Get ready to run for office!
50-50 in 2020 in collaboration with The Iowa State Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and The University of Iowa N.E.W. Leadership invite women who’ve thought about running for office sometime in the future to a two-day seminar at the Iowa State Capitol. The event will be held on April 8 & 9, 2014.
If you have ever thought about running for the state legislature, but find the prospect somewhat intimidating, here’s your chance to learn what goes on inside those legendary halls and hear from some of the people who make things happen. The two-day program will include a “behind the scenes” tour of the capitol, briefings from non-partisan staff who assist with bill-drafting and budget-crunching, opportunities to observe committee meetings and meet key legislators.
Date: April 8-9, 2014
Location: Iowa State Capitol, Des Moines, Iowa
Cost: There is no fee for the seminar. Participants are responsible for their own transportation, overnight accommodations, and meals.
For Registration information go to:
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
· 3:30 pm Gather, Inside the visitor’s entrance (South door, ground level)
· 4:00 pm Welcome, Room 304
· 4:15 pm Keynote, Room 304
Dianne Bystrom, Director, Iowa State Carrie Chapman Catt Center
“Women in State Legislatures: Making a Difference”
· 5:00 pm House & Senate Staff, Decorum, Rules, Attire, Room 304
· 5:30 pm Adjourn
· 6:00 pm Join women legislators for hors d’oeuvres and cash bar at local restaurant:
Open Sesame, Third & Locust
· 7:00 pm Dinner on your own
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
· 8:00 am Gather, Ground Floor, Senate Side
“Behind the Chambers” tour and visits to leadership offices
· 9:00 am Observe opening and debate, Senate Gallery
· 10:00 am or when scheduled: Attend Committee Meetings
· 11:00 am Briefing by Legislative Fiscal, Division & Legislative Services, Division, Small Dining Room
· 12:00 Lunch in the cafeteria
· 1:00 pm Meet with House Speaker, Majority and Minority Leader, Room 304
· 2:00 pm Meet with lobbyists, Room 304
· 2:30 pm Discussion & Final Remarks, Room 304
· 3:00 pm Adjourn
See the website for more information.
Kristen Corey | Program Planner
Office on the Status of Women | Office of Asian & Pacific Islander Affairs
Iowa Department of Human Rights | Lucas State Office Building
321 E. 12th Street, 2nd Floor | Des Moines, IA 50319
W 515.281.4470 | F 515.242.6119
The Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of rolling back consolidation in TV broadcasting for the first time in three decades.
On March 31, the agency is expected to close a loophole that has allowed companies to evade federal ownership limits. If this happens, companies like Raycom and the Sinclair Broadcast Group could be forced to sell off stations and open up the airwaves to more diverse voices. Free Press research has shown how these dangerous deals are destroying local news — and fueling the biggest wave of media consolidation in decades. We recently testified in Congress about the significance of the FCC’s move to examine these deals. Here’s what you need to know about the FCC’s decision to rein in media consolidation.
At its March 31 meeting, the FCC will vote on a proposal that would limit the use of “Joint Sales Agreements.” JSAs are part of a suite of shady outsourcing agreements companies use to control as many as four stations in one community. That kind of consolidated ownership would normally be illegal. But companies like Gannett, Nexstar, Raycom, Sinclair and Tribune have set up shell corporations that they then sell some of their stations to — while maintaining control of much of the content and revenue. The letterhead may have a different logo but behind the scenes it’s just one company pulling the strings.
JSAs allow one station to sell ads for a competing station, but these deals almost always end up as de facto consolidated ownership. That’s why we’ve dubbed these sneaky deals “covert consolidation.” There are well over 100 examples of these types of deals around the U.S., so the FCC’s rule change would have a broad impact.
What Are the Rules
JSAs and similar agreements evade a number of the FCC’s ownership rules. According to Free Press research, companies use these agreements to evade the rules in nearly half of all U.S. media markets. In 78 communities, broadcasters have formed otherwise illegal duopolies between two of the top-ranked stations.
Here are the rules these companies have been violating:
Duopoly Rule: prohibits a single owner from controlling two or more stations in a market where there are fewer than eight unique owners
Top-Four Duopoly Rule: prohibits a single owner from controlling two or more top four-ranked stations in a given community
Newspaper-Broadcast Cross-Ownership Rule: prohibits the joint ownership of a broadcast TV station and daily newspaper in the same market
The FCC has tried to gut the 30-year-old newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership ban three times in the last eight years, but we’ve blocked them in court and in the court of public opinion. The agency recently announced that it now has no intention of relaxing this ban, representing another important win for the public interest.
