracy Now! and have published a clarion call of their own which we should all heed.