New MIT Book Covers Children/Youth and Digital Culture/Politics

My wife Kathryn C. Montgomery has a new book about to be published. It’s titled Generation Digital: Politics, Commerce, and Childhood in the Age of the Internet.” The following is from the MIT Press catalog:

“Children and teens today have integrated digital culture seamlessly into their lives. For most, using the Internet, playing videogames, downloading music onto an iPod, or multitasking with a cell phone is no more complicated than setting the toaster oven to “bake” or turning on the TV. In Generation Digital, media expert and activist Kathryn C. Montgomery examines the ways in which the new media landscape is changing the nature of childhood and adolescence and analyzes recent political debates that have shaped both policy and practice in digital culture.

The media have pictured the so-called “digital generation” in contradictory ways: as bold trailblazers and innocent victims, as active creators of digital culture and passive targets of digital marketing. This, says Montgomery, reflects our ambivalent attitude toward both youth and technology. She charts a confluence of historical trends that made children and teens a particularly valuable target market during the early commercialization of the Internet and describes the consumer-group advocacy campaign that led to a law to protect children’s privacy on the Internet. Montgomery recounts–as a participant and as a media scholar–the highly publicized battles over indecency and pornography on the Internet. She shows how digital marketing taps into teenagers’ developmental needs and how three public service campaigns–about sexuality, smoking, and political involvement–borrowed their techniques from commercial digital marketers. Not all of today’s techno-savvy youth are politically disaffected; Generation Digital chronicles the ways that many have used the Internet as a political tool, mobilizing young voters in 2004 and waging battles with the music and media industries over control of cultural expression online.”

Kevin Martin and Michael Copps: The FCC’s Super-Censors

A report from Technology Daily indicates that Chairman Martin and Commissioner Copps are pushing to adopt a report that would allow the agency to “crackdown on graphic scenes…The report concludes that Congress can regulate violent TV images without compromising the First Amendment.” It appears that Commissioner Tate will join them, giving them at least a 3-2 majority. The Daily also reports that “[S]hortly after the FCC report’s release, Sen. John (Jay) Rockefeller, D-W.Va., plans to reintroduce legislation that would expand the FCC’s “indecency” regulations to pay TV and allow the agency to restrict violent fare on broadcast, cable and satellite.”

This is shameful pandering to the right-wing that will have a major censorious effect. The key to ensuring quality content to the public is not to censor, but to open up the digital airwaves, cable, phone and satellite systems to all content. That way, more quality material will be available, providing greater choice. The answer is not to do something which permits political appointees–or even the Congress–to block out programs or content they personally dislike. Besides, the issue of indecent content is really tied to the overall policies of media ownership and broadband nondiscrimination access. That’s where the work needs to be done, but where Martin has failed totally.

It’s time that FCC Commissioner Copps be roundly criticized for his willingness to support such policies. Copps has achieved a well-deserved reputation for his leadership promoting a diverse “old” and “new” media system. I understand his anger and concern about some of the content. But having the FCC act as “Big Brother/Sister” is not the way. Copps is helping the right-wing achieve a considerable political victory. He should be called upon to reverse course and seek a national dialogue on the quality and diversity of programming in the U.S.–from broadcast to broadband. Otherwise his legacy will be tarnished, which would be tragic.

Is Google Doing a Turn-about on Network Neutrality Law?

As reported by Drew Clark and others, high-ranking Google senior policy counsel Andrew McLaughlin told a Silion Valley crowd that “Net neutrality will ultimately be solved by competition in the long-run…Cutting the FCC out the picture would probably be a smart move. It is much better to think of this as an FTC or unfair competition type of problem.” It doesn’t appear at the moment that his view is official Google policy. But it underscores why we have never been confident that the corporate supporters of network neutrality, especially Microsoft, Yahoo!, IAC, and Google, could ultimately be counted upon to place the public interest before their own corporate futures. The Google’s and Yahoo!’s of the new media world are fearful of fostering public policies that would ultimately rein-in their efforts to collect huge amounts of personal data about each of us—so they can deliver ubiquitous interactive advertising and branded entertainment. As we’ve noted in the past, word from friendly policymakers is that Google and the coalition have done a terrible job lobbying for network neutrality rules. These developments underscore why those concerned about the future of the public interest and the digital era must quickly move beyond the policy realm. The real decisions about the quality and diversity of our digital media system in the short term will be primarily determined–sadly–in the marketplace.

