Obama To Name Julius Genachowski To Chair The FCC

Remember this name: Julius Genachowski. He appears to be Barack Obama’s choice for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. In that role he will have an opportunity to not only undue a lot of the damage done by Bush’s henchmen in the post, Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, but he can actually make progress toward a more competitive and diverse environment in the media community.

Josh Silver, executive director of the media reform group, Free Press, issued the following statement:

“Under Julius Genachowski’s leadership, the FCC’s compass would point toward the public interest. President-elect Obama has provided a clear roadmap of his media and technology priorities. We share Obama’s goals of creating a more diverse, democratic media system and providing fast, affordable, open Internet access for everyone. We greatly look forward to working with Mr. Genachowski to put the president-elect’s plan into action.

“The challenges facing the next FCC are enormous — a vast digital divide, an open Internet in jeopardy, consolidated media ownership, newsrooms in economic freefall and entrenched industries invested in maintaining the status quo. This moment calls for bold and immediate steps to spur competition, foster innovation and breathe new life into our communications sector. With his unique blend of business and governmental experience, Genachowski promises to provide the strong leadership we need.”

I thoroughly agree. It is encouraging that the FCC will finally be run by someone with the specific skills and experience to address the many challenges ahead – as opposed to the cronies who were installed solely to pursue the interests of Big Media and the friends of a corrupt White House. Kevin Martin was recently the subject of a Congressional report titled “Deception and Distrust” that cited his abuse of power in his role at the FCC.

While we must continue to monitor the actual performance of the new administration, there is a certain sense of relief that a new era is dawning, and I wish Mr. Genachowski well as assumes the leadership of a critical agency overseeing some of the most fundamental rights of American society.

Update: After Genachowski assumes the leadership of the FCC, the outgoing chair, Kevin Martin, will become a fellow at the Aspen Institute. By embracing Martin, the AI has shown that it has pretty low standards for integrity. Apparently they consider it a badge of honor to be repudiated by Congress as deceptive and untrustworthy.

Labor Secretary Designee Hilda Solis On The Media

President-elect Barack Obama announced today that he will nominate Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) to be his Secretary of Labor. Solis has a solid record of advocacy for workers and unions. She has fought for the protection of minimum wage laws and for workplace health and safety. She has creatively combined her interests in the working class and the environment to produce legislation that promotes the creation of “green” jobs. She appears to have precisely the sort of experience and commitment to undue the damage of the Bush Labor Department and set the nation on a more productive and compassionate course. But wait, there’s more…

Solis also serves on the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, which gives her a firm background in matters of the media. In that regard she has been a vocal proponent of increasing diversity in the media and for creating more opportunities for women and minorities.

Solis endorsed the Free Press study that exposed how consolidation in the radio industry narrowed the range of expression on the air and in the management suites. She also challenged the FCC and its Bush appointed chairman, Kevin Martin, to look into media ownership issues. She worked with Media Matters on a project that identified how right-wing broadcasters like Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck were propagating racist myths about immigration.

In short, were it not for her exemplary credentials in the field of Labor, Solis would have made a great FCC commissioner. But even as Labor Secretary there are areas that overlap with the media, and Solis has already proven herself to be a leader in that regard. And it certainly won’t hurt to have her voice in Cabinet meetings when the subject of the media comes up.

Deception And Distrust: The FCC Under Kevin Martin

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce just released a report on the activities of Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin. The report, titled “Deception and Distrust” (PDF) chronicles an agency rife with abuse, manipulation, intimidation, and incompetence. The level of corruption would be shocking if it hadn’t come from the same administration that gave us Alberto Gonzales, Michael Brown, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, etc. The introduction to the report stated that…

This investigation was prompted by allegations to the effect that Chairman Kevin J. Martin has abused FCC procedures by manipulating or suppressing reports, data, and information. Allegations of a broken process at the FCC came from current and former FCC employees, telecommunications industry representatives, and even other commissioners and were often reported in the press.

