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Tom - The New York Times is reporting that last Friday, the House of Representatives rejected retroactive immunity for the phone companies that took part in the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks, and it voted to place greater restrictions on the government’s wiretapping powers. The decision, by a largely party-line vote of 213 to 197, is one of the few times when Democrats have been willing to defy the White House on a national security issue. It also ensures that the months-long battle over the government’s wiretapping powers will drag on for at least a few more weeks and possibly much longer. The question now moves to the Senate, where lawmakers passed a bill last month that was much more to the liking of the White House. Unlike the bill approved Friday by the House, it would give legal immunity to the phone providers that helped in the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program, which President Bush says is essential to protect national security. The House bill approved Friday includes three key elements: it would refuse retroactive immunity to the phone companies, providing special authority instead for the courts to decide the liability issue; it would add additional judicial restrictions on the government’s wiretapping powers while plugging certain loopholes in foreign coverage; and it would create a Congressional commission to investigate the N.S.A. program. Even if the House bill were to gain approval by the Senate a veto by the White House appears certain. The margin by which the House vote was approved was far short of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.
Linda - A White House Press Secretary, Tony Fratto, called the House action “a significant step backward in defending our country against terrorism.” But he added: “The good news is that the House bill will be dead on arrival in the Senate and, in any event, would be vetoed by the president if it ever got to his desk.” Even before the first vote was cast in the House, Mr. Bush assailed the Democrats’ proposal, calling it “a partisan bill that would undermine America’s security.” And that “Companies that may have helped us save lives should be thanked for their patriotic service, not subjected to billion-dollar lawsuits that will make them less willing to help in the future.” The president went on to say “The House bill may be good for class action trial lawyers, but it would be terrible for the United States.” In fact, while some private lawyers are assisting in the litigation, the groups leading the efforts, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, are nonprofit advocacy groups. The debate in the House on this issue was held in a secret session, the first time the house has done so since 1983, when they met behind closed doors to consider funding for the contra rebels in Nicaragua.
Tom - Reuters News Service is reporting that a new study says that the U.S. news media, whittled down after a year of extensive layoffs at newspapers and television outlets, focuses on a far narrower band of news despite audience demand for a variety of information. In its fifth annual study titled the "State of the American News Media," the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism found U.S. audiences still most interested in news from well-established outlets such as the New York Times or Washington Post as they read more on the Internet. But as those organizations cut jobs to contend with declining advertising and circulation, the pattern that emerges is a stronger focus on a handful of headline topics. According to PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel "Even with the revolution of information, we may have no wider ... a news agenda than we used,” "Although it is fragmented across traditional media, the staff at any one of these news organizations tends to be shrinking." In a study of more than 70,000 stories appearing in newspapers, cable and network television and radio news shows, pieces on the war in Iraq and the U.S. presidential campaign occupied nearly one-third of the coverage. According to the study, the whole rest of the world filled less than 6 percent of all the space. Domestic issues such as education, welfare, religion or labor each accounted for less than 1 percent of coverage. The PEJ is a project of the Pew Research Center and funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Linda - The report found stronger evidence of trends it discussed in its previous 2007 study, notably the separation of advertising dollars from the news business. The industry could take up to 10 years to realign its economic model as major organizations build up their Internet operations. Many newspapers get as much as 7 percent of their revenue from the Internet, but in many cases half their audience is online. Some of the disparity comes from the move of classified ads out of print publications into non-news related sites. But the Internet is also not offering an easy alternative for other forms of print ads. Some promising trends include the integration of video news onto newspaper-affiliated Web sites, since Web audiences have been shown to be more attentive to video advertising than graphical banner ads. Local news organizations may also benefit from efforts to bring ads from smaller vendors online. But as Rosenstiel notes, many traditional news organizations are not yet built to handle advertising sales centered on video or local search. "The people I talk to who are working online say 'we think we are going to go through a ten-year tunnel,'"
Tom - Portfolio.com is reporting that Google was working late Sunday night to restore its YouTube video service in China, after the Chinese government blocked access to the site, which was flooded with videos of clashes between police and protesters in Tibet and other cities. The search advertising giant said it was investigating “reports of users being unable to access YouTube” in China, and trying to get the site back online. A spokesperson for YouTube, which is owned Google said “We are looking into the matter, and working to ensure that the service is restored as soon as possible.” Attempts to load YouTube in China, which has 210 million Internet users, were met with a blank screen over the weekend. China has long been criticized for its campaign to control the Internet in China dubbed “The Great Firewall,” which some consider to be an unfair restraint of trade. Google declined to specifically say what it was doing to restore service. And athough it has some politically powerful allies, including former vice-president Al Gore, a company adviser, and presidential hopeful Barack Obama, it is unclear how much influence it has with the Chinese government.
Linda - Google’s effort to restore YouTube in China even as the government blocks the site puts the company at odds with a regime it has been accused of deferring to in order to penetrate the Chinese market. Google has been harshly criticized for its decision to offer a government censored search engine in China which omits information the government does not want disseminated. Western Google users can find many pictures of the Tiananmen Square protest that Google users in China cannot, for example. Google has argued that “some Google” is better than “no Google,” which could be the case if the company did not agree to the government’s censorship policy. Some Chinese-language video websites remained available but news agencies were unable to find any videos of the Tibet violence. Chinese authorities also reportedly blocked domestic feeds of CNN and BBC when news reports of the violence were broadcast. China’s efforts to censor video coming out of Tibet is reminiscent of the situation in Myanmar (formerly Burma) last year, when the ruling junta shut down the country’s internet access to censor information about its crackdown on Buddhist monks who had taken to the streets.
Tom - Nearly nine in 10 Americans say it’s important to know presidential and congressional candidates’ positions on open government, but three out of four view the federal government as secretive, according to a survey released Sunday. Scripps Howard News Service and Ohio University conducted the survey in conjunction with Sunshine Week, a nationwide effort by news media outlets to draw attention to the public’s right to know. The survey found a significant increase in the percentage of Americans who say they believe the federal government is very or somewhat secretive, from 62% of those surveyed in 2006 to 74% in 2008. The survey of 1,012 adults was commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ (ASNE) Freedom of Information Committee amid a year-long campaign to have all office seekers discuss their government-access views. Half of the poll respondents said government at the state level is secretive, while 44% viewed it as open. Those who see local government as secretive increased from 34% in 2007 to 40% in 2008.
Linda - A majority of people also want access to information such as whom lawmakers meet with each day (82%), police reports about specific crimes in local neighborhoods (71%) and permits for concealed handguns (66%). About half said they do not object to officials asking people who seek records to identify themselves or to explain their motivation. Although only about a quarter of adults said they believed the U.S. government has opened their mail or monitored their phone conversations without a federal warrant, three-quarters believed it has happened to people in the USA, and two-thirds said it is very or somewhat likely to have happened to journalists. The survey was conducted Feb. 10-28 by telephone by members of Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University. The poll has a margin of error of +/-4 percentage points.