Jason Rezaian, Yeganeh Salehi

Iran frees one journalist

mediawiremorningGood morning. Here are 10 media stories.

  1. Iran frees one journalist: Yeganeh Salehi is out of jail, but her husband, Washington Post Tehran bureau chief Jason Rezaian, remains in custody. They were arrested July 22. (WP)
  2. NBC News freelancer arrives in U.S. for Ebola treatment: Ashoka Mukpo is on his way to Omaha. (NBC News)
  3. Another view of The Washington Post under Jeff Bezos: “Only a nitwit would root against the health of the daily newspaper in the nation’s capital,” writes David Carr, who says that Executive Editor Marty Baron‘s paper “is in the middle of a great run, turning out the kind of reporting that journalists — and readers — live for.” (NYT) | The Post set a traffic record in September. (Capital) | Last week Politico wrote that the Post’s new regime had produced “no major digital innovation, no radical new product launch, no change to delivery or presentation, and no promise of any specific plans for the future.” (Politico)
  4. Turkish police fire tear gas at BBC crew: “It had been fired from no more than 10 feet away and could easily have killed anyone it hit.” (BBC News)
  5. Welcome, Bloomberg Politics: The new publication launched Sunday. Its TV show, “With All Due Respect,” bows tonight. | “On the landing page featured pieces are distinctly numbered from one to seven” — hey, wait a minute! (Politico)
  6. FCC slows review of Comcast-Time Warner merger: The agency “cites recent filings submitted by Comcast stating that its acquisition of NBCUniversal has not led to higher prices for NBC national networks and local TV stations, an outcome that runs counter to the FCC’s own analysis.” (Forbes) | “Comcast says that this pause is not necessarily a sign of trouble and that it tends to occur in large transactions.” (The Verge)
  7. British police used anti-terror laws to get newspaper’s call records: The Crown Prosecution Service asked Mail on Sunday for records about its sources for a story about Chris Huhne, a cabinet minister who tried to get out of a speeding ticket. When it refused, police used the country’s Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and “trawled through thousands of confidential numbers called by journalists from a landline at the busy newsdesk going back an entire year, covering hundreds of stories unrelated to the Huhne case. (Mail on Sunday)
  8. Gary Hart revisited, revisited: Boston University j-school honcho and former Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler pushes back against a Matt Bai story that showed the Herald’s hunt for evidence of Sen. Gary Hart‘s infidelity couldn’t have been inspired by his now-famous challenge to the press. A week before the Herald article, Fiedler writes, Hart told him, “I’ve been in public life for 15 years and I think that if there was anything about my background that anybody had any information on, they would bring it forward. But they haven’t.” He also writes: “To me, the question that Bai and others raise shouldn’t be why the news media reported on Hart’s activities, but why it failed to report on FDR, JFK and LBJ.” (Politico)
  9. Matthew Rosenberg can return to Afghanistan: New Afghan president Ashraf Ghani reversed the NYT reporter’s expulsion Sunday. (NYT)
  10. Job moves, edited by Benjamin Mullin: Dave Cohn will take a job at a broadcast network. Previously, he was chief content officer for Circa. (Poynter) | Chris Mooney will start an environmental blog at The Washington Post. Previously, he was a correspondent for Mother Jones. (Washington Post) | Dodai Stewart will be director of culture coverage at Fusion. Previously, she was deputy editor at Jezebel. (Jezebel) | Taffy Brodesser-Akner is now a correspondent for GQ. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and Playboy. (Email) | Jonathan Shorman will be a statehouse reporter at the Topeka (Kansas) Capital-Journal. Previously, he was a reporter for the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader. (News-Leader) | David la Spina is now a photo editor for The New York Times Magazine. He has taught photography at Simon’s Rock College. Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a contributor at The New York Times Magazine. She has written for The New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and Playboy. Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a contributor at The New York Times Magazine. He has written for Harper’s, Wired and GQ. (New York Times Magazine) | Peter Canellos is now executive editor at Politico. Previously, he had been editorial page editor at The Boston Globe. (Politico) | Renee Rupcich is design director for Nylon and NylonGuys. Previously, she was senior art director of the Condé Nast Media Group. (Email) | Vice Media is looking for a news video editor. Get your résumés in! (Journalism Jobs) | Send Ben your job moves: bmullin@poynter.org

Suggestions? Criticisms? Would like me to send you this roundup each morning? Please email me: abeaujon@poynter.org. Read more


Murdoch says he won’t buy Tribune papers

Rupert Murdoch tweeted Thursday night that he doesn’t plan to buy Tribune’s newspapers. He cited the FCC’s cross-ownership rules, which forbid the same person or entity from owning a print and a top broadcast property in the same market.