The report detailed Martin’s attempts to mislead members of Congress by withholding studies that didn’t produce the results he preferred. Then he forced commission staff to rewrite the studies to reverse the findings, even though the data did not support his conclusions. Uncooperative colleagues were dealt with harshly. The result was a collapse of morale in an environment the report calls “a climate of fear.”

Chairman Martin has forced the retirement of senior FCC staff. He has also directed the involuntary transfer of senior staff to lesser positions, often without explanation or notice – a process that was commonly called being “Martinized” or “blue-boxed” – because they disagreed with his policies or agenda…

Under Martin’s dictatorial rule, employees were instructed not to talk to colleagues within the agency without permission. This gag rule was so comprehensive that they were also ordered not to talk to employees at other Federal agencies. Martin further fortified his control by installing a hand-picked Inspector General, Kent Nilsson, who was a close associate, insuring that there would be no independent oversight of his misdeeds. Nilsson himself is alleged to have violated agency procedures repeatedly according to the report.

Kevin Martin is a charter member of the Loyal Order of Bushies. He was on the front lines of the Florida 2000 battle to prevent votes from being counted. His wife Kathie has worked the PR brigade for both Dick Cheney and Bush. For his entire tenure at the FCC, Martin has advocated on behalf of the beleaguered corporations whom he believed were hamstrung by regulations that prevented them from dominating markets and from growing into ever larger monopolies. And now we learn that his administration was modeled on the Stalinist school of management and ethics.

There is a certain irony that this report was released on the same day that Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was charged with multiple counts of corruption in office. While Blagojevich’s alleged crimes are thoroughly repulsive, Martin’s crimes are far more serious with longer lasting consequences. Nonetheless, I have not seen a single report about this on any of the television news outlets.

Barack Obama will have an opportunity to replace Martin shortly after his inauguration, and it will not come a moment too soon. But that won’t stop the rantings from rightist outposts who believe that Obama has secret plans to invoke censorship on conservative talk radio. It won’t stop the pro-monopoly lobby from disparaging common sense, and popularly supported, initiatives to bring more local and independent voices into the public square.

The only way to stop these assaults on the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press, is for the people to take seriously the threat posed by multinational media enterprises whose sole allegiance is to their bottom line. And, of course, we also need to address threats posed by the sort of political cronyism that produced Kevin Martin, who did for the FCC what Katrina did for FEMA.

The FCC Probes Pentagon Propaganda Program – Finally

“World War Three will be a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” ~ Marshall McLuhan, 1968

The FCC is finally beginning to take some action on perhaps the most egregious propaganda assault ever directed at the American people by their own government. From the International Herald Tribune/AP:

“The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday said it is investigating whether five television networks and 19 former military officers violated government disclosure rules in providing on-air analysis of the war in Iraq and other issues.”

It’s about time! The FCC is only now getting around to reacting to reports, originally published in the New York Times last April, that the Pentagon was actively engaging in possibly unlawful activity wherein they supplied supposedly retired military spokespersons to the media who were in fact trained and deployed to promote views favoring the Bush administration’s conduct of the war in Iraq.

Even worse, these unethical officers were simultaneously employed by defense contractors and received financial gain as a result of their brazen propagandizing. It was further disclosed in the Times that many of these spokespersons provided commentary they knew was false in order to protect either their access to the media or their profits. Was that their idea of supporting the troops?

When revealed, the Pentagon acknowledged the potential conflicts and announced that they would temporarily suspend the program “pending further review.” Barack Obama released a public statement saying that he:

“…is deeply disturbed by this latest evidence that the Bush Administration has sought to manipulate the public’s trust. From its misleading case to go to war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11, to its argument for keeping our troops in Iraq indefinitely, the Administration has depended on spin because its assertions have not been supported by facts.”

More than 150 retired officers participated in this program, and most of them worked for – you guessed it – Fox News. However, letters sent by the FCC have only been received by CBS and ABC so far. None of the networks have commented on the investigation.

