Friday, December 08, 2017

Dr. Chris Terry on Net Neutrality and Media Ownership

Critical issues related to media, like net neutrality and media ownership, are often discussed in wonky, technical terms that leave even the most concerned citizen confused and frustrated. When I find myself having difficulty understanding these issues, I call on my former student Chris Terry for clarification and insight. Dr. Terry is an assistant professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota Hubbard School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Chris is an active scholar in the areas of administrative law, media regulations, and the real world impacts of media policy. 
The Federal Communications Commission in the Trump era is on the brink of making major, massive changes to the media regulatory environment. Proposed changes on Internet policy and media ownership, if they do in fact go into place, will impact each and every one of us. In order to get a better grasp of the issues, I emailed Chris some questions. Below are his responses, along with links to much information that can get inquiring minds up to speech. --Tony Palmeri

On December 14th the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposal to repeal the 2015 "net neutrality" rules. Three part question: (1) What is net neutrality? (2) What do the 2015 rules say? (3) Why does repeal matter? 

Chris Terry Response: 1.) Net Neutrality is a term coined by Columbia Professor Tim Wu to describe how ISPs manage traffics on their networks. In practical terms, it describes a regulatory situation where your internet service provider cannot slow a consumer's access to content (a process known as throttling) or block you from accessing websites.

2.) The 2015 rules reclassified broadband from an “information service” to a “communication service” and in the process moved broadband under the Title II provisions of a common carrier. In simple terms, this makes internet service more like a utility, and essentially treats the internet like a traditional phone connection. Doing so keeps ISPs from blocking or throttling content…as all content under a common carrier status has to be treated equally.
3.) Repeal matters for several reasons, but the removal of the 2015 Title II rules will fundamentally change how internet content is delivered to consumers. Your ISP will have the ability to control what content you can access online, and because those are private companies (rather than state actors) there’s no first amendment right/defense for citizens to access content they choose.

The face of the repeal effort is the Republican Chair of the FCC Ajit Pai. What can you tell us about Mr. Pai? 

Chris Terry Response: Pai has been on the Commission since the Obama administration, and was in the minority when the 2015 rules were implemented by the agency. Donald Trump appointed him chair of the FCC and Congress recently extended his term at the agency. He is a strong and outspoken opponent of net neutrality concepts or regulation.
On December 7th citizens against net neutrality repeal protested outside Verizon stores across the country. Ajit Pai was one Verizon's top lawyer, but are there other reasons for choosing that company as the site for protest? 

Chris Terry Response: Pai’s association with Verizon is probably the primary reason for the protest locations, but it is worth nothing that Verizon has long opposed Net Neutrality, and was the lead plaintiff in the case that ultimately overturned the FCC’s 2010 Net Neutrality rules.

Suppose the FCC does in fact vote to scrap the 2015 net neutrality rules. What kinds of legal challenges will ensue? What are the likely outcomes? 

Chris Terry Response: There will be a variety of legal challenges. There’s some procedural issues with the proceeding, but the most notable is the FCC’s decision to ignore a huge volume of public comments in the rule making docket. There’s also a matter of the agency acting without a change in material facts. Both of these issues are important in legal reviews of administrative agency decision making.

As for the outcomes, it is hard to predict at this point. Both sides claim to have the legal high ground.

There's also been much activity lately on the media ownership front. In November on a 3-2 party line vote, the 3 Republicans on the FCC voted to overturn a ban that's been in place since 1975 that prevented one company from owning newspapers and broadcast stations in one market. What was the rationale for the ban in the first place? The rule changes will be challenged in court, but if they do end up going into effect what will be the practical impact?

Chris Terry Response: The newspaper-broadcast cross ownership ban was a legacy media ownership policy first implemented in 1975 after a long proceeding. The agency has been trying to repeal the rule for many years, but these attempts have been tied to the agency’s ham-handed set backs on media ownership policy. 

Of the media ownership rules the agency voted to change, the NBCO rule is the one most likely to withstand a judicial review because unlike the other rules, the agency actually has some empirical evidence that proposes that the rule no longer works. (Note: I produced some of that empirical evidence)

The ownership case will occur in the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, where the agency has been trying to resolve a remand first issued in 2003 (and again in 2011 and then in 2016) in the Prometheus Radio Project case. I am skeptical the FCC wins, and many of the rule changes will likely be remanded to the agency.

The FCC is also loosening restrictions on one company owning two stations in the same market. Who would benefit from that rule change?

Chris Terry Response: The rule you refer to is the local television ownership rule. The revision in the rule would allow a single owner/operator to possess more than one television station in a market. Several media companies would benefit from the change, but the rule change appears to be on the table to help facilitate the FCC’s approval of the merger between Sinclair and Tribune’s television properties. That merger, while contentious because of Sinclair’s political viewpoints, is not legal under the current rules, hence the attempt to change or alter the rule.