Why It Matters
We need an informed public for our democracy to function. Giving a handful of corporations too much control over the media is dangerous — especially since the airwaves belong to the people. Our policies have historically prioritized diverse, local and competitive media. In Associated Press v. United States, the Supreme Court upheld the idea that the First Amendment “rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public.” This is why we have limits on how much control one person or company can have over the media. Our research has shown that as consolidation soars, the number of diverse owners plummets.
Consolidation raises barriers to entry for new owners and makes it harder for existing small owners to compete for ad dollars. If the FCC can force the biggest TV companies to divest some of their stations, we should do everything we can to ensure these broadcast licenses go to local owners who represent the diversity of their communities.
The FCC’s decision to take on the broadcasters is historic. But the broadcast lobbyists and their friends aren’t taking this lying down. We have one week to make sure the FCC sticks to its guns and stands up for the public interest.
With signs posted in the background, “Cannabis is medicine” and “Sick people are not criminals,” brave Iowans tell their stories.
“I cannot condemn in more firm words the actions of the Director to instruct administrative judges to screw Iowans out of their benefits. Of course our caucus is behind this.”
Deaniacs, and others who the only thing you know about Howard Dean is the scream, check out the totally awesome website, DFA-10.
Charles Chamberlain, Democracy for America
It’s hard to believe that Democracy for America [and Blog for Iowa April 1st] is turning 10 years old this week. We’re so excited to celebrate this huge milestone in DFA history — and we’ve got a wonderful surprise to share with you.
Over the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time looking through old pictures and videos remembering where we’ve been, what we’ve accomplished, and the friends and allies we’ve worked with along the way.
As I traveled across the country last week with Gov. Howard Dean, celebrating with DFA members from Austin to San Francisco, I was reminded why DFA’s story can’t be told in pictures or videos alone. DFA’s story is YOUR story, shared on barstools and in union halls from Chicago to Burlington — of friendships made, battles fought, and victories hard won.
That’s why our 10th Anniversary website is NOT complete yet. We’re still missing one very important thing: YOUR STORIES.
After all, DFA’s history is YOUR history. We’ve made it this far and accomplished this much because of dedicated DFA members and leaders like you. We want to hear your DFA story and the impact Gov. Dean or DFA has had on your life: events you’ve loved, campaigns that fired you up and elections we’ve won together.
Creating this site has been a really fun walk down memory lane, and it’s been inspiring to be reminded of how much we’ve done, when thinking of where we will go from here. So many of DFA’s greatest highlights over the years — starting with Gov. Dean’s inaugural DFA kick-off speech in 2004 — are on the site to watch and remember.
We’ve accomplished so much together. But for those of us working for you at DFA headquarters, we’re most proud of the way we’ve been able to support, grow and sustain our movement. The same energy that drew all of us to the Dean for America campaign in 2004 keeps DFA members motivated and engaged today — and ten years later we still know that the power to change our communities and our country is right here in our hands.
If you’ve been inspired by the empowerment ethos of Gov. Dean or the grassroots fighting spirit of DFA — or if you’ve worked with us on a memorable campaign or election in the last ten years — please share your story on our 10th Anniversary website today.
Thanks for a wonderful decade and many more change-making years to come. Together, we’re unstoppable.
Charlie Chamberlain, Executive Director
Democracy for America
If you suspected that Fox News was nothing more than a decades-in-the-making Republican plot to pipe propaganda to unsuspecting rubes…you were right down to a tee. Gawker dug up this amazing find:
According to a remarkable document buried deep within the Richard Nixon Presidential Library, the forerunner for Fox News was a 1970 plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to deliver “pro-administration” stories to heartland television viewers.
Nixon White House aide Roger Ailes in the 1970′s created fake news stories that favored President Nixon. He shipped these pre-mixed video packages to TV stations around the country paid for by rightwing extremist Joseph Coors. The TV stations, pretending they had a correspondent in Washington, ran this propaganda as straight news.
Now that Ailes runs FOX News, his goals are the same: to spread republicanism by altering the news. Fox changes words, meanings, facts, and even actual news footage.
