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Rather’s serious charges

One good thing about the charges Dan Rather is making that government and corporations unduly influence the U.S. media is that they’ll be put to the test, in his law suit against CBS for wrongful dismissal. That’s critical because, as with many conspiracy theories, Rather’s allegations are compelling. And — as with all conspiracy theories — there should be a high standard of proof. Can Rather prove his charges?

From today’s CBC story:

Journalist Dan Rather, who recently filed a $70 million lawsuit against CBS for wrongful dismissal, says the U.S. government and large corporations have undue influence over newsrooms.

“Democracy cannot survive, much less thrive, with the level of big corporate and big government interference and intimidation in the news,” Rather said on CNN’s Larry King Live on Thursday night.  

Some context from the New York Times

And here’s Mary Mapes coming to Rather’s defence, on the Huffington Post site, charging that “journalism has become corporatized, trivialized and castrated:”

It has been three years since we aired our much-maligned story on President Bush’s National Guard service and reaped a whirlwind of right-wing outrage and talk radio retaliation. That part of the assault on our story was not unexpected. In September 2004, anyone who had the audacity to even ask impertinent questions about the president was certain to be figuratively kicked in the head by the usual suspects.

What was different in our case was the brand new and bruising power of the conservative blogosphere, particularly the extremists among them. They formed a tightly knit community of keyboard assault artists who saw themselves as avenging angels of the right, determined to root out and decimate anything they believed to be disruptive to their worldview.

To them, the fact that the president wimped out on his National Guard duty during the Vietnam War — and then covered it up — was no big deal. Our having the temerity to say it on national TV was unforgivable and we had to be destroyed. They organized, with the help of longtime well-connected Republican activists, and began their assault.

     (Hat tip to Romenesko)

Continue Reading Rather’s serious charges

Media concentration

Some excerpts of recent stories about this week’s CRTC hearings:

Federal broadcast regulators revealed anxieties over delving into journalistic standards and independence as they heard complaints from unions on Wednesday about the negative consequences of cross-media ownership. Canadian Press story on CBC.ca

Canada’s broadcasters should be required to compete for their licences when they come up for renewal, which would make incumbent companies more accountable and ensure new players can break into the industry, regulators were told Wednesday. Grant Robertson, in the Globe and Mail, reports that a media union wants licence renewals opened to competition to bring more diversity in an era of consolidation.
In context, commercial networks argue that Canadian companies need to grow through mergers and takeovers to compete on a global stage being reshaped by the Internet. On the other side, media guilds, arts advocates and production industry groups argued that consolidation is dangerous to the diversity of broadcast voices in Canada.

The federal broadcasting regulator is learning quickly that if it wants to impose new rules to restrict market concentration, it will do so over the vehement opposition of the country’s big media companies.  The Canadian Press.

The debate over media consolidation in Canada is turning into a fight over who controls access to the millions of television sets across the country. Grant Robertson, the Globe and Mail.

Should the CRTC choose to limit the growth of Canadian media companies, domestic players will be at risk of being swept away by giants such as News Corp. and Google, Quebecor Media Inc. told the broadcast regulator on Tuesday. Paul Vieira, Financial Post
Continue Reading Media concentration

Missing the point

I often wonder how many of today’ media “products” — yes, those things that we used to think of as “journalism” outlets — have gone from aspiring to straight reporting to routinely reporting everything from a premise that our society ought to be run on principles of Economism, a libertarian and free-market perspective that everything is for sale and every public policy decision is about the bottom line of profit-driven corporations. (Disclosure: I am a fiscal conservative and consider myself a centrist.)

What got under my skin was the Ottawa Citizen’s take on this week’s CRTC hearings — an absolutely perfect example of why CanWest, which has rid itself of numerous journalists and columnists who do not have a neo-conservative bent, should not dictate the state of Canada’s journalism by being allowed to run a near-monopoly in many regions.

The story on the Citizen web site does not indicate whether the analysis by Deirdre McMurdy is a report or an opinion column. Perhaps all readers of Canada.com, or the Citizen, know that she’s the Chief Political Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen and a business journalist. Better yet, the Citizen should tell readers her role.

A search shows there’s nothing else on the Ctiizen site so far this week about the hearings, so I assume the Citizen relies on McMurdy’s piece to tell its readers what’s going on. Her piece discusses the alarm in the markets about the prospect of CRTC regulation of publicly-traded media companies. The piece questions the need for this week’s CRTC examination of media consolidation and ownership concentration, and the diversity of voices: “…having summoned the circus to town for five days, the federal regulator has now created the general expectation that a) there is a problem and b) something must be done about it.”  It goes on:

“But the question that many insiders — including those in CRTC ranks — are now asking each other, is just what that problem might be.”

The only thing more nerve-racking for a publicly traded media company than a government regulator looking for a problem, is the one that goes out of its way to create a new one. And given the jumpy state of capital markets, that — at least according to a confidential report from investment analysts at Credit Suisse — is the real danger in this hearing.”