The Trump Administration is going to court to block the proposed AT&T/Time-Warner merger. Why would Trump be opposed to the merger? What's your personal view on the merger? 

Chris Terry Response: I think there’s been a fair amount of either/or in the discussion surrounding the merger. The administration wants AT&T to divest some properties, including CNN. The suggestion was made that President Trump and CNN have an active feud going, and this was one way to get back at the news channel for criticism. While that may be true, there are some issues with the merger involving scale that I think would have made it a hard sell for anti-trust review. As I have said, Trump’s people might be making trouble, but the deal might also be problematic…both things can be true at the same time.

Net neutrality and media ownership issues can be quite wonky. What's the best way for a citizen to stay informed and active on these issues? 

Chris Terry Response: Stay in tune with these issues by following the advocacy groups like the Benton Foundation, Free Press, The Future of Music Coalition or Prometheus Radio Project that are involved heavily in the legal and political fights over these issues.

Some links to audio/essays on both topics:
*Radio Survivor Podcast #118: Making Sense of the FCC's Effort to Kill Net Neutrality
*Radio Survivor: Chris Terry on the FCC's Legacy of Failure  
*Radio Survivor Podcast #115: The Federal Consolidation Commission
*Radio Survivor Podcast #7: The FCC's Legacy of Failure With Media Ownership Policy
*Radio Survivor: Chris Terry 2015 guest column on the FCC's Legacy of Failure and Media Ownership Policy
*Radio Survivor Podcast #33: 20 Years Ago Local Radio Was Crushed  
*Radio Survivor: Chris Terry on Whether the FCC's Legacy of Failure Could Trigger Even More Consolidation
*Radio Survivor Podcast #50: Prometheus v. FCC and a Generation of Gridlock
*Radio Survivor: Chris Terry on the FCC's Media Ownership Legacy-Now With More Failure!
*Radio Survivor Podcast #62: The FCC's Legacy of Failure and CMJ's Uncertain Future  
*Radio Survivor: Happy(?) 21st  Birthday to the Telecommunications Act of 1996
*Radio Survivor Podcast #78: Pai is Trump's FCC Guy

Want to communicate with Chris Terry? Send him an email  You can also connect with him on Twitter @Christopherterr

Friday, December 01, 2017

Awakening From The Dreamworld's Nightmare

Inspired by social activist Tarana Burke and mobilized by a tweet from actress Alyssa Milano, the #metoo movement to expose and root out sexual harassers from the workplace has--at least in the worlds of entertainment, news media, and politics--revealed that many men who've received public accolades have privately been living a lowlife golden rule of "grope unto others as you would have them grope unto you." Every day seems to come new, credible accusations of rape, inappropriate touching, unwelcome advances, and various other forms of oppressive treatment toward women (and in some cases toward men or toward children). The list of accused power players is long and getting longer. 

The award winning television series "Mad Men" (ran for 7 seasons and 92 episodes between 2007 and 2015), critically acclaimed in part for its blunt portrayal of misogyny and sexism in the workplace of the 1960s, led many viewers to believe mistakenly that such behaviors were things of the past. If anything, the #metoo disclosures demonstrate that workplace rules against sexual harassment put in place as a result of the 1960s/70s feminist movement were not enough to challenge power imbalances that allow certain men to abuse women cavalierly even in the presence of explicit codes of conduct warning the harasser of potential consequences. Perhaps not surprisingly, "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner has himself been accused of harassment. 

Few would argue that men are by nature inclined to abuse women. A more likely explanation for the phenomenon is the culture of "toxic masculinity" described in a range of social science and popular literature over many decades. According to this line of thinking, a variety of cultural influences--including media--succeed in normalizing misogyny and sexism. In a toxic male culture, the Harvey Weinstein's of the world view women as a kind of "reward" that their success at playing the role of "man" entitles them to. 

Do certain forms of media especially reinforce toxic masculinity? I teach a course called "The Rhetoric of Rock and Roll." One of the most powerful and most appreciated parts of the course occurs when we watch University of Massachusetts professor Sut Jhally's brilliant "MTV Dreamworlds" video. Jhally is founder and executive director of the Media Education Foundation, an organization that's done great work in showing the connections between gender identity and media. 

Students are always fascinated and disturbed by "Dreamworlds" because, while the film does not claim or show a causal connection between music videos and real world sexual abuse, it does show how the dominant narrative of the videos normalizes sexual aggression. As stated by professor Jhally in Dreamworlds Part 3:

"The images and stories of music videos, and other forms of media culture, do not directly cause men to harm women. But they do dehumanize women and thus make it easier to inflict and justify abusive treatment. They contribute to an environment where men’s violence against women is legitimized and the female victims of this violence are blamed for the brutality that men inflict on them. They encourage an attitude of callous disdain while all the while implying that this is how women want to be treated—that women in fact desire harassment, stalking, and assault."

