Become a Media Maven: Join The Monthly Sustainers Circle
Posted by on December 22nd, 2015
Communication rights, and
especially local and regional work to cement them at home, often gets
overlooked, but it is key to so many struggles for health, safety, and
MA has been here for 38 years, always on one kind of edge or another, and we want there to be a year 39. Please join us.
do we protect the right to dissent? Crackdowns on journalists,
whistleblowers and activists are legion as a toxic combination of greedy
telecoms and an unaccountable government try to plug every remaining
space for free expression and organizing. They won't rest until the
Internet is a toll road for big spenders, and a spy net for the rest of
Media Alliance has been carving the space for truth-telling
for 38 years. And protecting that space when it is under attack, here in
the Bay Area, and all across the country. So many times we are the
only, or one of a precious few, voices at one or another public meeting
where our freedoms are slowly pushed back, one step at a time.
the corporations that run the government won’t help dismantle their own
influence. The system that lulls us into complacency as our human
rights get whittled away wants us doing busy work, not challenging them.
Keeping the challenges going, steady and strong and right here at home
in California where we live and work together, that can only be
supported by you. Media Alliance will keep lighting the fire. With your
The arc of justice is realized by claiming the space to create alternate narratives.
got some great gifts for you, a 30% discount off the mind-bending
titles from MIT Press, including Low Power To The People, the chronicle
of the pirate radio movement. Local filmmaker Donna Lee's video story of
blogger Josh Wolf's 226 day stay in federal prison to protect his
videos, a crucial moment in the history of citizen journalism and
Chinook Book, a modern-day coupon book featuring discounts and gifts at
local sustainable Bay Area businesses to help you really buy local.
know money is tight and so many worthwhile causes are asking you for
$100 right now. So make it easy. Join the sustainers circle for $5 or
$10 a month, and donate a cappucino or two to media justice every month.
Most importantly, you’ll know that you personally did something to reclaim the space to tell the truth here in California.
The truth will set us free. Nothing else can.
Information-Sharing In The Bay Area
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on January 28th, 2015
The January meeting of the Urban Area Strategic Initiative (UASI)featured this informative slide show about how the Bay Area's fusion centers work together.
For more on fusion centers and how they work, check out this Media Alliance article "Fusing California" on the fusion center network.
Congressional Hearing on Net Neutrality
Posted by on January 23rd, 2015
House Energy and Commerce Committee
This is the video of the House Energy and Commerce net neutrality hearing.
More Reform On Prison Phone Rates
Posted by United Church of Christ OCC on January 12th, 2015
UCC OC Inc.,
Center for Media Justice and MAGNet teamed up with religious
organizations, civil rights groups, labor and many others to submit a
letter today supporting further reforms to end predatory prison
phone rates. The letter supported the FCC's proposal to end "kick-back"
payments, known as commissions from phone companies to prisons, jails
and detention centers. The letter also urged
the FCC to cap local rates and to block unfair fees, to build on the
FCC's historic decision to cap long-distance rates in 2014. We also
urged the FCC to take rapid action to protect people with disabilities,
and to investigate unscrupulous rates for email
and video visitation.
January 12, 2015
Chairman Thomas Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
Re: Rates for Inmate Calling Services, WC Docket No. 12-375
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
The undersigned represent a diverse coalition of religious, civil rights, public interest, labor, social justice and community-based organizations —from across the country —who join together to support equitable and fair charges for phone calls to and from prisons, jails, and immigration detention centers. We write to support the new set of proposals put forth by the Commission1 to eliminate payments from prison phone companies to the institutions that hire them, cap local rates, ensure that related fees are not predatory, and urge the Commission to act with all possible speed on the severe harm to disabled individuals who remain most challenged in their access to adequate and affordable communications.
The FCC’s vote in 2013 was historic, ending after a 10 year delay, the predatory rates for long-distance interstate calls. The FCC’s leadership in this area was extremely helpful, bringing down immediately long-distance rates for many families, and causing a number of other jurisdictions to become aware of the problem and encourage them to take action on their own.2 Families around the country are able to telephone their loved ones who are incarcerated or detained far away. This is no small victory and our thanks and gratitude are warmly given to the FCC leaders and staff who have been instrumental in this change.
The new proposal outlined by the FCC this fall is another welcome step. Most important, we are pleased to see the Commission take steps to align the interests of telephone companies and families by eliminating site commission payments from phone companies to the institutions that contract with them for telephone service. The FCC’s successful data collection revealed that families of inmates have paid $460 million in 2013 alone in “pass-through payments” “to pay for programs ranging from inmate welfare to roads to correctional facilities’ staff salaries to the state or county’s general budget.”3 While this number is an extreme burden on families and friends, it represents 0.3 percent of prison budgets overall.4 These payments create perverse incentives – encouraging prisons, jails, and detention facilities to hire telephone companies that offer the highest commission payments, which often means hiring the companies with the highest prices. The most beneficial aspect of this decision, from our perspective, is the rapid and simple way in which this will empower normal contracting and procurement processes to perform their functions—competition for the lowest prices.
We encourage the FCC to not only eliminate site commission payments, but also to backstop them with local rate caps that reflect competitive rates outside prisons, jails and detention facilities. The overwhelming majority of calls to and from these facilities are local calls. Further, with caps now in place for long-distance calls, there is a risk that companies and facilities will merely shift the cost centers from long-distance to local calls. Inmate calling service providers are clearly monopoly providers able to charge “supra-competitive prices” because inmates do not have access to competing alternatives. Only a few states and local jurisdictions have begun to respond since the Commission’s action last year. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 granted the Commission broad authority to regulate intrastate payphone rates, which includes rates charged inmates and their loved ones.
We are pleased the FCC is taking a serious look at the fees and practices associated with inmate calling and is proposing reforms. As the Prison Policy Institute found, ancillary charges represent 38 percent of all consumer payments for ICS.7 Consumers are no less damaged when unreasonable costs come in the form of unjust fees and charges related to adding money to accounts, per-call fees, credit and other predatory practices. We have a strong concern about the incentives that per-call fees give to inmate call providers. Many inmates and their families report excessive and repeated call disconnections, ostensibly when third party calls or other violations are detected. If the provider had no financial incentive to disconnect a call, it would be more likely that these disconnections would be limited to instances of rule violations. As the FCC recognizes in its notice, if inmate calling providers are able to increase associated fees without limitation, it is likely that those fees will increase to compensate for lower rates. We encourage the FCC to establish robust consumer education obligations for this uniquely vulnerable population. We also share the concern of the FCC that facilities are starting to charge outrageous rates for access to newer technologies—such as fifty cents for one email—or to limit in-person access by replacing it with video access.8 We commend the FCC for developing a record on these practices and encourage whatever steps can be taken to encourage competition and fair-dealing in the provision of these services.
Finally, we urge the FCC to be proactive with regard to the needs of prisoners with disabilities. The deaf and hard of hearing community face unique challenges while incarcerated or detained. We are gratified the FCC clarified that no additional charges can be imposed on inmates using the TRS (telecommunications relay services). In the present day and age, when technology is often used to make communications simpler and more seamless for people with disabilities, reliance on outdated technology for incarcerated people is not acceptable. We urge you heed the advice offered by the disabilities communities themselves, including comments filed by Helping Educate to Advance the Rights of the Deaf (HEARD). These stakeholders should be directly involved in any decisions the Commission makes with regard to their needs. This action would be a commendable step to implement your strong commitment to find mechanisms for the Commission to assist people with disabilities.
For all the above reasons, we urge you to address unreasonable local phone rates to prisons, jails and detention centers and take up the task of addressing the needs of incarcerated people with disabilities. We look forward to working with the Commission as you consider these important issues.