The Citizen piece asserts the common argument that the diversity of the voices in Canadian media “has never been greater” because, in part, of new media and specialty channels, and says there’s an overwhelming consensus among broadcasters on this. in their CRTC submissions this week. (That outright ignores the entire CBC. A correct phrasing would be there’s a consensus among commercial broadcasters with a stake in the lack of new regulations.)  It goes on:

…. All of which leaves the CRTC with three basic options: do nothing, do something, or do nothing and make it look like something. And that’s precisely the sort of soggy turf that the devil likes as a playground.”

The devil’s playground? What about the fact that ownership of Canada’s media playground is the most concentrated in the developed world? The only nod the story gives to the outpouring of concern about journalism in Canada — from the CBC, from journalists, from journalism organizations, from the Senate report, etc., — is quoting Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa talking about net neutrality.

McMurdy’s summary, her last line summing up the
piece, seems to be the Citizen’s definitive word about the CRTC hearings dealing with Canadian journalism — which many of us believe to be a pillar of Canadian democracy. So what nuggets of wisdom do Citizen readers take away after reading the piece? Says McMurdy: “Money, after all, is the universal language.”

Continue Reading Missing the point

Seven Wonders of Journalism

OK, now this is a cool idea.  Poynter is asking everyone to help select the “Seven Wonders of the Journalism World,”for fun and “to remind all of us of the historical forces that help us do our best work today;  and to articulate a set of enduring values that will help protect and advance journalism in unsettled times.”

From Poynter’s “Centerpiece” (sic) column:

We have created a process which, with your help, will produce a product, one that would teach journalism history interactively, reminding journalists of their glorious past — with an eye to the future.

The process will have three parts:

1.    We will ask you to help us nominate “Wonders” in six categories:

Documents (such as The First Amendment)
People (such as Walter Cronkite)
Institutions (such as the BBC)
Events (such as the publication of the Pentagon Papers)
Technology (such as the invention of the telegraph)
Works (such as the front page of the New York Times on Sept. 11)

We have decided that there should be no limits placed on these categories, that they can come from America or other countries, from Western or Eastern cultures.  They can be big and famous or they can be hiding in small places

2.    Let’s imagine that we get, say, 50 nominations for each category.  A Poynter group, with some outside help, would choose 10 finalists in each category.  We would then seed them, like a sports tournament.

3.    Then we would pair them and ask you, our readers, to vote.  The winner would advance to the next round of competition.

As we go along, we will add content.  Links. Bios. Timelines. Images. Sound. Video.  All of this adds to the development of an important and interesting educational resource.  We at Poynter hope you will offer nominations and cast your votes, and help build a resource that will teach and inspire us all.  
 
The eventual list of 85 can be found here.
Continue Reading Seven Wonders of Journalism

Media concentration too high: CBC

“The level of consolidation in the Canadian media industry has reached levels that “in any other country would be considered unacceptable,” Canada’s public broadcaster told regulators Monday at the start of federal hearings into the state of ownership concentration in broadcasting,” reports the Globe and Mail’s Grant Robertson, live online. ““Our view is, generally speaking, the level of concentration is too high,” said Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of English language operations at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.”

Predictably, Stursberg’s comments were instantly contradicted by the  Canadian Association of Broadcasters, which wants no new rules. Robertson’s story quoted Glenn O’Farrell, president of the CAB, which represents the industry, including commercial broadcasters such as CTV, Global, TVA and others.: “We see no diversity deficit in the Canadian system.”

In Vancouver, where I live, citizens subsist largely on a commercial diet supplied by CanWest, which for years has controlled three of the four daily papers (Sun, Province, National Post), two of the main provincial television stations, most of the other dailies in the province including Victoria’s Times Colonist, nearly all of the free “community” newspapers (ie, wrapping for large piles of flyers) that land on local doorsteps, and has been involved in the still-evolving transit newspapers. It’s not quite a CanWest monopoly — options include the Globe (not easily available in  many outlying areas), CTV, CBC in its various forms and a handful of alternative papers and not-quite-mainstream television broadcasters — but anyone who claims there’s no diversity deficit is plain wrong, especially in British Columbia.

BTW, kudos to the Globe and Mail for consistenly reporting on this issue; there has been a deficit of reporting about it in most CanWest papers. (In the past six months the Globe has run 200 stories citing Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, compared to 76 in CanWest’s National Post, which is that chain’s paper of record on financial and national stories. The Toronto Star — which is the country’s largest paper but can be partly excused because it doesn’t claim to be a national paper of record, ran 49 stories.) I think the failure to report on this, including failure to report without bias, is a dereliction of duty and shows why CRTC regulation is needed. Media — specifically journalism  — is of critical public importance and the fact that it’s often almost ignored as a subject by Canadian media, with a few outstanding exceptions, weakens our democracy.
Continue Reading Media concentration too high: CBC

Next?

