Friday, October 29, 2010

Fox News Tries to Foreclose on Sesame Street

The high-pitched pundits of Fox News Channel have had their sites aimed at NPR nonstop since the radio network sacked analyst Juan Williams last week for likening all Muslims to terrorists.

They've not only tried to turn Williams into some kind of media martyr (though it's hard to feel too sorry for a guy who was unemployed for about 20 minutes before signing a $2 million deal with Fox) but have gone so far as to stalk NPR President Vivian Schiller on the streets of D.C.

The Williams' hullabaloo has dominated the headlines, but Fox News and its Republican allies are hunting much larger game: Big Bird.

Sarah Palin, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove and Megyn Kelly, among others, have taken to the air calling on Congress to wholly defund public broadcasting. They don't just want to silence NPR, but to pull the plug on every network, station and program that gets public support -- from PBS to Pacifica. They want to freeze out Frontline and foreclose on Sesame Street.

On The Factor, O'Reilly called for "immediate suspension of every taxpayer dollar" going to public media. "We're going to get legislation," he said. "We're going to freeze it down, so they don't get any more money."

On cue, Sen. Jim DeMint (R -S.C.) promised to introduce legislation that would do just that: zero out $420 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which supports stations that offer important public affairs programs such as The News Hour with Jim Lehrer and All Things Considered. Eliminating funds would kill the successful "Ready to Learn" program, which supports children's shows, including Sesame Street, Arthur and Dragon Tales.

"There's ... no reason to force taxpayers to subsidize liberal programming they disagree with," DeMint said late last week.

What We Get from Public Media

The right's gamble here is that their efforts to paint public broadcasting as the voice of encroaching socialism will fire up the passions of some Americans, a week before many of us head to the polls.

"NPR is a public institution that directly or indirectly exists because the taxpayers fund it. And what do we, the taxpayers, get for this?" asked Sarah Palin.

Well, according to poll after poll, the taxpayers believe that they get a lot -- not just the educational programming that brings us Big Bird, but also hard-hitting journalism that the much of the commercial media have abandoned.

According to the nonpartisan Roper polling firm, Americans rank PBS as the second "most valuable" service taxpayers receive for their money, outranked only by national defense. Moreover, a majority of the public believe the amount of federal funding public broadcasting receives is "too little."

Comparatively, this is true. The United States already has one of the lowest levels of federal funding of public media in the developed world -- at just $1.43 per capita; Canada spends $22 per capita; England spends $80; people in Finland and Denmark spend much more. And it's no coincidence that the nations with highest public media funding seem to do a far better job producing journalism that challenges government and corporations and upsets the status quo.

And maybe that's what scares Palin's crew the most. Perhaps their goal in all of this, as has been suggested elsewhere, is not to slash funding for public broadcasting but to scare public broadcasters into presenting news with a slant more favorable to the right.

Why Bashing Big Bird Will Backfire

Whatever the rationale, their tactics are a proven loser.

Every time PBS and NPR have come under attack, the American public has risen up in protest to defend -- not defund -- it. A similar right-wing push in 2005 failed after more than a million people contacted Congress demanding that full funding be restored. Attacking public media also ended up hurting Nixon in the 1970s, Reagan in the 1980s, and Newt Gingrich in the 1990s.

In just a few days, hundreds of thousands of people already have mobilized in defense of Big Bird and better journalism. You can add your voice here.

Here's hoping this time we don't just stop yet another assault on public media, but actually start solving the structural problems with the system that has left it underfunded and overexposed to these types of political shenanigans.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Genachowski's Choice

It's put up or shut up time on Net Neutrality. That’s what Rob Pegoraro wrote in the Washington Post earlier this week.

And he’s right.

The fate of the open Internet now rests in the hands of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The chairman just needs to muster the courage to do right by the millions of Internet users who demand an Internet of, for, and by the people.

Rep. Henry Waxman tried last week to craft a bipartisan compromise on Net Neutrality only to have his bill deep-sixed by hostile Republicans on the Commerce Committee, who are eager to smother the open Internet should voters hand them a majority in November.

Waxman passed the issue back to Genachowski with clear instructions to “move forward” and reassert the agency’s authority to protect consumers against content blocking efforts by the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

FCC No Brainer

Genachowski now simply needs to buck up. His next step would seem a no brainer to anyone viewing the issue from beyond the Beltway: reclassify broadband under Title II so the FCC can protect Internet users against corporate censors.

Sadly, the view from the eighth floor of the FCC – which has been circled by industry lobbyists for months – is not so apparent.

Pegoraro wrote:
The issue here is simple: Should the government prevent Internet providers from discriminating for or against legitimate sites, services and applications?
That's not a theoretical risk. Telecommunications firms and some networking experts have argued for the right to charge other sites more for faster delivery of their data or put the brakes on some online uses that they feel clog their networks.
The FCC can save us from a future where corporations privilege certain content over others by following Genachowski’s original plan unveiled in 2009 and “write a simple set of net-neutrality rules,” concludes Pegoraro.

“An agency chair has to make tough decisions which, more often than not, contradict the desires of the largest companies with stakes in the outcomes, Free Press President Josh Silver told NPR last night. “Julius Genachowski is terrified of making those decisions.“

We’ve Got Your Back, Julius

Delivering on Net Neutrality isn’t that frightening. Genachowski just needs to call a Commission vote to restore the FCC as a watchdog of our online rights. He has the legal clearance, political cover and momentum to make this vote happen. He just needs to be reminded of that:

1. Congressional leadership: House Commerce Committee Chairman Waxman told Genachowski to "move forward under Title II." Support for FCC action has also been voiced by leading Democrats on the Commerce Committee, including Reps. Anna Eshoo, Ed Markey and Jay Inslee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given Genachowski the nod, calling Net Neutrality, reclassification and universal access “priorities for us”;

2. Opinion leaders in media: Pegoraro’s Washington Post column was just one among the clamor of voices in media calling for action. The editorial boards of major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the San Jose Mercury News and USA Today, have called for FCC action;

3. Genachowski is the swing vote for a majority of FCC Commissioners in favor of Title II and Net Neutrality. Both Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps have indicated that they favor this move. To get it done, Genachowski simply needs to call the vote;

4. President Obama has publicly urged Net Neutrality protections on at least seven occasions. He appointed Genachowski with the understanding that this would be job one at the FCC;

5. In 2009, the FCC's commissioned a Harvard study, which concluded that Bush-era deregulation created a latticework of local broadband monopolies and stuck Americans paying more for some of the slowest Internet speeds in the developed world. The study concluded that reclassification would restore our global Internet leadership;

6. And, most importantly, more than two million Americans have demanded that Washington protect the open Internet from blocking and discrimination by corporations.

The chairman can put a clear Net Neutrality standard on the books by calling a commission vote and reclassifying.

The move has the added benefit of giving clearance for the agency to proceed on plans to bridge the nation’s digital divide and invite more consumer choice into a broadband marketplace dominated by too few players.

All of our efforts to make this happen have come to this moment, right now, and to this chairman, Julius Genachowski. He simply needs to step up.