Net Neutrality

According to a recent study, the U.S. ranked 31st place on average download speeds around the world. Even more surprisingly, the U.S. came in 42nd with average upload speeds. This falls behind countries such as Belarus, Slovenia and other countries you have probably never heard before. So how did the country that invented the internet fall so far behind?

According to the article, “Why is American internet so slow?”, huge telecommunication companies like Time Warner, Verizon and Comcast have “divided up markets and put themselves in a position where they’re subject to no competition.”

This is largely because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which allows cable companies to divide and monopolize, thus charging their customers higher prices without investment in internet infrastructure. Fiber optic connections offer faster connections than traditional copper wire, however, they are expensive to build. Verizon stopped building fiber optic infrastructure in 2010, just as other countries were opening the market to competition.

Some argue that Internet service is as close to a human right in the 21st century. At its core, net neutrality is the idea that all data should be treated equally and the internet should be a leveled playing field. This means that Internet users should be able to access any web content they choose without restrictions or limitations imposed by their Internet Service Provider.

In 2014, the D.C. Court of Appeals struck down the FCC’s net neutrality efforts. In February 2015, the FCC passed new Open Internet rules, which were challenged in court. These open internet rules would ensure consumers and businesses access to “fast, fair and open internet.” In this day in age, the FCC ought to treat broadband access like a utility and common carrier. The internet is a dynamic learning tool and should be treated as such a freedom.

PBS Reborn

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was created in 1967 to “enhance citizenship and public service” and to provide a “voice for groups in the community that may otherwise go unheard.” The original mission of PBS was to provide a forum for debate and diversity free of commercial constraints.

Recently, however, PBS has come under scrutiny for its massive corporate funding and how it affects its broadcasts.

In 2014,  PBS received $ 3.5 million from Enron trader and billionaire John Arnold to fund a series about pension peril. The segment featured a ballot initiative that was being pushed in the state to roll back public employee pensions. This campaign initiative was funded by Arnold himself.

An investigative piece from PandoDaily found that Arnold was “actively trying to shape the very pension policy that series claims to be passionately covering.” David Sirota’s expose led PBS to take action on the conflict of interest underlying the original donation.

Following the report, PBS returned the $3.5 million grant it received to “sponsor an ambitious project on public pensions amid charges that it solicited inappropriate underwriting for the series.

According to the article, Happy Birthday, Public Broadcasting!, PBS has failed in its mission. The article calls the American public broadcasting system “spiritually dead” and in need of reform as a public trust.

The solution for this? Commercial broadcasters footing the bill.

Broadcasting is the only industry in America where you can make money off a public resource and not pay a thing for it. – Lawrence Grossman, former PBS and NBC News President

According to the article, the rebirth of PBS as an independently funded public trust would:

  • Take it off the annual federal dole
  • Remove corporate sponsorship
  • Free service of censorship pressures of private funding
  • Give the public a place for alternative views and independent analysis

“It’s time to give it its trust fund. All we need is the political will. Our democracy deserves no less.”

Snowden Coverage and Advocacy Journalism

The Edward Snowden government leaks have created a war between the U.S. corporate media system and independent media outlets. Here’s a refresher on the Snowden leaks and NSA surveillance on privacy rights.

In his article for the Huffington Post, Jeff Cohen discusses the implications of TV hosts and news panelists who refer to the government with the pronoun “We.” Even though polls show that more than half of the American public believe Snowden’s leak of NSA spying was a good thing, these voices are excluded from mainstream media. Instead, these news outlets focus on questions like: “‘How much damage has Snowden caused? How will he be brought to justice?‘”

“I would arrest him and I’d almost arrest Glenn Greenwald,” said Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times journalist and CNBC talking head. “We’ve screwed this up to even let him get to Russia.”

By “we,” Sorkin is referring to the government. However, the last time I checked, journalism serves as a check on the government, not a partnership with it.

In an interview with Glenn Greenwald, NBC’s David Gregory asked the factually-misleading question: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime?”

Greenwald’s response: “I think it’s pretty extraordinary that anybody who would call themselves a journalist would publicly muse about whether or not other journalists should be charged with felonies.”

Defining who is and who is not a journalist has recently become a concerning issue. In an article for the New York Times, David Carr discusses the difficulties in discerning the “isms,” that is, journalism and activism.

The line between who is a journalist and who is an activist has become increasingly blurred in the case of Greenwald. Greenwald is an activist who is “deeply suspicious of government and national security apparatus” and a “zealous defender of privacy and civil rights.” Greenwald is also a journalist.

“All activists are not journalists, but all real journalists are activists. Journalism has a value, a purpose — to serve as a check on power.” -Glenn Greenwald

Because someone is an advocate does not mean they are the opposite of a journalist. Greenwald is no exception. Greenwald, along with other independent bloggers and independent organizations, scare the established mainstream media. This advocacy journalism has gained new traction as mainstream media continue to dominate news and fail to accurately report the issues at hand.

Religion: The Internet

Jim Gilliam, cofounder of Robert Greenwald’s Brave New Films, gave this inspiring talk at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2011. It has been called “the best video on the internet.”