Poynter reported earlier this month that Murdoch’s News Corp was rumored to be assembling a bid for the Tribune Co. papers, which are set to spin off as a separate company next month.

Murdoch also runs 21st Century Fox, which owns and operates stations in several cities that overlap with Tribune papers, including Los Angeles and Chicago.

“I am not sure this amounts to ‘case closed,” Poynter’s Rick Edmonds wrote in an email. “My read is that Mr. Murdoch still wants the L.A. Times, still opposes the cross-ownership ban and might seek an exception or repeal.”

In May, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai told broadcasters, “I see no prospect that the FCC will bring all of its media ownership rules into the 21st century in the next couple of years.”

“Any easing of the media ownership rule would face fierce opposition from groups that say too much consolidation threatens a free press,” Amy Chozick reported in March 2013. “If Mr. Murdoch owned a major Hollywood studio and a newspaper known as the paper of record for the entertainment industry, it could spark additional skepticism.” But, she noted, Murdoch received a waiver to own the New York Post and WNYW in New York City. (Tribune has a waiver to own the Chicago Tribune, WGN-TV and WGN-AM.)

Murdoch told Meg James and Nicole Sperling of the Los Angeles Times in January 2013 a deal to buy the L.A. Times “won’t get through with the Democratic administration in place.” Read more

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, before the House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on cell phones on planes. As one part of the federal government looks to remove restrictions on making phone calls from airplanes, another agency is apparently considering its own prohibition. Wheeler told members of Congress that while his agency sees no technical reason to ban calls on planes, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told him Thursday morning that the DOT will be moving forward with its own restrictions.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

What the FCC’s net neutrality ruling means for journalism

The battle over regulation of the Internet moves to Congress this week. Until now, the question of whether the Federal Communications Commission should have the power to force Internet service providers to treat all customers equally has been a legal matter, tied up in federal courts.

But on Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler heads to Capitol Hill to face the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who is openly critical of the FCC’s “net neutrality” rules — the commission’s attempt at ensuring a level playing field on the Internet.

Last week, the FCC, on a split decision, voted to open public discussion on the rules. More than 22,000 public responses have already poured into the commission’s comment site.

This story is boiling up.

Journalists have largely played net neutrality as a battle among three players: the Internet providers delivering data to your home or business, consumer groups wanting to keep the providers from cutting deals with companies seeking a fast lane into homes, and businesses operating online and relying solely on the Internet for their survival — Amazon, for instance.

But media companies have a huge stake in this battle, too, as once text-based sites become heavier with video and interactive features that suck up more bandwidth, and as a larger percentage of the news audience moves online.

Don’t think of the debate in today’s terms. Think in terms of what your data flow will look like 5 or 10 years from now with more video and multimedia. That content will continue to multiply as users migrate away from your print or over-the-air offerings.

For some, the way to ensure a free and equally accessible Internet is to designate it as a public utility. Utilities can be regulated, just as the FCC regulates mobile phone frequencies and states regulate utility companies.

Those in the pro-utility camp favor “net neutrality,” the idea that the Internet should be equally available to everyone. A small TV station that streams video to an online audience would have equal access to the end user as Netflix does. It is similar to how cable TV works now; a local TV station has the same quality delivery as ESPN.

Here’s the rub: when government gets in the regulation business does something become more open or less open? Your take on the issue depends on whether you believe there’s a problem giving big content producers preference over small operators in getting to customers quickly. As the FCC stated in opening this issue, “Today, there are no legally enforceable rules by which the Commission can stop broadband providers from limiting Internet openness.”

