Senator Maria Cantwell – Censor.

A couple of days ago, Senator Maria Cantwell and 10 Democrat Senators sent a letter to FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, urging him to put a spanner in the works of Sinclair Broadcasting’s proposed merger with the Tribune Company.

Sinclair’s crime (on top of it being a conservative voice in a sea progressive media organizations)? In their estimation, it’s violating the FCC’s arcane, rarely used “news distortion” policy.

Says the letter:

“…Sinclair may have violated the FCC’s longstanding policy against broadcast licensees deliberately distorting news by staging, slanting, or falsifying information (traditionally known as the news distortion standard). Multiple news outlets report that Sinclair has been forcing local news anchors to read Sinclair-mandated scripts warning of the dangers of “one-sided news stories plaguing our country,” over the protests from local news teams.

“As strong defenders of the First Amendment, guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press, we are alarmed by such practices. In the United States, the airwaves belong to the American people…”

Take a deep breath, Senators. It was only a promo touting the company’s efforts to weed out one-sided, fake news for its viewers, presenting, in its view, a more balanced product than its competitors (much like CNN and other news outlets have branded themselves in the wake of the fake news crisis).

What got the Senators going (again – it doesn’t take much) was a fake news video mashup by the sports blog Deadspin, which spliced together anchors from Sinclair’s different properties reading the promo, purposely making Sinclair look “creepy” in an intentional demonstration against the purported “evils” of the merger and its alleged effect of removing diversity from America’s newsrooms.

That video viral, making great fodder for anti-conservative pundits, late night TV, and Democrats – all of whom who want to stop the merger.

A simple promo blown out of proportion, recklessly conflated as news.

Goodness.

Anyway, Senator Cantwell’s letter has nothing to do with the First Amendment, and everything to do with the chokehold political parties, interest groups, trade associations and their agendas have on using FCC-granted airwaves to control networks – to their ends:

For Maria Cantwell and the DNC, they want to stop Sinclair and its bid to open up the airwaves to more conservative voices.

For Deadspin, its staff seemingly wants to punish a suitor – Univision, of which Sinclair owns 7 of its affiliates – for the purchase of its parent corporation, bringing with it a slew of hard changes to its operation after it was sued out of business by Hulk Hogan and (conservative activist) Peter Thiel.

For the Coalition to Save Local Media, it wants to keep programming and other competitive costs down for its members, which it feels won’t happen if Sinclair becomes bigger as a result of the merger.

For “media reform” groups like Free Press, they want to end all corporate media – especially networked conservative outlets – so that government elites can choose what our digital broccoli is.

And for the liberal media (which so gladly trafficked in the Deadspin video), aside from quotidian competitive concerns, they want to do anything they can to stop conservative outlets from hedging-in on their hegemony over information.

If these groups are so concerned about the First Amendment and “news distortion,” they should take a good hard look in the mirror.  The way they’ve gamed the Sinclair merger process distorts not only the competitive information marketplace, but, more importantly, Democracy itself.

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Last week during the Senate Facebook hearing, Senator Ted Cruz took FB’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, to task for his company’s left leaning bias, which, through this architecture, has seemingly routinely “Facebooked” (i.e., censored and screwed) conservative voices on its properties.

U.S. communications law creates a legal fiction which allows companies like FB to traffic in most any legal third-party content without being responsible for that programming. Companies can take down “objectionable” stuff if they so deem, but only up to a point. If a company acts like a classic publisher by actively editing / choosing (or suppressing) content it wants on its site, it can lose its congressionally-sponsored immunity. This is the thrust of Senator’s Cruz’ questioning: That is, is FB more-or-less a “neutral” content conduit, letting all programming fly through its gates regardless of viewpoint; or, is FB a biased, politically motivated actor / publisher who actively edits its property and the content on it like a newspaper?

MediaFreedom’s in-house rock band – the Nobel Drone Assassins – supplied the music bed to Cruz’ (edited for time purposes) questioning here: “We’ve Been Facebooked”.  Take a listen, it’s entertaining.

Below is the full exchange from last week.

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They protest too much – the Senators and Congressmen lined up to berate Mark Zuckerberg, striving to look like they’re protecting Americans from Facebook’s creepy habits during this week’s made-for-TV, Capitol Hill theater. They should take a look in the mirror instead. What did they expect when they created the path to subsidize and promote the “free” Internet with their laws and policies?

By supporting “free,” lawmakers implicitly support the underlying legal framework which favors that Internet model – such as the Telecommunication Act’s Section 230, which limits civil liability for platforms when unaffiliated third-party content flows through their properties. Among other things, this piece of the law creates the honeypot everyone comes to the “free” platforms for: “free” (more often than not, pirated) content.

Though recently repealed, you can add Obama’s Net Neutrality law to this. Anyone who supported it supported an official policy that forbade ISPs from fully monetizing their networks, and which also, for all intents and purposes, banned ISPs for competing with companies like Facebook in data markets. Further, this policy officially abstained from regulating the Facebooks of the world via the FCC’s “virtuous circle” authority, further (intentionally) denying a check on the edge.

Other policy and law provide incentives for Facebook and the Internet ecosystem to flourish, too. Some of it good. Some, not so. That said, let’s stop the faux outrage here. Policymakers created the petri dish which allowed (the fake scandal of) Cambridge Analytica to happen. It was inevitable. It was purposeful. It was heavily lobbied and debated before creation.

No one should be shocked.

Funny that politicians are fine to take the credit when things run well. But when they go sideways, they’re all about pointing fingers. Well, take a look in the mirror, boys. You are the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

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The following statement may be attributed to Mike Wendy, President of MediaFreedom.org:

Alexandria, VA, April 10, 2018 – Today’s Facebook inquisition to get Mark Zuckerberg to atone for his Cambridge Analytica “sins” is a charade. It was created by the protectors of Facebook and Silicon Valley to ostensibly “heal” the social media behemoth of its exploitative hijinks. Make no bones about it, though, the whole sordid affair is nothing more than a grand deflection so average Americans don’t see the vast cast of characters who helped Facebook become what it is and how badly those efforts soiled the “free and open” Internet.

Ironically, just three years ago Silicon Valley and its protectors told us it was the evil ISPs we had to watch out for. They had all the power to control the Internet, and could seriously derail democracy, commerce and our way of life if they weren’t hogtied into submission, kept away from our personal data and our free speech. So, FDR-era utility regulation – e.g., Net Neutrality – had to be imposed to protect Facebook and the “next Facebook” (or “Google,” or the next new edge company) so the Internet could truly grow, free from corporate awfulness.

Turns out the “free” platforms (Facebook, Google and Twitter) and their protectors (the politicians, media, foundations and think tanks who took the Platforms’ money and created the protection racket) tooled us; the Platforms have shown themselves to be the bad actors we always knew they were. Now the protectors are wagging their fingers, castigating Facebook (and indirectly, the Platforms) for…

…getting caught doing what they do best. [click to continue…]

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