Don't Let Big Brother Hold Your TV Remote

Choosing What's on TV: Should Big Brother Hold the Remote?

By Jim Dyke
The National Ledger
May 3, 2006

There was a time, the rumor went, when mothers, fathers and children argued nightly over who got to hold the remote.  But in 2006, what was once a domestic battle had been taken outside the walls of American living rooms.  Where it went, did not matter; all that mattered was that someone else was watching, and deciding.

In this Orwellian reality, a small, but influential, contingent thinks the government should police what's on your TV.  This group, which includes the Parents Television Council, takes every opportunity to call hit shows "smut" and "sewage." That, of course, is a matter of taste.  But when the PTC manipulates the FCC complaint process and then blasts networks for appealing the fines in Federal Court, their prescription turns out to be a matter of ideology.

Should the government punish popular programs that a few viewers dislike, or should we encourage all adults to control TV in their own homes, so everyone can watch according to their own personal tastes and values?  Americans have a clear preference on this question.

82 percent of voting Americans would much rather be free to set their own household rules.  They overwhelmingly believe in parental limits, parental standards and parental scruples.  That includes the freedom to decide if and when to watch such PTC targets as The Simpsons, Desperate Housewives and CSI - shows that are designed for adults and rated accordingly.  It's a subjective, personal decision, not unlike deciding what your kids can and can't eat for dinner.  

When the FCC considers a case, the commissioners are legally required to consider the context of the incident.  This puts government appointees in the position of deciding when it is OK to swear on TV and when it is not based on "context." The result: the swearing of soldiers in Saving Private Ryan is decent, but the swearing of blues musicians in a documentary is not.  

That these subjective decisions are so difficult is as evident on Main Street as it is at the FCC.  The latter's recent decisions revealed that the commissioners themselves disagree on what's indecent.  Ultimately, they're not so different from the countless moms and dads who can't always agree on what's right for their families.

If a handful of government officials don't see eye to eye, how can we expect to impose a single standard on an entire nation?

That's why you, as individual Americans, hold the fundamental right to choose your own entertainment, and the good old-fashioned freedom to change the channel when something you don't like comes on.  What's more, those who want to avoid it altogether can do so too; television, cable and satellite blockers and DVR's make it easy to control what's on and when.  With so many choices, the entertainment in your home can be as dirty or as clean-scrubbed as you want.

When groups like the PTC misinform audiences about the effectiveness and simplicity of parental controls, they're saying the government needs to control TV because parents can't.  But parents disagree, and let's face it - no one knows the business of raising kids better than they do.

Jim Dyke is the Executive Director of TV Watch lish/article_27265518.shtml Society.html

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Indecency Bill on Faster Track

Indecency bill on faster track- Frist pressing for House version

By Brooks Boliek

Reuters/The Hollywood Reporter

May 3, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Responding to pressure from fundamentalist organizations, Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., is attempting to jump-start legislation that would impose a tenfold increase on fines for indecent broadcasts, congressional and industry sources said.

Frist is running a "hotline" on the version of the bill that won approval in the House last year. Hotlining is a procedure that allows the Senate to pass bills that are not expected to be controversial. Once a bill is hotlined, any senator with an objection to the bill can place a "hold" on it, which prevents the bill from being passed by unanimous consent. Hotlining also indicates that the Senate leadership is anxious to move the legislation.

Groups like the American Family Assn., headed by Rev. Donald Wildmon, have been pushing for a vote on the measure. On Tuesday, Wildmon sent an "Action Alert" to members of his organization urging them to pressure senators to take a vote.

The House version of the legislation has been languishing in the Senate Commerce Committee as the panel's chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, has been unwilling to bring his version, or the House version, to a vote. Stevens has said he wanted to wait and gauge the effectiveness of a new advertising and education campaign launched by the TV industry before pushing any legislation.

In his missive, Wildmon accused Stevens of holding "this bill hostage for over 14 months" and that he "shortchanged" so-called "family and consumer groups" when he conducted three hearings on the issue.

Stevens' reluctance, the decision by the networks and TV stations to sue the FCC over the indecency regulations and the political pressure helped trigger Frist's push, industry sources said.

"If you think about it, the indecency bill fits in with the current Senate agenda with the flag burning and gay marriage bills," one industry executive said. "There's been frustration on the right with Sen. Stevens and the litigation by the broadcasters."

Last month, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, the affiliate organizations and the Hearst-Argyle Television group sued the FCC over its decision to levy fines under tougher indecency regulations that found that virtually any use of certain expletives would be considered profane and indecent, even if it was a slip of the tongue.

In March, the FCC proposed a $3.6 million fine against CBS and dozens of its affiliates as TV regulators ruled on hundreds of thousands of indecency complaints dating back to 2002. It was those proposed fines that broadcasters targeted in their suit.

Under the legislation approved by the House on Feb. 17, broadcasters who air indecent programming would be liable for fines up to $500,000 for each incident. The current maximum is $32,500 for a company. An individual now faces an $11,000 fine for an indecent utterance and would face the same fine as a company under the House-passed bill. The bill also removes an FCC provision that gave individuals a warning before issuing a fine.

In addition, the bill also requires the FCC to hold a license-revocation hearing after a third offense by a broadcaster and to respond to an indecency complaint from a viewer or listener within six months.

A Senate version of the bill, which hasn't been voted on in the Senate Commerce Committee, calls for raising the maximum fine on broadcasters for an indecency violation to $325,000, with a cap of $3 million for one day, but does not include any of the other provisions the House bill does. The House bill does not include caps.

As defined by the FCC and the courts, material is indecent if it "in context, depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium."

While obscene speech has no constitutional protection, indecent speech does. It can be aired from 10 p.m.-6 a.m., when few children are in the audience.

Broadcasters say they are forced to guess at what constitutes indecency because the statute is so blurry. Because of the confusion and the fear of fines, some have become extremely gun-shy over programming. icle_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=10024266 22

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TV smut: Dem/GOP posse saddles up

This is by way of a heads up: surges of legislative enthusiasm for regulating broadcast indecency come and go, according as the mass hysteria of the Bozellite fanatics waxes and wanes.

It must be waxing again, because there are stirrings on the Hill.

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

by 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’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: WikiLeaks Isn't Sexy Enough for U.S. Media


By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium Blogger

While mainstream media news cycles have been dominatedby political sex scandals, important global stories have gone under-reported. According to AlterNet’s Rania Khalek, many of these stories were broken by WikiLeaks. Khalekspotlights 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 theTelecommunications 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 abouta 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.



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