Friday, April 27, 2007

AT&T's New Boss Wants Your World Delivered to Him

Originally published at Huffington Post

Soon after AT&T chief Ed Whitacre announced his plans to accept his company's $161 million retirement offer, the phone colossus announced Big Ed's replacement.

Randall Stephenson, onetime SBC Chief Operating Officer, will attempt to fill the shoes of the man who once called all of us "nuts" for thinking the Internet should remain free from phone company discrimination.

Big Ed Version 2.0

Whitacre Version 2.0

But this apple clearly hasn't fallen far from the tree. Echoing his predecessor, Stephenson was quoted in an industry newsletter saying: "Oh no. We're going to control the video on our network. The content guys will have to make a deal with us."

Stephenson's statement makes it clear that he intends to carry forward Whitacre's plan to block or degrade high-speed content of anyone who has not struck a special deal with AT&T.

It is typical for broadband providers to bill their customers, and only their customers, for access to the Internet. What Stephenson and Whitacre are talking about is a scheme to ransom off access to these customers to the highest bidders -- to add another toll, charging sites for first-in-line access to your connection.

For AT&T it's not just about delivering "your world" but about charging others for the privilege to enter "your world" in front of those that you'd prefer. The problem, of course, is that they're selling out your free choice in the process.

Stephenson scheme forces users to the sites that AT&T prefers. The phone and cable companies claim that this sort of discriminatory “double dipping” -- charging both consumers and content providers -- is necessary for them to provide the high speed services that Americans demand.

"While it’s one way to earn cash, it’s just too close to the Tony Soprano vision of networking: Use your position to make threats and extract payments," writes Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu. "This is similar to the outlawed, but still common, 'payola' schemes in the radio world. Yes, there’s money in such schemes, but they aren’t good for the industry or the country."

Whitacre and Stephenson's scheme is a fundamental shift in the neutral way the Internet has always worked. In essence, it takes away user choice -- the most basic tenet of the Internet – and hands it to AT&T.

It also tilts the Web’s even playing field to favor the larger corporations, while handicapping the Internet’s true innovators who can't afford to buy in to AT&T's protection racket.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Moyers' Three Factors in the Media's Iraq Failure

Originally published at Huffington Post

In a Q&A with media reform activists last night, Bill Moyers highlighted three factors that led to the media's near wholesale "buying" of the White Houses' case for war in Iraq.

The catastrophic march to war by outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, the New York Times, Fox News Channel and the Wall Street Journal should serve as an object lesson for hard scrutiny of a system that frequently undermines us all.

Moyers makes his case:

1. The Failure of Objectivity

The first factor was the loss of perspective among journalists, beginning in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.

"Too many journalists suspended their critical faculties because they were emotionally involved," Moyers said during a teleconference with attendees of nearly 150 house parties convened by my media reform group, Free Press, on Wednesday night.

For his latest PBS special "Buying the War," Moyers interviewed former CBS anchorman Dan Rather, who put up a sheepish defense of his teary-eyed comments on the September 17, 2001, David Letterman show, in which Rather infamously pledged:

"George Bush is the President, he makes the decisions, and, you know, as just one American, wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where."

During last night's broadcast, Rather admitted: "I don't think there is any excuse for, you know, my performance and the performance of the press in general in the roll up to the war. There were exceptions. There were some people, who, I think, did a better job than others. But overall and in the main there's no question that we didn't do a good job."

2. Blind Partisanship

A second factor that led to the spectacular media failure, according to Moyers, was the "fierce ideology and partisan loyalty of the right-wing press."

"The right wing ideological press... see themselves as amplifiers and megaphones of the White House and the Republican Party," Moyers said. "They had a vested interest in promoting the war, not only did they spread the message, not only did they monger for war, but any of us who rose above the trenches and tried to say, 'Hey, wait a minute, there's a different story here,' they came down on, they opposed, they slandered, they smeared."

The viciousness of the right-wing media attack on Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, from the Malkin-Coulter fringe to the more mainstream op-ed pages of the New York Post, is just one example.

