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Media Ownership

News Organizations Must Have a Broad Representation in the Communities They Cover

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Screenshot from the webinar

February 9, 2021 – News organizations must have a broad representation in the communities they cover to reflect perspectives that would otherwise be missed, a panel of journalists said at a communications law conference.

It is not enough to simply cover events that involve people of color for diversity’s sake, heard the virtual conference hosted on February 2 by the American Bar Association.  Those covering events should be diverse themselves, and upper management must ensure diversity is being reported, said Johnita Due, senior vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer at Warner Media News and Sports, who is Black.

Upper management at news organizations needs to already be planning and covering stories about minorities and people of color before major events occur, instead of just following up on stories covering the high-profile deaths of George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and Breonna Taylor.

Ensuring journalists know the community they are covering will help empower coverage so critical to informing and, in some cases, reforming laws and policies that often negatively harm minority communities. And diversity, equity, and inclusion needs to come from the top of the organization, with leaders who represent the communities they represent, said Anzio Williams, senior vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion at NBC Universal Stations, who is black.

While many stories about diversity exist, it is not always easy to cover them because sometimes people do not believe it is important to cover, said Mireya Villareal, a news correspondent at CBS News.

People too often undervalue their own diversity and wrongfully deem it as unworthy, but their stories do matter, she said. When major stories break that involve diversity, it is still important to have diverse people behind the scenes helping make decisions on what and how to cover such events.

When the Minneapolis Star Tribune was preparing its front page headline the day after George Floyd died, the news organization faced a serious challenge: should the entire photo of Officer Chauvin kneeling on George’s neck be published, or should some of it be cropped? Was it right to partially hide or reveal the entirety of the event?

First, you need to ask yourself if anyone in the community will be injured, or re-traumatized by showing the full photo, said Kyndell Harkness, a photo editor for the Tribune. In the end, her team decided to publish a cropped cut showing only Floyd’s face, and offer in subsequent pages information for readers to go to the news site to watch a full video of the incident.

News organizations are always asking themselves: How can we cover this better? And the answer is having those covering stories be representative of its community, many are saying.

Media Ownership

Pandemic Isn’t Death Knell Of Theaters, Says Lionsgate Vice Chairman

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Screenshot from the webinar

February 24, 2021 – Lionsgate Vice Chairman Michael Burns said Tuesday he thinks theaters will be packed again once the pandemic ends, speaking at a New America event on the future of entertainment.

Suggesting the pandemic will not impair traditional theaters amid the rise in streaming adoption at home, Burns said the growing portfolio of films to feature in theaters under his studio will ensure traditional movie viewing doesn’t go away.

He noted that Lionsgate is associated with about 20 Tyler Perry movies, which will attract people to theaters. He also said a new program based on the The New York Times’ telling of America’s history with slavery, called 1619, will also draw viewers back.

Burns expressed optimism in a returning moviegoing population and cited that in the past, African Americans made up 5 percent of the movie going population. African Americans also make up 13 percent of the U.S. population. But over the last few years and before the pandemic began, they have made up about 20 percent of the movie going population, he said. This trend is in line with Hispanics, he said, and it gives hope to the entire industry that not even the pandemic can unseat the traditional movie theater.

He said he also hopes the older generation is ready to head back to the theaters, especially as people, young and old, develop pandemic fatigue and especially as vaccines continue rolling out.

Burns turned away doubt about his prediction by pointing to China’s recent New Year’s holiday box office performance the previous weekend, which enjoyed record-breaking box office revenues of $1.206 billion, demonstrating that the country’s film market has recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Media Ownership

Will Minority and Female Ownership Play a Role in Prometheus Radio Media Ownership Case?

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January 26, 2021—A panel of legal experts disagreed about whether the Federal Communications Commission considers maintaining minority and female ownership of broadcast stations to be a serious public interest concern, during a Federalist Society webinar on Monday.

On January 19, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the ongoing FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project case, a dispute arising from the FCC’s attempts to deregulate local media ownership.

The case involves whether the FCC adequately considered how its rule changes would affect broadcast media firms owned by women or minorities and questions whether the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals was right to block some of the FCC’s choices on those grounds.

The 3rd Circuit found that although the FCC did “ostensibly” consider this issue, its analysis was “so insubstantial” that it cannot provide a “reliable foundation” for the conclusions the agency drew.

After hearing oral arguments by phone on Tuesday, Supreme Court justices questioned the 3rd Circuit decision that blocked the changes. The appeals court told the agency to study the potential impact the mandate would have on female and minority ownership in the media industry, before implementing changes.

The Federalist Society panelists debated whether a change in media ownership would impact minority ownership of broadcasting stations. Jane Mago, former general counsel to the FCC, said she did not believe that altering media cross ownership rules were going to have a significant impact on minority and female ownership in broadcasting.