There are thousands of examples of FOX not just “leaning” in a particular direction on an issue… but actively changing around the words and meanings of interviews to make them seem to say the opposite of what the person interviewed actually said; of lies about what happened; of incorrect graphics…for example, calling Congressman Mark Foley a Democrat when he got caught in gay chatter with pages and calling Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords a Republican when there was an outpouring of sympathy for her after she got shot.
• FOX took a sparsely-attended tea-party rally in Washington and spliced in video of a heavily-attended event of an entirely different nature from months earlier.
• FOX has gotten caught using image manipulation software to edit the appearance of people they don’t like to make them appear more sinister.
• FOX alters poll results to mislead its viewers; in one case, their massacre of a Rasmussen poll on climate change ended up with a poll number of 120% – mathematically impossible, of course, except in FOX world.
• On 4-24-09… White House correspondent Wendell Goler cropped a comment by Obama and took it out of context — effectively reversing the statement’s meaning — to falsely suggest that Obama supports creating a health care system “like the European countries.”
• A 2010 Ohio State University study of public misperceptions about the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” found that viewers who relied on Fox News were 66% more likely to believe incorrect rumors than those with “low reliance” on Fox News ~Wikipedia
• A study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes showed 67% of Fox viewers believed that the “U.S. has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with the al Qaeda terrorist organization” (He wasn’t. He hated, feared and banned them, but you’d never know that by watching FOX).
The more you watch FOX, the less you know.
Wait, it gets worse: For all other networks and news sources, the MORE you watch them, the MORE you know about the actual facts. Those who view CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, & NPR the MOST, have the BEST grasp of the FACTS. With FOX it – is- the – opposite!! Which is what gave birth to the mocking slogan:
• In the summer of 2003, 34% of Americans who did not follow the news very closely believed evidence had been found that linked Iraq with al Qaeda before the U.S. invasion. 42% of people who were moderate consumers of FOX news had that opinion. Among those who “watched FOX News very closely” … that number was 80% !! ~Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 118, #4
• FOX News’ Happening Now cropped clips of Obama from an April 3 speech in France to falsely suggest that Obama only criticized the United States.
• Fox News presented a clip of Joe Biden criticizing John McCain’s “the fundamentals of the economy are strong” statement…. Problem is, this was something Biden was QUOTING…from SIX MONTHS EARLIER… but it was edited by FOX to make it seem that Biden was stating it as his own opinion.
• FOX pushed the bogus stat that cap-and-trade would cost “every American family $1,761 annually.” PolitiFact.com has labeled the statistic false and noted that the talking point has been pushed by Republicans.
”If we went back … to the fall of 2008, to the campaign, that was a time this country was in two wars that we had a financial collapse probably more significant than any financial collapse since the Great Depression. If you were a Fox News viewer in the fall election what you would have seen were that the biggest stories and the biggest threats facing America were a guy named Bill Ayers and a something called ACORN.” ~Anita Dunn
A 2011 Kaiser Family Foundation survey on U.S. misconceptions about health care reform found that Fox News viewers scored lower for factual knowledge than other news viewers. (click here to read the entire article)
State Senator Bill Dotzler, co-chair of the Joint Economic Development Subcommittee, presented evidence at a Statehouse news conference focusing on the actions of Iowa Workforce Development Director Teresa Wahlert.
Dotzler said the evidence shows that Wahlert is improperly pressuring Administrative Law Judges to rule in favor of employers and against employees in unemployment cases.
In Iowa Workforce Development, there are federally funded administrative law judges who rule on disputes between employers and employees regarding unemployment claims. Under normal conditions, these judges are overseen by a chief Administrative Law Judge.
“Branstad political appointee Teresa Wahlert has put herself directly in charge of Administrative Law Judges and is improperly—and I believe illegally—pressuring these judges to rule in favor of employers and against Iowa workers.”
Dotzler released a letter he has sent to U.S. Department of Labor that calls on federal investigators to determine if Wahlert is violating federal laws requiring the fair and impartial administration of unemployment insurance benefits.
In Dotzler’s letter, he listed a number of specific concerns about Director Wahlert’s actions. They include:
- Director Wahlert created a hostile work environment for Administrative Law Judges who did not follow her pro-employer, anti-employee philosophy.