Another prominent figure who has not commented is John McCain, despite the fact that this issue directly impacts the welfare of American soldiers in harm’s way. McCain, of course, has been as vigorous a defender of the administration’s specious war policy as the lying Pentagon mouthpieces that hyped it. And he’s been just as honest as well.

McCain’s silence on this issue is further evidence of the hypocrisy and disingenuousness of his alleged support for soldiers and veterans. It should surprise no one that the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America gave McCain a “D” for his voting record on veterans issues (Obama got a “B”).

Whether the FCC will conduct a fair and comprehensive inquiry under Republican hack Chairman Kevin Martin is uncertain at this time. But commissioners Copps and Adelstein will do their best to make this a productive investigation. And there is a likelihood that the process will extend into the next (Obama) administration and an FCC with a new Democratic majority.

The Wall Street Journal: Rupert Murdoch’s Bitch

Today’s Wall Street Journal published an editorial castigating FCC chairman Kevin Martin. Normally, that would be an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Martin’s tenure at the FCC has been a gift to Big Media, allowing them to consolidate at will and presiding over a deregulation fest that has benefited everyone but consumers.

However, the reasons for the Journal’s pique are more typical of their reputation for greed and self-interest. The FCC is reportedly prepared to rule against Comcast for blocking legal access to the Internet. At Save the Internet, Craig Aaron has nicely documented Comcast’s violations and laid out the myths versus the realities of Network Neutrality. But that’s not the end of the story.

For the Journal to take up this issue now, they are treading deeply into some serious conflict of interest. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. purchased the Journal last year. The center of News Corp’s universe is Fox News – a cable network. Cable networks depend on carriage from cable operators like Comcast. Murdoch also owns a new cable operation, the Fox Business Network, which is gasping for viewers largely because they lack carriage on enough cable systems to stay afloat.

Now the Journal is coming to the rescue of Comcast. Is Murdoch attempting to curry favor with Comcast, and the cable industry in general, in order to secure more channel space? Does a pimp want to get paid? The ferocity of the Journal’s attack on an otherwise uber-loyal Republican appointee tells the story. The column starts out swinging:

“Bad personnel decisions have haunted the Bush Administration, and one of the bigger disappointments is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin. In his last months as Master of the Media Universe, he seems poised to expand government regulation of the Internet.”

That’s the sort of rancid rhetoric that the Journal usually saves for Democrats. On that measure, the Journal doesn’t disappoint. Delivering what must be the ultimate insult to a right-wing toady, the Journal suggests that Martin is “greasing the skids for a potential Barack Obama Administration.” Remember, we’re talking about a man so devoted to the rightist agenda that he was over-ruled twice by Congress. He never saw a merger he didn’t like. He got his job as a reward for helping Bush steal the Florida election in 2000.

Martin is not the typical target of the Journal’s scorn. But if it means consolidating more power, and making more money, Murdoch will use his house organ to achieve whatever ends he desires. Even if it means beating up one of his prized whores. It’s hard out here for a pimp.

The FCC’s Big Media Welfare Act Of 2007

Tell the FCC: Stop Big MediaAs expected, the Politburo, oops, I mean the FCC voted today to loosen ownership regulations, providing Big Media the opportunity to get even bigger. They split 3 to 2 along party lines with Republicans following their Chairman, Kevin Martin.

Prior to the vote, 26 senators signed a letter to Martin asking that he delay the vote until more research had been done to ascertain the impact of the proposed regs on local media and diversity. They advised the Commission that if the regs were passed that Congress would “immediately move legislation that will revoke and nullify the proposed rule.” Amongst the signers were conservative Republicans like Trent Lott and Ted Stevens.

Despite the warning, the FCC’s Republican majority rammed through the regs showing overt contempt for Congress and the thousands of citizens who attended public hearings to object to Martin’s give-away to the giant media monopolies. Now we must send an unambiguous response to Martin and his cronies. We must reinforce the support we’ve received so far from Congress. It is safe to assume that, even if Congress passes a bill to revoke these rules, the President will not sign it. So we must make sure that we have a veto-proof vote.

