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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Are we losing control of our media, and what impact will it have on our future?

Michael Copps is leaving FCC
From the LA Times Company Town: click here for this story and other industry news.

FCC's Michael Copps worried about media landscape

 April 4, 2013

The media has for the most part put serving the public interest on the bottom of their to-do list.

For over 10 years, Democratic Federal Communications Commissioner Michael J. Copps played the role of Howard Beale at the regulatory agency. Like the TV anchor from the movie "Network" -- the role made famous by the late Oscar-winning actor Peter Finch -- he was often mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.

Copps, who is resigning from the FCC at the end of the month, has always been far more outspoken than the typical regulator. He was unafraid to offend the powerful companies he was charged to keep in line.

Much of Copps' venom was directed at the handful of big media giants -- CBS, News Corp., Comcast Corp., Viacom, Walt Disney Co. and Time Warner -- that own the majority of broadcast and cable networks as well as the local television and radio stations.

While there are hundreds of cable and broadcast outlets, the bulk are controlled by just a few companies. "There are a lot of different puppets, but it is the same ventriloquist in control," Copps likes to say.

It was not unusual for Copps to be the lone vote of dissent when it came to big deals at the FCC. He gave a thumbs down to Comcast's purchase of NBCUniversal this year, saying it put "too much power in one company's hands."

Consolidation, he constantly argued, has led to a lack of diversity both in the executive suites and on the air. Minority and female ownership of television and radio stations is in "abysmal straits," he said in a recent interview with Company Town.

In his view, the mainstream media has for the most part put serving the public interest on the bottom of their to-do lists. Last year, he said television news was "in its hour of grave peril" and not "producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue."

The reason, he suggested, is that consolidation in the local television and radio business resulted in stations "owned by mega-companies and absentee owners hundreds or even thousands of miles away -- frequently by private equity firms totally unschooled in public interest media."

Copps said that the new owners "often look to that newsroom and the number of reporters there and say we can get by on fewer." The end result, he added, is that "resource-rich investigative journalism hangs by a very thin thread." Copps noted that many television and radio stations, as well as newspapers, have cut down on the number of reporters covering the nation's capital as well as their own local governments. 
"In too many cases we have dumbed down the civic dialogue," he said.

Copps would like to see broadband become a bright spot for new voices in the marketplace. However, he fears that the same consolidation that took place in traditional media will happen online as well.
"We're letting broadband go down the same road we let television, cable and radio go down, controlled by too few people," he warned, adding that is a "huge danger to our democracy."
Copps points the finger for much of this at his own agency.

"The FCC has endorsed just about every merger and transaction that has come before it; we seldom meet one we don't like," Copps cracked. The agency, he said, is walking away from oversight of the public interest.

As an example, Copps points to the relaxed rules for television station owners to renew their broadcast licenses. In the past, broadcasters had to renew their licenses every three years and provide comprehensive reports of their news and public affairs efforts. Now it is eight years between renewals and there is much less enforcement of public policy requirements, according to Copps.

"You send a post card and get a license," Copps said.

Copps attributed his brashness to the 15 years he spent working for former Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who was chairman of Senate Commerce Committee, which has oversight over the FCC.
"He was a man who told you what was on his mind," Copps said, adding that Hollings "viewed politics in large part as a process of educating. I kind of got in that mind-set too."
Another factor that gave Copps the freedom to speak his mind was that he wasn't worried about his next job while doing his current one. There is a revolving door between government and business in Washington.

For example, Copps' former colleague Meredith Attwell Baker left her gig as a commissioner to go work for Comcast earlier this year and former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell has had stints in private equity and now is head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn., the lobbyist for the cable industry.

President Obama has nominated Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel to replace Copps and Republican Ajit Varadaraj Pai to succeed Baker.

Copps, who is 71, said he plans to hit the lecture circuit to make the case for "a media that reflects the needs of the people."

FCC's Copps says journalism is in hour of 'grave peril'
FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker defends move to Comcast
Sen. Rockefeller says media is dumbed down

-- Joe Flint

Photo: Chris Kleponis/Bloomberg News

Is Journalism Dead? Can Democracy survive in todays business model for news?