Alliance of Baptists
American Friends Service Committee
Arkansas Cradle to Prison Pipeline Initiative
Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC
BEST: Building Entrepreneurs for Success in Tennessee
Center for Media Justice
Color of Change
Communications Workers of America
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Congregational Church of Algonquin
Disciples Justice Action Network
Franciscan Action Network
The Greenlining Institute
Healing Communities USA
Highlander Research and Education Center
Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters
Illinois Campaign for Prison Phone Justice
Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Martinez Street Women's Center
Darren Mitchell Meade, Investigative Reporter
Media Literacy Project
Media Mobilizing Project
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office
Metodistas Asociados Representando la Causa de los Hispano Americanos (MARCHA)
National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd
National Council of La Raza
National Hispanic Media Coalition
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
National Urban League
New Jersey Advocates for Immigrant Detainees
Open Technology Institute, New America
Peace Action Group of Plymouth Church Seattle, UCC
The Peoples Press Project
Texas Death Penalty Education and Resource Center
Dr. Artika R. Tyner
Unitarian Universalist Association
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society
Voices for Racial Justice
May First / PeopleLink and Athens Indymedia Center
Posted by on December 19th, 2014
Our friends and Media Action Grassroots Network colleagues May First/Peoplelink's statement on their federal gag order.
May First/PeopleLink is one of the New York anchors for the national media justice coalition Mag-Net (Media Action Grassroots Network www.mag-net.org).
Recently they were subjected to a federal gag order due to their work with the Athens, Greece Indymedia Center.
Here is their statement on the gag order.
May First/People Link's leadership has been under a Federal gag order
since early September. The gag order prevented us from discussing a
subpoena for member information and the existence of the gag order
itself. As of today, that gag order has expired.
The gag order protected a subpoena that was issued by the Department
of Justice on September 5, 2014, which demanded account information
about the Athens (Greece) Indymedia Center membership. Apparently, the
target of the investigation was a member of an organization wanted by
the Greek law enforcement who is believed to have used the Indymedia
website at one point.
On the request of the Athens IMC, we refused to release personally
identifying information to the department of justice to shield members
of the Athens IMC from political persecution in Greece. We then publicly
announced the existence of the subpoena to our membership and posted
that information on our website.
Two weeks later, we were served with the gag order forbidding us from
talking about the subpeona and forbidding us from even acknowledging to
anyone outside our Leadership Committee that the order existed. We were
to act as if nothing had happened.
We were informed that any violation of this order could result in
fines and imprisonment, which could have destroyed the organization.
Under the advice of our lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation we obeyed the order.
Because the order has now expired, we want to comment on two issues arising from this episode that we consider important.
First, May First/People Link has always espoused the principle that
the release of member data is a violation of our members' right to
privacy: a fundamental human right and one that protects the ability of
our members to engage in activism and political organizing. It is at the
crux of our
responsibility as an organization. We do not cooperate with government
intrusions unless the specific affected members agree to such
cooperation. It is this policy that guides our actions.
In the case of the Athens IMC, we had no data of any real value to
this investigation and that fact makes our second concern even deeper.
Hitting us with an order that forbids us from speaking about a
government demand for our members' information and then forbids us from
publicly acknowledging that there is such a demand is grotesquely
repressive and damaging to our organization's members and their right to information about their data and their organization.
We believe you have the right to privacy and to withhold from any
investigation information you may have that is legally obtained and
legal in and of itself. We believe you have the right tell others that
the government is investigating you or demanding that kind of
information from you. Moreover, we believe you have the right to tell
others when the government forbids you from revealing information about
These rights are particularly precious at a time when people the
world over are fighting for our freedom and opposing government
repression and brutality. No repressive act can be hidden and no
injustice will go unopposed when there is a truly open and free
Protecting and broadening that free Internet is our mission as an
organization. Facilitating, defending and protecting our members' data
and their ability to function as activist organizations is at the very
core of that mission.
We continue committed to that mission.
Epic Direct Action: SumofUs puts the Google bus in the Slow Lane.
Posted by Sum of us on December 17th, 2014
A totally amazing direction by SumofUs volunteers. They put the Google bus in the slow lane on the highway, just like a non-neutral Internet will put all of us in an Internet slow lane.
Blog: Some Internet Activists Think Obama Didn't Go Far Enough
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on December 15th, 2014
When Barack Obama came out publicly
for the reclassification of the Internet as a public utility, his
announcement indicated that the decades-long battle to maintain
neutrality on the Web had entered a new high-profile stage.
wonky side discussion found mostly in the technology sections of major
newspapers and on computer blogs, net neutrality had suddenly morphed
into a national obsession, filling up late-night TV and social-media feeds with one meme after another and finally crashing the FCC's website with 4 million public comments.
The deliberations of agency chair Tom Wheeler, a former cable and wireless lobbyist appointed by a Democratic president, became a public drama, as one half-baked compromise proposal after another bit the dust in the face of public outrage.
the battle heats up again, some Internet activists are saying net
neutrality is important but isn't the only game in town. They say the
intensity of the fight over net neutrality has diverted attention from
other steps that can be taken to keep the Internet consumer-focused and
equally accessible to all, instead of a prioritized toll road that not
everyone can afford to drive on. Particularly, they point to the idea of
So what is structural separation?
David Isenberg, a technology expert and a fellow at the Institute for Global Communications, says:
separation means that providers of an Internet connection can't have a
financial interest in what's carried on that connection. This ensures
that when the Internet connection provider does network management, it's
not motivated to discriminate in favor of one content or service
provider at the expense of another. Enforcement of neutrality is easy
when there's a bright line between conduit and content.
Such a policy, had it been in place, might have stopped the Comcast/NBC-Universal merger dead in its tracks, as vertical integration of content carriers and content providers would have been forbidden.
a consistent element in conversations abroad, the subject has been
largely off the table domestically since the last time something like it
occurred, the 1984 breakup of AT&T. In the ensuing period of time, voluntary structural separation occurred or is in process in Australia and New Zealand and was forcibly applied in 2007-08 in Mongolia.
the obvious benefits of the 1984 antitrust action against AT&T, it
is a bit of mystery why it isn't a part of today's conversation about
paid prioritization on the Web. With their ownership separate from
AT&T, the Baby Bells no longer had an incentive to favor AT&T
over long-distance competitors. All long-distance competitors obtained
access to local telecommunications services on similar,
The 1984 version of paid prioritization in telecom. Stopped.
Sounds good, right?
Could something like that work on the 21st-century Internet? Can we even talk about it?
enemies of net neutrality describe Title 2 as "the nuclear option," but
it is actually a moderate compromise. Structural separation would be
better way to get net neutrality than Title 2. It would be simpler, more
effective and easy to enforce. But it would mean that Internet access
providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable would
need to spin off some major business assets. Title 2 is like medicine.
Structural separation is like surgery. The disease we need to cure is
Internet discrimination. If medicine won't cure it, maybe surgery will.
not unusual for Beltway conversations about economic policy to restrict
the scope of the conversation to just a few middle-of-the-road options.
also not unusual for options that are on the table in countries across
the world to be dismissed as lunatic socialist fringe here at home.
if the telecoms think reclassification into Title II is "too harsh a
tool" to rein in unreasonable network practices and the threat of slow
lanes on the Internet for everyone without big bucks in their pockets,
they may not be seeing the whole picture.
Blog: Ferguson Is An Indictment. It's An Indictment Of The System.
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on
The fake conversation about Ferguson goes like this: The grand jury heard the evidence. They declined to indict. The riots are happening because some people don't like the result.
That's not what happened in Missouri.
In the fantasyland of American jurisprudence, what occurs is a jury of peers hears the evidence as presented by a skilled and committed advocate for each party in conflict. Each argument for guilt or innocence is given the strongest possible display in order to have the maximal chance at persuasion.
This arrangement constitutes a fair deal per the society, even as it gets increasingly tattered by profiling, selective prosecution, and the ever present role of money and the lack of it.
