Category "Media and Democracy"

Are We Finally Turning a Corner In Our Toleration of Media Fabrications and Distortions?

February 22nd, 2015 by Andy in Media and Democracy

With all the hoopla swirling regarding the “controversy” over Brian Williams fabricating war stories, and now one of his biggest critics, uber-bloviator Bill O’Reilly caught in his own web of absurd storytelling, it’s as if our media has become like some kind of dark fun house of mirrors, each one increasingly distorting the distortion reflected by the other. This is by no means a recent phenomenon, of course.

But I’m wondering if its coming to a head, if the gradual degradation of its ability to report and inform, thanks in large part to the rise of various neoliberal policies which have resulted in in the dismantling of so many barriers between journalistic processes and the desire for ever-increasing corporate profits at any cost, is reaching a turning point. Have people’s desire for actual, rational, empirically-based discourse finally been stretched to the breaking point, where they just won’t accept the mental flotsam of infotainment and shock value headlines, that might get immediate ratings but have no intellectual caloric value? Is this wishful thinking on my part, or are enough people actually hungry enough to really stop buying into the bulls**t, and like one’s physical immune system, becoming more inherently resilient to the obvious pablum of lies and nonsense that has been peddled so shamelessly, and increasingly so, by the power elites in this country?

I know H.L. Mencken famously stated how no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, and unfortunately he was onto something there. But there are number of counter examples as well, of people eventually coming around to figuring some things out, and acting in a way that led to some profound changes in the structure of our society and in the course of our collective history (abolitionism, worker’s protections, women’s rights, etc.). Things that were considered simply unchangeable have on occasion, within a generation, been completely transformed. Perhaps we could do the same with how our information and communication systems are structured - who and how control over how journalism works; how our communication systems are owned and managed; how we provide access to people to utilize them, particularly for purposes other than those aimed at monetizing all communication; how surveillance over these networks functions; how people can be better educated in media literacy skills, not only in how to effectively use these mediums, but how to be more resilient to the negative effects of the disinformation and propaganda that pollutes them, etc.

Maybe it’s idealistic to consider these things (but then every single example of personal and social human progress was at its inception). But the alternative seems not only unpalatable to me, but thoroughly untenable. At least that is if we are to have any notion of living in a society that has any real value and merit when it comes to being a place worth not just existing in, but fully living in.

The GOP is Actively Working To Prevent Local Ownership of Broadband Service

February 3rd, 2015 by Andy in Media and Democracy

This is what the GOP in the House has voted to keep from happening in your hometown, and another reason why what is transpiring right now regarding FCC deliberations over regulatory policies regarding the internet are so important.

Both of the major U.S. business parties are beholden in various ways to corporate interest, but the GOP is off the charts in that regard, using politics to protect the likes of Comcast, and prevent a “public option” from being applied to the internet. Chattanooga and a few other cities that have led the way in making this happen, have proven all too well that public broadband not only works, but is superior to anything TW or Comcast is going to provide. Thus, it must be squelched.

House Votes to Save Bans on City Internet Service

Republicans want to stop the FCC from preempting state laws

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, spearheaded the amendment that would bar the FCC from using any funds to prevent states from imposing limits on city broadband. The amendment, which is attached to a fiscal 2015 spending bill, passed mostly along party lines in a 223-200 vote.

Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee would be a likely first target for FCC action.

Chattanooga, Tenn., has rolled out a high-speed fiber Internet network for its residents. The service, called “Gig City,” offers speeds about 50 times faster than the national average for about $70 per month.

A state law, however, is keeping the city from expanding the service to other communities that want it, according to the city’s mayor.

As my colleague Michael E. stated (though I would reiterate the fact that we do have very dismal communications policy)…

“Let’s see . . . Congressional representatives owned by telco interests vote to protect the rights of their State legislators who have also been bought by the same corporate interests. This isn’t so much about the dismal state of communications policy in the US as the need for major campaign finance reform.”

This is all pretty sick stuff.

Here’s one relatively recent report regarding what’s transpired in Chattanooga, giving some good insight into why having a publicly owned broadband system can be so tremendously vital to the well-being of our communities in the 21st century.

Fast Internet Is Chattanooga’s New Locomotive

CISPA - Time To Again Stop This Terrible Legislation

January 20th, 2015 by Andy in Media and Democracy

Like a zombie from the crypt, this terrible rights-killing legislation comes crawling back to consume our internet. Please read about this important issue and sign on to stop it - again. And pass it on…

Congress has officially re-introduced CISPA

CISPA is a law that would give the NSA even more access to our data and let big corporations off the hook when they violate our privacy. And Congress is trying to pass it again.

CISPA is officially back for the third time. And Congress wants to pass it badly.

Just last week, Representative Dutch Ruppersberger re-introduced CISPA to Congress. You can read the 2015 CISPA bill text here.

This marks the third time Congress is trying to pass the bill to allow corporations to share our personal data with governments loosely. In addition, the 2015 version of CISPA would create a data sharing program between the Department of Homeland Security, Director of National Intelligence, and Secretary of Defense, with no accountability measures outside of their own agencies. Not only that, but any data shared would be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act.

The NSA and members of Congress want to pass CISPA so badly, they’re scapegoating the SONY hacks over the Interview as the reason this law is back. The truth is that CISPA could not have prevented those hacks, and even Representative Ruppersberger couldn’t explain how it could have. Congress and the NSA are using the same hysteria over cyber security time and time again to try to ram CISPA into law.

CISPA won’t prevent hacking. It will be used and abused to conduct even deeper surveillance into the lives of Internet users worldwide. You can stop them by taking action again. We’ve stopped CISPA before, let’s do it again. Please sign the petition and share it with your friends.


What’s Wrong with CISPA? (in as few words as possible)

As it’s written in the version that passed the House, CISPA won’t protect us from cyber threats, but it will violate our 4th Amendment right to privacy.

The NSA wants it badly, because it will give them more access to your data, and give companies immunity for legally shaky programs like PRISM:

It lets the government spy on you without a warrant.

It makes it so you can’t even find out about it after the fact.

It makes it so companies can’t be sued when they do illegal things with your data.

It allows corporations to cyber-attack each other and individuals outside of the law.

It makes every privacy policy on the web a moot point, and violates the 4th amendment.

Read The Full Report and Sign The Petition

Inventor of The Web Calls For ‘Internet Bill of Rights’

April 13th, 2014 by Andy in Media and Democracy

I couldn’t agree more with Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his declaration here. In fact, I created a graduate program a number of years ago, the premise of which was basically the underlying principles that Lee is referencing here. Communication is fundamental to our humanity.And in a modern, mass mediated, digitally networked technological society, our right and ability to communicate becomes dependent upon our capability to access and impart information over these networks. Who controls these networks, who and how access to them is managed, becomes an issue of preeminent importance.

The inventor of the world wide web believes an online “Magna Carta” is needed to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee told the Guardian the web had come under increasing attack from governments and corporate influence and that new rules were needed to protect the “open, neutral” system.

Speaking exactly 25 years after he wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the world wide web, the computer scientist said: “We need a global constitution – a bill of rights.”

Berners-Lee’s Magna Carta plan is to be taken up as part of an initiative called “the web we want”, which calls on people to generate a digital bill of rights in each country – a statement of principles he hopes will be supported by public institutions, government officials and corporations.

“Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

Read The Full Article

Fighting For Internet Rights

October 24th, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy, Video

This is one of the the key issues in the advancement of human rights in the 21st century. Yes, human rights, in that communication and information rights are the nexus of power in our modern, digitally-networked “Information Age” (much the same way labor was the defining point of rights-based struggles during the Industrial Revolution). This short video does a good job in explaining some of the ramifications involved in what happens to the Internet, how it functions, who controls it, etc., and why we need a new series of updated laws to that protect our constitutionally-protected rights to speech and privacy. Well worth the six minutes it takes to watch it.

