These are the media news headlines as read on the Oct. 12 edition of the mediageek radioshow: Fake News Still Alive; FCC Relaxes Broadband Rules for AT&T; AT&T and Verizon Anti-Free-Speech;
Wall Street Bullish on XM-Sirius Merger, NAB Asks FCC for More Time
Fake News Still Alive
Even though the FCC recently fined Comcast cable for airing fake news
VNRs on its local cable news programs, the tide of fake news is still
rolling in. That’s according to a new report released by the Center
for Media and Democracy.
VNRs are sponsored news segments produced by PR agencies which are
designed to look and sound like genuine news reports. VNRs are
especially attractive to local TV news outlets because producing news
segments is expensive, and VNRs are provided for free.
In its October 11 report, the CMD says that Traverse City Michigan
station WGTU-TV 29 aired three VNRs over the past size weeks,
including an entire, pre-packaged VNR funded by the financial company
FCC’s rules require that a station identify the source of a VNR if it
is political, deals with important issues or dwells inordinately on a
brand. The VNR from Captial One that aired on WGTU certainly qualifies
as one that dwells on a particular brand.
This is the CMD’s third report on VNRs all of which also have been
filed with the FCC. CMD’s first two reports cited incidents of VNRs
airing at 111 stations, and contributed to the FCC’s fining Comcast
for its cable channel CN8 for airing multiple VNRs without disclosure.
In Aug. 2006 the FCC launched an investigation into 77 of the stations
named in CMD’s first report on VNRs. So far the commission has only
taken action against Comcast, and the status of the other
investigations is unknown.
CMD released this third report in order to remind the FCC that the
practice of airing unattributed fake news continues, despite the
negative publicity and fine against Comcast. CMD has joined the media
reform group Free Press in urging the FCC to strengthen and clarify
VNR requirements, including requiring a visual identification of a
VNRs source on display throughout the report, and requiring
broadcasters to keep a monthly report of their VNR usage in their
You can learn more about fake news VNRs and watch examples of them at
the CMD’s website at www.prwatch.org
FCC Relaxes Broadband Rules for AT&T
On Oct. 11 three out of five FCC Commissioners blew a wet kiss to AT&T
when they voted to lift some regulations on the company’s broadband
business. The commission partially granted AT&T’s request for a
relaxation on the rules that govern how much it can charge business
customers and competitors for access to some high-speed internet
In particular, the decision eliminates the requirement that AT&T file
a report of the rates it charges with the FCC, reducing the
Commission’s ability to have oversight over them.
The two Democratic Commissioners voted against the changes. In a joint
statement Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps remark
that the commission did not have sufficient data to make this
decision. They furthermore criticize their fellow commissioners for
claiming that “potential competition is sufficient to protect
consumers,” and conclude that these changes “can make the problem
worse as potential competitors will have even less ability to
successfully compete and provide a check on any anti-competitive
AT&T and Verizon Anti-Free-Speech
But AT&T hasn’t just been busy getting anti-competitive gifts from the
FCC. The nation’s largest telephone company has also been revealed to
be taking aim at its customers speech rights online. The company joins
#2 Verizon in putting language into their broadband service contracts
stipulating that they can cut off internet service for any behavior
that AT&T or Verizon believe might harm their “name or reputation,” or
even the reputation of their business partners, like Yahoo.
These restrictive stipulations came to light after AT&T sent notices
to thousands of Bell South customers—who are now AT&T
customers—revising their service contracts.
A Verizon spokesman told the LA Times that the language is in the
agreement in order to stop people from setting up websites that look
like Verizon’s or for setting up phishing scams targeting Verizon
customers. However, such actions are already prohibited by other
provisions of Verizon’s service agreement. So it would seem that these
terms targeting “name or reputation” are overkill.
An AT&T spokesman also told the LA Times that the company had no plans
to censor customers.
However, many consumer and public interest groups, along with AT&T and
Verizon customers, are questioning the sincerity of the companies’
At the end of September Verizon was caught blocking text messages from
the National Abortion Rights Action League. And in August AT&T
censored a live webcast of Pearl Jam just as lead singer Eddie Vedder
starting speaking critically of President Bush. Although Verizon made
a quick about-face and let the NARAL text messages go, and AT&T
quickly apologized for censoring Pearl Jam, both incidents serve as a
reminder of the tremendous power the nation’s two largest telecomm
companies have over our daily ability to communicate freely.
Wall Street Bullish on XM-Sirius Merger, NAB Asks FCC for More Time
Finally, I’ve been keeping tabs on the proposed merger of XM and
Sirius satellite radio , and it seems like Wall Street is feeling
pretty bullish on the deal. A financial analyst from Bear Sterns told
a Satellite Investment Symposium that he believes the merger will be
approved by both the FCC and the Justice department within 30 – 45
Analysts think the deal will go through because they agree with XM and
Sirius position that satellite radio is different than satellite TV,
and that there is much more competition in the form of terrestrial
radio, iPods and internet radio.
Opinions on the merger are mixed in the public interest community,
mostly because XM and Sirius don’t have large audiences, and there is
some hope that there can be stipulations put on the merger to offer
public access channels to satellite radio.
The biggest opponent to the merger is the National Association of
Broadcasters which on Oct. 9 asked the FCC to call time-out on its
180 shot clock for deciding on the XM-Sirius deal. The NAB says it
needs more time to go through documents that its receiving as a result
of a Freedom of Information Act request it filed in March. The NAB
also says that it still hasn’t received some documents from the FCC
related to the FM radio transmitters used in satellite radio
John Anderson from DIYmedia.net discussed this issue with me on the
July 20 edition of the radioshow. John pointed out that along with
the Sirius and XM receivers having hot-rodded pirate FM transmitters,
the NAB’s FOIA request has also turned up documentation of the
companies running hundreds of unlicensed transmitters all over the