But in Missouri, the machine didn't even have the decency to play pretend.
Prosecutor McCullough has deep ties to the Ferguson Police Department, ties so deep any rational human being would have demanded recusal on the basis of conflict of interest. No witness was cross-examined, a vital tool for uncovering faked testimony. In other words, no trial happened or is going to happen, except maybe the media trial of the victim for being a "thug who deserved to be shot", a characterization now assigned to all young black men on default, whether armed or unarmed, no matter what they do or don't do.
Dismissal without trial. That is what happened. Not a fair deal and one that consigns the dead body that laid on the pavement for four and a half hours to invisibility. Somebody that just doesn't matter. And one in a long line of black bodies that have been declared not to matter. Exempt from the deal. Another version of 3/5 of a person.
"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious,
makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even
passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears
and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've
got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run
it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will
be prevented from working at all!"
Those who question the rioting, the property damage, the determination to shut it down.
Bay Area Speaks: A People's Hearing On The Internet
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on November 21st, 2014
The second community town hall on net neutrality: thrown by the media justice community because the FCC would not.
The event took place on November 20th at SF City Hall, sponsored by Jay Nath, the CTO of the City of San Francisco, and hosted by a variety of groups including Media Alliance, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Common Cause, Free Press and the Center for Media Justice/Mag-Net.
Honored guests included former FCC commissioner Michael Copps and Oakland City Council President Pro Tem Rebecca Kaplan.
Watch the Video!
Webcast of New York Speaks: The First Nationwide Net Neutrality Talkback
Posted by on October 28th, 2014
New York Speaks
The complete webcast from the October 27th New York Speaks event at the Brooklyn Main Library.
Right To Report In The Digital Age: Journalists In An Era Of Increasing Harrassment
Posted by on September 25th, 2014
Committee to Protect Journalists
In reponse to the growing climate of intimidation directed at journalists in the United States, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has launched a campaign with a letter to President Obama and a petition designed to uphold the right to report despite growing surveillance, targeting and harassment.
Read the letter below and sign the petition.
September 22, 2014
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Via facsimile: +1 202-456-2461
Dear President Obama:
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide, is writing to express its concern about the effects of intelligence and law enforcement activities undertaken by agencies, over which your administration has oversight, on the free flow of news and other information in the public interest.
Although your administration has taken steps to address some of the concerns we first identified to you in an October 2013 letter, the measures do not go far enough to mitigate threats to journalism and the journalistic process. In fact, information revealed over the past year regarding the breadth of surveillance by the National Security Agency calls into question the seriousness of your administration's commitment to reform.
We are deeply troubled by reports that the NSA and allied agencies monitored the electronic communications of journalists and news organizations. For example, the German magazine Der Spiegel reported in September 2013 that the NSA hacked into a protected internal communications system of Al-Jazeera. In February 2014, Washington Post journalist Barton Gellman said a National Security Letter was used to secretly obtain his phone records. Several journalists have also said that the surveillance of journalists has a chilling effect on them and their sources.
We are also concerned by ongoing aggressive leak investigations that target journalists with subpoenas and search warrants. The U.S. Department of Justice continues to pursue information from award-winning journalist James Risen that would make him reveal a confidential source. The Justice Department only recently amended its rules to prohibit federal law enforcement agents from circumventing the Privacy Protection Act of 1980, following public outrage over a search warrant targeting James Rosen, a Fox News journalist who had engaged in ordinary newsgathering activities.
Journalists continue to describe being detained, interrogated, and searched at the U.S. border despite the existence of updated Homeland Security regulations. Journalists' electronic devices have also been searched, which could put the confidentiality of their sources at risk. One journalist--the award-winning documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, whose films showcase American policy in the post-9/11 era--has said she was detained for questioning at U.S. border crossings more than 40 times between 2006 and 2012. New York Times journalists C.J. Chivers and Mac William Bishop said they were detained before leaving on a reporting trip for Syria in 2013, and Bishop was detained on his way back into the U.S.
In light of these additional revelations over the past year, we ask that you do more to ameliorate the effect of pervasive surveillance on the free flow of news. We recognize the government's vital interest in protecting U.S. national security, but there must be reasonable limits--and meaningful, independent checks--on the powers of any one person, agency, or branch of government. As New Yorker staff writer and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Dean Steve Coll recently told the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, "Every national security reporter I know would say that the atmosphere in which professional reporters seek insight into policy failures [and] bad military decisions is just much tougher and much chillier."
Although Congress and the courts have a role in ensuring that U.S. policies are necessary, proportional, and lawful, there are steps your administration can immediately take to mitigate the harm caused to journalism in recent years. In order to more fully protect the newsgathering process, we request that your administration:
Issue a presidential policy directive prohibiting the hacking and surveillance of journalists and media organizations.
Limit aggressive prosecutions that ensnare journalists and intimidate whistleblowers.
Prevent the harassment of journalists at the U.S. border.
We last wrote to you in October 2013, prior to the release of CPJ's special report on press freedom conditions in the United States, and requested a meeting to discuss our concerns and recommendations, which included a focus on ending the chilling effect generated by overbroad leak prosecutions and remedying the overall lack of transparency in your administration. We remain concerned about these issues and are disappointed that we have not received a substantive response to the issues we raised.
We understand and appreciate that your administration has taken some measures toward reforming U.S. surveillance and law enforcement practices that touch upon these matters, such as taking steps to better comply with both the letter and spirit of the Privacy Protection Act and to increase oversight prior to the issuance of secret subpoenas and other legal processes that seek journalists' materials. However, we ask that more be done to ensure that journalists are able to do their jobs without fear of reprisal or censorship. To that end, we once again respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss our concerns and our recommendations for improving the press freedom environment in the United States.
We thank you for your attention and look forward to your response.
Sandra Mims Rowe
Josh Earnest, White House Press Secretary
Eric Holder, Attorney General of the United States
Jeh Johson, Secretary of Homeland Security
Brian Fallon, Director of the Office of Public Affairs, the United States Department of Justice
Tanya J. Bradsher, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs, the United States Department of Homeland Security
Blog: What's Up At Comic-Con?
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on August 16th, 2014
It's not life and death, but the distribution of press passes from the White House to the floors of major industry conventions, has long been a fraught process that can confer, or by contrast, remove "credibility" from sectors of the journalistic community. There have been long successive battles about whether citizen journalists are journalists, whether bloggers should get press passes, and about diversity in newsrooms, both ethnic and gender diversity and also viewpoint diversity.
It looks like these battles are far from over.
Comic-Con International is a 45-year old comics tradeshow, expanded from a small one-day gathering in 1970 to a multi-day extravaganza with 130,000 participants in 2014. Comic-Con correctly describes itself as a focal point for the world of comics, an industry that folds in creative artists, politics, youth, independent publishing and some of the biggest media titans in the world. What happens at Comic-Con International matters for media-watchers.
Kevin Robinson is executive producer at Medium Rare, a project of Fractured Atlas. Medium Rare is an online site that chronicles the achievements of women and people of color in television, film and the gaming industry. They specifically try to focus on work that is otherwise under-reported, overshadowed and overlooked.
Robinson identified Comic-Con International as a place where Medium Rare could locate the kinds of stories it wants to tell - stories of people doing innovative work and bringing diverse viewpoints into a field that has traditionally been dominated by white men. So he applied for a press pass to cover the large convention. It was denied without comment. To add a little bit more grist for frustration, Robinson, who got his application in by the deadline, found out via the grapevine that another outlet which had applied after the deadline, had received a press pass, although his own had not. Bothered by the rejection, Robinson decided not to take the verdict lying down and sent a polite letter of inquiry to Comic-Con, asking for a reason. His letter is attached below. Here is the text:
"We were denied press access to Comic Con this year and are trying to understand the rationale for our credential application being denied. Adding to our curiosity, is knowing that at least one other outlet obtained access to the convention after the press deadline. All of our materials were submitted by the deadline and several attempts have been made to contact your Director of PR and Marketing for clarification, to no avail.