Michael Woodridge makes some good observations about the video on Truthout

“…the infrastructure [of the internet] - the “tubes” that connect us - in the United States are all owned by a handful of private companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner. The platforms we use on the Internet, such as Facebook and Google, are also run on servers owned by those private companies.

We relinquish any rights we have the moment we sign up for any of these companies’ services. The Bill of Rights does not apply to this privately owned space, nor do these companies honor those rights. Our data and information is theirs to package and sell, censor and limit.

Laws to protect any of these rights don’t exist. The laws currently governing the online realm date back 20 years, when the Internet was in its fledgling state. Currently, Internet-related bills that are up for discussion threaten to make things worse.The Stop Online Privacy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (often referred to collectively as SOPA/PIPA) would have severely crippled the way we can create and distribute content online. A new bill called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) currently being marked up in closed hearings in the House would take away our right to sue private companies for turning over our information to the government or each other. Reform of the vague Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA), which many criticized after the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, threatens to become more narrow-minded and harsh. 

Insist that your representatives oppose these dangerous and corrupting laws. They have no place within a free society.

Empowering Human Rights Through Video: An Interview with Sam Gregory of WITNESS

October 2nd, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy

Empowering Human Rights Through Video
USTV Media producer Andy Valeri interviews Sam Gregory of WITNESS

WITNESS is a groundbreaking organization using video training and technology to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.

Sam Gregory is the program director at WITNESS. He is a video producer, trainer, and human rights advocate. In 2005, he was the lead editor on Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism (Pluto Press). In 2007, he developed the WITNESS Video Advocacy Institute, an intensive two-week training program. He has worked extensively with grassroots human rights activists in Latin America and Asia, particularly Burma.

Here, in an interview with Community Media Review Guest Editor Andy Valeri, Gregory discusses the importance of the work done by WITNESS, from its day-to-day efforts in the defense of human rights on the ground to its broader role in the expanding movement for establishing fundamental communication rights among all people.

Just how important is the use of mediated communication as a tool for the advancement of human rights and social justice?

Mediated communication functions as a tool for information sharing and, more importantly, organizing and connecting between groups with shared interests or a common problem, whether that be laterally or vertically in a country, or across national borders. So they are critical instruments for human rights campaigns, which rely on effective documentation and the mobilization of people within and across borders.

When WITNESS was created in 1992, following the Rodney King incident in the United States, the idea was very of the moment - drawing on the potential of the increasingly popular consumer handicam to document abuses. Yet, in retrospect, it’s clear how preliminary that moment was. Now, aided by the spread in low-cost, high-quality technologies, video and moving image media are becoming increasingly ubiquitous and multi-form (even though a considerable digital divide exists in terms of access, literacy, and skills both within and between societies across the globe). To us - based on our conversations with both international and local human rights defenders - it is clear that video will soon be discussed as part of every communications and advocacy strategy. This is because video production and distribution is emphatically no longer the exclusive realm of the professional: We have widespread tools to film present in tools that four billion people carry with them on a regular basis, i.e. the cell-phone; and dramatically increased capacities to share media via [a multitude] of cheap formats.

Increasing moving image creation, usage, and literacy also defines much of the experience of a connected younger generation, particularly in the Global North and within certain sectors of Global South society. Consequently, use of video - including, particularly, mobile video - has publicized and documented many emerging human rights struggles from Rangoon to Oakland to Tehran. Use of video characterizes many vibrant citizen media spaces that fill niches long ignored or abandoned by the mainstream media. Video is the “tool of choice” for many human rights struggles.

How does the role of organizations such as WITNESS and the kind of work you do advocate for the establishment of communication as a fundamental human right in and of itself?

In order to guarantee other rights, communication rights are key. To know their rights and understand them, to communicate and organize around them, and to hold people in power accountable, people need the ability to access and share information.

Almost all the situations in which WITNESS is operating with grassroots partners are at heart about how information, crafted into narratives, is deployed to secure attention and redress for rights issues. Typically these very issues have been neglected, ignored, or misframed by those in power and with better access to communication tools, to the detriment of victims, survivors, and affected communities.