- Director Wahlert, a political appointee, became the direct supervisor of the Administrative Law Judges after eliminating the Chief Administrative Law Judge’s position.
- Director Wahlert required them [the administrative law judges] to develop “tip sheets” to help employers win cases, actions which would interfere with their ability to impartially judge cases. Wahlert did not require anyone to create similar “tip sheets” to help employees in similar cases.
“Under federal law, unemployment compensation appeal hearings must be fair and impartial, both in fact and appearance. Political interference or undue political influence, even in appearance, can potentially destabilize the appeals process, undermine the credibility of a state’s unemployment compensation program, and generate additional workload which may result in delays in decisions or benefit payments.” - US Department of Labor Regional Administrator
Letter to US Department of Labor and supporting documents
March 19, 2014
Mr. Gay Gilbert, Administrator
Office of Unemployment Insurance Employment and Training Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
Frances Perkins Building
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Mr. Gilbert:
I am writing to request that the Department of Labor begin an immediate investigation into improper actions by Iowa Workforce Department Director Teresa Wahlert. I believe she has and continues to violate federal laws requiring the fair and impartial administration of unemployment insurance benefits.
Through her actions, Director Wahlert has sent a clear message to her employees that Administrative Law Judges in Iowa Workforce Development are expected to rule in favor of employers when ruling on claims for unemployment compensation benefits.
In summary, I am especially concerned about:
Director Wahlert having created a hostile work environment for Administrative Law Judges that do not abide by her pro-employer, anti-employee philosophy. In recent weeks, I have had several conversations with current and former Unemployment Insurance Administrative Law Judges about the Director and the hostile work environment.
Director Wahlert is directly interfering in the independence of Administrative Law Judges. I have received clear evidence supporting this claim. I have also read a letter from Department of Labor, Regional Administrator Holly O’Brien, to Commissioner Paquette from Maine. In that letter Ms. O’Brien stated that “when pressure, real or perceived, is exerted upon first-level appeals hearing officers to rule in favor of one side or the other, the persons or entities exerting that pressure are interfering with the decision about an individual’s rights.” Instead of upholding the integrity of an impartial hearings process, Director Wahlert has exerted undue pressure on the Administrative Law Judges.
Director Wahlert eliminated the position of Chief Administrative Law Judge after the person in that position refused her request to tally up all the decisions by each Administrative Law Judge and determine how often they ruled in favor of the employers and how often they ruled in favor of the employees. (I have not enclosed evidence but the former Chief ALJ is willing to testify.)
Director Wahlert increased her efforts to put undue pressure on Administrative Law Judges by becoming their direct supervisor after eliminating the Chief Administrative Law Judge’s position. There was no effort to insulate the Administrative Law Judges from Director Wahlert, a political appointee.
As a result, it was easier for Director Wahlert to directly intervene in day-to-day activities of Administrative Law Judges. For example, Director Wahlert sent an email to Administrative Law Judges as part of a fishing expedition for gossip and sensational details about decisions that had not yet been finalized. Director Wahlert’s email stated: “What are the cases on tongues past week? And by whom?” (I have enclosed a copy of the email.)
Director Wahlert asked an Administrative Law Judge to develop “tip sheets” for employers to guide employers how to win cases. There were no similar requests by Director Wahlert to ask Administrative Law Judges to develop “tip sheets” to help employees in such cases. For example, one Administrative Law Judge was asked to do a “tip sheet” to help employers discharge employees for off-duty conduct that is not work related. (It should be noted that the Iowa Workforce Development’s website already features a 44-page document entitled “Unemployment Insurance Handbook for Employers.”)
Director Wahlert directed the Administrative Law Judges to be involved with “outreach to community and business leaders.” Some Administrative Law Judges believe this would interfere with their ability to impartially judge cases. (I have enclosed emails on this issue.)
Director Wahlert changed policies and practices that previously insulated Administrative Law Judges from other activities within Iowa Workforce Development. For example, Wahlert initiated a new policy to require Administrative Law Judges to participate in general Workforce Development staff meetings and in other Iowa Workforce Development programs that potentially interfere with the independence that Administrative Law Judges must maintain.
Director Wahlert requires one of the team leader Administrative Law Judges to send regular emails to all other Administrative Law Judges containing a list of Administrative Law Judges and the number of cases heard and decisions filed each week. This score keeping has resulted in a hostile and intimidating work environment according to some Administrative Law Judges.