Her former colleague, Christopher Wright, former general counsel to the FCC, disagreed, saying that “even Justice Brett Kavanaugh had to understand that consolidations would certainly have an adverse effect on women and minority ownership.”

The effects of a decision in FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project have been long-debated

Under the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC set governing rules for broadcast media ownership. The rules were intended to prevent any single entity from owning more than a certain amount of broadcast media, limit consolidation, and promote “competition, diversity, and localism.”

The FCC was tasked with producing reports on broadcast ownership on a regular basis to determine whether such rules promoted the public interest. As with all final actions by the agency, such reports are subject to judicial review by a federal court of appeals.

FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project is a series of cases heard and adjudicated by the 3rd Circuit because an activist group, Prometheus Radio Project, challenged 2002 media ownership rules in that court.

Prometheus argued that the FCC did not adequately consider the effect its rule changes would have on ownership of broadcast media by women and racial minorities, among other arguments.

In 2010, the 3rd Circuit revisited the case once again, following changes made by the FCC. The FCC did not complete its 2010 review cycle, known as Prometheus III, prior to the start of the 2014 cycle, which led the 3rd Circuit to instruct the FCC to act on broadcast rules review in 2016.

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Antitrust

Justice Department Antitrust Division Sues Google, FCC Calls for Changes to Media Regulations, AT&T on Spectrum Sharing

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The Justice Department’s antitrust division plans to sue Google today for engaging in anticompetitive conduct to preserve monopolies in search and search advertising, senior Justice officials said today.

When officials began investigating Google last September, the case was focused on Google’s advertising. It has since expanded to include not only Google’s search capabilities, but also the extent to which Google is reinforcing their presence through the Android smartphone system, which often includes Google predownloaded on its devices, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move has the makings of the most aggressive U.S. antitrust case against a big technology company in two decades. Almost all state attorneys general are also investigating Google separately. However, on Tuesday the Washington Post reported that only Republican state attorneys general are expected to sign on to the Justice Department lawsuit.

Last year, Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s current antitrust chief, negotiated with the FTC for jurisdiction to investigate Google, but later recused himself because of work with Google prior to joining the Justice Department.

According to news reports, Justice Department staff attorneys are skeptical of Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to rush the litigation, fearing that they might lose a hastily-constructed case.

“It cannot escape notice that this suit was hurried out on the eve of an election where the Administration has aggressively pressured tech companies to take actions in its favor,” said Computer and Communications Industry Association President Matt Schruers. “Antitrust law should be driven by consumers’ interests, not political imperatives.  We look forward to a court’s review of the facts and the evidence.”

The House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee recently released a report recommending all four tech giants, including Google, face congressional action. “It’s Google’s business model that is the problem,” said Chairman David Cicilline, D., R.I. “Google evolved from a turnstile to the rest of the web to a walled garden that increasingly keeps users within its sights.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr calls for changes in FCC media regulations

FCC media ownership regulations have been frustrating efforts to promote investment in local content, said Commissioner Brendan Carr at the Free Speech America Gala on Wednesday.

He cited Powell, Wyoming, where a single laptop pumping music from the nearest big city constituted their entire broadcasting system. The next town over had entertainment programming that was attuned he needs of their local listeners.

This town wanted to invest in Powell to originate live and local programming for their underserved community, but because of FCC regulations—that are supposed to promote competition, a diversity of viewpoints, and localism—Powell is stuck with their single laptop.

Carr also praised the upgrades happening in 5G and ATSC 3.0. The latter, which is a new standard

allowing broadcasters to transmit in Internet Protocol, or IP, will transform broadcast television, including transmitting Ultra HD video and allowing content to be personalized to a household, said Carr.

The broad coverage that ATSC 3.0 has many applications such as telemedicine applications, IoT, and smart ag, as well as giving households another option for high speed downloads using the same spectrum, they used for over-the-air TV.

AT&T criticizes 12 GigaHertz spectrum sharing

Dish Network and RS Access are trying to increase the value of their licenses at the expense of their fellow incumbents by arguing that 5G and incumbent direct broadcast satellite services can share the 12 GigaHertz (GHz) band, according to an AT&T filing.

There’s been a lot of effort going toward preventing interference in the C-Band from adjacent bands, and neither Dish nor RSA have explained how to combat those issues in the 12 GHz band, which has notably more earth stations occupying it than the C-Band, said AT&T.

Jeffrey Blum, Dish executive vice president of external and legislative affairs said Dish, along with other companies and many public interest groups, sees it in the public interest to have a neutral Federal Communications Commission rule-making on 12 GHz band. It would be a missed opportunity to overlook 500 megahertz of centimeter wave spectrum.

The 12 GHz petition would come “at a cost of severe interference to the latest generation of satellite broadband networks that are a year out or less from providing full service,” according to small government interest groups, unlike their support for expanded access to spectrum for 5G.

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