3. Big Media Elitism

Moyers third factor was that the "promiscuous, incestuous relationship between the media elites in Washington and the political elites led to a groupthink that resulted in this war."

"The Washington press corps is a clique, it's a claque," Moyers said, pointing to a few exceptions like the award-winning reporting of Knight-Ridder correspondents Warren Strobel and Jonathan Landay, who are among the very few media figures profiled favorably in "Buying the War."

"The Poobahs of the press in Washington, the stars and the celebrities, they all have a stake in access, they all have a stake in keeping happy the people who they want on their shows and from whom they want the leaks and the access."

One prominent example of such elitism is Viacom chief executive Sumner Redstone, who, while calling himself a "liberal Democrat," threw his support behind President Bush in advance of the 2004 elections. His explanation: Access to power is good for business. Declaring his allegiance before some of America's and Asia's top executives in Hong Kong, Redstone said: "I look at the election from what's good for Viacom. I vote for what's good for Viacom. I vote, today, Viacom."

Solution: Transform Democracy by Reforming Media

Many of the pundits and boosters for the war are still flourishing in the media. During his broadcast, Moyers profiles Bill Kristol and Peter Beinart, who are now regular contributors of commentary to TIME magazine -- at a time when the publication's parent company, Time Warner Inc., is laying off dozens of reporters.

Worse, media giants that foist these absurd White House apologists before the camera -- often at the expense of more centrist or progressive or simply skeptical viewpoints, as ably demonstrated by media monitoring group FAIR -- is still currying favor with a narrowly clique of Washington's most powerful.

The worst symptom of Big Media's Beltway-vision is myopia to the issues that really matter to the rest of America. As Moyers once again demonstrates with last night's broadcast and discussion, it's time we demand a media that sheds light on issues of real public concern, even if it means chipping away at the edifices of the powerful.

As Congress and the FCC are deciding on a number of media issues – from Net Neutrality and the allocation of our public airwaves to how many local outlets Big Media should control -- the question before us is simple: Should the public remain passive before a media system that fails us on so many fronts?

Fortunately, people are waking up to what's at stake, and their voices are growing louder by the day. Those who assembled last night to discuss "Buying the War" with Bill Moyers are just a small sampling of a media reform movement that's fighting to take back the media in our name.

As millions more learn the facts from Moyers show and about the work of those in the movement, our message is spreading: We must reform the media to transform our democracy.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

What Real Grassroots Look Like supporters are flexing their grassroots muscle once again, drumming up even broader support for Net Neutrality during 42 "in-district" meetings with members of Congress and their staff.

The meetings -- held over the past 60 days in offices from Shoreline, Wash., to Palm Harbor, Fla., from Providence, R.I., to Bakersfield, Calif. -- involved hundreds of activists who urged their elected representatives and senators to support Net Neutrality in the 110th Congress. As a result several members pledged to support Net Neutrality legislation when it came to a vote in Congress.

Here are reports from activists in the field:

Rep. Phil Hare (D-Illinois) In District

Rep. Hare Gets Behind Markey's Bill

Margaret Thomas a teacher from Rock Island, Illinois joined eight others to meet with Rep. Hare on April 14. "Phil was interested in the information we gave him and in our individual experiences which led to our being involved in this issue. He said that he would get in touch with Congressman Markey and support the legislation that will be introduced to guarantee net neutrality."

Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)

David Kaufer the founder and CEO of the Web-based start-up urged Rep. Jay Inslee (D -Wash.) "to be a strong and vocal leader." Inslee introduced Net Neutrality legislation in the House last year. He remains committed to supporting the principle, according to staffer Adam Bartz, who met with supporters at Inslee's Shoreline office.

Andrew Pedersen, an independent recording artist, producer and distributor from Bellevue told a staffer from Rep. Inslee's office that Internet radio is essential to the marketing of independent artists across the globe. Pedersen depends on Web sales for 100 percent of his revenues. "Without Net Neutrality, these stations would not be able to afford the increased bandwidth operating costs, and I might not be able to afford my Web presence."

Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) In District with Rep. Wilson: A Strong Supporter

"Rep. Heather Wilson concluded our meeting by saying she would definitely look into the possibility of co-sponsoring the Markey [Net Neutrality] bill," reported Gary Maricle an Albuquerque-based small business owner whose business consists of 20 Web sites that sell New Mexico chiles. "She also stated she wanted to look into whatever proposals there might be on the Senate side, too."

Along with five other Net Neutrality supporters from Wilson's district, Maricle handed the congresswoman a handwritten note from Gov. Bill Richardson's IT Commission Chairman urging her continued support of Net Neutrality. "I believe she was duly impressed," Maricle wrote.

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Kentucky) In District

Rep. Yarmuth: Voting in the public interest

Mark McKinley a low power radio activist in Louisville met on April 5 with Rep. Yarmuth. McKinley reports that his group gave Yarmuth a pro-business perspective on Net Neutrality. "Rep. Yarmuth seemed genuine in wanting to follow-up to learn more," he writes. "We had the opportunity to get John's read on this, and, after hearing from us, I feel he's better prepared to cast his vote in the public's interest. It matters."

Rep. Henry Johnson's (D-Ga.)

Candace Apple a businesswoman from Atlanta met with Johnson's Special Assistant Carole Mumford on March 7. "We discussed free speech issues and the danger of losing internet neutrality," she reports. "As a small business owner I discussed my concerned about the impact on the vitality of small business in America if the internet were no longer a level playing field." Mumford told Apple and other activists that she had watched the video and will alert Rep. Johnson to support the issue.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.)

Musician Daniel Krimm from Menlo Park joined a group of six others in a meeting at the office of Net Neutrality supporter Rep. Anna Eshoo.

"I mentioned that Eshoo herself and other elected officials have a strong interest in protecting their own access to their constituents as the Internet continues to increase the availability of tools to reach constituents outside," he reported after the meeting. "We made a lot of points about common carriage, the increasing status of the Internet as an essential public utility (as various different media increasingly converge on this platform), and the need to protect market competition in the information market generally."

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) In District

Sen. Cantwell's office a 'cheerleader' for Neutrality

William Purdy of Bainbridge Island met with Cantwell's outreach director Shakti Hawkins on March 7. "Because of Cantwell's background in high tech, she has a particular interest in Net Neutrality, he writes about the meeting. "She will be a cheerleader." Cantwell is among the strong supporters of Senator Byron Dorgan's bill (S.215). "The politicians who will oppose this should be made to understand that Net Neutrality is pro-business, pro-entrepreneur, pro-free market," Purdy reports. "Those are things they understand and respond to."

Rep. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana)

Ross Rannells an internet software developer and instructor from Mishawaka, Indiana met on March 25 with Rep. Donnelly. "He promised to vote in support of Net Neutrality, Rannells writes. "Other supporters [at the meeting] put a human face on the issue and were able to convince him that the issue had a significant effect on the lives of his constituents." Joseph Jackmovich who was also at the Donnelly meeting reports that the representative "went so far as to promise to not let Net Neutrality die."

Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) In District

Rep. Courtney Pledges Support for Net Neutrality

Freshman Congressman Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) pledged his support and promised to work with Markey's office on legislation, according to John Smith, a member of the Suffield Board of Selectmen.

"I do believe that he now understands the issue, and I believe that because of our meeting he is better informed," reported insurance agent Jeff Melhorn who joined up with Smith and four others to meet with Rep. Courtney. "I recommend that if you like your Internet the way it is, please take an hour out of the day and see your congressman. It is worth it."

Rep. Nathan Deal (R-Ga.)

Deborah Pearson from Cumming, Ga., met with Rep. Nathan Deal on Feb. 20. Mr. Deal "seemed very interested and concerned that his constituency would be adversely affected by any changes in the Internet," she reported. "I believe Mr. Deal appreciated that I took the time to see him."

Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)

David Wass of Santa Barbara, California led a group of activists in a meeting on April 5 with Rep. Capps. "Lois said she would support Rep. Ed Markey's bill due to come out later this year," he writes. "All of those present were able to converse quite eloquently with the Congresswoman on the issue."

Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.)