We understand that Comic Con is inundated with requests for access, but being a reputable, credible outlet of color should mean something. Addressing a larger issue, we would like to know how many outlets of color did in fact receive press approval.
Although it might be an oversight, we feel that Comic Con may be coming up short in granting fair and equal access to journalists of color. We would welcome the opportunity to help rectify this perceived oversight".
The letter was copied to Media Alliance, an Oakland-based democratic communications advocacy organization.
Here's what came back from the public relations department at Comic-Con. Can anyone say "form letter"? (Original attached below).
"Thank you for contacting us. Each year we receive thousands of applications from press outlets around the world interested in covering the convention, unfortunately we cannot accommodate each request. Race or color is not a determining factor on acceptance and is not a criteria on whether an entity is approved or denied credentials. As a result, we have no way of knowing how many entities or individuals of color report on the show. However, a few things we look into when reviewing applications, but are not limited to, are web traffic to the site along with social media following and the regularity of updated content. We hope this information can be useful to your outlet and will be taken into consideration if you choose to apply next year".
Here is what is striking about this. While we do not mean to infer that Comic-Con does not, in fact, in the lead-up to a convention spend hours and hours researching the web traffic and social media following of thousands of applications for press passes, profit margins probably indicate that hours of research are not done on each and every one of thousands of applications. Judgements are being made, largely as most of us make them, about what is credible, popular, mainstream and important, using the filters that most of us employ, filters that contain individual preferences, bias and stereotypes that enter into the casual judgments we make everyday.
A strict algorithmic analysis of social media metrics and web hits can only lead to the conclusion that the most critical information contained on the web and that is of the most import to the largest number of people is cute cat videos. Does anyone actually believe this?
Diversity-blindness - as caricatured in the "I don't see race" comics found all over the web - does not generally lead to the most engaging, relevant coverage of an event. Nor does it deliver the fullest range of perspectives, unless one believes that we are all the same. For participants whose work is, as Medium Rare describes, often overshadowed and overlooked, the convention's inability to consider the advantages of a diverse press corps of small and large media outlets, mainstream and indie, those talking of art and politics, as well as industry trends, as well as those looking for stories of non-typical artists breaking new ground, this policy does not serve them. For the industry as a whole, it provides less relevant coverage for those who look for role models who look like them.
In other words, the press pass policy enforces standardization of content that largely marginalizes minorities of all kinds, not simply demographic minorities, but also viewpoint minorities. What is vitally important does not always get the most clicks, but we are all the poorer if no space is made for it to be said.
It is striking in 2014 to see a major artistic and technology event fail to factor in diversity to its policy decisions. Comic-Con International can do better than this - and it should.
In Defense of Black Rage: Michael Brown, the Police, and the American Dream
Posted by Brittney Cooper on August 15th, 2014
A blog by Brittney Cooper in Salon that says what needs to be said about the ongoing slaughter of young people of color.
On Saturday a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager on his way to college this week. Brown was shot multiple times, though his hands were in the air. His uncovered body was left in the street for hours, as a crowd from his neighborhood gathered to stand vigil. Then they marched down to the police station. On Sunday evening, some folks in the crowd looted a couple of stores and threw bottles at the police. Monday morning was marked by peaceful protests.
The people of Ferguson are angry. Outraged. The officer’s story is dubious. Any black kid with sense knows it is futile to reach into an officer’s vehicle and take his gun. That story is only plausible to people who believe that black people are animals, that black men go looking for cops to pick fights with. Absurdity. Eyewitness accounts like these make far more sense.
It seems far easier to focus on the few looters who have reacted unproductively to this tragedy than to focus on the killing of Michael Brown. Perhaps looting seems like a thing we can control. I refuse. I refuse to condemn the folks engaged in these acts, because I respect black rage. I respect black people’s right to cry out, shout and be mad as hell that another one of our kids is dead at the hands of the police. Moreover I refuse the lie that the opportunism of a few in any way justifies or excuses the murderous opportunism undertaken by this as yet anonymous officer.
The police mantra is “to serve and to protect.” But with black folks, we know that’s not the mantra. The mantra for many, many officers when dealing with black people is apparently “kill or be killed.”
It is that deep irrational fear of young black men that continues to sit with me. Here’s the thing: I do not believe that most white people see black people and say, “I hate black people.” Racism is not that tangible, that explicit. I do not believe most white people hate most black people. I do not believe that most police officers seek to do harm or consciously hate black people. At least I hope they don’t.
I believe that racism exists in the inexplicable sense of fear, unsafety and gnawing anxiety that white people, be they officers with guns or just general folks moving about their lives, have when they encounter black people. I believe racism exists in that sense of mistrust, the extra precautions white people take when they encounter black people. I believe all these emotions have emerged from a lifetime of media consumption subtly communicating that black people are criminal, a lifetime of seeing most people in power look just like you, a lifetime of being the majority population. And I believe this subconscious sense of having lost control (of the universe) exists for white people, at a heightened level since the election of Barack Obama and the continued explosion of the non-white population.
The irony is that black people understand this heightened anxiety. We feel it, too. We study white people. We are taught this as a tool of survival. We know when there is unrest in the souls of white folks. We know that unrest, if not assuaged quickly, will lead to black death. Our suspicions, unlike those of white people, are proven right time and time again.
I speak to this deep psychology of race, not because I am trying to engage in pop psychology but because we live in a country that is so deeply emotionally dishonest about both race and racism. When will we be honest enough to acknowledge that the police have more power than the ordinary citizen? They are supposed to. And with more power comes more responsibility.
Why are police calling the people of Ferguson animals and yelling at them to “bring it”? Because those officers in their riot gear, with their tear gas and dogs, want a justification for slaughter. But inexplicably in that moment we turn our attention to the rioters, the people with less power, but justifiable anger, and say, “You are the problem.” No. A cop killing an unarmed teenager who had his hands in the air is the problem. Anger is a perfectly reasonable response. So is rage.
We are talking about justifiable outrage. Outrage over the unjust taking of the lives of people who look like us. How dare people preach and condescend to these people and tell them not to loot, not to riot? Yes, those are destructive forms of anger, but frankly I would rather these people take their anger out on property and products rather than on other people.
No, I don’t support looting. But I question a society that always sees the product of the provocation and never the provocation itself. I question a society that values property over black life. But I know that our particular system of law was conceived on the founding premise that black lives are white property. “Possession,” the old adage goes, “is nine-tenths of the law.”
But we are the dispossessed. We cannot count on the law to protect us. We cannot count on police not to shoot us down in cold blood. We cannot count on politics to be a productive outlet for our rage. We cannot count on prayer to soothe our raging, ragged souls.
This is what I mean when I say that we live in a society that is deeply emotionally dishonest about racism. We hear a story each and every week now about how some overzealous officer has killed another black man, or punched or beaten or choked a black woman. This week we heard two stories – Mike Brown in Missouri and John Crawford in Ohio. These are not isolated incidents. How many cops in how many cities have to murder how many black men — assault how many black women — before we recognize that this shit is not isolated? It is systemic from the top to the bottom.
Every week we are having what my friend Dr. Regina Bradley called #anotherhashtagmemorial. Every week. We are weak. We are tired. Of being punching bags and shooting targets for the police. We are tired of well-meaning white citizens and respectable black ones foreclosing all outlets for rage. We are tired of these people telling us what isn’t the answer.
The answer isn’t looting, no. The answer isn’t rioting, no. But the answer also isn’t preaching to black people about “black-on-black” crime without full acknowledgment that most crime is intraracial. The answer is not having a higher standard for the people than for the police. The answer is not demanding that black people get mad about and solve the problem of crime in Chicago before we get mad about the slaughter of a teen boy just outside St. Louis.
