Saturday, April 29, 2006

Internet Freedom is the American Way

Sparking the Revolt
Can a groundswell of popular support for network neutrality save free speech online? Radio show "Media Minutes" asks whether the SavetheInternet coalition has the momentum to turn public opinion against AT&T and their coin-operated front men in Washington.

Listen to the show.

Gun Owners of America’s Craig Fields puts it best:

“In a very, very strange situation, what we have is the necessity of government intervention to ensure a free marketplace of ideas. Whenever you see people from the far left and the far right joining together about something that Congress is getting ready to do, it’s been my experience that what Congress is getting ready to do is basically un-American.”

Columbia Professor Timothy Wu gives an historical perspective by comparing AT&T’s net control scheme to the AP’s 19th century news monopoly, calling it “a threat not only to American business and competition but a threat to American democracy.”

The loss of network neutrality will smother the innovative nature of the Internet, which has made it such a powerful economic and social engine. Warns Professor Wu:

“It’s no longer survival of the fittest. It’s no longer who has the best technology. It’s a question of who goes golfing with the CEO of AT&T. And I think that’s not the American way.”

Indeed. Listen in.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Bloggers Take Internet Fight to the Hill

Save the Internet: Click hereStory published at

AS OF THIS MORNING, more than 1,500 blogs have taken up a new cause, posting links to and urging their readers to call on members of Congress to stand firm in defense of Internet freedom.

And, for the first time in blogger history, the Hill is hearing it.

The cyberstorm is over “Net Neutrality,” the principle that prevents large telephone and cable companies from controlling what we do, where we go and what we watch online. As part of a vote on new telecommunications legislation on Wednesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee members defeated an amendment by Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass) that would have protected net neutrality by a count of 34-22.

What's remarkable about this result is the shift that occurred on Capitol Hill in the week prior to the vote. An unlikely coalition of political activists from the right and left, consumers groups, bloggers and Internet gurus banded together at and sent more than 250,000 letters to Congress. This sparked an Internet revolt among bloggers who heaped scorn upon any member of the House who dared side with companies like AT&T and Verizon, which are spending millions of dollars in Washington to dismantle any rules that would prevent them from controlling Internet content.

When it came time to vote on Markey's amendment, two Democrats on the committee switched their previous votes to favor net neutrality, and several others who were undecided voted for the amendment, citing the explosion in public interest on the issue.

More elected officials on both sides of the aisle, in both the House and the Senate are now monitoring the pulse of the blogosphere as this issue spreads offline.

"We would not have turned the corner in this fight without your blogs, your voices," Congressman Markey said yesterday during a teleconference with bloggers. "We need to put every members of Congress on record on where they stand on the future of the Internet," Markey said. That momentum has shifted in Congress, he continued, "is a reflection of the rumbling in cyberspace about what's going on with this bill."

Bloggers from left, right and center, including DailyKos, BuzzMachine, Atrios, Instapundit and even actress Alyssa Milano, called on their readers to pay very close attention to this issue. They’ve urged everybody to go after any elected representative who ignores the public interest in favor of the well-heeled telephone and cable lobbyists that have swarmed Capitol Hill as representatives attempt to rewrite telecommunications law.

Undaunted by the Committee defeat, Markey is now rallying colleagues on the left and the right to support the introduction of his Network Neutrality Amendment onto the full floor of the House next week.

But it's an uphill battle. For the amendment to be voted upon by all members, it has to first get passed the House's gatekeepers on the , which Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi calls, "the free world's outstanding bureaucratic abomination -- a tiny, airless closet deep in the labyrinth of the Capitol where some of the very meanest people on earth spend their days cleaning democracy like a fish."

This 13 member committee (nine Republicans and four Democrats) holds the congressional agenda in its grip. If Rules votes down your amendment, your amendment is DOA. Bloggers are banding together to ensure that no Member of Congress gets off the hook that easily.

"There's a white hot firestorm on the issue on Capitol Hill," Matt Stoller said in a post at MyDD. "No one wants to see the telcos make a radical change to the Internet and screw this medium up, except, well, the telcos."

Politicians get scared when they realize the public is paying attention. As the blogosphere catches fire, momentum is shifting in Washington. Whereas before, the big telephone companies and their coin-operated lobbyists were confident that Congress would simply roll over and do their bidding, today, no member of Congress can vote with the telecom cartel without suffering repercussions.