"Overall very encouraging," reported Web developer Giles Hendrix about his meeting with the chief of staff from Rep. Yvette Clarke's Brooklyn office. "We each gave our specific cases, and by the end of the meeting he was explaining the issue to us."

"He listened, asked good questions, and gave everyone time to air out on the issue," wrote Brian Donohue of the Daily rEvolution Weblog. "He specifically asked that he be notified when the Markey legislation is ready to hit the floor."

Rep. David Davis (R-Tenn.)

"He was not previously aware of the Net Neutrality issue," said Carolyn Rice Dean, a small business owner from Morristown, Tenn., after her meeting with Rep. David Davis (R-Tenn.). In District

Rep. Davis Tells Carolyn He's Concerned about Threat to Small Businesses

"He seemed genuinely interested and asked me to keep his office informed as to what bills and when as that info becomes available," she added. "That is when he told me he was a small business owner, too, and he completely understood."

Rep. Davis later mentioned the meeting during a hearing of the House Committee on Small Business. Davis said that small companies in his district had expressed fears they might go under if stuck with either stiff access fees or slower Internet access. "Help me understand [Net Neutrality]," said the congressman, "so I can explain it to my constituents."

Rep. Nancy Boyda (D-Kansas)

Kevin Siek of Topeka Kansas met on April 4 with staff from of Rep. Boyda's office. "From the conversation I would say that Boyda is at least leaning our way on Net Neutrality… I'm sure if enough of her constituents urge her to support Net Neutrality she will eventually get religion."

"Net Neutrality allows me to help grassroots organizations to organize for a variety of issues from local elections to global warming," wrote Christopher Renner of Manhattan, Kansas who also attended the meeting. "Without equal access to the Internet such fundamental democratic processes would not longer help candidates like Rep. Boyda get elected."

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)

John Thrasher, a former entertainment retail executive from Bakersfield, told a staffer from Rep. Kevin McCarthy's office that the Net Neutrality issue "cuts across party lines and should be viewed in the interests of trying to see that competition fairness is essential on the Internet."

"Here's hoping for continued progress," he added.

Rep. Chris Carney's (D-Pa.)

On April 5, Donald Noll of Jermyn Pennsylvania joined other Net Neutrality supporters in a lively discussion with Rep. Carney's top aide before speaking with Carney himself. "The aide was very familiar with the issues and I believe we have allies here but we reminded him that we would be watching this issue closely and intended to follow up," Noll reports.

Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-Missouri) In District at Sen McCaskill's office

JoAnn Witt of Kansas City, Missouri met with Sen. McCaskill's deputy regional director, Kimiko Gilmore on April 10. "We, all, had special examples of how we would be affected by a loss of Neutrality," she writes. I made sure that she saw that companies would cause us all kinds of problems without a law prohibiting them from doing so."

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.)

An aide to Rep. Welch told Net Neutrality supporters that he was upset that there was so much bickering among members of Congress over this issue. "I said when huge amounts of money are on the table that table manners tend to go the way of all flesh," said John Bloch, president of Onion River Community Access Media. Welch has come out in support of Net Neutrality.

Sen. Thomas Carper (D-Del.)

Branch Heller of Wilmington led a group of Net Neutrality supporters to meet with Brian J. Bushweller, the state director for Senator Carper. "We informed Brian that we wanted Senator Carper to sign on as a co-sponsor of the Dorgan-Snowe bill (S.215)," Heller reports.

"Mainly we presented two aspects: small business' lack of ability to stay competitive, and the benefit to the public of having the freedom of unfettered access to information," reports Marilyn Green, who attended the meeting with Heller. "That's it in a nutshell."

Rep. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.)

John Hoke a publisher from Oklahoma City met with Rep. Fallin's aide Denise Northrup. "We are a small family business and we would run the risk of being shut out, or at best, paying for Web recognition," Hoke reports. "[Northrup] was very receptive and said she would take the issue to Rep. Fallin. I think we had a positive impact with each of us offering a different but effective perspective."