We can be, and have been, and are mad about both. Violence is the effect, not the cause of the concentrated poverty that locks that many poor people up together with no conceivable way out and no productive way to channel their rage at having an existence that is adjacent to the American dream. This kind of social mendacity about the way that racism traumatizes black people individually and collectively is a festering sore, an undiagnosed cancer, a raging infection threatening to overtake every organ in our body politic.
We are tired of these people preaching a one-sided gospel of peace. “Turn the other cheek” now means “here are our collective asses to kiss.” We are tired of forgiving people because they most assuredly do know what they do.
Mike Brown is dead. He is dead for no reason. He is dead because a police officer saw a 6-foot-4, 300-plus-pound black kid, and miscalculated the level of threat. To be black in this country is to be subject to routine forms of miscalculated risk each and every day. Black people have every right to be angry as hell about being mistaken for predators when really we are prey. The idea that we would show no rage as we accrete body upon body – Eric Garner, John Crawford, Mike Brown (and those are just our summer season casualties) — is the height of delusion. It betrays a stunning lack of empathy, a stunning refusal of people to grant the fact of black humanity, and in granting our humanity, granting us the right to the full range of emotions that come with being human. Rage must be expressed. If not it will tear you up from the inside out or make you tear other people up. Usually the targets are those in closest proximity. The disproportionate amount of heart disease, cancers, hypertension, obesity, violence and other maladies that plague black people is as much a product of internalized, unrecognized, unaddressed rage as it is anything else.
Nothing makes white people more uncomfortable than black anger. But nothing is more threatening to black people on a systemic level than white anger. It won’t show up in mass killings. It will show up in overpolicing, mass incarceration, the gutting of the social safety net, and the occasional dead black kid. Of late, though, these killings have been far more than occasional. We should sit up and pay attention to where this trail of black bodies leads us. They are a compass pointing us to a raging fire just beneath the surface of our national consciousness. We feel it. We hear it. Our nostrils flare with the smell of it.
James Baldwin called it “the fire next time.” A fire shut up in our bones. A sentient knowledge, a kind of black epistemology, honed for just such a time as this. And with this knowledge, a clarity that says if “we live by the sword, we will die by it.”
Then, black rage emerges prophetic from across the decades in the words of Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay who penned these words 95 years ago in response to the Red Summer of 1919.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
I offer no answers. I offer only grief and rage and hope.
Reefer Madness Redux
Posted by on August 8th, 2014
USA Today devotes a surprising amount of attention to manipulating emergency room statistics to argue marijuana is more dangerous than cocaine or heroin.
Media Alliance has long argued that the presentation of statistical data without background context, or with deliberately confusing background context, allows subtle editorial advocacy, often in favor of reactive and reactionary political stances.
As a case in point, a Media News reader drew our attention to a story in USA Today that used emergency room statistics to infer that casual marijuana use is more dangerous and has more adverse health risks than people think. Writer Liz Szabo presented drug related emergency room visits statistics nationwide:
2011 - 505,000 Cocaine
2011 - 455,000 Marijuana
2011 - 258,000 Heroin
What Szabo left out of her statistical analysis was the relative total number of users of each of the 3 drugs, with marijuana usage dwarfing the use of cocaine or heroin.
When the data is analyzed including the quantity metric, (using 2010 data in a study by the NIH puvlished in the Washington Post), heroin use is 34.8 times more likely to result in an emergency trip visit for a user and cocaine is 12 times more likely. In fact, even alcohol users have a slightly higher likelihood of ending up in an emergency room.
That Szabo's chart and article don't make these distinctions conveys a deeply misleading impression to USA Today's readers.
Much like those classic films of yesterday.
USA Today chart and story by Szabo
NIH Study from Washington Post
Original Trailer : Reefer Madness
Is Obama Moving To The Front Seat On Net Neutrality?
Posted by on August 8th, 2014
After being greeted by demonstrators demanding real net neutrality at two California fundraisers two weeks ago, President Obama came out against paid prioritization (fast and slow lanes on the Internet).
The Democratic president, who famously said he would "take a backseat to no one" in defending net neutrality, had been silent to date as the FCC chairman he appointed, Tom Wheeler, the former head of the NCTA and NTIA industry association lobbying groups, proposed allowing "commercially reasonable" prioritization of some Internet content over others.
Obama's comments were immediately welcomed by public interest advocates, who sent this letter to the president thanking him and encouraging him to continue to request a truly open Internet.
Media Alliance is one of the signatories to the letter.
Comcast Affiliated News Outlet Censors Article About Net Neutrality Lobbying
Posted by Lee Fang on August 4th, 2014
Lee Fang writes about the removal of an article on net neutrality lobbying and the startling fealty of some big national civil rights groups to the Big Telecom agenda.
In a move that smacks of censorship, Republic Report has discovered that a telecom industry-affiliated lobbying group successfully persuaded an African American news website to remove an article that reported critically on the groups advocating against Net Neutrality. The order to delete the article came from the website’s parent company, a business partner to Comcast.
Last Friday, I reported on how several civil rights groups, almost all with funding from Comcast, Verizon and other Internet Service Providers, recently wrote to the Federal Communication Commission in support of Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan, which would create Internet fast lanes and slow lanes, an effective death of Net Neutrality. That piece was syndicated with Salon and The Nation, and several outlets aggregated the article. For a short period, NewsOne, a news site geared towards the African American community, posted the piece along with its own commentary.
Then, the NewsOne article with my reporting disappeared.
If you Google the term ‘MMTC NewsOne,’ the NewsOne article (“Civil Rights Groups Blocking Efforts To Keep Internet Fair?”) still appears in the result list, though if you click it, it’s been deleted off of the web. Luckily, the Internet cache still has a copy.
According to discussions with several people at NewsOne, including an editor there, the decision to take down the article came from corporate headquarters. NewsOne editor Abena Agyeman-Fisher told Republic Report, “the company didn’t feel it was appropriate to have up and we were suppose to take it down.” NewsOne is owned by Radio One, a company with a 50.9% stake in a business partnership with Comcast known as TV One.
NewsOne was also contacted by a lobbying group called the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), an organization that has gained infamy for frequently mobilizing Black, Latino and Asian American groups to advocate on behalf of telecom industry-friendly positions, including recent big media mergers. On Monday, according to an attendee at an MMTC conference, MMTC vice president Nicol Turner-Lee referred to my reporting as a “digital lynch mob.” Turner-Lee, who resigned her previous position at a nonprofit after allegations of financial impropriety, reportedly claimed that minority organizations that support Title II reclassification — the only path for effective Net Neutrality after a court ruling in January — are not “true civil rights leaders.”
Contacted by Republic Report, MMTC president David Honig confirmed that he reached out to NewsOne, and also stood by Turner-Lee’s comments from earlier this week. Asked about the digital lynch mob comment, Honig e-mailed us to say, “I stand with Dr. Turner Lee’s assessment of the various hit pieces written by you and others. She spoke in the vernacular of the movement to which she has devoted her life, and is referencing the divide and conquer tactics used for decades to undermine the civil rights movement.” Regarding the claim that no “true civil rights leaders” support reclassification, Honig replied, “she was correct. Not one of the leaders of the major national civil rights membership organizations has endorsed Title II reclassification.”
In fact, many civil rights groups and activists support reclassification and strong Net Neutrality protections. Reached by Republic Report, the organizations were livid about MMTC’s insults and the decision by NewsOne to retract its story.
“MMTC is not the arbiter of who is and who is not a true civil rights group,” says Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, which represents a broad coalition in support of Net Neutrality through reclassification. “For them to claim anyone who supports reclassification is not a true civil rights group is just laughable. We have gone to the mat for our community for decades.”
