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Linda - This past week the Seattle Times kicked off a series of editorials and opnion columns about the press’ role in democracy. This included an editorial condemning the consolidation of media ownership and urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to keep the ban on same-market ownership of newspaper and broadcast. Calling the series the “The Democracy Papers,” the Seattle Times introduces it by noting “the American press is often reluctant to report on itself, but the overwhelming trends in media consolidation and in fragile instruments of democracy such as low-power radio lead these opinion pages to a series of editorials and essays.” The Seattle Press goes on to note that “In the coming weeks, we will test that theory, that a free press is waning in America and with it the strength of our democracy. Writers on media consolidation, the music industry, the role of the press as unofficial signatory to democratic government, and the future of broadcast and print will be examined in editorials and guest essays.”
Times Chairman, CEO and Publisher Frank Blethen has long been an outspoken advocate of keeping the 32-year-old ban on cross-ownership — a position that puts him at odds with many newspaper owners and the industry’s biggest publishers group, the Newspaper Association of America.
Tom – As the first part of the “Democracy Papers” series, the Seattle Times ran a column by FCC Commissioner Michael Copps. In the piece Copps asks whether the Founding Fathers would be proud of our current “media system.” He answers his own question, saying “I fear not. We have a system that has been buffeted by an endless cycle of consolidation, budget-cutting, and bureau-closing. We have witnessed the number of statehouse and city hall reporters declining decade after decade, despite an explosion in state and local lobbying. As the number of channels has multiplied, there is far less total local programming and reporting being produced. These days, if it bleeds, it leads.” Copps then notes that only about 8 percent of local news broadcasts contain any local political coverage at all, including races for the House of Representatives, and that these were during the 30 days before the last presidential election. Copps also mentions that TV reinforces stereotypes, with TV news being four times more likely to show a mug shot during a crime story if the suspect is black rather than white.
Linda – Copps also provides some analysis of the role of the FCC in creating the current media landscape, noting that while the FCC hands out licenses to media companies to use the public airwaves in the public interest, the FCC does little to actually define what those public interests obligations are. He notes that “Once upon a time, the FCC actually enforced this bargain by requiring a thorough review of a licensee’s performance every three years before renewing the license. But during the market absolutism of the Reagan years, we pared that down to “postcard renewal,” a rubber stamp every eight years with no substantive review.” Copps calls for a more aggressive licensing process, saying that the FCC needs “to look at a station’s record every three or four years. And let’s actually look at this record. No more rubber stamps. Did the station show original programs on local civic affairs? Did it broadcast political conventions? In an era where too many owners live thousands of miles away from the communities they allegedly serve, have these owners met with local leaders and the public to receive feedback?” We will provide a link on our website to the complete column my FCC Commissioner Michael Copps.
Tom - According to an article from the Associated Press, The Justice Department stated its opposition to the principle of net neutrality, saying that Internet service providers should be allowed to charge a fee for priority Web traffic. The agency told the Federal Communications Commission, which is reviewing high-speed Internet practices, that it is opposed to “Net neutrality,” the principle that all Internet sites should be equally accessible to any Web user. Several phone and cable companies, such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp., have previously said they want the option to charge some users more money for loading certain content or Web sites faster than others. The Justice Department said imposing a Net neutrality regulation could hamper development of the Internet and prevent service providers from upgrading or expanding their networks. It could also shift the “entire burden of implementing costly network expansions and improvements onto consumers,” the agency said in its filing.
Linda – The Justice Department said that providing different levels of service is common, efficient and could satisfy consumers. As an example, it cited that the U.S. Postal Service charges customers different guarantees and speeds for package delivery, ranging from bulk mail to overnight delivery.
The agency’s stance comes more than two months after Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Deborah Platt Majoras cautioned policy makers to enact Net neutrality regulation. A broad coalition of grass roots groups, consumer advocacy organizations and corporations such as google have been advocating to protect net neutrality. In response to the statement by the Department of Justice, the Save the Internet Coalition said “The DOJ ruling once again proves the point: Powerful corporate and government gatekeepers are working together to dismantle Internet freedoms and impose their will upon the Web. While Gonzales’ feckless reign at Justice is near an end, his legacy at the department is becoming clear: The DOJ has established itself as a friend to the powerful and enemy to the basic freedoms that Americans once took for granted.”
Tom – The media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, known as FAIR, has released a new study looking at poverty in TV news. What they found was that despite the fact that one out of eight American lives below the poverty line, representation of poverty in TV news was surprisingly low. FAIR’s study examined the three weeknight network newscasts—ABC World News, CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News—over a 38-month period. They considered every story mentioning the words “poverty,” “low income,” “homeless,” “welfare” or “food stamps,” compiling a list of all stories that dealt with issues of poverty in more than a passing manner. According to the study, during the more than three years examined, there were just 58 stories about poverty on the three network newscasts, including just 191 quoted sources.
For perspective, a FAIR study of network newscasts found that in just one year (2001), the three networks included a total of 14,632 sources. Assuming that the nightly news still features a like number of sources per year, that would amount to some 46,000 sources over the 38 months of FAIR’s study, making sources appearing in poverty stories just 0.4 percent of overall sources.
Linda – Fair noted that among individual networks, NBC ran the most stories related to poverty, with 25, followed close behind by CBS with 22. ABC aired only 11 stories addressing poverty in the 38-month study period—a rate of about one every 15 weeks. Driving home poverty’s low rank as a news priority is the fact that fewer nightly news segments were dedicated to it than to millionaire pop star Michael Jackson. During a study period that saw 58 stories about poverty, the three network programs dedicated 69 stories to Jackson’s legal woes. Moreover, in 2005, the year that saw the Katrina disaster and the culmination of Jackson’s rather less consequential trial, the networks deemed the pop star’s legal problems twice as newsworthy as the economic plight of tens of millions of poor citizens, running 44 stories on Michael Jackson to 22 for poverty. We will provide a link to the FAIR study on our website.
Tom – In other news, the media watchdog Media Matters has released a study looking at media coverage of the war in Iraq this past summer. They note that while the public remained very interested in news about Iraq, the number of stories in the news about Iraq decreased significantly. Media Matters documents a statistics from the Project for Excellence in the Media which showed that for the second quarter of 2007, 31 percent of people polled said they were following events in Iraq “very closely.” Yet media Matters found that during that same period, the situation in Iraq represented just 4.5 percent of the overall news coverage. No other story, as tracked by the News Interest Index and the News Coverage Index, produced such a consistently wide disparity between June and September Media Matters noted.
Linda – Media Matters points out that this lack of reporting coming from Iraq is especially surprising considering the developments there this summer. They note the lack of substantial coverage of the horrific suicide bombings of August 14 in which more than 500 Iraqis were killed and over 1,500 wounded. These coordinated terror bombings were the second deadliest in history, surpassed only by the 9/11 attacks on the world trade centers. Despite this, the attacks only made it to page A6 in both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, and Page 4 of USA Today. On that evening’s NBC Nightly News, the historic massacre from Iraq was not even tapped as the day’s most important story. Media Matters notes that this is in contrast to coverage of the Iraq policy debate, which has generated considerable media attention. To quote the study “The policy debate has mostly been covered as a horserace: Do Democrats have the votes to end the war? Can Bush still keep anxious Republicans in line? It’s what the Beltway press loves to obsess over — who’s up, who’s down, and what the 2008 implications are. Americans, though, are more interested in a war, now in its 53rd month, being waged in the Persian Gulf that has claimed nearly 4,000 American lives and is costing the U.S. Treasury $1 billion each week to fight.” We will provide a link to the media matters article on our website