Monday, June 30, 2014

Media Rants: We Shall Overcome the Media

We Shall Overcome the Media

Media Rants by Tony Palmeri

From the July 2014 edition of The SCENE
July 2nd marks the 50th anniversary of president Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (CRA). The individual most responsible for getting the act through the US Senate was Everett Dirksen, a conservative Republican from Illinois. When asked why he took up the cause of civil rights, the eloquent, deep voiced Dirksen quoted Victor Hugo: “No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” (Another Republican, 6th district representative William Van Pelt of Fond du Lac, was the only member of the Wisconsin congressional delegation to vote No; Van Pelt lost his seat to Democrat John Race in November of 1964. In today’s GOP Van Pelts abound, but it’s hard to find any Dirksens.).

An army could not withstand the strength of the idea of civil rights, but soon after the passage of the CRA armies were called in to quell urban uprisings. In Los Angeles, Detroit, and other places, the promise of the CRA could not overcome shameful socioeconomic conditions created over many generations of deeply ingrained racism in public policies touching employment, housing, and education.

The wave of post CRA violence forced LBJ to convene a commission to study its causes. In 1968 the Kerner Commission released a 426 page report highlighting anger and frustration at the lack of economic opportunity as the key factor sparking revolts. Some of the report’s harshest criticisms were leveled at themainstream news media, which was faulted for sensationalized, inaccurate coverage of urban disturbances.  Commissioners employed powerful language to show how the mainstream media were part of the problem, not part of the solution to racial strife:

“By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their black and white audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a white man’s world. The ills of the ghetto, the difficulties of life there, the Negro’s burning sense of grievance, are seldom conveyed. Slights and indignities are part of the Negro’s daily life, and many of them come from what he now calls ‘the white press’—a press that repeatedly, if unconsciously, reflects the biases, the paternalism, the indifference of white America.”

The Eisenhower Foundation produced a “40 year update” of Kerner in 2008, and found that not much had changed as regards media: “Since the Kerner Commission, media ownership has been reduced to just a few giant, White-controlled corporations, facilitated by the federal deregulation that has failed average citizens so spectacularly . . . Minorities are greatly underrepresented in the media. Minority ownership is miniscule. Top heavy with White middle-class men, many television news departments and many major newspapers today are focused less on quality reporting and more on declining viewership, readership and profits. The priorities of the Kerner Commission are not sufficiently covered, and then only for a short while . . . “

Another 40 year update of Kerner, produced by the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communication and Center for Africana Studies along with North Carolina A & T State University’s Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, included an essay by sociologist Darnell Hunt called “The Media and Race, 40 Years After Kerner.” Hunt argued that “Forty years after Kerner we continue to confront a reality in which news stories are routinely told ‘from the standpoint of a white man’s world.’ Just as this standpoint provided minimal insights in the mid-1960s about the relationship between America race relations and the violence erupting on inner-city streets, it has had little to offer in recent years about the connections between race in America and, say, what happened in Los Angeles in 1992, or in New Orleans in 2005. This is because the dominant standpoint is wedded to the surveillance function of American news media, which is rooted in a fundamental interest in maintaining order above all else. It is a gaze invested in focusing on symptoms and overlooking causes.”

As regards coverage of the civil rights movement, “white man’s world” journalism features three characteristics that make accurate reporting difficult and editorializing almost unbearable. First, there is a “leader obsession.” The civil rights movement gets framed not as the story of millions of people working for justice at the grassroots level, but as the work of heroic individuals who almost magically move the masses to the side of the good. (The leader obsession similarly makes it difficult for mainstream media to cover Occupy Wall St., a movement that explicitly disavows traditional leadership models.).

Second, white man’s world journalism treats the civil rights movement nostalgically; as something that happened decades ago. Thus we get nonstop celebrations of the past while the modern movement is treated as either nonexistent or as the concern only of fringe extremists.

Finally, white man’s world journalism minimizes or ignores scholarship and independent reporting about race in modern America. Two examples are Professor Michelle Alexander’s brilliant The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in theAge of Colorblindness and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” in the May issue of The Atlantic. Both works provide insightful, cutting edge analysis of the realities of the racism in modern America. For each to become part of mainstream discourse, we shall have to overcome the mainstream news media. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Media Rants: Chris Terry on Net Neutrality

Chris Terry on Net Neutrality

Media Rants 

from the June 2014 issue of The SCENE 

On May 15th the Federal Communications Commission issued a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) regarding “net neutrality.” Go to for specifics on how to get involved.