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

Joshua Fidel a systems administrator from Medina, Ohio led a group in an April 12 meeting with Senator Sherrod Browns (D-Ohio) deputy director, Beth Thames. "As a System Administration Manager, it's incredibly important to me that no traffic shaping is allowed to take place," Fidel reports. Fidel told the staffer that a world without Net Neutrality would "hurt Internet businesses of all sizes … and create a significant barrier to entry."

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.)

"We had a very productive meeting. Everyone worked well together and several of us will continue to work together in the future," wrote technology instructor Andrea Miller of her meeting with representatives of Sen. Jim Webb's Richmond office.

Miller continues:

"I explained how both large and small companies would be affected. Brian and Scott both spoke about what would change in large organizations and about the fact that the telcos are already making millions of dollars for their services. Ken explained how smaller businesses would be impacted (and how some would be eliminated). Catherine spoke to how former foster care children and current foster parents would lose group support and informational assets. Tom Wolfe explained that his law firm would certainly be able to pay whatever additional costs might be exacted, but that many of his clients would not fare so well."

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) In District

Rep. Murphy: Fighting corporate abuse

Michael Glenn of West Simsbury, Connecticut met on March 24 with Rep. Murphy. Murphy told Glenn and other activists that one of the main reasons he ran for Congress was to keep in check corporate abuses. "He told us he had a meeting scheduled with telecom lobbyists and he would let us know how those encounters go." Stay tuned.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

Mark Page, a retired engineer from Little Compton, R.I., spent about two hours in Senator Whitehhouse's Providence office talking about Net Neutrality with the senator's state director, George Carvalho. "He came out of the meeting with a good basic understanding of what Net Neutrality is and how it affects every aspect of Internet freedom for the person on the street and as business owners."

Page continues:

"Mr. Carvalho learned what we wanted him to learn. There was no hesitation on the issues, everyone made their presentations with conviction. There was no doubt that the people at that meeting really cared about this issue and that it bothered some and really pissed off others. … I told Mr. Carvalho, don't let the senator not know about this issue. When this bill comes up, make sure he goes up on the Hill and votes against letting the big telecom’s take over the Internet."

Rep. Steve Kagen (D-Wis.)

"We had a reasonable assurance from the aide that Congressman Kagen would vote on the right side of the issue," reports Lon C Ponschock of Appleton, Wisconsin, who joined other activists at an April 18 meeting with Kagen's office. "I'm glad I went and I thank you and Free Press and for doing this important work," writes Lon. In District

Rep. Pallone Hears from His Constituents

Other Recent Meetings:

Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) on February 23

Rep. Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) on February 27

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) on February 22

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) on February 23

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) on February 23

Rep. Henry Johnson (D-Ga.) on March 7

Rep. Jane Harman (D- Calif.) on 30-March

Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) on April 3 In District

Rep. Gonzales With Neutrality Supporters

Rep. Charles Gonzalez (D-Texas) on April 3

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) on April 4

Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) on April 5

Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-Arizona) on April 11

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colorado) on April 12

Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) on April 12

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on April 13

Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) on April 13

Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) on April 16

Monday, April 23, 2007

Without a Plan, U.S. Drops Further in Global Broadband

America needs a national broadband policy, not more excuses from the broadband companies.

This point was driven home once again with the release of new broadband data that places the United States now 15th out of the 30 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations in per capita broadband use.

Broadband in America

The "Hands Off" Approach: America Slips Further Behind

The U.S. had slipped from our 12th place ranking just six months ago when we dropped from the fourth place ranking we held in 2001. And our free fall will continue as long as we allow phone and cable companies to dictate broadband policy in Washington and monopolize access across the country.

A Country Without a Plan

The countries at the top of the OECD's list have true national broadband policies. Thomas Bleha recently explained in Foreign Affairs that America's lag "is arguably the result of the Bush administration's failure to make a priority of developing these networks. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized state without an explicit national policy for promoting broadband."

Instead, U.S. policymakers and the FCC have left development of domestic broadband to the whims of predatory ISPs, which dole out untold millions in campaign contributions and fees to Washington lawyers, lobbyists and P.R. consultants to fight against efforts to serve the public interest while pushing for more corporate benefits and giveaways.