The bottom line is that Director Wahlert is intentionally interfering with the neutrality and basic fairness of the appeals system in an effort to favor employers over employees. Federal law prohibits such interference.
Thank you for considering this request. I would be more than willing to provide any further information that might be helpful.
Supporting Documents (click here for links)
u140911_Hendricksmeyer_Tip Sheet for off duty conduct
130817_Wahlert_Reply to late decision call log and current work conditions
130818_Wahlert_Cases on tongues
131007_Hillary_ Old Case Reports October 4 2013
140227_OBrien_Maine Unemployment Facts
110721_Wahlert_Reply to Appeals Update
130719_Walsh_Quick Poll Refusal of Suitable Work
130816_Wahlert_ Reply to ALJ Stephenson & ALJ Hendricksmeyer Friday meetings change
- See more at: http://www.senate.iowa.gov/democrats/key-senator-calls-for-federal-investigation-into-branstad-administrations-efforts-to-harass-and-improperly-influence-judges/#sthash.HWtrFocx.dpuf
You may wonder why a long-time regulator like me is writing to you. The answer is that for more than a decade I occupied a front-row seat watching government policy undermine your profession and our democracy. I worked at the intersection of policy and journalism as a member of the Federal Communications Commission and saw first-hand how my agency’s decisions limited your ability to accomplish good things. Since I stepped down two years ago, the situation has only gotten worse. I want to do something about it. I want you to do something about it, too. Let me tell you what I saw.
I was sworn in as a commissioner in 2001. “What an awesome job this is going to be,” I thought, “dealing with edge-of-the-envelope issues, meeting the visionaries and innovators transforming the ways we communicate, and then making it all happen by helping to craft policies to bring the power of communications to every American.” It was a heady time when even normally sensible people believed that technology would bring the revolutionary wonders of the open internet to all of us. New media would complement the traditional media of newspapers, radio, TV, and cable, ushering in a golden age of communications. I was on fire to make good things happen.
The FCC that I joined had a different agenda. It had fallen as madly in love with industry consolidation, as had the swashbuckling captains of big media. The agency seldom met an industry transaction it didn’t approve. The Commission’s blessing not only conferred legitimacy on a particular transaction; it encouraged the next deal, and the hundreds after that. So Clear Channel grew from a 1970s startup to a 1,200-station behemoth. Sinclair, Tribune, and News Corp. went on buying sprees, too, and the major networks extended their influence by buying some stations and affiliating with others. Gone are hundreds of once-independent broadcast outlets. In their stead is a truncated list of nationwide, homogenized, and de-journalized empires that respond more to quarterly reports than to the information needs of citizens.
I notice now in the news the stunning announcement that Comcast hopes to buy Time-Warner, the second largest cable company, for more than $45 billion. That would make this one of the biggest mergers in media history, and I fear it will run roughshod over consumers in the end.
Let me be clear: Not every transaction is bad. Consolidation may offer some limited benefits, as when stations pool money to buy a better weather radar. But there is a huge difference between that and merged stations reporting the same news by the same reporters.
So instead of making good things happen, I would be spending untold hours listening to big media tell me how their latest merger proposal would translate into enormous “efficiencies” and “economies of scale” to produce more and better news. Meanwhile, everywhere I looked, I saw newsrooms like yours being shuttered or drastically downsized, reporters getting the axe, and investigative journalism hanging by the most slender of threads. Instead of expanding news, the conglomerates cut the muscle out of deep-dive reporting and disinvested in you.
While FCC oversight focuses most heavily on broadcast, its decisions affect newspapers, too. Numerous merger approvals have involved newspaper-broadcast cross-ownership, which almost invariably translates into combined, downsized, or eliminated newsrooms. Obviously many factors contributed to the decline, such as the earth-shaking movement of advertising to the internet and the deep recession that hit in 2007. But here, too, private sector consolidation and public policy shortfalls had a direct and damaging impact. The FCC has actually made things worse for newspaper journalism, too.
It was disheartening to realize how government—my own agency—was an accomplice in diminishing our news and disfiguring your journalism. It isn’t just the excesses of a Wall Street bazaar run wild; it is also proactive government policy-making. And while it is true that many decisions at the FCC are non-partisan, this one often pitted the 2001-09 Republican majority against the Democratic minority (of which I was a member).