A first step in securing such redress is clear information-sharing and solutions-proposing, both within affected communities and with others who have the responsibility or agency to secure change. This could be communities in urban and rural Cambodia facing forced eviction like our work with partner HereLICADHO ( licadho). It could be sex workers in Macedonia confronting police misconduct and abuse, as with our recent partner HOPS (Healthy Options Project Skopje). Or it could be people in the U.S., led by our partner the National Council on Aging, pushing against hidden patterns of elder abuse ( In some cases, an information gap exists, so the sex workers in Macedonia have never had the opportunity to directly communicate their experiences to police officers with whom they have a conflicted and complicated relationship. In other cases, it’s a question of information being used to engage and mobilize a community to understand better their own dilemmas. For example, local human rights group Ajedi-Ka is engaging villagers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo around preventing the voluntary recruitment of child soldiers in their communities by using video (see On the Frontlines).

We live in a visual age where images seem to have more power and currency than the written word. How do you see the work of WITNESS in relation to this transition in the processes of global communication, and what effects do you see it having on the development in the course of your work and the work of human rights?

We are definitely in the midst of a moment of tremendous growth in visual media production at all levels of society, circulating both offline, mobile-to-mobile, and online. This content is most visible online, where a growing abundance of peer-produced content “for the good” is circulating across social networks, video-sharing sites, and blogs. Notably, however, much information is difficult to navigate or impossible to absorb, and it is unclear whom to trust.

Also, despite this proliferation of new spaces for communication and exponential growth in content, human rights spaces and advocacy approaches - formal and informal, new and old, virtual and physical - are nowhere near the saturation point of effectiveness in using moving images for change. An increase in media literacy, access to and creation of video is not matched by a “literacy” in strategic use of video for change (what WITNESS has popularized as “video advocacy”). This is particularly true in terms of creating, sharing, and viewing targeted, timely, compelling video that provides the impetus and the opportunity to act.

Strategic, directed, impact-driven use of video remains underutilized as an intervention by either NGOs or citizen networks in spaces including treaty monitoring systems, legislative debates, lobbying of decision-makers, and community organizing. Many human rights actors do not yet have the skills, connections, or experience to organize or coordinate others’ audiovisual media, including citizen media content in spaces like YouTube or the Hub. This is in order to create their own targeted advocacy media for specific audiences, collaborate to develop compelling material with professional or citizen storytellers, link their strategic use of video to new technologies that enhance creation, distribution, and debate, and increase diversity of content and range of modes of circulation to secure concrete impacts in crowded information environments.

How do you envision expanding the distribution and exposure of your content and that with a similar rights based focus?

Our focus has often been on strategic distribution of video content rather than broader exposure of the material for a general audience. We view this as particularly important in an area of growing information glut, where, as Susan Sontag said in Regarding the Pain of Others, “Image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content. Image-flow precludes a privileged image.”

With many rights issues, a mass audience or mainstream space may never be the audience that is going to engage and take action on the issues, either domestically in their home country or internationally. With our Hub website, however, we have tried to highlight key examples of human rights media successfully being used to create change. Based on the lessons learned from the Hub, we are now also actively engaged in thinking about how to push some of these human rights values into mainstream video spaces online in a way that motivates people to action, but in a way that does not needlessly endanger the people filmed or those who speak out. This involves engaging the stakeholders around the ethical issues of ubiquitous cameras in situations of human rights violations. For an introduction to some of the questions we are posing, check out our presentation at Cameras Everywhere.

To what do you attribute the effectiveness of your video training programs, and how can that effectiveness be replicated or expanded through partnerships with other groups or institutions doing citizen media training?

We’ve looked to develop a wide range of training approaches and methodologies to fit a range of potential scenarios and depth of engagement with different actors. For example, we have ongoing training relationships - focused as much on strategy and advocacy distribution as on direct production - with individual partner human rights organizations at a grassroots level around the world. We work on those relationships based around a template Video Action Plan developed in partnership with an organization.