Net neutrality is a complex issue. For enlightenment, Media Rants turns to Dr. Chris Terry, Lecturer in Media Law and Regulatory Policy at the UW Milwaukee Department of Journalism, Advertising, and Media Studies. Dr. Terry writes extensively on issues related to media ownership and government policy. 
Media Rants: What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is a term coined by Tim Wu referring to a multi-pronged regulatory approach to internet structural regulation. It is a social democratic regulatory approach related to internet traffic.

Two aspects: First, the term is most closely associated with the relationship between an internet service provider (ISP) and the consumer. Under net neutral regulations, the consumer gets to access whatever legal online content they choose with no loss in service or speed.

Second: In an idea related to the first, the regulation would prevent an ISP from favoring content (through use of a fast lane). This is the core issue of net neutrality from a First Amendment perspective. Consumers have no defense when their ISP chooses to limit or even block content from them.

Because most consumers get their internet service from a cable company that co-owns other media content or services, the cable companies have an economic incentive in controlling what content consumers can have access to. They would like to direct you to content and services they own, so they favor that content over their competitor's content.

MR: Some critics claim that the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia "killed" net neutrality in January of this year. Is that accurate? What exactly did the District Court decide?

An oversimplification of Verizon v. FCC (2014), but the result is reasonably accurate. Verizon, like Comcast did in an almost identical case in 2009, challenged the FCC’s  authority to enforce net neutrality rules under the delegation of power from the 1996 Telecommunications Act, saying that Congress had not delegated the FCC power to enforce such provisions. That authority does not exist under current law, and the Circuit court ruled the same way it had in the earlier Comcast case, declaring the rules to be outside of the enforcement authority of the FCC.

Comcast challenged the FCC's policy from 2005 after the agency declared Comcast had violated the Four Principles Policy passed by the FCC in 2005. The FCC lost that case in early 2010, then passed a second set of net neutrality regulations later that year. The Verizon case undermined the second set of regulations (which were very similar to the first set).

MR: Comcast and Time Warner Cable, the two biggest players in cable and Internet service, have announced a $45 billion merger. If that deal is approved, what will it mean for Internet freedom?

Comcast would become the single largest provider of internet service in the U.S. Given that Comcast has a demonstrable history of blocking content it finds objectionable, at the same time favoring providers that pay for priority transmission or content owned by subsidiaries (like NBC), there's little to be happy about in terms of deal's effect on internet freedom. Comcast is an active member of the Center For Copyright Information's Six Strikes Program, and was responsible for the court decision which started the chain of (regulatory) events which culminated in the vote on May 15th  at the FCC on the NPRM.

MR: What is the view of the current FCC Chair Tom Wheeler on net neutrality? Are Wheeler and his colleagues on the FCC taking stands that benefit the consumer?

His stated view is that net neutrality is important, and that he won't let the agency back away from an "open internet." As someone who has studied regulatory policy by the FCC, I remain skeptical of how well his rhetoric matches his actions, or the decisions being made at the agency under his watch. The DC Circuit gave the FCC permission to proceed with meaningful net neutrality provisions if the agency chooses to reclassify broadband as a common carrier as part of the Verizon decision earlier this year. Reclassification would be a contentious process certainly, but it is a clear policy agenda and regulatory path to follow.

MR: What can the average citizen do to help make sure the Internet remains open?
You can complain to the agency, but the FCC's record on consideration of citizen complaints on structural regulation is not positive by any measure. Real pressure needs to go on legislators in Congress to grant the FCC the authority to act. The courts have not overturned net neutrality as a burdensome regulation on speech, rather the circuit court has said the FCC simply lacks the authority and jurisdiction to act as it did in 2005 and again in 2010.

MR: How important is net neutrality?

I think people fail to understand the consequences of failure on net neutrality. The constitutive choices about the future of the internet, broadband and mobile access are being made right now. If the FCC fails to implement a citizen orientated approach, there will be fundamental changes in how consumers can access content online, and very few of those changes are positive for the consumer.