Those who oppose the regulation of the Internet’s flow say when the government gets involved, it chokes investment and progress. Yes, the government can regulate things for consumer protection, to prevent fraud and anti-trust as examples, but the Internet carriers say they should be able to control the information packets that stream through their lines.

And who are the providers of this service that do not want to be regulated? The biggest players are the cable companies that already find themselves under attack from consumers over rising rates and from broadcasters over compensation for over-the-air programming.

As Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu said in a Wall Street Journal article:

“So, despite 15 years of high hopes, cable operators are the dominant providers of Internet access in nearly every important market in the U.S. Verizon’s FiOS service, a worthy competitor in some areas, has a national market share of just 8%. Google Fiber has less than 1%. These numbers may eventually change, but we need to face the market as it is today, not as we hope it might be.”

Professor Wu used a “bridge” analogy in his essay, asking readers to imagine a private owner controlling the only bridge into New York City. I want to build on his illustration to make my point.

Not only could the bridge owner extract a toll on the bridge, but also the unregulated operator could tell drivers that if they were willing to pay a premium toll they could enter a fast lane while other drivers crawl along in the slow lanes. There would even be a financial reason to make the slow lanes as slow as possible to give people a reason to pay to get into a faster lane.

Under FCC’s regulation, everyone in theory would be slowed down or sped up equally when traffic fills the bridge. No one would be given preference even if they offered to pay for it.

The bridge owner would say the best way to get better traffic control is for the government to stay out of it. They would say regulation limits profits and keeps other potential bridge builders from getting into the business and building new bridges. In effect, they say, if you want lower rates, let us profit. The competition that follows profitable business forces competitive pricing. The regulation, they say, would also limit the money the bridge company would have to make improvements, widen lanes or maintain infrastructure.

But when something becomes as vital to society as the Internet is now, what is the role of government to be sure it remains open and not fall under the control of deep-pocket users?

Big media companies with big plans to provide lots more video and more robust online content have many stakes in this debate. So does every TV station, all of which should see Netflix as a competitor for viewer eyeballs. If a provider gives Netflix priority streaming, its faster, smoother service makes it a more attractive alternative to over-the-air broadcasting.

If a newspaper of the future provided video that always loaded fast, never buffered, played without fail, it would have a big advantage over a smaller publication whose data sputtered its way to the user. We all know the exasperation of waiting for video to load.

Today the problem is yours to solve. But what if you have done all you can to smooth the delivery of your content only to have the Internet service provider choke your feed, and ask for more money to give you priority over the next guy?

Networks like NBC have direct ownership connections to Comcast, an Internet provider as well as a cable company. Comcast has fought the FCC before over whether it can say how much bandwidth a user can use. The case had to do with peer-to-peer use, the big volume file transfers that go around central servers. So when NBC and Comcast sought to merge, open access was top of mind for people concerned with whether Comcast would give NBC preference over competitors.

In 2011, while approving the deal, the FCC mentioned the potential conflict by warning the two parties to not “prioritize affiliated Internet content over unaffiliated Internet content . . . [or] treat affiliated network traffic differently from unaffiliated network traffic” as well as to comply with the Commission’s open Internet rules, regardless of the effect of ‘any judicial challenge’ affecting those rules.”

So the FCC is fighting over who will control the bridges that lead to what comes next. This week, it cited this data that is worth chewing on:

• The number of hours Americans spend watching video over the Internet has grown 70 percent since June 2010.

• Between 2010 and 2013, revenues from online video services grew 175 percent, from $1.86 billion to $5.12 billion.

• Real-time entertainment (that is, programming that is viewed as it is delivered, such as video streamed by Netflix and Hulu) grew from 42.7 percent of the “downstream fixed access traffic at peak time” (generally 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) in 2010 to 67 percent of comparable traffic by September 2013.

With so much money at stake for the mega-users of online bandwidth, there are real concerns about what happens if big providers push smaller users to the curb should they be unable to pay for priority access.

What does it mean to free speech? What does it mean to “the marketplace of ideas?” What if some corporate news services pay for priority treatment but small alternative news and information sources can’t or won’t?