For more light-touch collaborations, and as tools that could be used by other training institutions, as well as self directed learning, we developed our book Video for Change and five-minute animations reinforcing key principles of effective video advocacy, our “Guides to Video Advocacy.” We also developed a two-week intensive Video Advocacy Institute curriculum.

On the Hub, we’ve focused one of our strands of coverage on highlighting key examples of successful use of video for change, as well as key ethical dilemmas that rights advocates deploying these new technologies may face. Among my favorite posts are the Top 10 Editor’s Picks and Iran Protests: A Woman Dies on Camera: to post or not to post?.

Over the coming year, we’re also looking to expand our training programs in a new direction: developing an online video action strategy toolkit that will enable self-directed learning that leads to a concrete and usable work product in a campaign. Also - reflecting just such trends as you mention toward increasing numbers of groups, collectives, and institutions providing citizen media training - we’re focusing on how we could provide additional training and support on advocacy-focused media usage to other training groups, as well as utilize our online spaces to share best practices and training approaches that work.

You state there is an overwhelming demand for training in the use of video for human rights and social justice advocacy. Do you see ways other institutions, such as public access facilities and community media centers, as well as communication programs in schools and colleges, potentially serve as partners in helping to fulfill that need?

We absolutely see the future of training in video advocacy being its mainstreaming into the spaces where current and future advocates congregate and learn. Many of our materials are intended to be adaptable for these programs. We’ve also explored how we could develop scalable modules to use in practitioner training for both communication faculties and public policy faculties.

Essentially, WITNESS coordinates its work through four programmatic initiatives:

1) Via our campaign partnerships with individual groups, as well as networks of human rights organizations/groups, working with them to integrate video into strategic advocacy on a range of human rights issues globally. This has included - for example - work supporting legislation to protect elder rights in the U.S., pushing for effective regional action on politically-motivated violence against women in Zimbabwe, and addressing forced evictions in Cambodia.

2) By providing training in using video for advocacy, including online toolkits and training videos/guides, and encouraging knowledge-sharing of best practices in using video for change, particularly via our WITNESS/Hub blog.

3) Through contributing to building a stronger human rights video for change movement by engaging in research and advocacy to policymakers, other human rights organizations, funders, and technology providersС for example, around addressing human rights safety, security, and consent issues present in online human rights video; and

4) In maintaining an archive of over 3,000 hours of human rights footage, primarily from our partner organizations worldwide.

This essay was originally published in an issue of the Community Media Review on “Community Media and Human Rights” (Volume 33, Number 1), on the use of citizen-based media in support of human rights, as well as the recognition of the very process of communication as as a fundamental human right.) The CMR is the long-time flagship publication of the Alliance for Community Media.

The original CMR article can be found Here

Killing Public Access?

October 1st, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy

This posting by Alexandra Coakley at the New America Foundation provides a good synopsis of the history of public access, what it is, why it is, and where it is heading today. Access is under serious assault, one driven by both ideology (commercial speech holding reign over public, non-monetized means of communication), as well as a misperception that access is simply the institutionalization of an outdated technology (cable television), and it no longer serves a meaningful purpose in our net connected age of YouTube and such. This misses the fundamental point that it is about access, and providing both the education and the means for people to be able to communicate in among their community using the prevalent technologies of the day, whatever they may be.

And for those who say that the public doesn’t need access to the standard cable channels in our age of the internet, that it is no longer where audiences are, I’ll believe that to be true as soon as the Super Bowl is no longer made available on television, and is transmitted exclusively over the internet.

Public access television began as a dream and a struggle of community activists. They saw in cable a new platform for alternative voices—a counterbalance to the gridlocked political commentary that dominated commercial news channels. And for many, public access TV became an effective way to engage local constituents and spur discussion. Gearing up for his 1996 bid for the Illinois Senate, a young Barack Obama shared his political journey in his first televised interview on a government-access cable program—Connie Martinson Talks Books. But today, mainstream media—from Fox News to MSNBC—has subverted community cable. And its advocates are sounding the alarm.   