Gilliam was raised a Christian fundamentalist. At a young age, he was introduced to computers and soon characterized his life by going to school, going to church and going online. For Gilliam, the internet provided a platform where he was judged by his brain, not discounted by his age.

In his speech, Gilliam recounts his story of struggling with cancer, being denied treatment and turning to the internet for help. According to Gilliam, God is what happens when humanity is connected. The internet proved to be the connection Gilliam needed.

“I have faith in people, I believe in God and the internet is my religion.” -Jim Gilliam

Just watch it.

Shield Laws

Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia provide journalists with a reporter’s privilege, or protection from the state government to subpoena journalists to reveal confidential information. Some states have statues known as “shield laws” which allows whistleblowers and sources to feel safe approaching journalists and leaking the wrongdoings in society.

However, there is no federal law to protect journalists from revealing the identity of their sources. Therefore, many journalists are called to the Supreme Court and forced to testify and reveal the sources and information gathered. Oftentimes, these reporters refuse to testify as a violation to their First Amendment rights of the freedom of speech and press.

This issue was brought up in the landmark case, Branzburg v. Hayes, in which the Supreme Court made its first and only inquiry into the constitutional protection of the relationship between a reporter and confidential source. This resulted in a reporter-focused privilege that is now questionable and inconsistent in its application.

A bill proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein says that the protection of reporters and their sources should only apply to ‘real journalists.’ This bill excludes an entire class of reporters by defining who is and who is not a journalist. The bill would limit protections to those who fir the description of what Congress considers “the press.”

But there is still hope.

Congressman Alan Grayson introduced an amendment to the FY 2015 Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bill to provide a media shield for reporters against disclosure of confidential sources. His amendment refers to a journalist that reports on a regular or irregular basis and describes journalism as an act instead of a profession. According to Grayson, a journalist is someone engaged in the act of journalism, including the collection, analysis, dissemination and publication of information. With this amendment, James Risen, Julian Assange, Wikileaks and Glenn Greenwald would meet the definition of a journalist and thus be protected under the media shield law. This would further allow bloggers protection under the First Amendment.

The freedom of our nation relies on the freedom of our press. Without this reporter protection, the fundamentals of journalism are at risk. 

Legal Insurrection

On Monday, The O’Reilly Factor’s Jesse Watters went to Cornell University to interview students about a recent news article claiming that 96 percent of the $600,000 in faculty donations went to Democratic candidates. According to the article, only 15 out of the 323 donors gave to conservative causes. Watters was kicked off campus by the university’s media officials.

William A. Jacobson, a law professor at Cornell and conservative blogger for his independent conservative outlet, Legal Insurrection, found the statistics “completely predictable.” He labeled the event as an example of the Streisand Effect, which, according to Jacobson, is:

“‘The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.'”

The story has been picked up by both liberal and conservative news outlets nationwide.

Last week, Jacobson spoke to our Independent Media class about Legal Insurrection. In 2008, Jacobson started off with few computer skills and little knowledge of what a blog was. Today, his outlet sees over 45,000 page views per day.

Jacobson worked alone writing articles for the first two years. He hit one million visits after eleven and a half months, and took on the help of one of his undergraduate students. By 2011, Legal Insurrection began to bring on contributing writers and volunteers.

Jacobson discussed the struggles of maintaining his site and the difficulties of generating new readers. Since many conservative websites have gone corporate, Legal Insurrection relies heavily on linking and sharing. Its partner, College Insurrection, serves as an aggregator of news, but rarely sees much traffic.

Most of the profit the website generates comes from donations, fundraising drives and advertisements. When asked if he would ever consider quitting his teaching career at Cornell to focus on Legal Insurrection, Jacobson was hesitant. As of now, Legal Insurrection employs two full-time writers and Jacobson makes no profit.

Legal Insurrection illustrates the essence of independent media. Like other indy outlets we have studied in class, the website fills a niche in society and provides a platform for voices that are suppressed by mainstream media.

Independent Media

A blog is defined as an online website that contains personal reflections and comments, often involving hyperlinks from the writer. But blogs were around before the internet. One of the oldest and most traditional forms of journalism is the blog.

Blogs and bloggers date back to the birth of our nation. The roots of the blog can be traced back to the anonymous pamphlet writers that helped build the foundation of America in its rebellion against Britain. In his article, Are Bloggers Journalists? Let’s Ask Thomas Jefferson, Chris Daley discusses the pamphlets that were crucial to the rebellion. These pamphlets were cheap, provocative and influential. They filled a niche in the mainstream media that refused to report on controversial topics. Blogs continue to do this today.

Rodger Streitmatter’s inspiring book, Voices of the Revolution: The Dissident Press in America, chronicles the journalists who advocated for change in a mainstream society. These independent journalists, much like bloggers, filled a void in society when the media was silent.

We can learn some great lessons from the efforts of independent media. In his article, What Indy Media Heroes Can Teach Us, Jeff Cohen relays what we, as journalists, should strive for in independent media.

Don’t shy away from lost causes… Take advantage of mainstream silence… Take advantage of crisis… Take advantage of new technology… Defend press and media reform… Activate your base…

Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned, however, is to stay stubbornly independent. If independent journalists and bloggers had fallen silent to mainstream media, the social progress and reformation of our country would not exist.