Keep Your Dissidents

Reporters Without Borders has just released its Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-dissidents (pdf). It’s mostly a how-to manual for setting up a blog, along with some tips for anonymity. But this group really understands the need for promoting citizen media:

“Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.”

To the extent that this document inspires new voices to come forth, it’s a welcome and useful project. Anyone who has contemplated their own blog, and who needs a little hand-holding, should download this. One of its chief assets is that it reveals how easy it is to get started blogging and shows just how to do it, quickly and for little or no cost.

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Red Media, Blue Media

Leo J. Shapiro and Associates has conducted a study that highlights some interesting distinctions between consumers of various news products and their political affiliations.

Here’s the breakdown by percentage of Dems vs. Repubs for each type of media:

Red Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Republican.

Repub Demo
TV News: 87% 83%
News Radio: 62% 51%

Blue Media:
Preferred by those inclined to vote Democratic.

Demo Repub
Local Newspaper: 78% 70%
National Newspaper: 24% 15%
News Magazine: 21% 16%
Internet News: 43% 38%

The most obvious difference is that Democrats tend to read more than Republicans. The problem is that Blue Media, with the exception of the Internet, has been in decline for some time. Print journalism is struggling with lower circulation and consolidation which results in less competition. In terms of political ad revenue, Red Media receives about 22 dollars for every one dollar spent by political ad buyers on Blue Media.

But, while Red Media is dominated by television, which commands the largest share of political ad revenue, Blue Media’s Internet is growing faster than any other venue. Spending for online political advertising increased 733% in 2004. Editor and Publisher, projecting that Internet growth is likely to continue, says that:

“…newspapers have built some of the nation’s best Web sites, giving them the opportunity at all levels of political races — as well as for issue-driven referendums — to offer powerful advertising and promotion mediums.

This is especially true in the realm of “package message” deals that allow political candidates and their supporters fresh and effective means of reaching established constituencies and new supporters through a combination of print and Web advertising and promotion vehicles.”

This report of the study’s findings doesn’t address online ads other than those on newspaper web sites. That leaves a lot of territory uncovered. Internet service providers like AOL and Earthlink, portals like Yahoo and Google, the web homes of broadcasters like CNN and MSNBC, and, of course, blogs, are sure to be a part of the burgeoning online political ad market.

It would be interesting to see if there was any correlation between the ascendancy of Red Media and the Republican sweep of Washington. And conversely, what effect did the decline of Blue Media have on the political misfortunes of Democrats?

There is a very real risk that lawmakers and regulators will take sides by promoting the media color that skews in their favor. Today that means Republicans advocating laws and regs crafted to further concentrate power in Red Media conglomerates – sort of a media-centered K Street Project. The Internet’s Blueness may not endure either, as the FCC moves forward with its assault on network neutrality, along with other efforts to constrain the net’s ordered anarchy.

The media is not a collateral victim in all of this. They are a full partner. And if we expect to restore anything resembling balance we have to be aggressively vigilant. The information in this study can be useful in deciding how best to reach Blue America.

What color is your Media?

Fake News – Corporate Edition

The Center for Media and Democracy has conducted a study that documents the use of Video News Releases from corporations seeking to promote their products through positive news coverage. These VNRs are produced by corporate PR firms and designed to look like actual news reports. The stations that air them do not disclose their origin and, even worse, often re-record introductions and voice-overs with their own reporters to integrate them further into the station’s broadcast. They also do not fact-check any of the claims made by the VNRs.

The disparity in perceptions about VNRs is demonstrated in a report in the New York Times. They cite Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, as charging that regulating VNRs amounts to government intrusion into the affairs of news broadcasters. Then they quote FCC commissioner, Jonathan S. Adelstein, calling the practice a, “disgrace to American journalism” and evidence of “potentially major violations” of F.C.C. rules.

Clearly the RTNDA is more concerned about preserving the right to distribute propaganda than they are about preserving the integrity and credibility of television journalism. And they obviously don’t care much about the public’s right to know either.

But Ms. Cochran is right on one level when she says, “It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.” While the FCC should be monitoring deceptive practices in the press, the stations are not prohibited from behaving ethically on their own. That may be a lot to ask of an industry that has also aired VNR propaganda produced by government agencies and found to be illegal. has more info on this and makes it easy for you to communicate your views to the FCC. It only takes a minute, but its impact can be substantial.

A Bad Year For Journalists

The International Press Institute has released its World Press Freedom Review for 2005. It presents the details of what is a particularly bad year for the press.

“The high death toll for journalists continued in 2005 with 65 journalists killed. Iraq, where 23 journalists died, remains the world’s most dangerous country for the media. Journalists also died in 21 other countries, including Bangladesh, Haiti, Russia, and Somalia.”