Thanks to bloggers, the public is now watching and, with increasing frequency and volume, the message is getting through to Congress: we will not stand for any law that threatens Internet freedom.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Congress is Selling Out the Internet

Save the Internet: Click hereApologies for the radio silence at MediaCitizen. All of the action is happening over at the campaign. Click on the button to the right and you will be magically whisked away.

Free Press has joined with an unlikely collection of groups, including the Gun Owners of America, American Library Association, Parents Television Council and MoveOn in the fight to defend the Internet's First Amendment -- a principle called network neutrality that safeguards the free and open internet.

Here are two MediaCitizen updates:

Internet Freedom Is the American Way (April 29)
Blogger Take Internet Fight to the Hill (April 28)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

AOL Censors Opposition Group

Company Lifts Email Block After Activists Cry Foul

AOL was caught red-handed today censoring email to its customers that included a link to a site opposing the company's proposed "email tax."

Over 300 people reported that they had tried sending AOL subscribers messages that contained a link to, but received a bounceback message informing them that their email "failed permanently."

After the Coalition -- 600 organizations convened by Free Press, MoveOn and EFF -- notified the press of this blocking, AOL quickly cleared the opposition URL from their filters, alleging a "software glitch."

Censorship Thy Name is AOL
Today’s events prove the Coalition’s point entirely: Left to their own devices, AOL will always put its own self interest ahead of the public interest. AOL wants us to believe they won’t hurt free email when their pay-to-send system is up and running. But if AOL is willing to censor the flow of information to silence their critics, today, how could anyone trust that they will preserve the free and open internet down the road?
(Pic: AOL CEO Jonathan Miller)
Here are some comments from people who experienced AOLs censorship and then tested it after AOL had reversed themselves:

Christina Lee, Atlanta Georgia :
“My email went through late this afternoon, but earlier today when I sent the same email with the link ‘’ in it, it was blocked. Proof of why AOL should NOT be allowed to tax emails -- they do NOT have the best interest of their customers in mind if they think they can decide what their customers can or cannot read.”
Eve Fox, Washington, DC:
"They obviously stopped blocking the emails with in them. Their behavior is a perfect example of why Goodmail is such a bad idea. That type of control and interference threatens the inherent democracy of the Internet."
Seth Hall, Massachusetts:
"After having my email to a family member blocked earlier today (April 13), the same message seems to have been delivered successfully just now, 2.5 hours later…Whether AOL has modified their errant ways or not, this example of filtering is a powerful reminder of just how dangerous it is to allow large corporate, profit driven entities to manipulate our Internet resources, especially when the public interest competes directly with their own private interests.”
AOL spokesman Nicholas Graham is now telling the media that censoring was an innocent mistake. After lifting the block, Graham attributed the issue to a technical mishap that "affected dozens of Web links in messages," including

"We discovered the issue early this morning, and our postmaster and mail operations team started working to identify this software glitch," he told CNet News.

Others are more skeptical. "I forwarded to my own AOL account and it was censored. Apparently I can't even tell myself about it," said Kelly Tessitore, an AOL customer from Massachusetts.

According to EFF's Danny O'Brien, ISPs like AOL can silently ban huge swathes of legitimate mail for the flimsiest of reasons. The problem is that no-one hears about it.

It's only when DearAOL users cried foul, that this censorship came to light. This begs the question: how many other emails with important information have been barred by AOL?

AOL is part of the Time Warner, the media colossus that also runs the nation's second largest broadband cable provider. Time Warner is actively lobbying Congress -- alongside the nation's other cable and telephone giants -- to do away with protections that preserve the Internet's open architecture. These regulatory principles, called "network neutrality" are the only guarantee that users have unfettered access to the content and services of their choice.

AOL's actions today should put everyone on alert against network giants promising to be good stewards of a free and open Internet.

The Coalition collectively represents over 15 million people – and has grown from 50 member organizations to 600 in a month. Since the beginning of the campaign, more than 350,000 Internet users have signed letters opposing AOLs pay-to-send email proposal. Coalition members include craigslist founder Craig Newmark, the Association of Cancer Online Resources, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press, the AFL-CIO, Civic Action, Gun Owners of America, and others.

Friday, April 07, 2006

America's Fake News Pandemic

Propaganda at Work
A report released yesterday by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and Free Press exposes corporate propaganda's infiltration of local television news across the country.

The Center, which authored the report, monitored local news broadcasts for 10 months and caught 77 local stations that had slipped corporate-sponsored “video news releases” — segments promoting commercial brands and products — into their regular news programming. These advertisements were dressed up as real news and passed off to unsuspecting viewers as legitimate. At no time during the airing, did the local correspondents reveal the corporations as the source of the material.