"Nowadays, when stations are so often owned by mega companies and absentee owners hundreds or even thousands of miles away — frequently by private equity firms totally unschooled in public interest media — we no longer ask licensees to take the public pulse. Diversity of programming suffers, minorities are ignored, and local self-expression becomes the exception."



Journalism is in hour of 'grave peril,'

Federal Communications Commissioner Michael Copps is taking aim at the state of television news, which he says is "in its hour of grave peril." In both an interview with BBC World News America that airs Wednesday and in a speech at Columbia University's School of Journalism he is to deliver Thursday, Copps charges that the media is falling far short when it comes to serving the public.

American media is not "producing the body of news and information that democracy needs to conduct its civic dialogue," Copps said in an interview with the BBC's Katty Kay. That trend, he added, has to be reversed or "we are going to be pretty close to denying our citizens the essential news and information that they need to have in order to make intelligent decisions about the future direction of their country.”

COPPS But Copps, who has never been shy about criticizing big media, doesn't just point the finger at them. He says his own regulatory agency allowed much of it to happen through deregulation that cleared the way for a massive consolidation in the industry.

In his remarks to Columbia, which his office provided to the Los Angeles Times, Copps writes: "The place where I work — the Federal Communications Commission — blessed it all, encouraged the consolidation mania, and went beyond even that to eviscerate just about every public interest responsibility that generations of reformers had fought for and won in radio and TV."

As for the digital revolution being able to fill any void left by traditional media, let's just say Copps' Columbia remarks reveal a bit of skepticism:
“What,” you say, “peril in a 500-channel universe? Peril when the touch of a search button delivers a veritable library of mankind’s acquired knowledge to our various digitally fueled devices?  Peril when we can chat online with strangers on the other side of the planet as easily as our parents talked with their neighbors across the backyard fence?”

Though Copps acknowledges there is much to celebrate, he notes, "Increasingly, the private interests who design and control our 21st century information infrastructure resemble those who seized the master switch of the last century’s communications networks." Furthermore, he argues that though there may be many more platforms both on TV and online, the news itself is coming from fewer sources.
In his remarks, Copps paints a grim picture of today's media. He notes that more than half of the 50 states have no full-time reporter covering Capitol Hill. He cites a study by the USC Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism's Norman Lear Center showing that the average 30-minute local news broadcast has less than 30 seconds devoted to local government news. (The research was focused on Los Angeles news broadcasts.)

"If it bleeds it leads, but if it’s democracy’s lifeblood, let it hemorrhage," Copps cracks.
The FCC has oversight over local TV and radio stations but not the broadcast or cable networks. Local stations get licenses from the commission to operate. Copps wants to toughen up the renewal process, which he says today is a "slam-dunk, no-questions-asked" procedure.

Copps wants stations to commit to covering more debates and issues-oriented programming during election years. He also wants stations to be more in touch with the communities they serve.
Writes Copps: "Nowadays, when stations are so often owned by mega companies and absentee owners hundreds or even thousands of miles away — frequently by private equity firms totally unschooled in public interest media — we no longer ask licensees to take the public pulse. Diversity of programming suffers, minorities are ignored, and local self-expression becomes the exception."
-- Joe Flint
For the rest of the story and additional meidia and showbusiness news click here to go to Company Town at the LA Times.


Daniel Schorr on the perils of the poor

"It took a recession to reveal the full effects of the welfare restrictions. It's hard to get people to go from "welfare to work" when there is no work" reported NPR Senior News Correspondent Daniel Schorr, a seasoned newscaster and commentator going back six decades. At 94 he may be the oldest and most experienced working American journalist.

On Wednesday's "All Things Considered"
Schorr speaks honestly on the network about his views on welfare, social security and the way our society is shifting to very poor and very wealthy. His view is an educated one, having lived in various countries, worked under the tootilage of "Edward R Murrow's boys", lived and reported through over a half a decade of history and interviewed most every president during his tenure as a reporter.

I suggest you listen to the full commentary rather than simply read the text summary.

What are your feelings and/or observations on what he has to say?

How do you feel about the topic covered?

Photos from inlude Daniel Schorr just before his 90th birthday in 2004, and Schorr on NBC's "Meet the Press" in 2001.