“It’s disturbing that an online news site would remove a story just because its owners and their allies might not like it,” said Joseph Torres of Free Press, the co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media. “This smacks of corporate censorship. A news organization shouldn’t be hiding the facts about the Net Neutrality debate because its corporate owners and their allies disagree with a journalist’s reporting. This is exactly why we need Net Neutrality. We don’t want to live in a world where Comcast or AT&T gets decide which side of the story you see.”
Malkia Cyril, Executive Director of the Center for Media Justice, wrote to Republic Report to say, “I’m scared for our journalists, especially those that use the Internet to share their stories. When corporate or 20th century civil rights organizations silence the voices of journalists trying to simply report on the biggest first amendment issue of the 21st century, it only clarifies why we need strong rules that prevent censorship and discrimination on the Internet.” Cyril’s organization is a national organizing and training center for media rights that counts organizations such as Color of Change, Presente.org and others in its advocacy network.
NewsOne was not the only outlet lobbied by MMTC. The blog Field Negro was also contacted by MMTC’s David Honig, a longtime pro-telecom industry operative who told Field Negro that “no one disagrees about the desirability of an open Internet,” and argued that Net Neutrality activists are somehow equivalent to white liberals who support gentrification.
In reality, Honig has waged a multi-year war against efforts to build an Open Internet, and the groups in his network continually shift the goal posts to ensure ISPs are allowed to discriminate based on content. For instance, one of the groups that has collaborated with Honig, the Japanese American Citizens League, told the FCC in 2010 that Net Neutrality would “do more harm than good” and that they “remain unconvinced that there is a need for this type of regulation.” Well, in Honig’s latest letter on behalf of the Japanese American Citizens League, Net Neutrality is needed, but only if adopted through FCC Chairman Wheeler’s terms, which is to say, with Internet fast lanes and slow lanes.
The arguments keep changing. The only thing that stays consistent is the money and the ISP-friendly policy. Comcast, a major opponent of Net Neutrality, is a big sponsor of both the MMTC (which has received around $350,000) and the Japanese American Citizens League. Honig’s board of advisors includes Joe Waz, an executive who has led Comcast’s policy outreach.
Asked about the MMTC-organized civil rights group letters against Net Neutrality and ensuing controversy, Professor Todd Gitlin of Columbia University called them the “closest thing I can imagine to a political quid pro quo,” explaining, “the evidence they offer on the proposition that minorities would benefit in employment, in access, in the rejection of reclassification is nil. It’s a lot of huffing and puffing built on the gullibility of the reader.”
He added, “the fact NewsOne saw fit to delete a report that they previously posted without any claim that anything was mistaken in the report tells you something about their commitment to open discourse.”
Jeff Cohen, an associate professor of journalism at Ithaca College, also commented on the NewsOne decision. “Just as corporate cash can corrupt civil rights groups, this incident shows how corporate power can corrupt and censor the news.”
Advocates for strong Net Neutrality argue that the rule is necessary so ISPs do not squelch out minority viewpoints with slower speeds. ISPs, on the other hand, say they can be trusted. If just the debate around Net Neutrality is any guide, large media corporations seem willing to suppress unfavorable news content. “If this happens now,” says Cayden Mak, the New Media Director of 18MillionRising.org, an Asian American advocacy group, “imagine how difficult it will be to criticize internet providers and their allies without strong Net Neutrality rules.”
Blog: KCSM-TV Update
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on July 29th, 2014
Media Alliance has been involved with the sale/liquidation of the 5th largest public television station in California, KCSM-TV, headquartered at the College of San Mateo for 50 years, for several years. Since 2011, we've been following the station's fate through two sale processes into the final May 2014 decision, when the trustees of the San Mateo Community College District signed on the dotted line with a fully-owned subsidiary of hedge firm the Blackstone Group to sell off the station's spectrum to wireless companies in a spectrum auction.
On the evening the final decision was made in May of 2013, the trustees rushed to a vote and called private security over concerns about disruptions to the meeting by a few community advocates who came to the meeting to try to change the board's mind - including MA executive director Tracy Rosenberg, former KRON host Henry Tenenbaum, KAXT owner Ravi Kaipur and patent attorney and media activist Pat Reilly.
Since that day, under the operational supervision of the hedge firm, KCSM-TV, whose licensed signal can reach 10 counties in Northern California, runs on 60 different cable systems and reaches half a million viewers weekly, has run a feed of international news programs produced by Mhz Worldview, which includes regular Russia Today news coverage, Blue Ocean Network, CCTV and a surprisingly popular international mystery series. Mhz Worldview describes itself an independent noncommercial global news service specializing in presenting international content to American audiences.
Much to our surprise at Media Alliance, after a year of silence on the KCSM-TV issue, we suddenly received a flood of calls from KCSM-TV viewers, upset because the Mhz Worldview programming had suddenly disappeared. Many of them were newer viewers to the station, who were totally unaware of the lengthy sale and liquidation process that went on from 2011-2013.
Among other stories, one elderly gentleman talked of getting news he couldn't get anywhere else from the RT broadcasts on KCSM-TV, which he greatly valued. Another new listener Kendahsi Haley in Oakland sent this email to KCSM:
“I beg you to continue and expand the international mystery programs. They have made KCSM my FAVORITE station on comcast in Oakland. Why would you end the programs that set your channel apart? American and British programs are stupid, silly and juvenile. What you offer is intelligent and perfect for global minded people such as myself. Both the news programs and the international mystery programs are outstanding. Please please please do not change my world by removing the only intelligent stimulating program on TV. THANK YOU for considering my request. K. Haley
All in all, we clocked more than a dozen phone calls and emails and this was from viewers who went to the rather extraordinary effort of googling old articles that Media Alliance had written during our advocacy work to try to save the station for the Bay Area.
Getting to the bottom of what happened was confusing. Mhz Worldview placed a statement on their website disavowing any knowledge of the reasons and stating, as had been our understanding, that their program was provided to KCSM-TV for free.
KCSM-TV's website contained a dire statement attaching blame to Mhz Worldview for not adhering to FCC regulations regarding underwriting and call-to-action announcements, a somewhat odd declaration when the programs are carried on DirecTV, 29 other broadcast stations, and 38 cable systems including Time-Warner, Comcast, Verizon, Charter and Cox.
Here is KCSM-TV's statement in its entirety:
"It was necessary for KCSM to terminate its agreement with MHz Networks because MHz's practices did not meet our standards or, in our opinion on advice of counsel, legal requirements for non-commercial stations. We complained to MHz repeatedly regarding underwriting and political call-to-action messages that did not comply with FCC regulations. MHZ has been either unable or unwilling to bring its broadcasts into compliance with the applicable requirements. KCSM is responsible for station programming and legal compliance. The station, not MHz, would answer to the FCC in the event of a complaint. For these reasons KCSM was obligated to discontinue airing MHz Worldview".
So after reviewing the situation, we came to the conclusion that the motivation was not program transgressions by Mhz Worldview, but the announcement by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it was moving ahead with the spectrum auction. The trustees at the San Mateo Community College District were moving to eliminate any audience the station had accidentally acquired via the Mhz feed in order to limit the angry response when viewers found the station sold out from under them, a response Media Alliance had tried to elicit for years, but not really succeeded at because the station remained on the air during the entire process of its planned destruction.
So our response to the callers and emailers: this is called the elimination of the audience. It happens before the elimination of the outlet.
KCSM's fate seems to be sealed in stone. The time when the Bay Area could mobilize to save it has passed and sadly the energy wasn't there. But when they start to eliminate the audience, watch out. What you watch or listen to could be next on the auction block.
Obama in the Back Seat Rallies Across California
Posted by Victoria Kaplan on July 28th, 2014
This video is a quick tour of the two July 23rd rallies, one in Silicon Valley and the other in Los Angeles, where activists brough together by a dozen different groups, made sure the visiting president had an open internet on his mind.