“In this democracy, we should have the ability to use our airwaves—it’s basic,” said Tonya Gonzalez, Vice President of Public Affairs for DCTV, in a recent conversation at New America about how cable and telephone industry lobbying has undercut Public, Educational and Governmental Access Channels, or, “PEG Channels.” Mark Lloyd, moderator and Director of New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative, kicked off the discussion with a key question: How is PEG funded today and why is it in trouble?

In theory, PEG is still funded by the citizens. Bunnie Reidel, director for American Community Television (ACT), explained that cable companies lay their wires on public routes maintained by taxpayer dollars. Because of this, the 1984 Cable Act allowed local governments to negotiate with small-scale cable providers and reserve an agreed upon percentage of funding and airtime for public access programming. But since then, the cable industry has expanded and modernized. Cable and telephone conglomerates like Comcast, Time Warner, and AT&T bought out smaller cable operators and launched massive lobbying efforts aimed at state governments. They sought to limit the negotiating power of local franchise authorities, and they’ve been hugely successful. According to a 2011 Buske Group and Alliance for Communications Democracy study on the state of PEG , new state franchising laws enacted in 2005—coupled with local government cooperation—have closed PEG Access Centers in 100 communities across the country, with hundreds more estimated to be at risk for closure or significant funding cuts over the next three years.

“But isn’t the audience the determinant of what gets on the air?” Lloyd asked what the demand for PEG looks like—especially in an era virtually desensitized to commercialism and inundated with newer, faster media outlets. It’s complicated, the panelists noted, because cable company power-grabs have depleted PEG channels of the funds necessary to revive public enthusiasm. Many studios lack up-to-date equipment, let alone marketing budgets. The 1996 Telecommunications Act has also prevented PEG centers from using public support fees for operational costs, limiting their ability to improve programming. In the meantime, the public seems to have forgotten that they have a right to their airwaves. That’s a problem, because Public Access TV is meant to give voice to its audience—protected from commercial interests.  

Robyn Holden, a producer and program host at DCTV and the founder of The National Media Consortium, relayed her experience as a local elected official in Washington to underline how PEG serves a democratic role unmet by commercial programming. She produces a show at DCTV called “The ANC and You,” which provides information on DC Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners—local politicians one rung beneath city council members, and the officials most in touch with the concerns of their immediate communities. ANC commissioners typically engage with 50 to 100 people at community meetings, but Holden argued that PEG allows this kind of micro-level discourse broader reach. In her own term as an ANC commissioner, she noticed that identical concerns were raised in multiple jurisdictions. What they needed, she said, was high-quality, Public Access programming to unite people on the issues—within and across disparate municipalities.   

Public Access TV supporters are fighting back. PEG is embracing social media to get the message out—DCTV streams its programs live on any mobile device. And ACT is rallying support for the CAP Act , which will restore PEG funding in the states where it’s been slashed and expand the ways that PEG Access Centers can allocate that funding—including operational overhead. The CAP Act will also help to reinvigorate support by requiring that cable operators transmit PEG channels at no cost to the local government.

For many communities, PEG remains a well-kept secret. But the panelists believe that this can change. The challenge now will be to remind voters that Public Access TV is still a relevant and needed pillar of local political life.

Read the original post on In The Tank: A Blog From The New America Foundation

The Impact of Monopolizing Telecommunications Corporations on The Public Interest

January 31st, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy

Telcos have done more to repeal and circumvent public interest obligations than any other industry. Leveraging their 4g bandwidth to relay television sounds suspiciously familiar. It’s worth keeping in mind that AT&T once had the monopoly on national radio broadcasting, since the early radio networks had to rely on AT&T’s control of telephone lines as relays between city transmitters. As the network provider, the phone company has always leveraged it’s power to be the main player in broadcasting. And it was AT&T who dramatically altered the original Communications Act, fending off widespread support for ‘real’ public interest spectrum set-asides with their model of ’selling airtime’ which they sold to regulators as a more democratic solution to radio bandwidth scarcity. The commercial concept of ‘buying time’ is something we can thank/blame AT&T for - and it has altered the paradigm of mass communications in the US ever since.