So I was expecting change for the better after the 2008 presidential election and the coming of a Democratic majority to the FCC. After all, Senator Barack Obama had opposed the pace of media-industry consolidation and had affirmed that public interest considerations should drive FCC decision-making. The senator’s letters to the FCC are an eye-opening matter of public record. To this day, two years after retiring from the FCC, I pull copies from my file drawer and shake my head at what might have been if performance had matched promise.
In the very first year of the new administration, cable giant Comcast came knocking at the Commission door seeking approval to purchase majority control of the already huge and powerful NBC-Universal media complex. The proposal was daunting in both breadth and depth. The merged entity would include media and telecom; broadcast and broadband; distribution and content (the medium and the message); traditional and new media. I cast the lone Commission vote against this transaction, stating that it was “too much, too big, too powerful, too lacking in benefits for American consumers and citizens.”
TV stations are hot commodities in the wake of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision freeing up billions of Super PAC and dark money dollars that flow down by the billions to broadcast and cable operators each election cycle. So the bazaar never closes. TVNewsCheck.com recently reported that nearly 300 stations worth over $8 billion changed hands last year alone, up 367 percent in value from 2012. Just recently the FCC has approved major transactions involving Tribune, Sinclair, and Gannett. To make matters worse, companies have devised clever strategies to end-run the FCC’s ownership rules through arrangements that allow them to control stations they do not technically own. The Commission needs to come down hard on these arrangements.
“But wait,” you may be thinking. “Won’t the internet cure the ills of consolidation? Too bad about the shrinkage of traditional media, but they were headed for the ashcan of history anyways.” Barriers to entry are low, everyone possesses a platform on which to speak, and the news circles the globe at lightening pace. Yet we hardly live in a golden age of digital news. I don’t need to tell you that that only a few have managed to find an online model to support the resource-intensive journalism that has been so drastically diminished in traditional media. Ironically, the primary source of the news and information continues to be newspaper and TV newsrooms. In Losing the News, Harvard’s esteemed Alex Jones estimates that “85 percent of professionally-reported accountability news comes from newspapers.” The problem is, of course, that these traditional sources are providing much less news than they once did.
The internet is still an adolescent. It will produce more revolutionary changes in the news, but not by continuing down the road it is presently on. The internet is at a vulnerable crossroads, and decisions made in the public realm generally, and at the FCC specifically, will have as much to do with its success as will innovation and technology.
The challenge is two-fold. One is much greater deployment of the broadband that enables internet communications. The other is guaranteeing a truly open internet (often uninformatively called “network neutrality”). Some would have you believe that America is a veritable broadband wonderland, but stubborn facts belie their optimism. In fact, our country has fallen from leader to laggard in broadband. American consumers are paying more and receiving less than broadband customers in other industrial nations, thanks in no small part to industry-friendly FCC deregulations that passed over objections like mine. Broadband is the critical infrastructure that will fuel 21st century jobs, health, education and democracy, just as roads, bridges, railways, highways, and rural electricity fueled the earlier growth of our nation. But until we develop a sense of mission to bring high-speed, low-cost broadband to everyone —no matter the particular circumstances of their individual lives—the future will belong to others. This is partly an FCC job, but also that of our top government. Our forbears moved America forward with infrastructure often supported by innovative private-public partnerships. It is time to do this again.
In 2002 the FCC decided there would be almost no oversight of the broadband highways that deliver the internet to us, believing that the invisible hand of the marketplace would get the job done. Stunningly, the agency actually determined that broadband wasn’t even “telecommunications.” It was instead an “information service,” which meant that consumer protections (like ubiquitous service, reasonable prices, privacy, public safety, and competitive choice) that applied to previous generations’ telephone service would not be required as communications went digital. If consumers wished to enjoy such protections for broadband, they would have to start all over—in a decidedly hostile political and regulatory climate. No other nation allowed such a ludicrous debate over communications semantics to shackle its broadband development.