This all starts by communicating with our representatives to let them know that we are paying attention and that we will not retreat from this battle. Go to FreePress and sign their “Open Letter to Congress” and then tell your friends to do the same. We beat them before and we can do it again, but it will take the participation of every one of us.

A Steady Diet Of Junk News

Are you happy with the menu of calorie-free entrees dished up Big Media? Do you find endless stories about drunken heiresses and celebrities satisfying? Is being kept uninformed about major issues that actually have an impact on your life acceptable?

If so, you are probably thrilled with state of modern media. Forty-six years ago Newton Minow, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, referred to the media as a “vast wasteland.” Were he here today he might consider the contamination so irreversibly toxic that it would qualify as a Superfund site (bet you didn’t know that the EPA has a program for Contaminated Media).

In the same speech, Minow decried the parade of poor programming that littered the television landscape:

“You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom.”

Aside from the decline of westerns in TV’s civilization, nothing has changed. Some marketers argue that the networks are just giving the people what they want and that the ratings for their low-brow fare are proof of their success. But ratings only measure which of the programs that were provided were watched. They do not measure what might have been watched if something better were provided. What’s more, ratings are not an indicator of quality. If they were, McDonald’s would have to be considered the highest quality food in the country. In fact, this is an area where TV and McDonald’s have something in common. As I wrote in Starve The Beast, they both have…

“…the cheapest crap that is loaded with filler and seasoning to appeal to the largest number of consumers with the least sophisticated taste.”

Kevin Martin, the current Chairman of the FCC isn’t fit to sniff Minow’s shoes (as much as he might like to). He is an unapologetic representative of the mega-corporations that presently dominate the media. He has consistently placed corporate interests above the public interest and now he is trying to rush through a vote on industry-friendly media ownership regulations that are opposed by a majority of the Senate Commerce Committee as well as the public.

Stop Big Media, an affiliate of FreePress, has produced a hilarious and frightening video that illustrates just how low journalistic standards in media have fallen in an era that has been defined by rapid consolidation. If Martin gets his way it will only get worse.

We, the people need to be heard about this – NOW. Martin has made it clear that he doesn’t care what the public wants, so it is now up to our representatives in Congress. FreePress has a simple form you can use to contact your senators. USE IT! And do so quickly because the FCC is voting December 18, which is this coming Tuesday.

FCC Bends Over Backwards For Big Media

The Federal Communications Commission has granted the Tribune Company the waiver it sought to continue operating the newspapers and television stations it owns in the same market. The waiver is required due to a regulation that forbids such cross-ownership. But the decision that produced the waiver was Machiavellian in the extreme.

Rather than grant the waiver outright, FCC chair Kevin Martin and his Republican colleagues actually denied Tribune’s request for an indefinite waiver, while granting a permanent waiver for Tribune’s properties in Chicago. This scheme allows Tribune to move forward with its acquisition by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell without jeopardizing its present newspaper and TV operations. It also allows Tribune to challenge the indefinite waiver denial in court, which itself triggers a two year waiver for all of Tribune’s properties in five markets nationwide. Democratic Commissioner Michael Copps dissented from this opinion saying:

“If this order were a newspaper, the banner headline would read ‘FCC majority uses legal subterfuge to push for total elimination of cross-ownership ban.’ I have to admit, part of me admires the clever legal maneuvering […] Tribune gets at least a two-year waiver, plus the ability to go to court immediately and see if they can get the entire rule thrown out.”

Tribune filed court papers objecting to the FCC decision within days of its issuance, almost as if they were prepared in advance of the decision. What a surprise. And all of this is occurring as Martin is being scrutinized by Congress for alleged abuse of power. Energy and Commerce Committee chairman John Dingell expressed concern that the FCC had not made drafts of proposed rules available to the public before they were voted on, and that Martin routinely withheld details of proposals from other commissioners until it was too late for them to be fully analyzed. In addition, Martin has favored data from outside firms that support his biases even when that data was contradicted by the agency’s own statistics.