The Telco Swindle

It's "sheer hypocrisy" for companies like AT&T and Verizon to scream for deregulation when they themselves are largely to blame for our broadband decline. As Internet guru Cory Doctorow wrote, these phone and cable giants base their business on "government-granted extraordinary privileges."

But these privileges extend little further than their bank accounts.

Meanwhile, America is losing ground to Japan, France, Canada, the Netherlands and other developed nations. We now have slower speeds at higher prices than any other developed country in the world. Yet the handful of ISPs that control access in this country continue to reap massive and growing profits -- more than a $115 billion dollars in 2006 alone.

Most U.S. homes can access only "basic" broadband, which is among the slowest, most expensive, and least reliable in the developed world. And it's not getting any better. According to the OECD report, the United States ranks 20th out of 30 nations in the growth rate of broadband penetration over the past year.

The 'Hands Off' Approach = Billions in Losses

America's intensely "hands-off" system of recent years has resulted in a marketplace dominated by the few. Earlier this year, Richard Hoffman of InformationWeek reported that American broadband "doesn't represent the true state of the United States as a technology leader. Laissez-faire isn't a viable stance if the goal is to compete most effectively against other industrialized nations."

"Those nations able to craft genuinely forward-looking telecommunications policies that promote universal access as well as enhancing competition, and which can balance short-term market forces against long-term national priorities, will reap the current and future benefits of increased economic productivity," Hoffman concludes.

The consequences of a policy vacuum will resonate for generations, said S. Derek Turner, research director of Free Press and principal author of "Broadband Reality Check," which calls on U.S. leaders to get behind a vision that will regain our position as the world leader in technology.

"The growth trends indicate that the United States is likely to continue to fall behind the rest of the world in broadband penetration, which will have lasting and significant effects on U.S. economic performance."

Turner found that the benefits of higher broadband penetration accumulate exponentially. "Thus even a minor increase in our ranking has a tremendous positive impact on American consumers," he said. "If broadband penetration were 50 percent of all U.S. homes [it's now at approximately 40 percent], economists estimate that consumers would realize a $38 billion annual surplus. If household broadband penetration were at 95 percent, the consumer surplus would be $350 billion."

Getting Back on Track

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing tomorrow on broadband competitiveness, members Free Press, Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America will urge Congress to pursue a comprehensive national broadband policy that enhances competition, fosters neutrality, protects free speech, expands opportunities to bring new providers into the marketplace, and uses economic incentives to stimulate investment in underserved areas.

The data coming out of the OECD makes this even more urgent. It's time we regained control of our broadband destiny by creating a national plan that puts our future back on the right track.

-- For more, read the important analysis at

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Imus Gone But Big Media Remain

The controversy over Don Imus' racist remarks goes far beyond one bigoted commentator. But getting rid of Imus won't fix the media problem.


After Imus:
What You Can Do

While the recent remarks by Don Imus are deeply objectionable, does not have a formal position on whether he should have been fired or retained. Our mission is to deal with government policies that shape the media system.

About the Imus issue, media scholar and Free Press co-founder Robert McChesney recently wrote:
Imus still is a free person. He can start a blog or, in all likelihood, find another media company willing to employ him. He has as many free speech rights as you or me. If someone suggests the government should remove his free speech rights, I will be the first to defend him.

But that does not mean Imus has a First Amendment right to a national radio or TV program, any more than you and I have a right to demand we get a national program on a TV network or radio network. When it comes to freedom of the press, the right and responsibility for what is produced, published and broadcast rests with the institution. MSNBC and CBS hold that First Amendment privilege, for the most part. The government cannot and should not force MSNBC or CBS to hire or fire a specific person. And if you feel strongly that MSNBC and CBS should retain Imus, or hire someone else to provide his style of humor, you should tell them.
It's clear to McChesney and others that this is not a fight over the First Amendment. We are rather concerned with the government policies that establish the media system. We believe that this incident points to a systemic problem in our media: Most of our TV and radio stations are owned by giant corporate conglomerates. They don't represent the views of most Americans -- and they make huge profits off the public airwaves.