Blog: Fusing California
Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on July 9th, 2014
When it comes to our personal information, many of us depend on things falling through the cracks. Most of our friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family members know some things about us – and other things they don't. Maybe one or two loved ones have something pretty close to the whole picture. But definitely not a random army of people we've never met.
America's network of fusion centers is setting out to change that. Based on the idea that 21st century information sharing between a host of agencies - (Department of Homeland Security, Federal Bureau of Investigation, tCIA, local police, fire, hospital and emergency services, Department of Defense, Department of Justice, National Security Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and many more) - will provide a modern defense shield against random acts of terror, the 77-strong national fusion center network ensures that a lot of data follows us around wherever we go and whatever we do.
Who's Fusing Who
“Fusion centers” exist to merge categories of personal information together: crimes like drug possession and prostitution with medical records, meta data telephone surveillance with acts of nonviolent dissent, foreigners threatening violent retaliation against US citizens abroad with domestic voices of protest. In other words, making as fluid as possible the definition of each agency's targeted area of jurisdiction. There's probably not an American alive over thirty who hasn't had contact with one of the agencies listed above. Welcome to the terrorism database.
This isn't rhetoric. Davis Rittgers at the Cato Institute identified several cases of what most of us might see as over reach. A North Texas fusion center had a threat category called “muslim lobbyists”, a combination of the legally protected activity of talking to elected officials and that of practicing a religion in a country where freedom of religion is enshrined in the constitution. A fusion center in Missouri defined “third party voters” as a terrorism threat, which is taking democratic rage at Nader voters a little too far. Maryland State Police placed anti-death penalty activists into a federal terrorism database, and on the other side of the partisan divide, PA Homeland Security officers placed members of a local tea party group and right-to-bear-arms advocates onto a target list.
I'm making it sound like innocent people may have been targeted because of their political beliefs. Sure, it's possible that in addition to their political beliefs, these peoples drug consumption habits, medical records and traffic tickets exposed a pattern that caused legitimate concern. Perhaps the fusion center was able to put together the missing pieces that allowed a future criminal to pass as a tea-partier, death penalty activist or capital hill lobbyist of the muslim persuasion.
But what passes for federal oversight of the national network of fusion centers doesn't support this optimistic theory. A bipartisan report to the Senate in 2009-2010 reported fusion centers processed 22,000 suspicious activity reports. They launched 1,0000 investigations. 200 pieces of data provided actionable intelligence. That's 9/10 of a percent.
By 2012, with more fusion centers up and running, and a more extensive report back to the Senate, similar non-terroristic incidents were reported, without compensatory benefits. Among the highlights identified by the ACLU: one drug-smuggling activity report featuring two fisherman in a bass boat who avoided eye contact and whose boat was low in the water. The Senate report stated that “the fact that some guys were hanging out in a boat where people do not normally fish might be an indicator of something abnormal but does not reach the threshold of something we should be reporting and should never have been nominated for production nor passed through three reviews”.
Another suspicious activity report featured a foreigner with an expired visa caught shoplifting. The assessment: “I am stunned this report got as far as it did because the entire knowledge about the subject was that he tried to steal a pair of shoes from Nieman Marcus. I have no idea what value this would be adding to the intelligence community”.
California's Mongol's Motorcycle Club earned a suspicious activity from a California fusion center for a leaflet issued to members describing how to behave when stopped by police. The leaflet recommended motorcyclists be courteous, control their emotions and have a designated driver when necessary. A fusion center supervisor commented on the report as follows: “there is nothing illegal or even remotely objectionable described in this report and the advice given to members is protected by the 4th amendment”.
These incidents aren't just humerous. They are illustrations of the problems the Department of Homeland Security self-identified in the status report to the Senate:
* ambiguous lines of authority
* excessive data mining
* inaccurate or incomplete information
* unclear relationships with the military and the private sector
* mission creep
99 and 1/10 percent of the suspicious activity reports in 2009-2010 were in fact targeting subjects on the basis of commonplace activities and provided no actionable intelligence regarding a threat of criminal activity. 21,800 dossiers of suspicion filled with muslim lobbyists, death penalty activists, motorcyclists, tea-partiers and fishermen.
In all, at least a third of all the material generated by the National Network of Fusion Centers were discarded by national intelligence on the grounds of lacking useful information.
How much we're paying to collect these tens of thousands of fused-together dossiers of suspicion isn't entirely clear. Estimates run from $289 million to $1.4 billion dollars a year and tend to be interwoven through larger agency budgets without the clearest of demarcations.
This is also true regarding line item budget lines for those fusion centers whose expenses can be tracked. The San Diego fusion center's budget line described as open source intelligence turned out to be on further investigation to be the purchase of 55 flat screen televisions.
As of the last data collection in 2012, all 77 fusion centers in the national network had no problem accessing “secret” or classified information. But 30% of the centers did not yet have an approved strategic plan, less than a half have a process in place to verify that national intelligence is receiving their reports and fusion center directors are turning over at the rate of 30% every year.
Where Are They?
The physical location of fusion centers is very hard to find, but this list seems to be about right. So here, California, is the fusion center nearest to you.
* Orange County Intelligence Assessment Center 2644 Santiago Canyon Road Silverado CA 92676
* Los Angeles Joint Regional Intelligence Center LAJRIC 12440 East Imperial Highway Norwalk CA 90650
* Central California Intelligence Center Sacramento Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center 3720 Dudley Boulevard McClellan CA 95652
* State Terror Threat Assessment Center 3741 Bleckly Street Mather CA 95655
* San Diego Law Enforcement Coordination Center SD-LECC 4181 Ruffin Road San Diego 92123
* Northern California Regional Intelligence Center NCRIC 450 Golden Gate Avenue 14th Floor SF 94102
Here in the Bay Area:
The NCRIC (Northern California Regional Intelligence Center) is ensconced on the 14th floor of the federal building at 450 Golden Gate Avenue. The center defines its mission as the receipt, analysis gathering and sharing of threat-related information between the federal government, state, local tribal, territorial and private sector partners.
NCRIC has a detailed website, filled with information, much of it directed towards the private sector, with which NCRIC is eager to partner. Among other things, the website features an extensive calender of courses, making the fusion center a veritable new school of surveillance-related workshops. Courses you can take in the period June to August of 2014 include:
* Emergency Response to Domestic Biological Incidents
* Information Cultivation and Management in Dublin via the CA Assn of Narcotics Officers
* Electronic Surveillance (wiretap)
* DEC Investigations- via the in Eureka via the Drug Endangered Children Training Center
* TLO Advanced – Sovereign Citizen Extremism, an Emerging Threat
* Medical Maijuana from the Streets to the Dispensaries
* Search Warrants A-Z
* Homemade Explosives and IED's
The private sector program, which NCRIC notes is one of the most progressive in the nation, is open to owners or employee with management, supervisoru or analytical responsibilities related to personal or physical safety, technology security, emergency management, business continuity or resiliency in any of these industries:
* Commercial Facilities
* Critical Manufacturing
* Defense Industrial Base
* Emergency Services
* Financial Services
* Food and Agriculture
* Government Facilities
* Healthcare and Public Healthcare
* Information Technology
* Nuclear Reactors, Materials and Waste
* Transportation Systems
* Waste and Wastewater Systems
The benefits include:
* Direct communication with a law enforcement intelligence center and the National Fusion Center enterprise
* Situational awareness updates
* Participation in classified DHS briefings
* Participation in national suspicious activity reporting initiatives
* Access to suspicious activity reported in the NCRIC area of activity
* Membership In the National Homeland Security Information Netowrk (HSIN)
*And the proverbial …... networking
Fusion centers defeat the very idea of government oversight. By bringing so many agency's materials together in one soupy stew, the centers ensure that no single set of existing regulatory code applies to them, essentially throwing overboard years of brakes on law enforcement to prevent abuses. After all, what rule exactly applies to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the San Jose Fire Department? The fusion centers, working with data from both, can pick the set of rules via policy-shopping that best lets them do what they want to do.