Collectively, the stations implicated in the report reach more than half of the U.S. population.

This illegal deception is a breach of the trust between local stations and their communities. By disguising advertisements as news, stations violate both the spirit and the letter of their broadcasting licenses, which obligate them to serve the public interest.

During a press conference yesterday FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein called for "vigorous enforcement" against stations that air this corporate propaganda without revealing the source to their viewers. "Failure to disclose that to the public is a violation of federal law and in fact can be subject to criminal penalties of up to a year in jail," Adelstein said during a radio interview earlier in the day.

Despite repeated claims from broadcasters that they do not air VNRs as news, the new report reveals just the tip of the iceberg. Instances of fake TV news documented by CMD likely represent less than 1 percent of VNRs distributed to local newsrooms since June 2005. Fraudulent news reports have likely been aired on hundreds of more local newscasts in the past year.

Some instances:

Sinclair Terrorizes with ‘I-Porn’

Propaganda at Work
Faux tech-expert Robin Raskin offers video games as the antidote to “scary” pornographic i-Pods. What Raskin doesn’t mention is that she’s on the payroll of the companies whose products she’s pushing.

(View the original VNR and then then click on the image at right to see how Sinclair-owned WPGH in Pittsburgh faked it.)

Clear Channel Delivers a Placebo

Propaganda at Work
Carrie Lazarus hails a dietary supplement as a “major health breakthrough” for arthritis sufferers. She fails to point out that the sponsor of the VNR manufactures the supplement, nor mention that it barely outperforms a placebo.

(View the original VNR and then see how Clear Channel-owned WSYR in Syracuse faked it).

Fox Sweetens the Pitch

Propaganda at Work
“Parenting expert” Julie Edelman advises viewers to throw a “Hide and Glow” scavenger hunt featuring brand-name M&M candies. What the station didn’t reveal is that it lifted the entire segment from a VNR co-funded by Masterfoods -- formerly the M&M/Mars Company.

(View the original VNR and then see how Fox's KTVI-3 in St. Louis faked it).

You can find instances of fake news in your community, by visiting the Free Press map of all the VNR stations exposed by the CMD report.

Approximately 80 percent of the stations snared in the investigation are owned by large conglomerates. The list of the worst offenders reads like a who's who of big media: Clear Channel, News Corp./Fox Television, Viacom/CBS Corp, Tribune Co. and Sinclair Broadcast Group — whose Oklahoma City affiliate was caught airing VNRs on six separate occasions.

The evidence draws a clear line between media consolidation and the broadcast of deceptive, pre-packaged propaganda. When all station owners care about is the bottom line, fake news can prove irresistible.

There’s a reason for this: VNRs are free. Reporting news that’s meaningful to local communities isn’t. By opting to air a VNR instead of sending a reporter into the field, station owners save a fortune. Corporate PR firms offer local stations VNRs knowing there’s a built-in incentive to use them. By dressing up fake news as local reporting, stations cut costs and increase profits.

On April 6, Free Press and CMD delivered a formal complaint to the FCC, urging the agency to take immediate and strong action to stop this widespread abuse. The complaint calls on Chairman Kevin Martin to determine whether station consolidation has contributed directly to the potentially illegal proliferation of fake news. This FCC inquiry must happen before the Commission reconsiders its rulings on broadcast ownership, according to the complaint.

Free Press has asked the public to get involved. Today, thousands of our members and other outraged Americans are writing the FCC to demand an end to fake news.

Fake News in Your Town

Propaganda at Work
Follows is my statement during a press conference with FCC Commissioner Adelstein and our allies at the Center for Media and Democracy:

Thank you Commissioner Adelstein for being such an important advocate on the side of honest media in the United States. This campaign against fake news was inspired by your unyielding efforts at the FCC.

And thank you to John, Diane, Dan and the rest of the crew at the Center for Media and Democracy. Your dogged pursuit of video news releases has resulted in a groundbreaking report that skewers the myths perpetuated by broadcast companies.

Well, the cat’s out of the bag. What many Americans suspected of their local newscasts appears to be true. Stations across the country are being compromised by commercial propaganda dressed up as real news.

The Center’s “Fake TV News” report reveals only the tip of the iceberg.
Instances of fake TV news documented by CMD likely represent less than 1 percent of VNRs distributed to local newsrooms during the investigation. This disgraceful practice has infected American broadcast journalism across the spectrum.

