The Wavelength: FCC Decries Lack of Media Diversity, Stymies Low Power TV

 

 

by Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium blogger

Local coverage and diversity are in short supply in today’s media landscape–especially when it comes to broadcast and cable TV. But there is hope. In markets like the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, Low Power TV (LPTV) has emerged as a viable alternative to network and cable TV, offering 24-hour programming and locally-produced news shows for ethnic communities in their own languages.

While LPTV offers incredible opportunities for ethnic communities, as I reported here and here for New America Media, these stations face considerable challenges, including an unfriendly regulatory landscape and the weighty influence of the big-bucks telecommunications industry, which just wants LPTV to go away so it can claim the full digital spectrum.

Moreover, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers LPTV a secondary service with no legal protection from interference or displacement by broadcasters – which makes it difficult, if not impossible, for LPTV to thrive, since its future is uncertain.

Localism Lacking, FCC Study Says

Ironically, the very same FCC that is preventing LPTV from gaining a stronger foothold recently issued a report, titled “The Information Needs of Communities,” which lays out how localism has suffered from media consolidation. In her analysis of the FCC study, Truthout’s Nadia Prupis found that “Local journalism has not been able to keep up with a changing media landscape, leading to a significant drop in quality in-depth reporting.”

Shared News is Bad News for Localism

Futhermore, according to Free Press, a nonpartisan media advocacy group, “Across the country, hundreds of TV stations have quietly merged newsrooms, circumventing the Federal Communications Commission’s media ownership limits at the expense of independent, local journalism.” As noted in the FCC study, almost one-third of local news airing on full-power TV stations is actually produced by other stations. According to Free Press, there are nearly 80 markets “where these deals are in place, involving more than 200 stations.”

Free Press’ newest campaign, “Change the Channels,” includes an interactive map highlighting eight markets where this practice is especially egregious.

Echoing Corporate Media-Speak

AlterNet’s Don Hazen spotlights products of the right-wing echo chamber—and how those messages impact public conversations. Hazen gives two examples: “The first message is: ‘We must raise the retirement age or the economy will collapse.’ And two: ‘Social security is bankrupt.’ These two statements have been repeated thousands of times in and on American media. Yet there is not one scintilla of evidence that either one is accurate. But they have lodged themselves into the mainstream of American thought, constantly repeated by corporate media, as if they are obvious truths.”

The men behind the curtain are the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires who have usurped America’s political agenda by using the media as an echo chamber – themes that are explored in a new documentary produced by Brave New Films.

More Scrutiny For AT&T Merger

State agencies are increasingly concerned about the potential harm the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger would wreak on consumers. As Public News Service’s Mark Scheerer writes, “In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) has asked the government to ‘carefully evaluate’ whether it will harm the public interest by stifling competition.”

A PSC spokesman says this is a “significant” concern to the agency.

Less competition, Scheerer explains, “could lead to higher rates or a lack of incentive to improve wireless broadband service.” The article also notes that the merger is under investigation in three states, including New York.

Merger Supporters Paid Off With Corporate Cash

AlterNet’s David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick analyze GLAADgate, which erupted after GLAAD’s president Jarrett Barrios was forced to resign after signing a statement of GLAAD’s support for the AT&T/T-Mobile deal with the FCC despite GLAAD’s board voicing opposition to the merger. After the statement was released, it was revealed that AT&T contributed $50,000 to GLAAD in what’s looking like a quid pro quo.

But that’s just the tip of the cash-for-shills iceberg. Rosen and Kushnick note that AT&T has leveraged more than 300 nonprofit groups, including “labor unions, trade associations, state and local politicians, and private corporations” into supporting the merger. These groups include the American Foundation for the Blind, National Conference of Black Mayors, National Puerto Rican Coalition, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, The Communications Workers of America and the AFL-CIO. The NAACP, for instance, received over $1 million from AT&T in 2009 alone.

AT&T can do this because they have “deep pockets,” as Rosen and Kushnick explain:

In 2009, the AT&T Foundation doled out over $60 million to nonprofits and other causes.  In addition, in 2010, AT&T paid out nearly $20 million to influence the political process and legislative decisions; it contributed $3.7 million to America’s two major political parties (56% to Republicans) and another $15.4 million to lobbying activities.  During the first three months of 2011, AT&T spent $6.8 million on lobbyists and in to lawyers related to the T-Mobile deal.

But, Rosen and Kushnick write, a larger question remains: by taking AT&T’s cash, and then singing the company’s praises, are these organizations violating guidelines which state a tax-exempt entity “may not attempt to influence legislation as a substantial part of its activities”?

Is Facebook Censoring Political Speech?

Social media network Facebook has been widely praised for its role in Arab Spring—the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that have brought political change to the Middle East—but it may be engaging in censorship in the United Kingdom.

As Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann reports, “Labor unions and student activists in the United Kingdom are organizing a massive strike of public workers to protest cuts planned by Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative-led government. They’re hoping to draw tens or even hundreds of thousands of supporters into the streets to join the workers in an across-the-pond version of the Wisconsin demonstrations that captured national attention in March.

“But over the past few days, as activists worked to promote their plan, they ran into a problem: Facebook… was blocking the strike organizers’ website, www.j30strike.org.”