One thing I've been fascinated by in the current wave of assault allegations is how many of the harassers are men who would have "come of age" in the music video era and/or been high level participants in the video culture. The two best (worst?) examples are filmmaker Brett Ratner and Hip-Hop icon Russell Simmons. 

Before becoming a successful movie maker, Ratner made a name for himself as a music video director. His "classics" include Jessica Simpson's hypersexualized cover of "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'" and L.L. Cool J's sex parable "Pink Cookies in a Plastic Bag Getting Crushed by Buildings."  When you read about actress Olivia Munn's outing of Ratner as a pervert, it becomes clear that he seemed to be quite literally acting out the kind of macho posturing seen in music video:

New to Los Angeles and pursuing an acting career, Munn said she was thrilled when a friend invited her to the set of "After the Sunset.” "I was so excited, because I mean, that's why you come out to California and Hollywood," recalled the actress, 37, whose credits now include HBO's "The Newsroom" and the movies "Magic Mike” and "X-Men: Apocalypse."

Not long after Munn arrived on the Santa Monica set in 2004, she said, she was asked to drop some food off in Ratner's trailer as a favor. She said she was assured that the director would not be there.
Munn entered Ratner’s trailer and quickly placed the food on a table. She said she was startled to find him inside. She tried to make a quick exit, but Ratner implored her not to leave.

"He walked out ... with his belly sticking out, no pants on, shrimp cocktail in one hand and he was furiously masturbating in the other," Munn said. "And before I literally could even figure out where to escape or where to look, he ejaculated."

Munn said she let out a "startled scream" and raced out of the trailer. She said she immediately told the man who had asked her to deliver the food. His reaction? “It wasn't a shock. It wasn't surprise,” Munn recalled. “It was just, ‘Ugh, sorry about that.’"

Writer Jenny Lumet's allegations against Simmons are more disturbing, yet also consistent with the violence against women suggested in much music video. Narrating her 1991 assault,  Lumet writes:

At no time that night did I say: "Russell, I will go home with you." Or "Come home with me." Or "I will have sex with you." Or "I have the desire to have sex with you . . ."

I got into the car with you. The driver began to drive. I assumed you knew where I lived, because you had sent me 250 balloons, but I gave the driver my address on 19th Street and 2nd Avenue.

You said to the driver: "No."
I didn't understand, so I said: "Russell?"
I said, again, to the driver: "19th Street."
Again you said to the driver: "No."
Then the car doors locked. It was loud. The noise made me jump.

She goes on to describe in vivid detail the awful experience of what happened once inside Simmons' apartment. For men completely engrossed in music video culture (Simmons and Rattner have apparently been best buddies for a long time), Olivia Munn and Jenny Lumet "want" this kind of treatment. Were we just talking about Brett Ratner, Russell Simmons and the assorted other prominent abusers mentioned in the press that would be one thing; unfortunately the problem is much more extensive. "Dreamworlds 3" (which I hope professor Jhally updates in the near future) includes powerful footage of "average" men assaulting women in parks, on public streets, and participating in interviews in which they talk about the kinds of misogynist attitudes they hear in their social circles.

Russell Simmons and Brett Ratner: Livin' the Dreamworld?
Obviously the problem of toxic masculinity is much bigger than songs and music videos. However, if you do have substantive interaction with young people, you should engage them with the Boston Public Health Commission's "nutritional impact" scoring sheets for songs and videos. These simple tools are a challenging yet simple way of determining if the main theme of a song/video promotes healthy, respectful gender relations or sexist/misogynist ones.

It's become common to say that the accusations of sex abuse and the resulting terminations of once iconic news anchors, politicians, and entertainers represents some kind of reckoning. I reckon instead that what we are actually experiencing is an awakening from the Dreamworld's Nightmare. Reckonings are necessary to guarantee justice for victims, but by themselves do not change toxic cultures.

For cultural change we need the awakening. What might an awakening mean in the current context?

*In news media it would mean CBS and NBC pledging to hire hundreds of journalists rather than pay multi-millions to "star" anchors like Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer.

*In politics it would mean ending the culture of secrecy that allows the abusers to silence victims with non-disclosure settlements. In Wisconsin, we should push back against the legislature's bipartisan edict that results of the investigations into harassment allegations against state politicians would always be kept secret. (Interesting that this is just about only thing we can get bipartisan agreement on in Madison.).

*In the entertainment industry it would mean not just that we need more women in executive level positions, but we also need an industry commitment to recruit, finance, and promote narratives that reject the gratuitous degradation of women.