I recommend reading Erik Barnouw for a thorough history of US broadcasting.

- Posted by Michael Eisenmenger for USTV Media

Update: On a related note, there is a new study just released from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which states that broadcast and cable networks donate 17 seconds an hour to airing free public service announcements. That represents one half of 1 percent of all television programming. For local charities from 2000 to 2005, ads decreased on broadcast stations from 33 percent to 26 percent and on cable stations from 20 percent to 6 percent.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sedition Against American Democracy

January 19th, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy

So America has reached this sad point, where news that would have at one time caused a constitutional crisis, is now relegated to the “Style” section of the Washington Post. As Carl Bernstein reports in The Guardian, his former partner in breaking the Watergate story, Bob Woodward, has unveiled an astounding story of Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to “hijack” what’s left of American democracy, through his active recruitment of Gen. David Patraeus as for the Republican candidate for president. The audaciousness of this act was matched only by a countervailing lack of any real interest or response by America’s political establishment or by its mainstream corporate press. As Bernstein put it, “It’s All the President’s Men (at Fox News) and essentially no one cares.”

So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch’s ultimate and most audacious attempt, thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance, to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire, notably Fox News, to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.


The tape that Bob Woodward obtained, and which the Washington Post ran in the style section, should be the denouement of the Murdoch story on both sides of the Atlantic, making clear that no institution, not even the presidency of the United States, was beyond the object of his subversion. If Murdoch had bankrolled a successful Petraeus presidential campaign and – as his emissary McFarland promised – “the rest of us [at Fox] are going to be your in-house” – Murdoch arguably might have sewn up the institutions of American democracy even more securely than his British tailoring.

As Tom Engelhardt of the always-relevant remarked regarding this astoundingly manipulative power grab…

And here let us posit the following: were an emissary of the president of NBC News, or of the editor of the New York Times or the Washington Post ever caught on tape promising what Ailes and Murdoch had apparently suggested and offered here, the hue and cry, especially from Fox News and Republican/Tea Party America, from the Congress to the US Chamber of Commerce to the Heritage Foundation, would be deafening and not be subdued until there was a congressional investigation, and the resignations were in hand of the editor and publisher of the network or newspaper. Or until there had been plausible and convincing evidence that the most important elements of the story were false. And, of course, the story would continue day after day on page one and remain near the top of the evening news for weeks, until every ounce of (justifiable) piety about freedom of the press and unfettered presidential elections had been exhausted.

Read Carl Bernstein’s full report Here

Aaron Swartz and His Inspiring Fight For a Better World Through a More Knowledgeable One

January 14th, 2013 by Andy in Media and Democracy

“Whenever the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.”
- Edward Gibbon, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”

Many of you have likely never heard of Aaron Swartz. Everyone should know about Aaron Swartz, who he was, what he did, and why he did what he did. He exemplifies the very notion of what we understand by the meaning of “heroic.” Unfortunately, Aaron is no longer with us. And make no mistake about it. Swartz was hounded to his death by the government not for what he did, but the why of what he was doing, and the cause he and those efforts represented.

The man is a hero, one who didn’t just talk the talk (like I feel myself all-too-guilty of too often), but who actually laid it on the line, full on. He shunned the rewards and easy life that society was easily offering him, in order to dedicate his work towards goals and purposes thoroughly beyond self-absorbed careerism and the wealth and fame it was readily on hand to provide to him.

He is a man who gave up his own freedom for that of others. That rates as a concrete definition of true heroism in my book.

Glenn Greenwald provides an insightful and poignant tribute to Swartz, to his courage and passion, and the importance of his life and his work towards pushing forward efforts in making for a more humane and just world.

At the age of 14, Swartz played a key role in developing the RSS software that is still widely used to enable people to manage what they read on the internet. As a teenager, he also played a vital role in the creation of Reddit, the wildly popular social networking news site.