Facebook has since responded with an official “oops, we didn’t mean it.” But, as Baumann points out, “as an increasingly important means of communication and social and political organizing, it’s important—for Facebook and its users—that the company be seen as a neutral party in debates over political issues.”

The Wavelength is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets. This post features the best independent, progressive reporting about media policy bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. To read more of the Wavelength, click here. You can also follow us on Twitter.

The Wavelength: Court to FCC do your freakin job! Plus: how the NewsCorps scandal impacts u.s. m

 

 

Welcome to the final edition of The Wavelength, a bi-weekly roundup of news and analysis focused on media policy. Stay tuned for more reporting on the ongoing impact of media policy from membersof The Media Consortium.

By Eric K. Arnold, Media Consortium Blogger

Just when it seemed that the wave of media consolidation had reached tsunami proportions, a new court ruling is easing the troubled waters.

As Amy Miller and Lori Abbot of Public News Service report, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled to block revisions to current FCC regulations which would further relax media cross-ownership rules. This ruling is a major victory for media reform advocates who say any further consolidation could severely challenge the notion of a free, independent press.

As previously reported, the new regulations would have likely had an adverse affect on local news reporting and diversity. Making the situation even more awkward is the FCC’s own recently issuedmedia review, which posits the need for more localism and more diversity.

The upshot, write Miller and Abbot, is this: “In addition to preventing one company from owning both print and broadcast stations in the same market, the rulings mean more competition and more opportunity for women and minority ownership of media companies.”

The decision sends a clear message to the FCC that it has a mandate to prioritize public interest over corporate interests, a point it’s been somewhat confused on in the past.

News of the World Scandal Continues

In a case of media behaving badly, the UK’s News of the World—a newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch, who also owns the US’s Fox News—ceased publication after being caught red-handed in an embarrassing scandal. Reportedly, the paper, which was founded in 1843 and has a circulation of 2.8 million, hacked the cellphones of families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq, murder victims (including 13 year-old Milly Dowler), and celebrities. NoTW reportedly deleted voicemails from Dowler’s cellphone, causing her family to believe she hadn’t been killed.

Hitting where it hurts

Blowback from the scandal is hitting Murdoch hard. As blogger John Nichols  writes in The Nation, “the damage is running deep, as members of Parliament… have called for placing a hold on the anticipated purchase by News Corp. of British Sky Broadcasting, a hugely-profitable satellite TV enterprise that Murdoch has coveted for years.”

The inquiry by Scotland Yard and the British government is just getting started, Nichols says, adding the sordid episode should raise questions about the Murdoch media empire’s practices in America: “Should Americans be appalled by a scandal in Britain? Certainly.”

Also in The Nation, D.D. Guttenplan blogs about the scandal, which, he notes, “wiped some $2.5 billion off the value of News Corporation, [Murdoch's] US-based holding company.” The larger issue, however, is that “Rupert Murdoch has been operating what amounts to a private intelligence service” which “gives News Corporation a kind of leverage over inquisitive regulators or troublesome politicians wielded by no other company on earth.”

But wait, it gets worse. As Adele Stan writes for AlterNet, Wall Street Journal CEO Les Hinton, a former executive chairman of Murdoch’s UK operation, has been implicated in the scandal. In 2006, Hinton told Parliament that the hacking was the work of one rogue reporter — a claim which has been revealed to be a lie. The WSJ, Stan says, did not disclose “the role its chief executive played in delivering misleading testimony before the British parliament” — which raises troubling questions about the paper’s ethics, especially considering its ties to the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity foundation.

In other media policy-related news:

  • Truthout has launched a new column, Ladydrawers, which addresses gender bias in comic book.
  • New America Media reports on controversial Pulitzer-winning-journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who recently revealed his illegal immigrant status.

Farewell, fondly

This week’s blog marks the final edition of the Wavelength, which started last March—right around the time AT&T announced its proposed $39 Billion merger with T-Mobile.

Over the past four months, the implications of the proposed mega-merger have reverberated through both the Beltway and the blogosphere, dominating much of the reportage around media policy. Other top stories included the Microsoft-Skype merger; the outcry over the latest instance of the FCC’s infamous “revolving door”; the ongoing debate over Net Neutrality; and a growing concern over privacy issues with regard to popular social media websites and mobile phones.

We’ve also taken a look at the state of media with regards to freedom of the press, independent journalism and censorship, both in the U.S. and abroad. While this picture has often been depressing – especially when detailing the connections between right-wing media, conservative political agendas, and corporate influence — there’s also plenty of reason for optimism and hope. Bright spots include the potential of alternatives to mainstream media like Low-Power TV to become a home for digital diversity; the ongoing exposes of WikiLeaks; the role of social media in Arab Spring; and reports of new collaborative efforts between international press outlets reporting on corruption and violence in foreign countries.

As we wrap up the Wavelength, we’d like to give a big shout-out goes out to the Media Consortium member organizations who released informative and revealing reporting week after week. As the Murdoch scandal illustrates, this coverage is invaluable, since the notion of “fair and balanced” journalism practiced by Fox News, the WSJ, and other mainstream outlets appears to be as much a hoax as the false hope perpetuated by NoTW that Dowler was still alive.

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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