Saturday, July 12, 2008

Reading: Bill Moyers on media consolidation

There has been a glimmer of hope on the communication technology front this week: The FCC handed observers on all sides a surprise by smacking Comcast for blocking peer-to-peer traffic, a clear victory for net neutrality.

Of course, this was also the week that the Senate approved, and Bush gleefully confirmed he will sign, the FISA reauthorization bill that will grant the telecoms retroactive immunity for crimes at the behest of the Bush administration that neither the telecoms nor Bush will admit have occurred. (The motion passed with the support of Sen. Obama, who looks like he's going to be a better campaigner than a leader.)

And behind all this is the much larger problem: the increasing consolidation of the corporate media. That's the topic of an address by Bill Moyers to the National Conference for Media Reform Conference in June.

He's not optimistic

We must be vigilant. The fate of the cyber-commons - the future of the mobile Web and the benefits of the Internet as open architecture - is up for grabs. And the only antidote to the power of organized money in Washington is the power of organized people at the net roots.

When Verizon tried to censor NARAL's (National Abortion Rights Action League) use of text messaging last year, it was quick action by Save the Internet that led the company to reverse its position. Those efforts also led to an FCC proceeding on this issue.

Wherever the Internet flows - on PCs, cell phones, mobile devices and, very soon, new digital television sets - we must ensure that it remains an open and nondiscriminatory medium of expression.

By 2011, the market analysts tell us, the Internet will surpass newspapers in advertising revenues. With MySpace and Dow Jones controlled by News Corporation's Rupert Murdoch, Microsoft determined to acquire Yahoo!, and with advertisers already telling some bloggers, "Your content is unacceptable," we could potentially lose what's now considered an unstoppable long tail of content offering abundant, new, credible and sustainable sources of news and information.

So, what will happen to news in the future, as the already tattered boundaries between journalism and advertising is dispensed with entirely and as content programming, commerce and online communities are rolled into one profitably attractive package?

Last year, the investment firm of Piper Jaffray predicted that much of the business model for new media would be just that kind of hybrid. They called it "communitainment." (Oh, George Orwell, where are you now that we need you?)

Across the media landscape, the health of our democracy is imperiled. Buffeted by gale force winds of technological, political and demographic forces, without a truly free and independent press, this 250-year-old experiment in self-government will not make it.

Moyer's essay is going onto the Readings list on the sidebar.

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