Media Alliance Blog

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

Joel Simon
Executive Director

CC List:

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
Media Alliance

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
Republic Report

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

KCSM-TV Update

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
Move On

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
Media Alliance

Fusing California

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.

Who Pays?

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:

* Chemical
* Commercial Facilities
* Communications
* Critical Manufacturing
* Dams
* 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

In Conclusion:

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

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

Posted by on June 30th, 2014
Brian Knappenberger, Director/Producer

Aaron Swartz's story is about the collison of the Internet with the gatekeepers.

Please buy/pay for the documentary film if you can. Documentaries don't get made without a paying audience.

But if you can't, the Internet Archive has made it available.

Without Net Neutrality, How Are Oakland's Communities Affected?

Posted by Jean Lee on June 27th, 2014
Oakland Local

An article on hyperlocal news site Oakland Local:


Viewing an episode of your favorite show may become a matter of speed, fast or slow. Trying to watch that season finale of Game of Thrones or that premiere of Orange is the New Black could become an experience based on how much you’re willing to pay.

The way we watch our shows online, or anything online, for that matter, could face some significant changes under the Federal Communications Commission’s new proposal. In May, the FCC voted 3-2 to proceed with Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed “Open Internet,” which would essentially allow for Internet Service Providers to prioritize certain sites like Netflix and YouTube, and charge users premium fees for accessing them at a faster pace.

The move could mean powerful telecom companies such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast creating a two-tiered Internet, with potential fast and slow lanes to separate users. Although Wheeler has stated on the FCC website that the concept of fast lanes to describe his proposal “misses the point,” some critics say a slower speed for some users would be inevitable if a premium option were to take effect.

Some believe the proposal violates the principle of “net neutrality,” a term that essentially describes an open Internet where information is free from interference, censorship, and discrimination.

Stephanie Chen, energy and telecommunications policy director at Greenlining Institute in Berkeley, said the new rules raise a “pernicious concern,” noting that small companies could have difficulty competing with larger corporations in the game. It’s unlikely that big ISPs would prioritize small companies, thus giving users less incentive to visit smaller sites with slower speeds.

“What you have is a lot of companies, startups, saying ‘Hey, Netflix would’ve never become Netflix if it wasn’t for an open Internet,’” Chen said.

The FCC’s proposed changes have raised implications of a digital divide for some net neutrality advocates. According to Tracy Rosenberg, Executive Director of Media Alliance in Oakland, the new rules could disproportionately impact lower-income and less-English-speaking communities that might not be able to pay for faster, premium service.

“Paid-for content is content that someone is paying to speed up so that we essentially have a commercialization of the Internet,” Rosenberg said. “If you prioritize content by money you’re shutting off, to the side, the non-commercial.”

Non-commercial information found online plays an important role for the professional and personal lives of some groups. For the Center of Media Justice based in Oakland, a big audience of theirs are media makers and cultural organizers that depend on the Web to share their work. According to CMJ national organizer Steven Renderos, many independent artists use the Internet as a distribution network that allows them to share their art online, without it costing anything.

He believes the new proposal is “designed to block out certain voices” — the voices of marginalized communities, i.e. people of color, the queer and transgendered community, and artists.

“The Internet has really been a space where the voice of opposition can really exist, can really thrive,” Renderos said, an environment that “is vital to a 21st century democracy.”

To engage community members in the issue, CMJ is holding an #InternetHaiku campaign, where they are inviting participants to structure comments to the FCC in Haiku form and post them on Twitter — a way to “inject a little bit of culture in the political process,” according to Renderos. On July 8th, CMJ will compile all of the Internet Haikus that people have posted and file them with the FCC on July 15, when the proposal’s public comment period ends.

Rosenberg similarly advised the public to place “grassroots pressure” on the FCC, through methods such as phone calls, emails, and comments on their site.

“It’s about creating a big fuss,” said Rosenberg. “We’re going to have to start thinking like Internet guerillas to make the Internet work for us no matter what the government is failing to regulate.”

Memories of Kevin Weston

Posted by on June 18th, 2014

Read a lovely tribute from his long-time home New America Media here.

A radio tribute from Hard Knock Radio

Donations to help out his widow Lateefah Simon and their two daughters can be sent here.

Blog: Playing Catch-Up In A Technological Society

Posted by Richard Gilliam on June 17th, 2014

Playing Catch-up in a Technological Society

It is becoming increasingly obvious that I need help to do what almost everybody else takes for granted. I'm at the infancy of my reintegration into society; having paroled two weeks ago after 13 years of incarceration, and my lack of computer skills is causing me no end of vexation. In the short amount of time I've been out I've learned it is almost impossible to carry out everyday tasks such as 1) utilize an e-mail account 2) create an e-mail account; 3) upload documents and send them where I would like them to go; 4) and how to navigate the World Wide Web without some basic knowledge how to do so.

I'm discovering that everything from job application submissions to sending an e-mail, to reading web-based news accounts requires skills I don't have. Neither do tens of thousands of former felons, placing an entire class of individuals at a disadvantage that is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.

You see, the CDCR has a policy which severely restricts and in many cases prohibits inmates from accessing computers and learning these necessary skills. They do this under the pretext that some inmates might abuse this privilege in some way. The real reasons that prison officials refuse to offer basic computer literacy courses are rooted in fear. Fear that an inmate might possess more knowledge than CDCR personnel, (I know of a few instances where this was in fact the case) and fear that they could be held liable if an inmate were somehow able to circumvent security measures and cause some real harm. Of course, it is also a fact that it is not in the department's interests to teach inmates useable computer skills, since their unstated goal has always been to keep prisons full in order to maintain job security.

But this is at odds with the taxpaying public's best interests, which are to reduce the costs of imprisonment by reducing prison populations and maintaining public safety by ensuring prisoners are given the necessary tools to succeed after release. This is not being done today, and will not as long as the current ideology driving corrections is one of punishment without rehabilitation. Yeah, that R on the tail-end of the CDCR stands for rehabilitation, but that hasn't been the reality. I was imprisoned in 2008, when Gov. Schwarzenegger added it to the end of the Department of Corrections. Since that time dozens of educational and vocational prison instructors lost their jobs and dozens of classes and “non-essential” programs have been cut. They were deemed non-essential because they didn't fall within the sphere of “security operations”. These cuts were short-sighted and done to save prison guard jobs, who have the support of one of the strongest unions in the state.

So, when our elected officials tell you they are doing everything they can in the name of Public Safety, look to their actions, and the result of those actions, then judge the true nature of their intent.

Pentagon Preparing for Mass Civil Breakdown

Posted by Nafeez Ahmed on June 12th, 2014


Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
Social science is being militarised to develop 'operational tools' to target peaceful activists and protest movements

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term "warfighter-relevant insights" for senior officials and decision makers in "the defense policy community," and to inform policy implemented by "combatant commands."

Launched in 2008 – the year of the global banking crisis – the DoD 'Minerva Research Initiative' partners with universities "to improve DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US."

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model "of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions." The project will determine "the critical mass (tipping point)" of social contagians by studying their "digital traces" in the cases of "the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey."

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined "to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised."

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington "seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate," along with their "characteristics and consequences." The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on "large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity," and will cover 58 countries in total.

Last year, the DoD's Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine 'Who Does Not Become a Terrorist, and Why?' which, however, conflates peaceful activists with "supporters of political violence" who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on "armed militancy" themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

"In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence."

The project's 14 case studies each "involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence."

I contacted the project's principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence – and which "parties and NGOs" were being investigated – but received no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar questions I put to them, including asking how "radical causes" promoted by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

"Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, 'political movements' and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy - why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?"

Minerva's programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said "I appreciate your concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to clarify" before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received the following bland statement from the DoD's press office:

"The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners. While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research that helps increase the Department of Defense's understanding of what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment."

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

From the outset, the Minerva programme was slated to provide over $75 million over five years for social and behavioural science research. This year alone it has been allocated a total budget of $17.8 million by US Congress.

An internal Minerva staff email communication referenced in a 2012 Masters dissertation reveals that the programme is geared toward producing quick results that are directly applicable to field operations. The dissertation was part of a Minerva-funded project on "counter-radical Muslim discourse" at Arizona State University.

The internal email from Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the project, describes a meeting hosted by the DoD's Human Social Cultural and Behavioural Modeling (HSCB) programme in which senior Pentagon officials said their priority was "to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly" in the form of "models and tools that can be integrated with operations."

Although Office of Naval Research supervisor Dr Harold Hawkins had assured the university researchers at the outset that the project was merely "a basic research effort, so we shouldn't be concerned about doing applied stuff", the meeting in fact showed that DoD is looking to "feed results" into "applications," Corman said in the email. He advised his researchers to "think about shaping results, reports, etc., so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field."

Many independent scholars are critical of what they see as the US government's efforts to militarise social science in the service of war. In May 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote to the US government noting that the Pentagon lacks "the kind of infrastructure for evaluating anthropological [and other social science] research" in a way that involves "rigorous, balanced and objective peer review", calling for such research to be managed instead by civilian agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The following month, the DoD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the NSF to cooperate on the management of Minerva. In response, the AAA cautioned that although research proposals would now be evaluated by NSF's merit-review panels. "Pentagon officials will have decision-making power in deciding who sits on the panels":

"… there remain concerns within the discipline that research will only be funded when it supports the Pentagon's agenda. Other critics of the programme, including the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the programme would discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique of the military."

According to Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin's University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State, "when you looked at the individual bits of many of these projects they sort of looked like normal social science, textual analysis, historical research, and so on, but when you added these bits up they all shared themes of legibility with all the distortions of over-simplification. Minerva is farming out the piece-work of empire in ways that can allow individuals to disassociate their individual contributions from the larger project."

Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon's Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme - designed to embed social scientists in military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions "within the United States."

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios "adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq" to domestic situations "in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order."

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to "identify those who were 'problem-solvers' and those who were 'problem-causers,' and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the 'desired end-state' of the military's strategy."

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, concurs with Price's concerns. Minerva-funded social scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in the "study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements," he said, including how "to counteract grassroots movements."

Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is symptomatic of a simple fact – in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.

Blog: The Compact with Capitalism: Wheeler's Net Neutrality Dodge

Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on May 24th, 2014
Huffington Post

Rhetoric and reality sometimes diverge. Right now, the future of the Internet is hooked like a fish between two different paths.

On December 16, 2013, I met FCC chairman Tom Wheeler at an Oakland town hall meeting, and I used my two minutes to talk about reclassification, a term that means making whole the regulatory split that is going to create a two-tiered Internet. The chairman nodded, took notes, and at the end of the presentation mentioned the importance of a "network compact".

I had just finished reading "Net Effects; The Past, Present and Future Impact Of Our Networks" by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. Perhaps surprisingly for someone so upset by Wheeler's proposals that if I lived closer to DC I'd have been camping in front of the FCC, I agreed with much of what Wheeler wrote.

Wheeler correctly identifies the disruption that occurs when new communication technologies change the landscape. The printing press, the railroad, the telegraph and the land-line telephone were all once portrayed by the luddites among us as the death of all civilization. They pushed aside established incumbent businesses in favor of insurgents poised to take advantage of new technologies. We've been living through a great disruption for the past 20 years as the Internet has become so central.

I feel some empathy for the wonderful (and grouchy) Henry David Thoreau ranting "we do not ride on the railroad, it rides on us".

Continuing to dig for the "network compact" language Wheeler used to answered my question months ago, I hit pay dirt. A pillar of communication policy;"The network compact is between those who provide the pathways and those who use them. This civil bond between networks and users has always had three components: access, interconnection, and the encouragement and the enablement of the public purpose benefits of our networks".

The crux seemed to be whether this civil bond was a promise, an opportunity for the providers of pathways to exhibit their seal of good corporate citizenship. Or was the civil bond a law, enforced by the government on behalf of users, who otherwise probably have little recourse for corporate broken promises but to resort to the likes of comcastsucks.org.

Were chairman Wheeler and the FCC going to give us a hand?

The article so promises; suggesting "Broadband for the sake of broadband is an empty goal. As we have seen, the importance of networks is not the technology itself, but what the technology enables" (including diversity, localism and free speech).

While I've been an FCC-watcher for too long to get too easily bowled over by constant references to diversity, localism and free speech, the next paragraph won my heart. "The Communications Act is quite specific that the role of the FCC is to protect the public interest, convenience and necessity. For more than 90 years, this instruction has remained the alpha and the omega of the government's responsibility and authority. As technologies have changed and markets have evolved, it has remained inviolate".

Inviolate responsibility and authority. The alpha and the omega. Sounds pretty good. The government is on my side. Broken promises will be punished with all the force my puny taxpayer dollars can muster. But wait just a second. Didn't the government just chop off their own left hand?

The Federal Communications Commission, after springing to the defense of network neutrality in the wake of Robb Toplosky's revelations about unannounced throttling in 2008, had its head handed to it in the DC Court. The court made it clear that without invoking the authority of common carriage regulation over the Internet and reclassifying broadband, the FCC couldn't do much.

In a legal decision verging on a how-to guide, the court said relying on 706 authority (without reclassification), the FCC's hands were tied, even to address such a simple matter as throttling or blocking, much less preventing the carving up of the Internet by paid content prioritization into fast and slow lanes. But if the FCC reclassified, then it had the authority to do what it wished i.e. to ensure equal access to every bit and byte without discrimination.

If the network compact is really between users and providers, then my recourse as a user if promises are broken, is Wheeler's FCC. But how can it help me with one hand (if not both) tied behind its back?

It's time to untie the self-imposed knot and make a real network compact between Internet providers and Internet users. A civil bond that can be enforced by the regulatory agency I pay for.

Otherwise, the compact is only between the providers of the pathways and an inept and paralyzed federal agency that can't do much, but lose in court again.

There is no network compact without reclassification. There is no Internet without digital equality. Real net neutrality now.

Stopping the FCC's Plan to Break The Internet

Posted by on May 8th, 2014

Net Neutrality explodes every year. It's time to settle this once for and all. The same Internet for everyone. Reclassification now.

Tweet Congress here: http://www.savetheinternet.com/may-15th-day-save-internet

Send an email to the FCC here: http://org.salsalabs.com/o/1734/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15636

Get your East Coast friends and family to DC. May 15th 9am at the FCC

Join #occupythefcc from now till 5/15. 24/7 camp-out protest with Popular Resistance.

Op Ed: DAC As Planned Was Serious Case Of Mission Creep

Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on March 23rd, 2014
Oakland Tribune

The arguments for and against the Oakland Domain Awareness Center project are well-established. After hours of community testimony at the Oakland City Council meetings Feb. 18 and March 4, the council voted to rein in the planned surveillance center.

What isn't so well-established is what the center was for in the first place, and what policies would prevent the Orwellian nightmare presented by DAC opponents.

The bad news is there isn't any policy.

I came by this information accidentally, after receiving an invitation to the Advisory Committee to work on the privacy framework for the new spying machine.

I was more than a little surprised because my organization has a not very subtle anti-surveillance position.

However, I dutifully read over the first draft and submitted five pages of comments, which can be found on the Media Alliance website.

Here's what I found:

The surveillance system has a mission. "The mission of the Domain Awareness Center (DAC) is to: (1) improve readiness to prevent, respond to, and recover from major emergencies at the Port and in the greater Oakland region and (2) ensure better multi-agency coordination in response to emergencies across the larger San Francisco Bay Area."

I'm familiar with mission statements and "mission creep," which means the distance between what you say the purpose is, and what you really do. So mission creep was evident when the DAC became a colossus of crime-fighting and the missing ingredient to control Oakland's street crime problems.

An emergency can be many things. What is an emergency in Oakland's privacy framework?

"Air pollution, fire, flood, storm, epidemic, riot, drought, sudden and severe energy shortage, plant or animal infestation or disease, the state governor's warning of an earthquake or volcanic prediction, or an earthquake, or other conditions, which are likely to be beyond the control of the services, personnel, equipment, and facilities of the city of Oakland and require the combined forces of other political subdivisions to combat."

As it turns out, during fires, floods and earthquakes, protests, smoggy days and invasions of avaricious raccoons, as outside forces are being imported for mutual combat, DAC geo-location data can be released to, well, just about anybody.

"During a major emergency, city of Oakland agency directors and/or their designees in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and outside governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies' staff assisting with the major emergency or disaster (such as the Red Cross) that would report to EOC may have access to the DAC computers and display."

Even the IRS is not excluded.

"Third party auditors, federal, state, or local grantor auditors or the city auditor may have access to any stored data."

The Oakland Privacy Framework is a framework for the elimination of personal privacy. Mayor Jean Quan commented to this paper that the vote "will give us time to talk about privacy."

The whole country has been talking about privacy since June. The consensus is that an emergency doesn't mean it is open season on human rights and civil liberties.

Oakland has a rich legacy of civil rights advocacy. This is a vicious case of mission creep.


Tracy Rosenberg is the executive director of Media Alliance, an Oakland-based democratic communications advocate. For more information, go to www.media-alliance.org.

Announcing Wavelength Media Arts - Let's Talk Arts Advocacy on May 5th!

Posted by Tracy Rosenberg on March 9th, 2014
Wavelength Media Arts

Faced with epic changes in the cultural, media and philanthropic sectors, and inspired by the power of horizontal/grassroots culture and technologies, IAM and Media Alliance are launching Wavelength Media/Arts as a collaborative partnership to focus and amplify our complementary strengths in advocacy, fiscal sponsorship, artist and producer services, and community engagement programming.

We hope to address the needs of media and arts practitioners in an open, affordable and collaborative setting that will provide structural support and advocacy for public policy favorable to independent producers and community vitality.

Wavelength Media/Arts is made possible in part by the San Francisco Foundation Nonprofit Transitions Fund, which helps nonprofits “rethink and regroup in response to the downturn in the economy” and “reduce costs and time spent on administrative work, as well as increase productivity.”

Announcing Three Workshops for the Future of Bay Area Arts & Democracy * Presented by Independent Arts & Media and Media Alliance * Save the Dates! April 7, May 5, June 2, 2014. 

Please join us! Your participation will shape these conversations and define our programming for 2014 and beyond.

The three-part Wavelength Media/Arts discussion series will explore and define: (1) What type of “Professional Development” services should be offered to advance a thriving independent, noncommercial arts and media sector; (2) “Advocacy” and government policy issues affecting arts- and media-makers, such as housing, health care and Net Neutrality; (3) Communications” and connections which exist between artists, media-makers and the communities they serve. April 7: “Professional Development” – at CounterPULSE (San Francisco) May 5: “Advocacy” – 1st Congregational Church 2501 Harrison (Oakland) June 2: “Communications” – at CounterPULSE (San Francisco) The events on April 7 and June 2 will be hosted by CounterPULSE in their new space at 80 Turk Street, just a block from the public transport hub at Market and Powell Streets in San Francisco.

As an MA constituent, you are in the best position to guide this process and set the stage for a new suite of services designed for your benefit. To ensure your participation, please RSVP by emailing Tracy Rosenberg at tracy@media-alliance.org or Jason Wyman at jason@artsandmedia.net

First Peruvian-based Community Media Crowdfunding Campaign: Wayka for the Lima Metro

Posted by on February 23rd, 2014

A really exciting project based in Lima, Peru for a free street newspaper to take advantage of the brand-new Lima metro. Please spread the word to help attract the support these folks need to get started up. Here's a bit of their pitch.


There is currently a tremendous opportunity to start such a project in Lima. This is because the city has a new and rapidly expanding public transportation system, with no newspapers currently offered at the stations – let alone newspapers that are free.

In order to fill this gap, Wayka will be a non-profit community newspaper distributed for free at metro stations across Lima. It will be a space for the voices of civil society and community groups that are rarely heard – or, when they are heard, they are overwhelmingly censored and misrepresented – in mainstream media.

Wayka will also incorporate a website and use social networks in our outreach so that people can interact directly and contribute their points of view. We will thus give the public a direct say in what will be published in the print versions of our paper. Furthermore, Wayka will serve to promote the many talented Peruvian musicians, filmmakers, writers and other artists that are currently ignored by commercially oriented media

We believe Wayka will be a major means for people to empower themselves, work towards greater social justice, and reclaim our democracy from special interests. It will break the oligopoly over the means of communication, which is currently led by one extremely wealthy company that is also heavily entangled with government.

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