Iraq, in fact, has seen the highest number of media deaths for 3 years running, for a total of 65 fatalities since 2003.

The IPI also noted that political demogoguery (like that from Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Rice) is putting a damper on free speech. IPI Director Johann P. Fritz said:

“A free media has always been essential to democracy; however, 2005 saw a subtle shift in this thinking and there is now a worrying political mindset that views some of the media’s work as damaging to both the war on terror and relations with Islam.”

These figures demonstrate the risk that some journalists accept as requisite to the duty they choose to perform. Iraq’s place at the top of the danger scale is both obvious and tragic. Sadly, these numbers don’t include the tens of thousands of civilians that have been killed.

FCC Chief: Too Many Voices In The News

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, told an audience of newspaper publishers that he supports repealing the ban on cross-ownership that prohibits owning a newspaper and television station in the same market. These rules promote greater diversity for news consumers, but Martin would prefer to pander to the media conglomerates he is supposed to be regulating.

In support of his contention that cross-ownership regs hurt publishers, he raises the point that there are some 300 fewer newspapers today than when the regs went into effect 30 years ago. However, it is far more likely that the decline in papers was caused by too much consolidation, not too little.

Martin made clear whose side he is on and, as evidence of his allegiences, he tells the Newspaper Association of America that it is their responsibility to change public opinion that presently favors current law.

“The public is not convinced of the need to change these rules, and if you can’t convince the public, our chances to do that are dim.”

It might be nice if the FCC were advocating on behalf of the public instead of implying that the only thing holding back the publisher’s rule change is the public’s failure to be convinced of the rule’s harm. It might be nice if the FCC recognized that the public just may know what is in it’s own best interest.

Chris Matthews: Chowderhead

Yesterday, Chris Matthews interviewed Gen. Anthony Zinni and pressed him on the administration’s planning for post-invasion Iraq.

Matthews: Who believed there would not be resistance? What fool thought that a third world country would let us march into their country and start calling the shots without resistance? I mean, I am just saying. Who believes that?

Zinni: Well, I can tell you, the planners at the Pentagon seemed to adopt these very naive expectations and assumptions.

Matthews: What kind of a chowder head would believe that in the middle of the Arab world we were going to face this magical situation where everybody is going to be giving us flowers, the girls are going to be kissing us, they‘ll be jumping on our tanks, in love with our G.I.‘s.

Zinni: Nobody in the Arab world believed it. I talked to all the leaders there.

Then Matthews really lets himself have it: For about a day or two, I was saluting it. It looked like, it was like a P.R. stunt, the whole country was tearing down statues and loving our guys.

There you have it. Matthews is the fool, the chowderhead, that believed the hype – by his own admission. And he is soft-pedalling his seduction by characterizing it as “a day or two.” He stumped for this occupation for months, if not years.

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Feds Fix Fines For Radio Friends

Payola in radio is an old story but, like everything else in the age of new media, it has been made over by technology and a regulatory environment that curtails competition. Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is actively running interference for the radio corporations who have been playing the payola game.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer accused federal regulators Monday of going behind his back to negotiate with radio companies caught in a “payola” scandal, and saying the move undercuts the case he’s been building for years.

The FCC’s efforts on behalf of corporate media giants like Clear Channel and CBS, seek to let them off the hook with fines of about $1 million. Spitzer’s settlements were in the $10 to $20 million range.

Payola is an insidious crime that benefits broadcasters and record labels at the expense of artists, particularly local and emerging artists that are kept off of the airwaves.

Sen. Russ Feingold has introduced legislation to crackdown on this activity, but it has yet to be considered. In the meantime, the FCC is helping their pals avoid the consequences of having violated the current laws.

The Movie Theaters Of Battle

If you, like most Americans, are seeing fewer movies, now you have another reason to stay out of movie theaters. Your money may be being used to promote right-wing propaganda and religious fundamentalism.

Over the past few years, theatrical films have suffered a noticeable decline in attendance. This has been blamed on a variety of factors including quality, content, cable and DVDs, cost, and even competition from other forms of leisure activities like video games and the Internet. The real reason is certainly a combination of all of the above. I would add that the overall experience of seeing a movie in a theater is less satisfying and more burdensome than ever. After having to contend with traffic, parking, crowds, concessions, and then being forced to sit through 20 minutes or more of commercials, it better be a damn good movie. And in most cases, it is not.

Now, in addition to the aesthetic and practical motivations to see movies, Justin Clark at gives us a portrait of Citizen [Philip] Anschutz, the Christian conservative CEO of Regal Cinemas:

Named Fortune’s “greediest executive” in 1999, the Denver resident is a generous supporter of anti-gay-rights legislation, intelligent design, the Bush administration and efforts to sanitize television. With a net worth of $5 billion, he is Forbes ‘ thirty-fourth richest American, two spots above Revlon’s Ronald Perelman. Anschutz heads a vast media empire whose assets include the Examiner chain, twenty percent of the country’s movie screens, and a sizeable stake in Qwest Communications, the scandal-ridden telecom giant he formerly directed.