Martin is as corrupt in his role as his predecessor, Michael Powell. In case after case he has advocated for the interests of Big Media over the public interest. And he now shows that he is unconcerned with maintaining even the perception of propriety.

Stop Big Media – Support Dorgan/Lott

The FCC’s proposed new rules aimed at advancing the interests of Big Media conglomerates, and permitting them to get even bigger and more powerful, now face a legislative hurdle courtesy of Senators Byron Dorgan and Trent Lott. The bill will force the FCC to move forward with localism and diversity initiatives and to give the public at least 90 days to review the new rules that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin wants to adopt.

The legislation is being introduced to keep Martin from rushing through regulations favorable to his corporate benefactors. Dorgan and Lott deserve credit for serving the interests of the public. A new poll illustrates precisely where the public stands on the matter of media consolidation.

“The survey found 57 percent of respondents favored laws against a company owning a paper and TV station in the same market. That level of support was roughly the same among the political liberals, moderates and conservatives surveyed […] The survey also showed 70 percent of respondents described media consolidation as a problem.”

This fight is a replay of one that the people thought they had won in 2003, when 3 million citizens forced the Congress to rollback regs rammed through by then FCC Chair Michael Powell. They were backed up by the courts who ordered the regs to be withdrawn and revised. Now we have to assert our will again as the same powerful interests attempt to write their own ticket.

And once again FreePress.net is leading the fight for media reform, independence and diversity. Visit their site to add your voice to those already speaking out against this power grab by Martin and the Corporate Media. Your message will be forwarded to the FCC and your representatives in Congress. And you can send your friends and family links to this vital information so that they can do the same.

The contact page is at Stop Big Media.

Don’t put it off. Martin and his masters are trying to push there agenda through before Christmas.

John Edwards’ Letter To The FCC

Responding to the FCC’s proposed new rules for media ownership, John Edwards has written a letter addressed to Commission chairman Kevin Martin. Like his predecessor Michael Powell (Colin’s boy), Martin has drafted a set of rules aimed at advancing the interests of Big Media conglomerates and permitting them to get even bigger and more powerful. Powell’s initiative was halted by over three million Americans rising up to oppose the media’s power play and now we have to do it all over again.

The letter Edwards sent is a great way to reignite this fire. Edwards is showing the sort of leadership that is in short supply in Washington. He is the only candidate of either party to speak so forcefully on behalf of a diverse and independent media.

Some excerpts:

“I urge you to cease your efforts to radically rewrite the rules preventing excessive media consolidation. You and your fellow commissioners have the responsibility to ensure that our nation’s media is open, democratic and as diverse as the American people, and not – like too much of our economy and our political system today – dominated by the wealthiest Americans, large corporations and their lobbyists.”

“The result of all this over-concentration, Mr. Chairman, is a poorer democracy, with a few loud corporate voices drowning out independent perspectives and local participation.”

“High levels of media consolidation threaten free speech, they tilt the public dialogue towards corporate priorities and away from local concerns, and they make it increasingly difficult for women and people of color to own meaningful stakes in our nation’s media.”

This is the kind of courageous and principled action that we ought to be getting from all of our candidates and representatives. Who do they think they are representing anyway? It certainly is not the people if they continue to act on behalf of giant multinational corporations that are only interested in their own wealth and power.

John Edwards deserves a lot of credit for getting in front of this train. The media is quite capable of ruining the reputation and electoral prospects of candidates they oppose or fear – just ask Howard Dean. I urge everyone to reward Edwards with support, donations, or just a few kind words of appreciation. But it is just as important to let the other primary candidates and current members of Congress hear from us about this. We must flood their email boxes and jam their phones. Visit Stop Big Media for more information and assistance with contacting your representatives.