AT&T’s “30-Month” Net Neutrality Merger Trade-in Offer: What a Joke!

So desperate to become a digital colossus once it swallows BellSouth, AT&T offered the dissident Democrats on the FCC a network neutrality “concession” today. Unbelievably, AT&T offered to operate its broadband Internet system as an open and democratic network—but only for 30 months! The offer illustrates how unethical and cynical the top executives are at Ma(d) Bell. `Yes, U.S. public,’ they say. `We will give you a democratic Internet for a brief moment, if you let us grow as an even larger unaccountable monopoly.’ AT&T’s offer underscores why permanent network neutrality safeguards are worth fighting for. The very companies who will provide the vast majority of broadband service, such as AT&T, really don’t want the public to have it.

AT&T is trying to sell to FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein the digital equivalent of the Brooklyn Bridge. They should say: “sorry, wrong number.”

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Way to Go on AT&T Broadband Monopoly! FCC Commissioners Copps and Adelstein

I’m sure the sell-outs who make up most of the Washington telecom lobbying corps believe that FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein must come from another planet. But these all too rare two officials represent so much about what is right with the U.S. They are doing more than standing up for the public interest and demanding merger safeguards. Each has made a powerful and honest critique about what is at stake. They recognize that the U.S. broadband digital media system has been handed over to an ever-shrinking few. They realize that the U.S. media system, especially news, is in a deep crisis. Copps and Adelstein correctly critiqued what the Bush Department of Justice just did yesterday when it blessed the merger without safeguards. How refreshing to have officials who work for the public–and not really on behalf of a handful of self-serving media giants who place corporate and personal profit before the real needs of a democratic U.S.

Copps and Adelstein: Onwards to the Noble Peace Prize (Media Policy division!). Nobel citation: Trying (probably in vain) to restore honesty, integrity, and real public service to the FCC.

The RTNDA Undermines TV Journalism—with a little help from the most powerful pro-consolidation media lobbyist. RTNDA asks for a cover-up of the VNR scandal

The Radio Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) is working to further undermine the ability of TV reporters and producers to engage in serious electronic journalism. In a nearly two dozen-page filing to the FCC on October 5, RTNDA comes to the defense of the use of Video News Releases. RTNDA actually told the Commission “…VNRs often are a source of newsworthy material of particular interest to the public which stations may not be able to obtain through other means.” Why would the RTNDA support the practice of using VNRs? It’s because the organization is both shortsighted and a political tool of TV owners. RTNDA doesn’t really represent the interests of reporters—but the bosses. It is trying to quash an FCC investigation into 77 TV stations identified in a report for failing to disclose VNRs. Everyone in the news biz knows that the reliance on VNRs—even by network O and O’s– is a cancer on electronic journalism. VNRs—placed by both commercial and government PR efforts—undermine serious reportage. But with station owners and news managers forcing local news to be a ever growing profit center, VNRs have become a form of information `cocaine.’ Too many stations are willing to sell time for the promotion of propaganda at worst and stealth commercial spots at best. Or they want to rely on free materials coming from special interests in order to save money on actually producing their own news.

Richard Wiley
The RTNDA should be telling the FCC that such outside “spin” oriented content should be prohibited by the industry itself. News should be produced by a local station, its contractors, network feeds, wires. Not by a pyramid scheme coming from PR flacks. One sign that RTNDA is working for owners—and not journalists or the public—is the use of arch media lobbyist Richard Wiley’s law firm [that’s Mr. Wiley’s picture above]. It is the Wiley firm which has been leading the media lobby campaign to wipe out ownership diversity safeguards—all so its clients can control more properties both in a single community and nationally.

The RTNDA wants the FCC to immediately kill its investigation of the stations involved in the VNR scandal. Incredibly, the RTNDA told the FCC that by investigating the charges made by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), it is “following the lead of an organization that is unrelenting in its hostility to the principles of free speech and a free press…” Such venomous, inaccurate, and out-right loony language illustrates how out of touch RTNDA’s leadership is. An organization concerned about electronic journalism requires leaders who place the First Amendment rights of TV reporters, producers and the public first. Not, as RTNDA just did, the political agenda of station owners, the National Association of Broadcasters, and media lobbyists such as Dick Wiley.

We think the RTNDA is violating its own Code of Ethics, which requires that “[P]rofessional electronic journalists should recognize that their first obligation is to the public.” We hope there are board members courageous enough to call for the organization to re-think its whole approach to media policy.

Disclosure: My organization occasionally works with a close colleague of CMD—Free Press. I also admire the work of CMD—which has done a first-rate job at exposing the invisible connections between the public relations industry, its clients, and public policy. I don’t believe, as Wiley argues, that such an FCC investigation will have a chilling effect. There do need to be limits about what government can do with the news media. But when news organizations act irresponsibly in a way that deceives the public, action is required. What is wrong—Ms. Cochran and Mr. Wiley—with a little sunshine?