We note that our friends at savetheinternet have written that Google still firmly supports network neutrality legislation, including the Dorgan/Snowe/Markey proposals. They have a quote from a Google spokesperson saying so. But we believe still that all the key work to promote net neutrality will have to be done by the folks outside the “gang of six.”

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We always appreciate when media industry leaders, such as Viacom’s Philippe Dauman, reveal how the business really operates. From Broadcasting & Cable, reporting on today’s tony Bear Stearns media conference held in Palm Beach: “While Viacom’s U.S. margins are close to 50%, Dauman said he hoped to maintain them even having to invest in more original programming and getting its digital sales operation up to speed. To help in that effort, he has cut jobs and salaries and restructured, saying there were redundancies and people who were, frankly, overpaid.”

It’s also revealing when key executives explain their vision for the U.S. and global digital media future. It’s not plastics, as it was decades ago in “The Graduate.” It’s “immersive.” Here’s Mr. Dauman view, written by B&C: “In a fragmented world, he said, the ability to reach key demos in an immersive, branded way becomes more and more valuable…. “Our business is to reach consumers through our content everywhere they are, and sell to advertisers that consumer relationship.”

This is real life, Mr. Dauman, not the virtual branded broadband reality you are creating at Viacom. There are consequences to squeezing out such fat profit margins–including the cost to peoples lives as you lay them off. B&C has reported two rounds of cuts. Advocates should press Viacom to spend some of its cable monopoly gain on public interest programming.
Source:”Viacom’s Dauman: YouTube Wasn’t Best Environment for Content.” John Eggerton. B&C [sub may be required]

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Washington Post’s K Street Connections

We hope the Post fully discloses its own relationships with lobbyists as it unfolds its major “Citizen K Street” series [reg. required]. Right from the beginning, readers should learn that the Washington Post has had a long relationship with super-lobbyist Tony Podesta. All the various wheeling and dealing which Tony’s firm has and is doing for the company must be disclosed. The Post should also identify how it is supporting the lobbying agendas of the newspaper, broadcast, and cable industries. For example, through its Cable One subsidiary, the Washington Post plays a leading role aiding the National Cable & Telecommunications Association political agenda (such as opposition to broadband network neutrality). Via its Post-Newsweek TV group, the Post is on the board of directors of the National Association of Broadcasters (think opposition to media ownership rules). The Post is a member of the Newspaper Association of America; that trade group is fighting to eliminate the broadcast-newspaper cross-ownership safeguard. Finally, the Post Co. has a representative on the board of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (opposed to online privacy rules, etc).

The series should also examine the role Cassidy has played in weakening media ownership safeguards, including its work for NBC, Fox and CBS back in 2003. As Cassidy’s firm stated on its web site at the time, it had key connections to the then top GOP leaders, including “the Speaker, Majority Leader Conference Chair and seven other leadership offices.” [Source is my book, Digital Destiny, p. 5].

Backing Further U.S. Media Consolidation: State Pension Funds, Foundations and Universities Help Providence Equity Partners New $12b Shopping Spree

Compounding problems with media consolidation is the role that private equity firms are playing buying major media, telecom and advertising properties. We are not only ending up with fewer owners of key newspapers, stations, networks, channels, and digital portals—but these private firms are even more unaccountable to the public. That’s why its disturbing to learn that what has been described as one of the largest funds to buy up media properties—the new Providence Equity Partners VI fund–is financially backed in part by groups which should know better. Investors of the new media merger fund include state pension funds, university endowments and private foundations (in addition to contributions from other pension funds, “high-net-worth” individuals and “funds of funds”). These investors are partnering with Providence’s plan to see more media properties are swallowed up. But likely missing from such buy-outs is any commitment to the public interest, let alone serious support for journalism. Ironically, foundations, unions, and a few university leaders have been part of the “media reform” effort combating further consolidation of “old media” and also working to restore “network neutrality” for U.S. broadband.

Former FCC Chair Michael K. Powell is a senior advisor at Providence, another irony (especially if any of the pension or foundation investment comes from groups backing the public interest media effort). Providence, as we’ve noted previously, has sought to acquire Clear Channel and Tribune. Its new fund will enable it to acquire more cable and other holdings, likely making it a fierce opponent of the effort to ensure broadband cable and phone networks are required to operate in a non-discriminatory manner.

We hope that there will be some serious soul-searching in the foundation, union, and pension investment community. More is at stake than a good return on a dollar. It’s the future of free expression, democratic participation, and civil rights.