Toronto Star public editor Kathy English has a column this weekend in which she reacts to a Star manager’s workshop with Newspapers Next. In part, the workshop discussed how newspapers can survive, and the “jobs” that need to be done.

An excerpt:

“… newspaper companies that aim to grow and prosper must resist the “sucking sound of the core,” that might stop us from seeing new possibilities for growth.

That idea leaves me more concerned about the death of journalism than the death of the newspaper.

Journalism, not news on paper, is the core product of the Star. And, in any determination of “jobs to be done,” we should remember this: Journalism is Job 1.

Journalism is more than information. At its best, journalism provides something critical to democracy’s demand for informed citizens able to make informed choices…
Continue Reading Next?

Media responsibility for 2000 U.S. presidential results

“Al Gore couldn’t believe his eyes: as the 2000 election heated up, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other top news outlets kept going after him, with misquotes ….while pundits such as Maureen Dowd appeared to be charmed by his rival, George W. Bush,” writes Evgenia Peretz in a Vanity Fair piece that looks at the media’s treatment of Gore in the U.S. 2000 election and, apparently for the first time, gets Gore and his family to talk about the effect of the press attacks on his campaign.

Peretz makes good points in her argument that the U.S. media was (no doubt still is) obsessed with “simple, character-driven narratives that would sell papers and get ratings” — but I think she lets the audience of media off the hook. Somebody, after all, buys all that junk food for the mind, while intelligent, deeply analytical media attracts far fewer readers/watchers. The problem is not merely with the news media, imo, it’s with civic engagement.
Continue Reading Media responsibility for 2000 U.S. presidential results

ABC Gum

“On many days the newsprint front page tastes of already chewed gum,” says Jack Shafer, in a Slate column reflecting on how his news consumption has shifted to the Internet.

It’s an icky comparison but many of us will recognize the reality that print is already old when it rolls off the press. It’s also “icky” because nobody has really figured out how to make a living off excellent journalism on the Internet.

Continue Reading ABC Gum

War coverage

Canadian media have consistently given priority to covering the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan; today’s Globe and Mail top-front page piece about the death of Simon Longtin of the Vandoos is an example.

In the U.S., however, a weariness with carnage seems to have set in, and there’s apparently lessening appetite in the media for the slaughterhouse that Iraq has become: “News coverage of the Iraq war fell sharply in the second quarter of the year, as the news media paid increased attention to the presidential campaign and the immigration debate, according to a detailed analysis to be released today,” said a New York Times report.

The story was based on the quarterly research report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the PEJ News Coverage Index. That study, which emphasizes U.S. media from a U.S. perspective, can be found here.
Continue Reading War coverage

Russia drops BBC

Is Russia cracking down on foreign media? The BBC was effectively kicked out of the country today.

From a story in the Guardian:

The BBC World Service has lost its last FM radio outlet in Russia today, adding further substance to claims of a clampdown on foreign media by the country’s authorities.
Russian station Bolshoye Radio today notified the BBC World Service that it plans to stop transmission of BBC programming in Russian as of this afternoon.

Bolshoye Radio was due to air BBC content at 5pm but was ordered by its owner, the financial group Finam, to pull the shows or risk being taken off air altogether.

Here’s a Reporters Without Borders press release:

        MONTREAL, Aug. 20 /CNW Telbec/ – Reporters Without Borders is dismayed by
the Russian government’s decision, announced today, to eliminate the BBC from
the FM waveband in Russia.
        “There is absolutely no justification, either political or technical, for
this censorship,” the press freedom organisation said. “Is Russia taking the
lead from China or Zimbabwe, where the BBC is jammed? We hope a rapid solution
will be found to this problem and that the BBC will soon be available on FM
again.”
        The broadcasting of the BBC’s Russian-language programming on FM ended
today. The British broadcaster’s last Russian partner, Bolshoye Radio, has had
to terminate the relationship on the insistence of the Russian authorities.
Finam, the group that owns the station, said it had been told by regulators
that its contract did not allow it to retransmit programmes produced by other
broadcasters.
        BBC Global News director Richard Sambrook said: “We are extremely
disappointed that listeners to Bolshoye Radio will be unable to listen to our
impartial and independent news and information programming in the high quality
audibility of FM.”
        Sambrook called on the Russian authorities to respect the licensing
accord with Bolshoye Radio, claiming that it allowed for a fifth of its
programming to be foreign-produced. Meanwhile, Finam spokesman Igor
Ermachenkov told the Associated Press: “It’s no secret that the BBC was
established as a broadcaster of foreign propaganda.”
        Relations between Russia and the United Kingdom have worsened
considerably since the start of an investigation into the death of former KGB
officer Alexandre Litvinenko from poisoning in London last November.
        Moscow-based Radio Arsenal stopped retransmitting the BBC’s programming
on FM at the end of 2006, while St. Petersburg-based Radio Leningrad followed
suit in early 2007. The BBC’s Russian-language programmes can still be heard
on short wave and on the Internet.

    

-30-
Continue Reading Russia drops BBC