Since this was first posted, Daniel Schorr has passed way and is missed by NPR listeners, the journalism community and all of those who respect history, facts, and percpective. Click here for photos, audio and obit from July 23, 2010. Schorr was 94 and still working.

What will our society become?

What we have lost is the sense of obligation to cover the news, even if people are not interested, it is boring, it is costly, it is complex or it is unpopular.

Journalism of the Internet age has become about what people want to believe, not what they should, about being mad at the other guy rather than understanding them, finding what supports what you think rather than what may be true or at least need to be known to move forward.

It has contributed to stalemate in government, both parties, students telling teachers what they can and cannot teach, broadcasters showing only what the majority or mean common denominator want to see and hear instead of that needs to be seen or heard.

What direction will the world go? What world are we leaving our grandkids and great grandkids?


Freedom of the press

"We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home." 

-- Edward R. Murrow

Originally posted in October, 2009

Should we have free access to information or be made to pay for it? Would that create a wealthy elite running a country of easily let sheep? Do you believe in the free flow of information or should it be controlled and limited? How about blogging, text messages, Twitter, FaceBook, and other social media? Does it bother you that those who write may not know what the heck they are writing about? Or that others can spy on you and access the information even years or decades later? Is the media dead and dying? How do you feel about the loss of newspapers and the trained journalists they employ? Or the evolution and changes from journalism to entertainment news?

What will be the impact of media convergence? What are the trends shaping what you think you know, where it comes from and who decides what is the truth? What direction will our right to information take? Or will we lose it as a right, replaced by a privileges for the wealthy or educated elite who are willing to pay for information? What would happen if we lost free access to information, and the ability to reason and make decisions based on open and accessible information? What happens to society if we stop the free flow of news and needed information?

It has long been said that students do not consider anything that happened before they were born worth studying and learning about. But time should be spending covering and learning about societies where information was carefully controlled, crafted and manipulated. From William Randolph Hearst in the US, and the Spanish-American war, to Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin’s masterful use of propaganda, modern societies have shown themselves a susceptible to being lead and misinformed by, and gladly believing and following those who decide what is right, or true or worthwhile. We face that same reality if we do not defend our freedom of information, speech and ability to seek our divergent, contradictory and even controversial ideas, thoughts and versions of reality.

Free speech must be defended, and open and diverse professional news media, the rights of citizens to report and share news and ideas and our ability to make our own decisions, in the ballot box, in court rooms, in our everyday lives. Informed decisions.

This was written in November, 2009 and updated several times up to and including the posting you are reading.

Why do we hear only what we want to hear?

In our heavily mediated world, with sound bites, slogans, small groups able to build support and communicate using everything from cell phones to Internet, sociologist have identified the formation of  "communities" where once they could not exist. No matter what your view or your ideology, you can find others who believe with you on a world wide scale.

The more you invest in communicating and being a part of this group defined by "special interests", the greater the feeling that these beliefs and perceptions are far more universal then they are. You begin to view the world through a prism that tells you that you are correct, right, and that "everyone" agrees with you.

As that develops, in social groups, a wall develops around the group and the individual, not unlike the walls that were built around Medieval cities or the fences we build around our homes, schools and communities. The need develops to keep out those who might not agree or any threat to the group.

So, why do we hear only what we want to hear?

Because in an age of mass communication we are bombarded with messages and our natural reaction is to erect walls, and allow only what or who we wish to have come through the gateway. We have no choice, but in doing so we close ourselves to others and the universe becomes "us" vs. "them", or "right" vs. "wrong" without any room for compromise or even a willingness to let others into our sphere, unless they are converted to whatever we believe or say.

So we are, in an age of far greater access to information than ever before in history, drifting toward a "dark age" of walls and defensive barriers.

One theory is that the volume and access of information is making these walls possible, and reinforcing them with steel and barnacles.

We can now read only what we want to read, see only what we want to see, hear only what we want to hear.

Is there a parallel to declining verbal literacy? To declines in education? To rapid shifts in politics and a lack of willingness to work with opposing views?

Do you think we listen to all views?

If you do what do you do to open the windows and doors?

What gets in the way in your life? In the world around you?

This topic is very current in communication, sociology, psychology, political science and all forms of liberal arts social studies, because the trends and evolution will impact our future.