What Imus said is just the tip of the iceberg. Scores of other TV and radio hosts regularly make racist and sexist comments. The best way to stop this race to the bottom is to change who's sitting at the top -- and making the decisions about who's behind the mic.

Right now, less than 10% of radio and television stations are owned by people of color or women. And, according to one industry study, only 2.5% of radio stations have a person of color in the role of general manager, and only 4.4% have a racial or ethnic minority in the role of news director. The percentage of women in these jobs isn't much higher. No wonder shock jocks like Imus have been able to keep their jobs for so long.

But instead of addressing this national disgrace, the Federal Communications Commission is actually trying to let the largest companies buy up even more stations!

According to McChesney:
Women of color, like those Rutgers basketball players, own almost nothing. The FCC has refused to follow its congressional mandate to advance minority media ownership; indeed, we have been going in the wrong direction for a good decade. This is not the only reason we end up with someone like Imus broadcast coast to coast, but it is a factor. It is one we can and must change.
One of the best ways to get new voices on television and radio is by addressing the lack of diversity in media ownership. Promoting diverse media ownership and protecting freedom of speech are not mutually exclusive or contradictory. In fact, we can and must aggressively fight for both simultaneously.

If you agree, work with the Coalition to demand media ownership that better reflects the diversity that makes our nation great.

>> Tell the FCC: We Need More Diversity in the Media

>> Tell Your Friends to Join in This Action

Friday, April 06, 2007

Groups Co-Opted To Spread Telco Propaganda

And you thought telco Astroturfing had gotten bad enough.

Bruce Kushnick of Teletruth exposes the dirty ways that AT&T and Verizon manipulate public opinion by "co-opting" not-for-profit groups and aligning their leaders against Net Neutrality -- even when it’s not in the best interests of their constituents.

Over the last few weeks groups representing minorities, disabled and low-income constituents have been hyping AT&T and Verizon efforts to stop any Net Neutrality legislation, Kushnick writes.

These groups appear to be saying that blacks, Hispanics, seniors, poor, deaf or disabled persons universally oppose the principle that maintains the Internet’s level playing field -- and that they want to help “these ‘poor’ misunderstood companies” deliver better services.

But there’s more to it than that.

Follow the Money

"What do these groups have in common?" asks Kushnick. "They all receive funding from AT&T and/or Verizon, and then lobby for them."

This is nothing new. Over the past decade, the phone companies have left a trail of broken promises to deliver faster broadband to disadvantaged populations in exchange for government giveaways and favorable P.R. from their community leaders.

Taken alone, this is outrageous. But it's only one shady tactic in the phone companies' multi-million dollar campaign to destroy the principle that prevents them from manipulating (they like to say "shaping") content on the Internet and taking away users' ability to choose for themselves.

Coin-Operated Analysis

According to Ed Mierzwinski of member US Pirg, creating such propaganda has long been the business model of one of the Bells' favorite PR firms -- Issue Dynamics.

Blogging about Issue Dynamics in 2005, Mierzwinski reported that the company helped create a "think tank" known as the New Millennium Research Council (NMRC) with the sole intention of dressing up Bell-friendly opinions and hoisting them before the public as objective economic analysis.

NMRC is just one in a long line of coin-operated think tanks -- a list that includes the Phoenix Center, Heartland Institute, Progress and Freedom Foundation and the Cato Institute among others -- that routinely trade industry-friendly analysis for corporate dollars.

Selling Out The Public

And this brand of sock puppetry is just one voice in the Telco choir -- a congregation including "consumery" sounding groups and pro-competition sounding payola pundits, among other PR firms and lobbyists. They have all been convened to create "a very loud 'sound wall' of consumer support that actually doesn't exist," according to Karl of Broadband Reports.

It's a collection of shills and sellouts, which in 2006 cost the phone companies more than $175 million to assemble. It's money spent at the expense of those who most need access to a fast and neutral Internet.

About these groups Kushnick concludes: "while they themselves benefit from the phone companies’ funding, [they] certainly harm their own constituents."

Net Neutrality should be debated openly, based upon the merits of the issue. But with so many players secreting away telco money to spread propaganda, it’s hard to separate those on the take from those who really want a better Internet for us all.