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Linda – The financial magazine Forbes reports that media conglomerate Time Warner Inc. spent nearly $1.8 million in the first half of 2007 to lobby the federal government, according to a disclosure forms. The New York-based company lobbied on a number of issues, including high-speed Internet access, digital television, cybersecurity, and visa and patent reforms, according to the form posted online Aug. 14 by the Senate's public records office.Among those registered to lobby on behalf of Time Warner are Tim Berry, who was chief of staff for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who was forced to step down due to the Jack Abramoff scandal. Earlier this year Time Warner backed a postal rate hike that raised mailing costs for small periodicals. That postal rate hike was strongly opposed by small publishers and grass roots media reform groups that argued that it unfairly burdened small publishers with substantially higher rates while giving lower rates to big publishers.
Tom – According to ABC News, a new effort from the White House has emerged to help the administration increase domestic support for the Iraq war. This effort is being undertaken by the group Freedom’s Watch, which was formed by former White House and Bush administration officials and funded by Republican big-money donors. Last week it began airing $15 million worth of ads — featuring veterans and their families — aimed at influencing wavering members of Congress. The ads have been criticized by opponents of the war, who note that these ads repeat the claim that the attacks on the world trade center on sept. 11 where related to Iraq. In one ad a wounded veteran of the Iraq war states that ““I would go back to Iraq if I could, it’s that important because if Iraq isn’t stable it will be a breeding ground for terrorists.” “They attacked us, and they will again. They won’t stop in Iraq.”
Linda - Former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, one of the group’s board of directors, said the group was formed to provide a counter-argument to anti-war voices. “There’s been a three-year silence from conservatives and others who believe in peace through strength,” “The cavalry is coming, we’re going to help to get that message out.” Freedom’s Watch is targeting congressional districts in an attempt to influence key congressmen, mirroring efforts by groups critical of the war. The liberal group Move-on.org is also running an ad campaign aimed at approximately 20 congressional districts.
Tom – According to an article in the Washington Post, the Bush administration has acknowledged for the first time that telecommunications companies assisted the government’s warrantless surveillance program and were being sued as a result, an admission some legal experts say could complicate the government’s bid to halt numerous lawsuits challenging the program’s legality. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said in an interview with the El Paso Times published last Wednesday that “[U]nder the president’s program, the terrorist surveillance program, the private sector had assisted us.” His statement could help plaintiffs in dozens of lawsuits against the telecom companies, which allege that the companies participated in a wiretapping program that violated Americans’ privacy rights. Warrantless surveillance began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was placed under supervision of a special court in January.
Linda - An appeals court in San Francisco is weighing the government’s argument that these cases should be thrown out on the grounds that the subject matter is a “state secret” and that its disclosure would jeopardize national security. The government has repeatedly asserted that any relationship between the telecommunications firms and the National Security Agency’s spy program is classified. The firms’ alleged cooperation and other details of the program, government lawyers have argued, are so sensitive that they cannot be disclosed and therefore the lawsuits should be dismissed. McConnel went so far as to say in his interview that open discussion on matters such as these “means that some Americans are going to die.” However, critics note that McConnell’s admission makes it difficult to argue that the phone companies’ cooperation with the government is a state secret. According to Greg Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology “It’s going to be tough to continue to call it ‘alleged’ when he’s just admitted it.” The Bush administration has urged Congress to pass a law granting immunity to the telecom companies.
Tom – A settlement was recently reached in a case with serious free speech implications. In 2004Nicole and Jeff Rank were arrested on Independence Day for wearing anti-Bush T-shirts. They were on the grounds of the capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, where Bush was giving a speech. Amidst others who were wearing pro-Bush shirts, the Ranks were wearing shirts with anti Bush slogans. They were singled out by White House event staff and local law enforcement, who told them they would have to leave. When they didn’t, they were arrested for trespassing. The city of Charleston, in a matter of days, realized its error and apologized to the Ranks. But feeling that the White House was behind their arrest, they, with the help of the ACLU, sued the then-head of the Office of White House Advance. In the process of the lawsuit, they uncovered a White House manual that gave instructions on how to handle protesters.
Linda – According to a piece in the Nation Magazine, the White House manual included advice such as “work with the Secret Service and have them ask the local police department to designate a protest area where demonstrators can be placed, preferably not in view of the event site or motorcade route.” The manual also recommends drowning out protesters or blocking their signs by using what it calls “rally squads.” It also states that as a last resort, security should remove the demonstrators from the event site.” On August 16, the ACLU announced that a settlement had been reached, with the government agreeing to pay the Ranks $80,000 to make the case go away. According to Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia “This settlement is a real victory not only for our clients but for the First Amendment,” “As a result of the Ranks’ courageous stand, public officials will think twice before they eject peaceful protesters from public events for exercising their right to dissent.”
Tom – Two weeks ago, a coalition of 28 Groups spearheaded by the Benton Foundation filed a letter to the FCC asking them to define the public interest obligations of digital television broadcaster. The groups’ filing came in the FCC’s third periodic review of the conversion of the nation’s broadcast television system from analog to digital television (“DTV”). The DTV transition will increase efficient use of the spectrum, expand consumer choice for video programming, and increase the amount of spectrum available for public safety and other wireless services. Analog TV broadcasts are to end February 17, 2009. In its rulemaking, the FCC proposed procedures and rule changes necessary to complete the transition, but, according to the coalition, once again failed to address broadcasters’ obligations to serve local communities’ educational, informational, civic, minority, disability and emergency information needs.
Linda – Said Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton; “Congress and the courts have been clear that the rights of viewers are paramount in broadcasting. The FCC has worked long and hard to help broadcasters make the transition to digital TV technology, a transition that could greatly increase the value of their businesses. The Commission must now do the work to define the benefits of the transition for the public, a transition that could make their airwaves more valuable to them.” Said Meredith McGehee, Policy Director of the Campaign Legal Center; “Despite the fact that most broadcasters have come to treat the public airwaves as their personal property, that incredibly valuable spectrum is still owned by the American public. It is the Commission’s job to remind broadcasters of that fact and to demand substantive public interest efforts in return.” We will provide a link on the catalyst radio website to the complete Benton Foundation Letter.
Tom – The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (Fair) recently put out an action alert concerning a NYT’s article in which it falsely claimed that presidential hopeful Barack Obama had slammed the anti war movement. In the New York Times article reporter Jeff Zeleny stated that "One of the biggest applause lines of his speech came when he pledged that during an Obama administration, veterans would not have to wait months — or years — for services at veterans hospitals," Zeleny added, "He also said it was wrong for anti-war activists to protest at military funerals, declaring: 'It needs to stop.'" However, FAIR points out that Obama never mentioned anti-war protestors in his speech. What Obama actually said about military funerals was “And our sacred trust does not end when service-members dies. The graves of our veterans are hallowed ground. When men and women who die in service to this country are laid to rest, as my grandfather was laid to rest, there must be no protests near the funerals. It's wrong and it needs to stop.” No mention was made by Senator Obama that he was referring to anti-war demonstrators, of which there have been no documented instances of anti-war protests at military funerals. However, several such demonstrations have been staged by the fanatically homophobic Westboro Baptist Church headed by Fred Phelps. These demonstrations celebrate soldiers' deaths as God's punishment for the military's toleration of gay troops under the "don't ask, don’t tell" rules, brandishing signs with slogans such as "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs."