U.S. drops to 47th in press freedom

The rampant arrests and abuse of journalists at various Occupy sites in the United States persuaded Reporters without Borders to drop the United States 20 places, from 27th to 47th in its international rankings on press freedom. Despite our First Amendment, this means the United States is now tied with Argentina.

The right-leaning American Spectator took exception to RWP’s decision to demote the U.S. so far down the list. “The problem with this line of reasoning is the implication that authorities knowingly and deliberately arrested journalists,” the article said.

Yet today we learn that the police in Oakland, California, have detained 20 journalists during yesterday’s crackdown on Occupy Oakland. Josh Stearns of Save the News has assembled tweets from some of the reporters taken into custody during yesterday’s police action.Susie Cagle, one of the first journalists arrested had also been arrested last fall.

I was shoved several times & then arrested while wearing my OPD press pass – which expired end of 2011. #OO #j28

Stearns notes that the Oakland Police Department policies clearly say that journalists’ rights should be respected. Yet the detention of the press continues, despite the black eye this gives the United States in the eyes of the world, where our First Amendment is cited as a beacon of press freedom.


Homeland Security now authorizes agency to monitor journalists

According to RT (previously Russia Today), under the Homeland Security rules, the National Operations Center Media Monitoring Initiative allows NOC to capture and store information on journalists using traditional and social media sources. The directive allow collecting information that:

“permits the identity of an individual to be directly or indirectly inferred, including any information which is linked or linkable to that individual.”

The new rules are a deviation from previous policy that required written authorization. RT notes that the new policy coincides with efforts by journalists who have reported on Wikileaks to prevent their Twitter accounts from being provided to federal prosecutors. RT also notes that the Boston Police Department and the Suffolk County District Attorney are trying to gain access to information from Twitter on people who had made certain posts about Occupy events.

The Nation offers advice for reporters covering protests

Thanks to The Nation for this interview with First Amendment attorney Jonathan Peters. A total of 38 reporters have been arrested at Occupy protests across the country. While most have had their charges dropped, these actions have raised legitimate concerns about whether reporters are being granted their First Amendment rights.

As Peters notes, most of the arrests were for trespass or disorderly conduct. He goes on to say that the First Amendment doesn’t provide cover for breaking the law, and even with press credentials, reporters are required to comply with legitimate orders from the police.

The question for me – not just for reporters but for citizens – is what constitutes a “legitimate” order. Some of the video from Occupy marches in New York City show troubling situations where police officers were either issuing contradictory orders, or they were intentionally encouraging people to do things such as move onto a roadway, for which they were immediately arrested.

An issue not addressed in the interview is how courts view the rights accorded to journalists and to bloggers and citizen journalists which was raised by this blog earlier. As The Nation article confirms, there is a difference between having rights in theory and in practice. Even more ambiguous is whether reporters can expect to prevail in court if they try to sue for damages.

Storify’s story of the year documents reporter arrests at Occupy events

Storify, the easy free tool that lets you aggregate postings on social media into a story, announces that this year’s Storify Story of the Year was Josh Stearns’ Storify on the plight of journalists at Occupy events. Stearns writes a blog called Groundswell.

Storify makes it particularly easy to search for and aggregate tweets and YouTube videos in ways that make the whole seem larger than the sum of the parts with just a few added words.

When I first played with this tool, it seemed limited. But then I challenged my advanced reporting class to Storify the sad tale of alleged child rape at the hands of Penn State’s Jerry Sandusky. Not only did my students rise to the occasion and assemble coherent narratives, but many of their accounts were more coherent, concise and riveting than professional pieces. Lacing stories with relevant treats adds an immediacy and intimacy that makes this tool a must. Expect to see more it here now that this award reminds me that people can do stellar work efficiently with the new tools coming our way.

Iowa reporting shows how journalism fails us

Climate change was my top issue in 2000 - still ignored today

David Sirota has it right in Salon when he says that cash-strapped news organizations are squandering precious resources covering the Iowa caucuses in as trivial a way as possible:

. . . for all the faux conflict and chest thumping of the cable shows, and all the references to “Boys on the Bus” nostalgia among print reporters, political journalism today is now the mirror opposite of adversarial. It’s about people who preen around calling themselves ‘reporters,’ but who are in reality just glorified royal courtiers simply transmitting press releases and spoon-fed stories from the candidates and their staffs.

Covering the first Republican presidential nominating event like a horse race is troubling enough. But when analysis consists of statisticians like Chuck Todd of NBC/MSNBC trying to persuade us that thinking can be reduced to counting, we learn less than nothing from the “scientific” punditry. The numbers the networks don’t want you to ponder, however, is how they can justify pretending that the eight votes that separate Mitt Romney from Rick Perry (30,015 versus 30,007) – or even the roughly 4,000 votes that separate Ron Paul from the “winner” – mean anything.

A total of 122,215 mostly old, mostly Christian, mostly conservative, almost exclusively white folks in Iowa had the chance last night to vent their distaste for President Obama and his “uppity” (Rush Limbaugh) wife with the “large posterior” (Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner). The folks in the polling places without walkers were the college students “wasting” their vote on Ron Paul because of his stand against our endless wars or his promise to legalize marijuana (or both).

Anyone who thinks a handful of Iowans have a clue about how to govern a country of 312 million should be governed should be forced to smoke more weed in the hope it would make it harder to them to find their way to the ballot box in the future.

Roughly the same number of folks showed up this past winter at the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, to protest Governor Scott Walker’s plans to end collective bargaining, but only Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC seemed to care. The same for the paltry coverage of the Occupy movement, which all too often focused on the police overreaction and not the substance of argument that 99% of our people need to dismantle the power of the 1%.

Yet this is the first year of the post-Citizens United political process, where corporations ruled by the 1% can now spend unfettered millions on political ads without revealing their identities. The pro-Mitt Romney SuperPAC Restore Our Future outspent the Romney campaign nearly two to one ($2.8 million in nasty ads aimed mostly at Newt Gingrich compared to $1.5 million in Romney campaign ads designed to persuade you Mitt’s the second coming of Ronald Reagan).

Restore Our Future has hired Larry McCarthy to do the ads against Newt. McCarthy, who is also the head of the California Taxpayers Association, was the Lee Atwater protege who made the infamous Willie Horton ads.

MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has gone apoplectic about how the Citizens United decision allows candidates like Romney to recite the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” while the supposedly unaffiliated SuperPACs pull hit jobs on any viable opponent. In the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses, 45% of the ads on state TV were anti-Gingrich ads paid for by these dedicated assassins who never even left their fingerprints on their dirty work.

Do you want to see what this group will do to our first black president? I don’t.

Allowing Mitt to substitute reading song lyrics for explaining his increasingly radical-right positions on pressing issues of the day isn’t journalism, it’s pandering for ratings. Since half of our electorate believes in angels, news organizations today realize that they make more money when they avoid alienating the ignorant with anything resembling mere facts.

Reporters instead remain “objective” by pretending the science does not demand that we act before we reach a cataclysmic greenhouse-gas tipping point that will doom succeeding generations to misery and strife as they compete for the basics of food and water. Journalists find it easier to waste time discussing when Rick Perry will drop out than to explore how politicians can promise to bring back manufacturing jobs when we must compete in a global economy where other countries crush burgeoning union movements and pollute the environment with impunity. In an era when peak oil means that the prevailing economic growth model falters every time our unsustainable consumer economy perks up and gas prices rise, reporters instead allow Michele Bachmann to promise she will bring back $2 gas without responding with hysterical laughter.

In 2000, as the Green Party candidate for the 8th Congressional district in Michigan, I ran on a three-point platform:

    GLOBAL WARMING – We may be in danger of triggering an irreversible, runaway greenhouse effect. Instead of squandering tax dollars on Star Wars that merely enriches stockholders, we should be investing in research to learn how to save the planet for future generations. Do you hear any so-called “mainstream” candidates dealing with this all-important issue?
    UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE – When my first husband died of cancer 30 years ago, I counted on Teddy Kennedy to deliver on universal health so that others wouldn’t have to do what I did — drop out of college and beg for low-level jobs just to keep us insured. Yet here we are three decades later and the kinds of jobs I held then don’t even offer insurance today. You call that progress?
    END THE WAR ON DRUGS – We know what it takes to make our society safer — drug treatment on demand, strict gun laws, community collaborations, a strong social safety net. We should reserve costly prison space for the truly violent. Let’s start by legalizing medical marijuana and industrial hemp!

If I were running today, I would still focus on these issues but also join Ron Paul in ending our international adventurism. But the way in which the media ignores Paul’s message shows that “objectivity” does not extend to treating progressive issues like ending wars, legalizing drugs and restoring our civil rights as issues worth mentioning.

In my case, the only question reporters asked me was whether I was a “spoiler.” Not one asked me to explain why I thought global warming was a big deal.

A relentless focus on process over substance is more than laziness, as Sirota alleges. It’s part of a profound corporate contempt for serious discussion about how we should live going forward in this complex world. People say they are hungry for serious discussion, fresh ideas and real analysis. There are thousands of bloggers out here telling us more of what we need to know. The challenge for all of us is to find the wheat among the chaff.

Stifling creativity: Let’s occupy today’s outmoded corporate copyright laws

Rep. Sonny Bono (post-Cher and before he skied into a tree)

Duke University’s Center for the Study of Public Domain notes that New Year’s Day would have ushered in a wonderful opportunity for creativity if the old copyright laws were still in place. Under the old law, in place until 1978, copyright protected works for 56 years. In 1998, the late Sonny Bono, elected to Congress with lots of Hollywood cash, was instrumental in passing the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act that extended the length of copyright “protection” to 70 years.

Nicknamed the Mickey Mouse law because the Disney Corporation feared that “Steamboat Willie” was about to enter the public domain, Bono’s new law keeps you from using these works as a foundation for new creativity:

  • Movies
  • To Catch a Thief
  • Rebel Without a Cause
  • Lady and the Tramp
  • The Seven Year Itch
  • Night of the Hunter
  • East of Eden
  • Books
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Tolkein’s The Return of the King
  • Music
  • Tutti Frutti
  • Blue Suede Shoes
  • Ain’t That a Shame
  • The Great Pretender

Copyright was originally intended to protect artists, by safeguarding their right to license the use of their intellectual property. The initial term of protection extended 50 years after the artist’s death so that their heirs (think Priscilla and Lisa Marie) would be able to benefit for a while. Not only did the Sonny Bono law extended that term to 70 years for individuals but it extended the term to a whopping 120 years for corporations. All that does, of course, is make the 1% richer at the expense of the 99%.

Lengthening copyright not only defeats the original intent of the law to provide artists a decent living, but it robs today’s artists of opportunities to use old works as a foundation for something new. Shakespeare’s historical plays were based on translations of Plutarch and Ralph Holingshed’s Chronicles. Had Shakespeare not had unfettered access to those source materials, he (or Sir Frances Bacon) might never have written them. (Though I could easily live without Coriolanus.)

Instead of enriching artists, today’s copyright laws all too often clog up the courts with lawsuits filed by so-called copyright trolls. Many of these nefarious companies simply file lawsuit after lawsuit in the hope of pressuring unwitting violators into forking over some cash for what is often an inadvertent use of supposedly protected material.

Detroit’s own Armen Balladian of Bridgeport Records is famous for filing hundreds of copyright lawsuits, most involving claims that others are violating his ownership of music created by Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton. (Clinton, on the other hand, claims that Balladian faked documents to gain control of his work.)

In any event, as this article in Slate attests, Balladian’s relentless litigation against rap artists who used mere seconds of a Clinton riff effectively ended the creative use of sampling in hiphop music. At one point, a jury dinged Notorious B.I.G. $4 million for using a snatch of a tune Balladian claimed to own.

Can you hear THIS SNIPPET OF CLINTON’S MUSIC in N.W.A.’s 100 Miles? (Thanks to Slate for digging those out.)

Sadly, many artists lose control of the rights to their creative works to the corporations. Nike paid $500,000 to use The Beatles’ song Revolution in this 1987 ad. (Half the fee went to Michael Jackson who shared ownership of the Beatles’ catalogue.)

This was the era when Nike was accused of using overseas sweatshops to manufacture its trendy sneakers. Hearing his radical lyrics used to hawk overpriced consumer goods made by exploited workers might well have killed John Lennon had he not already been gunned down in 1980. (Many fans still call his death an assassination, not because Mark David Chapman was anything but a mentally deranged fan, but because Lennon stood against the relentless assaults of corporate consumerist culture.)

If copyright law did a better job of enriching artists, it might be worth keeping it intact. But it has become yet another way for corporations to strip artists of control of their creative works, while enriching trolls who treat our courts like casinos. It’s time to begin rolling back the corporate excrescences of the Bono law and do right by yesterday’s artists and today’s.