Over the last year, Free Press, the Center and our activists have been tracking counterfeit news from town to town and pressuring lawmakers on The Hill and regulators at the FCC to crack down against news fraud:
  • Last January – after news reports exposed Armstrong Williams for accepting government payments to flog Department of Education programs over the air -- thousands of Free Press members sent letters to the Commission demanding an investigation. Soon thereafter, then-Chairman Michael Powell launched a probe of Williams and broadcasters.

  • Last March -- after a New York Times report found hundreds of government-produced video news releases aired on local stations across the country -- more than 40,000 Free Press activists sent letters to the Commission asking the agency to investigate those who truck in fake news reports without disclosure. Soon thereafter, the Commission issued a "Public Notice" calling on all television newscasters to clearly disclose the origin of VNRs used on their programs.

  • Last June -- after commentators on NBC’s "Today" show were revealed to be promoting products on the program without disclosing financial ties to the manufacturer -- Free Press filed a FCC complaint asking that the Commission "got to the bottom of this practice, identified violators, and improved the effectiveness of the rules and the thoroughness of their enforcement."
Today we delivered a formal complaint to the FCC seeking a thorough investigation "to help restore the public trust in the integrity of local news." We have reached out to Americans urging them to pres the FCC "to investigate this abuse, clarify disclosure requirements and penalize all stations that air fake news."

But the problem doesn't end there. We have also asked the Commission to investigate clear ties between consolidation of local station ownership and the pandemic of television VNRs.

More than 80 percent of the stations captured in the CMD investigation are conglomerate-owned. A list of the worst possible offenders includes stations owned by Sinclair, News Corp, Clear Channel, Tribune Company and CBS Corp.

Before Chairman Martin reconsiders the Commission's rulings on broadcast ownership, he should determine whether station consolidation has contributed directly to the potentially illegal proliferation of fake news.

When station owners only care about the bottom line, fake news can prove irresistible. After all, VNRs are free. Reporting news that’s meaningful to local communities isn’t. And without decisive government action, the fake news problem will only get worse.

As our “No Fake News” campaign moves forward, Free Press is asking the public to get involved. Today, thousands of our members and other outraged Americans are writing the FCC to demand an end to fake news.

The public trust has been betrayed.

This great scandal can no longer be ignored.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Press and Propaganda: Together at Last

Journalism and Propaganda: Together at Last
"Today Show" anchor in waiting Campbell Brown exchanged vows Sunday with Fox News analyst Dan Senor.

A marriage between journalists, right? Well, sort of. Senor's pedigree suggests that their's is a union of a different order.

Before winning Campbell's heart and mind, Senor was busy doing the same with the American public.

His position at Fox began in early 2005. Before that -- during Operation Iraqi Freedom -- he was Director of the Coalition Information Center, based at Centcom Headquarters in Qatar. Under Senor, Centcom daily press briefings gave new meaning to the phrase "theater of war." For more, read Michael Wolff.

Senor then moved on to serve as the White House's senior spokesperson for U.S. Presidential Envoy Paul Bremmer in Iraq, where among other things he defended the Coalition Provisional Authority's closure and censorship of Iraqi papers.

After six months in Baghdad, Senor returned to Washington where the White House placed him at the front lines of their domestic information war.

Here are some of Senor's responses to questions put to him during an "Ask the White House" session in October 2003.

To a question from "Erica" about the fate of Iraqi children:
". . . The good news is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqi people have embraced the liberation and are grateful for all we are doing to reconstruct their country. This is critical not only for the freedom of the Iraqi people but also for our overall success in the war on terror."
To questions from "Jared" about negative media reports from Iraq:
"This new Iraqi army will not be engaged in repression of the Iraqi people and posing a threat to America and the international community. It will be focused on protecting Iraq’s borders and helping us and assisting American forces in the war on terror. In addition, today all of Iraq’s 240 hospitals are open, 90 percent of (Iraq's health clinics are open). When Ambassador Bremer arrived, he said that we would meet pre-war electricity levels within a few months -- just a few days ago, we exceeded pre-war electricity generation levels."
To questions from "Jared" about negative media reports from Iraq:
"Iraq is now a central front in the war on terror. Saddam Hussein's government was a state sponsor of terrorism. His government used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. There are terrorists in Iraq today engaging US forces because they know that if we are successful in building a free government in Iraq at peace with its own citizens, with its neighbors and serves as a model for the region and is no longer a threat to the United States, then the terrorists’ days are numbered. If we choose to ignore terrorists in Iraq we will wind up hearing from them on our own soil."
That last sentence sounds awfully familiar. I wonder if that's the line that won Campbell's heart.