Equally threatening to journalists’ and others’ online future has been FCC reluctance to guarantee a truly open internet. The secret of a thriving internet is that users, not gatekeepers, control their online experiences. The core idea of the open internet is that consumers should be free to access the lawful content of their choice, run the applications they prefer, and enjoy the benefits of transparency and non-discrimination by preventing internet service providers from favoring their own businesses over others. This is not just to encourage competition; it is also to maintain a free flow of information so citizens are able to access a diversity of providers. Permitting Verizon, AT&T, or Comcast to control access to information is a direct and unacceptable threat to our democracy—and to you as journalists, since gatekeepers can separate you from your audience for any reason they choose.
Some claim that internet freedom is a solution in search of a problem. Yet there has been no lack of attempted gatekeeping in numerous cases such as AT&T’s restricting FaceTime, Madison River, and the well-known instance of Comcast throttling BitTorrent, which struck me as purposefully slowing certain applications on its networks and discriminating in a way that threatened the freedom end-users expect. Now AT&T is talking about a “sponsored data” plan wherein deep-pocketed content providers could pay for quicker carriage than small sites could afford.
The FCC that took shape when Obama became president went on-record quickly in favor of an open internet. While this was a welcome pledge, the devil was in the details. The new administration was reluctant to get into a bare-knuckle fight with powerful industries, so the incoming FCC chairman opted instead for what he thought would be the best of two worlds—mild network protections that would show the FCC was doing something, even as it avoided tough rules that would cause a fight-to-the-finish with the corporate titans. Industry was invited in to help craft the guidelines, but then took even these watered-down rules to court. This January, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the commission’s rules. Unless the FCC responds, internet service providers are free to fashion the internet into something like cable television, with the most desirable news and information behind pricey pay-tiers. It is a very real threat to the delivery of news. Under the current rules, a big cable company could block access to an investigative report about its less-than-stellar customer service. Such frightening scenarios should galvanize anyone who cares about journalistic freedom.
Interestingly, the court said that if the commission had treated broadband as a “telecommunications” rather than an “information” service, consumer protection would have been on solid ground. Hopefully, the FCC will move quickly to reclassify these services as telecommunications—and then write tough rules to actually get the job done. But armies of lobbyists and wheelbarrows of money stand in the way. It is testing time for the new FCC Chairman and his colleagues.
During my 10 years at the FCC, I took part in literally scores of town hall meetings and community forums all across America to tell people what I saw happening and to learn more about their personal experiences with our communications ecosystem. Several of these sessions lasted over six hours and drew hundreds of citizens.
In some places these meetings would attract media attention; in others they would go uncovered. It didn’t take me long to figure out why the disparities. If a community’s media was under consolidated control—with a large and distant company owning the major broadcast and, often, newspaper outlets—the coverage would usually be somewhere between slim and none. But if I was visiting a town where independent media still existed and locally employed journalists were on the beat, there would be advance notice that a meeting was going to happen; there would often be live TV coverage; and the event would be reported in detail, often on the front page of the local paper.
I am not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t see these issues as good guys vs. bad guys. Yet there is more than sheer coincidence involved in the differentiated coverage that I, and many like-minded advocates, received in different media marketplaces. I see what happened as the sadly predictable results of a system where the Wall Street mantra is: play the game or be voted off the island. The dismal options for the small, independent owner too often reduce to selling out to a giant or watching the business fail. It’s what happens when public interest oversight goes AWOL.
While still a commissioner, I went one day to visit the editorial page editor of a major newspaper. I had noticed an editorial chastising the excesses of big oil companies, and I urged the paper to run a similar critique about the excesses of big media. The response I got was a negative shake of the head and an explanation that the editor had complete freedom to cover any issue—except one. That issue was media ownership. I nearly fell through the floor at this stark admission, but then I realized that the explicit statement I had just heard only validated what I had been experiencing.
Many in the news business told me that the future of our media is not a sufficiently compelling popular issue to justify its coverage. Yet how well I remember three million citizens writing in to oppose the FCC’s loosened media ownership rules that were approved in 2003 over my dissent. This outpouring of public sentiment caused Congress to go on record against those rules. (Soon a federal court, equally unimpressed with the FCC handiwork, sent them back to the agency.) The commission tried again to loosen the rules in 2007 and 2012. But it’s a beat not covered, so most of the country didn’t have a clue that these rules changes were still in play.
You will not be surprised to learn that I believe there is much the FCC should be doing to revitalize America’s media. The FCC’s job, by statute, is to protect “the public interest.” The idea is that the airwaves are a public resource, belonging to all the people. No business, no individual, actually owns them. Rather, broadcasters are granted licenses to use the airwaves in return for serving the common good.