Anschutz’ empire includes the Regal chain as well as the United Artists and Edwards chains. He also runs National Cinemedia, the largest theatrical advertising firm, and Crusader Entertainment, the producer of the “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Through aggressive acquisitions, Anscutz has formed an exhibition network that wields considerable power in Hollywood. Studios need theaters to play their films, and a major operator can create anxiety for producers if it imposes content restrictions on what it will play. That can serve to suppress free expression as the studios surrender their creative jurisdiction to crusading exhibitors in order to gain access to the widest distribution possible.

What’s happening here is not free-market decision making, but proselytic blackmail. And Anschutz has made it clear that this is his intention. Perhaps it is time for those who care about movies and creative freedom to make their intentions clear with their dollars. You do not have to deprive yourself of movies to do this. Exhibitors make the vast majority of their income from concessions. Abstaining from popcorn and soda (for which they gouge you anyway), you will have a much bigger impact than by not showing up. But it’s important to let them know why their concessions sales are declining.

Tell the manager what’s on your mind. To make it easier, I have made this card that you can print and leave with the manager on your way out. If you’re particularly motivated, print bunches of them and hand them out to everyone in line. Taking back the country means taking back the media, and movies are an important part of that. We can have better, more diverse and more entertaining films, in an ad-free environment, if we’re willing to fight for it. And the result would bring more people back to the theaters. A real win/win proposition.

The Bush Charm Offensive

With approval ratings mired in the low 30’s, and support for the war (and most of the rest of his agenda) in collapse, the president has embarked on a new initiative for American renewal. He is wooing the press.

This is a somewhat surprising development from an administration that consistently blames its problems on the press. This White House has never been able to admit a mistake, only that the media fails present a properly glowing image of its achievments.

However, in the past week the president has been inviting reporters to engage in “off-the-record” trysts where he hopes to seduce them into painting more flattering portraits of his adventures. The media, whores that they are, are lapping it up. With few exceptions, they have accepted the invitations and revelled in the attention showered on them.

Most journalists agree that conversations with the president constitute news and should never be off the record. But some of them just can’t help themselves when granted access to the corridors of power. Meetings like this are worrisome because the public doesn’t know what took place. We don’t know if there were promises made or favors agreed to. The risk that reporters can be influenced to color their reporting by the prospect of scoring future exclusives or leaks is too great to ignore. And even if that never takes place, the secrecy surrounding it chews off a chunk of their credibility because we’ll never know what went on.

Putting aside all suspicion and possibility of ethics breaches, there is another very simple reason to decline such meetings: They have no journalistic purpose. If the reporter cannot disclose what was said (and the White House wanted to keep secret the fact the the meetings even took place), then the only benefit to any party is to the president who is free to spin and/or bribe his guests. That alone makes it shameful for anyone in the media to accept such a tainted invitation.

Fake FEMA Director To Appear On Fake News Show

Michael Brown, the former director of FEMA, will be the guest of Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, March 28. This is comedy at its finest because what could be funnier than a jovial romp with the man that let tens of thousands of hurricane victims suffer in a crumbling sports arena because he wanted to have dinner before the traffic got bad.

There is probably no better venue for Brown because we don’t have to worry about taking him seriously. Plus, he will be able to delight us with the sartorial magic that earned him renown as a fashion god.

It will be interesting to see if Colbert’s character warms up to him for his service in the administration of his hero, George W. Bush, or if he turns on him for not being an obedient scapegoat. Either way, Colbert’s star is rising and he is entering a peculiar world that doesn’t know exactly what to make of him. He is travelling into territory that Jon Stewart has surveyed before, but is he benefitting Stewart’s experience?

I would not want to see him be exploited by cynical politicos that think they can polish their cool by going a couple of rounds with him. While Stewart remains properly aloof from the Washington party circuit, Colbert may be getting a little too cozy. He will be the featured speaker at the White House correspondents’ dinner next month. Now, that’s not so bad, but he also appeared at a blogging symposium organized by Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA), the Vice Chairman of the House GOP Conference. The purpose of the symposium was to educate Republican members and staffers on the benefits of blogging. After appearing on The Colbert Report himself, Kingston showed a clip of the show at a retreat of House Republicans to persuade them to book their own appearances.

Right now, I think Colbert is mostly interested in getting through the first season and being picked up for another. But he needs to be mindful that, with success, come the parasites that seek only to feast off of his blood. If he allows himself and his show to be exploited by the very people it was designed to skewer, he will lose the appeal that makes the show successful in the first place.