It's always been an important part of the American mythic world that this is a country where one can “start fresh:, shake aside the shackles of the past, be they the ghosts of a previous country, a miserable childhood, or a terrible past mistake,and reinvent ourselves as the person we always wanted to be. The metaphor never included a permanent ankle bracelet detailing every foible to a bureaucrat in a badly lit room thousands of miles away. Yet that seems to be what we're building in the creation of this national network that fuses past and present, domestic and foreign, and public and private.
Blog: Media Coverage of the Iraqi Crisis
Posted by Riyadh Mohammed on July 5th, 2014
Riyadh Mohammed is a free-lance reporter who has covered Iraq for several news outlets.
The western media rediscovered Iraq last month, after years of negligence. On June 10, the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham - the Levant - (ISIS) captured the northern city of Mosul. A day later, the extremist group captured another provincial capital, Tikrit, 86 miles to the north Baghdad and Saddam Hussein's hometown.
America's national TV networks and newspapers redeployed their Iraq war veteran correspondents — busy covering Syria, Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring — back to Iraq.
But thrown anew into a complex, multidimensional conflict, reporters have gotten some of the ISIS resurgence wrong.
After the fall of Tikrit, Iraqis in Baghdad were concerned that ISIS was going to capture the capital city soon. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most senior Shiite cleric in Iraq, asked Iraqis to join the security forces to defeat the attackers and protect the holy sites. Tens of thousands of volunteers lined up to join the fight.
But a few days, later ISIS seemed to gain momentum again. At least, that’s the story the West is telling. One of ISIS's main victories was supposedly the city of Tal Afar, an ancient city of roughly 200,000 people midway between Mosul and Syria. Most residents there are Turkmen. And just like the rest of Iraq, they are divided into Shiites and Sunnis, with a history of Sunni insurgency.
In March 2007, a local market in a Shiite neighborhood was targeted with truck bombs, resulting in more than 150 civilians killed. The incidents led to reprisal shooting by Shiite policemen, killing more than 50 men. Sunni insurgents then started leaving Tal Afar to resettle in Mosul. Their families found jobs in the city administration in Mosul and helped the insurgents capture Mosul on June 10.
The insurgents of Tal Afar never had a better chance to take revenge on the city that chased them out. On June 16, they attacked the city. Most of the western mainstream media outlets reported that the city had fallen to ISIS. Here are some examples of the headlines:
NBC: "Militants Seize Iraq's Strategic Town of Tal Afar"
Los Angeles Times: "ISIS militants in Iraq gain more ground with capture of Tal Afar"
The Guardian: "Iraqi city of Tal Afar falls to ISIS insurgents"
Euronews: "Iraq: ISIL capture key northeastern city of Tal Afar"
Fox News: "Mayor: Sunni militants capture northern Iraq town of Tal Afar"
Wall Street Journal: "ISIS Militants Capture Northern Iraq Town of Tal Afar"
The Telegraph: "Iraq crisis: Saddam's men return to city once held by US"
The Independent: "Iraq conflict: US to hold talks with Iran over intervention options as Tal Afar city falls to Isis fighters in the north"
BBC News: Iraq conflict: Militants 'seize' city of Tal Afar
The striking truth is that the battle to control the city of Tal Afar didn't end that day. The insurgents attacked the city and managed to wrest control of many of its 18 neighborhoods. A week later after the above mentioned stories, the following headlines appeared on the western media:
The Telegraph: “Iraqi crisis: Last government troops flee strategic town of Tal Afar”
Fox News Latino: “Sunni militants take 3 more towns in Iraq”
The Nation: “Iraqi militants seize strategic town, airport”
The confusion is partly the fault of ISIS, which tweeted that the group captured the city’s commander of government forces and planned to execute him publicly in Mosul. The rumor was untrue, and Iraqi forces fought ISIS for at least another week from a nearby airfield.
Much of the inaccurate reporting can be traced to the fact that most of the bylines that appeared on these stories were not in Tal Afar—or even nearby. Most of the Western media have offices in Baghdad. A lot of the actual field reporting is being done by Iraqi journalists whose names are rarely mentioned. Some of these outlets have Iraqi stringers in Mosul, but almost nobody has a stringer in Tal Afar. Mosul is dangerous to report from.
When a city like Tal Afar is attacked by insurgents, the media outlets’ Baghdad offices call their Mosul stringers to follow up with the story. That stringer likely proceeded to call the Mayor, the police commander, and some residents. In other words, they wouldn’t do the deepest reporting job, the kind of work that would cut through partisan rhetoric.
However, not all the media agencies misreported the story. McClatchy’s Washington Bureau ran with "ISIS claims control of government's last outpost in Northern Iraq." And the "Financial Times printed: "Iraqi troops and Sunni rebels battle for control of key cities."
They got it right because they decided that it is safer and more ethical to be honest with your audience. When the reporter is not in the field and can’t go there because he/she fears for his/her life, and when both conflicting sides are lying, and all what you have is phone reporting, it is better to state that there are conflicting claims about how the battle result rather than declare one side’s victory.
Another example of misreporting was the battle to control Baiji oil refinery, 130 miles to the north of Baghdad. The city itself and its surrounding cities were overrun by ISIS on June 11,2014. But since that refinery is Iraq’s largest one, the Government allocated hundreds of soldiers to protect it.
After the fall of the city of Tikrit and for a week, the western media told us more than once that Iraq’s largest oil refinery has fallen into the hand of ISIS. Here are the headlines:
AlJAZEERA: “ISIL rebels control Baiji refinery in Iraq” June 24
Channel 4 News: “Isis rebels capture Iraq Baiji oil refinery” June 24
BBC News: “Iraq crisis: Key oil refinery ‘seized by rebels’ June 23
Daily Mail: “ISIS ‘seizes Iraq’s largest oil refinery and kidnap 100 foreigners but country’s PM insists ‘we have regained the initiative and are striking back’ June 18
The Independent: “Iraq crisis: Kerry in Erbil to meet to meet with Kurdish leader as Baiji oil refinery ‘fall’ to militants” June 24
The Daily Star: “Key oil refinery ‘seized by rebels’ in Iraq” June 23
Sky News Arabic: “Baiji…”burned card” in the hand of insurgents” June 24
Euronews Arabic: “Iraq: Insurgents control Baiji refinery, ISIS continues moving forward” June 18
Some of those who said the refinery was captured ran a day or days later with headlines suggesting that Iraqi Government forces have control of the refinery back or that the battle is still going on:
AlJAZEERA: “Iraq’s army ‘recaptures’ Baiji oil refinery” June 25
BBC News: “Iraq’s Maliki defiant as Baiji refinery battle continues
Again, that was not the case. The reporters were not anywhere near the scene. They depended on claims by ISIS and phone reporting via Iraqi stringers. The refinery didn’t fall to the rebels and was retaken by the Government forces afterwards. The rebels never managed to control it in the first place. They attacked it several times and they were repelled by the Government forces with the help of airfares from helicopters. Here are some of the fair reporting headlines:
CBS: “Did ISIS captured Iraq’s biggest refinery?” June 24
France 24: “Video: Fighting at Iraq’s Baiji refinery fuels acute shortages” June 23
While it may not matter to everyone whether a small Iraqi city or an oil refinery has been captured, it is important to know who is actually in control of this and other cities, and to ensure that misinformation is not presented as fact. As a group, ISIS is media-savvy. Deciphering fact from fiction or, at a minimum, avoiding playing into the calculated rumor mill, is critical for the press and the 33 million Iraqis anxious to know who is winning. The speed with which these incidents were picked up in major media outlets is worrying, when some of them got it right.
Riyadh Mohammed is an Iraqi multimedia journalist who worked for the NYT and LAT and Way Press International. He covered corruption extensively in Iraq. He resides now in New York City