His path to internet mogul status and the great riches it entails was clear, easy and virtually guaranteed: a path which so many other young internet entrepreneurs have found irresistible, monomaniacally devoting themselves to making more and more money long after they have more than they could ever hope to spend. But rather obviously, Swartz had little interest in devoting his life to his own material enrichment, despite how easy it would have been for him.

Specifically, he committed himself to the causes in which he so passionately believed: internet freedom, civil liberties, making information and knowledge as available as possible.


Swartz’s activism, I argued, was waged as part of one of the most vigorously contested battles - namely, the war over how the internet is used and who controls the information that flows on it - and that was his real crime in the eyes of the US government: challenging its authority and those of corporate factions to maintain a stranglehold on that information. In that above-referenced speech on SOPA, Swartz discussed the grave dangers to internet freedom and free expression and assembly posed by the government’s efforts to control the internet with expansive interpretations of copyright law and other weapons to limit access to information.

That’s a major part of why I consider him heroic. He wasn’t merely sacrificing himself for a cause. It was a cause of supreme importance to people and movements around the world - internet freedom - and he did it by knowingly confronting the most powerful state and corporate factions because he concluded that was the only way to achieve these ends.


Whatever else is true, Swartz was destroyed by a “justice” system that fully protects the most egregious criminals as long as they are members of or useful to the nation’s most powerful factions, but punishes with incomparable mercilessness and harshness those who lack power and, most of all, those who challenge power.

Swartz knew all of this. But he forged ahead anyway. He could have easily opted for a life of great personal wealth, status, prestige and comfort. He chose instead to fight - selflessly, with conviction and purpose, and at great risk to himself - for noble causes to which he was passionately devoted. That, to me, isn’t an example of heroism; it’s the embodiment of it, its purest expression. It’s the attribute our country has been most lacking.

Read the full piece Here.

And his hounding and persecution by a criminal “justice” system, one rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach proved a key factor in driving him to the brink. The government’s prosecution should be considered a serious warning light about where its real priorities are. It should also serve as a call for people to organize a response against those who enabled this, and shame them from ever holding any office or trust of public responsibility again.

As the Official Statement from the Family and Partner of Aaron Swartz explained…

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims.

Swartz understood, as do many of his contemporaries, that control of the internet, and freedom of information and communication, is the nexus point of all human freedom and rights in our modern, mass-mediated technological age.

Watch This Interview with Lawrence Lessig, a founding member of Creative Commons, as he remembers the life and legacy of Aaron on Democracy Now!

The cruel injustice and hypocrisy of the American government’s hounding prosecution of Swartz for his alleged “crimes,” is brought into stark relief by the comments regarding Swartz by “andreasma,” who posted them on Lawrence Lessig’s blog. I am re-posting them here in their entirety…

Aaron, Manning, Assange, Kyriakoy, Occupy, all persecuted, hounded, some tortured. For what? For speaking truth to power, for revealing corruption, war crimes. For liberating information.

Meanwhile, Yoo, Addington, Libby, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales go around signing book covers and giving lectures about national security. The murderers, torturers and torture apologists are celebrated. The whistleblowers crushed.

Blankfein, Greenberg, Pandit, Mozilo, Geithner, go around lecturing us about financial responsibility, instead of rotting in jail for fraud, theft, embezzlement, corruption, bribery and multiple criminal conspiracies.

This is the disgusting injustice the underlies Aaron Swartz’s death. A Department of Justice that makes a mockery of the word “justice”, where the rule of law has become a joke, where the greatest criminals of our day wear ties and suits and are *absolutely beyond prosecution*, while the poorest get relentless, unforgiving, zero tolerance prosecution for the tiniest of misdeamenors.

Aaron was cursed with the ability to open his mind wide enough to see the world in all its ugly injustice and reality. His idealism, passion and honesty made him speak truth to power, so he was crushed.

There are only two crimes that are punished in this country now: being poor or challenging the powerful.


May lasting shame haunt those who are responsible for the criminal injustice that infects our society today.

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