The FCC could usher in a new “Era of the Public Interest” by learning to say “No!” to merger proposals that will wreak further havoc on our news and information infrastructure. This is the essential first step.
Next, the FCC should implement a credible broadcast licensing system. An automatic, no-questions-asked eight-year extension is nothing more than conferring monopoly power with no public oversight. For years, the FCC had licensing guidelines—performance measures the agency considered when a station’s license was up for renewal. They emphasized opportunities for local self-expression, public affairs programs, news, service to minority groups—an issue of grave neglect—and limitations on advertising. Stations were expected to consult with local audiences about what issues merited coverage. The commission never did a credible job of implementing these guidelines and, as the power of big media grew, the agency basically abandoned them.
As for new media, I have already emphasized the critical need for the FCC to guarantee an open internet and to ensure ubiquitous broadband. Here’s another suggestion and it involves both the FCC and you as journalists. How about generating a national discussion on the future of the internet? Not fear-mongering about “regulating” the internet, but a reasoned discussion on how the country should deal with it as so many of life’s experiences and opportunities go online. Perhaps the current controversy about an open internet will stimulate a broader discussion. Given your stake in how the internet evolves, who better to help generate this dialogue?
I have heard the arguments about the need to keep reporters from becoming part of the story and being tainted by involvement in public policy formation. But journalism, like government, is not a purist’s redoubt. Consider the issue of government surveillance. Battles over protecting news sources were frontpage news during the dramatic National Security Agency revelations. Journalists are obviously part of that story—in some ways they are the story—advocating for stronger legislative safeguards to protect themselves and their profession when they disclose controversial national security information.
Yet national security source protection is one component of a wider range of privacy challenges growing out of an environment where advertisers, content producers, and politicians want to know everything about us. Frankly, most citizens I meet worry as much, or more, about their personal privacy than national security disclosure. It is difficult for me to detect a bright line between these two privacy issues, yet one seems to elicit more journalist advocacy than the other.
An old axiom has it that decisions without you are usually decisions against you. Journalists can refuse to be part of the story, but that means they won’t be part of the solution either.
Michael J. Copps
- See more at: www.cjr.org/from the desk of a_former_fcc commissioner
Iowa lost 7,300 jobs in January, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics; Branstad claims 2,600 jobs gained Governor Branstad 139,300 short of keeping his promise to create 200,000 Iowa jobs as unemployment rises to 4.3%.
Des Moines, IA — The Branstad administration manipulated job numbers released today by Iowa Workforce Development, claiming 2,600 jobs were gained when 7,300 jobs were lost. At the direction of the administration, Iowa Workforce Development has invented a figure, called gross over the month employment gains, to distort job numbers and inflate growth. The figure is not recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and independent fact checks have deemed the Governor’s claims on job growth ‘mostly false’.
Governor Branstad has repeatedly promised to create 200,000 jobs. As of this morning’s report, he is still 139,300 jobs short of keeping that promise.
In response to this morning’s report, Progress Iowa executive director Matt Sinovic issued the following statement:
“How can the Governor claim he’s creating jobs when the numbers prove just the opposite? He refuses to tell the truth, so it’s up to all of us to remind him of a few economic realities. Our incomes are stagnant, with family income growing at less than one percent. Job growth is painfully slow, and the jobs available are not good paying jobs. Income inequality is a growing problem, as more and more Iowa families live in or on the edge of poverty.”
“The administration’s strategy of wasting money on tax breaks for corporations instead of investing in Iowans isn’t working. It’s time we put our resources behind Iowa schools, Iowa roads, and Iowa workers, instead of in the pockets of foreign corporations and the Governor’s political allies.”
“Hard working Iowans deserve better than a failed strategy and continued dishonesty from their Governor.”
Progress Iowa is a statewide, multi-issue organization focused on research, education and advocacy regarding Iowa public policy, powered by more than 30,000 progressives. For more information visit www.progressiowa.org.
Iowa Workforce Development Release: Iowa loses 7,300 jobs in January, unemployment rises to 4.3%
Iowa Workforce Development: Gross Over the Month Employment Gains (non-recognized figure) shows growth of 2,600 jobs when the state lost 7,300
Fact Check: Net job gain less than half of number claimed by Branstad