What’s next?

Congress may try to commandeer this whole issue and take it out of the hands of the FCC and courts. For this reason alone, this week’s House subcommittee session will be worth watching.

To read more on the net neutrality rules debate, go to the FCC’s public comment page here and click on proceeding 14-28, which will take you here, where you can submit a comment or search the filings. Many of the comments on this issue are smartly written and passionate. There is a story in the comments to be sure.

You can also comment by sending the FCC an email at openinternet@fcc.gov or by calling 1-888-225-5322, but the commission would rather hear from you in writing.

The FCC says it hopes to have its rules in place by the end of this year.


The FCC Open Internet page, including background and official statements from commissioners.

• What is “706”? Often in this debate you will hear people use that number. They are referring to section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In a lawsuit, Verizon v. FCC, the federal courts relied on that section. People who call on the FCC to use “706” want the government to treat the Internet like a utility and regulate it to keep it “open.”

• What is Title II? It refers to the Communications Act of 1934. Go to page 32 of the act and you will see the definitions of “common carriers.” Critics say using this rule would only address “unreasonable” or “unjust” discrimination and would allow cable companies to use that loophole to continue down the path of selective traffic regulation.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association represents cable companies in the fight against regulation. Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman, is the head of this group.

Common Cause is a public-interest group that includes another former FCC chairman, Michael Copps, who supports FCC regulation. Electronic Frontier Foundation also supports regulation.

• The New York Times has an easy-to-follow primer on the debate reflecting the many sides of the issue. Read more


Transparency advocates file FCC complaints about TV stations’ nondisclosures

The Campaign Legal Center and the Sunlight Foundation filed complaints with the Federal Communications Commission, charging 11 television stations failed to disclose required information about political ads they ran this year.

The two groups said in a press release Thursday that without such disclosures, “viewers are denied important information about the organizations and individuals seeking to influence their vote through these ads.”

According to the complaints, the stations failed to disclose in “political files” posted with the FCC such information as the names of candidates referred to in the ads and the names of the ad sponsor’s CEO or directors. The groups said in their release: Read more


Proposed FCC net neutrality rules could favor large content providers

The Wall Street Journal | The New York Times

In what would amount to a reversal on net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules that would allow companies like Netflix and Amazon to pay for high-speed delivery of their content, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The rules to be presented Thursday would prevent Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner from blocking or throttling individual websites called up by users, the Journal’s Gautham Nagesh reported. But broadband providers could offer companies preferential treatment for speedier lanes to get their content quickly to consumers based on “commercially reasonable” terms. Consumers could end up paying more for services if companies pass on the additional charges. Read more


Local TV stations defeated in FCC rules on joint ad sales, retransmission fee talks

The Federal Communications Commission handed local TV station owners two big defeats Monday. The FCC made it tougher for TV stations in the same market to sell advertising together. The so-called Joint Sales Agreements, or JSAs, Michael Manis have become increasingly common in recent years as smaller stations tap into the efficiencies of having one sales force sell for multiple stations.

The FCC’s new rules will ban JSAs in which one station sells 15 percent or more of the advertising time of another station.

The JSAs have become especially useful to stations that could not get FCC approval to outright manage another station in the market. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said stations have used JSAs as an “end-run” around FCC ownership rules.

Dennis Wharton, the National Association of Broadcasters executive vice president of communications, said, “For a decade, Republican- and Democratically-controlled FCCs have approved JSAs, which allow free and local TV stations to survive in a hyper-competitive world dominated by pay TV Giants. That model is now declared illegal, based on the arguments of pay TV companies whose collaborative interconnect advertising sales practices make JSAs seem pale by comparison.”

Some local broadcasters have said “unwinding” the JSAs would mean stations would have to cut back on spending. A couple of weeks ago, Marci Burdick, senior vice president for Schurz Communications which owns 10 stations and operates three JSAs, told a congressional subcommittee that ending JSAs would hurt local broadcasters:

“For instance, our JSA in Wichita provides the only Spanish local newscast in the state of Kansas. In Springfield, Missouri, our JSA helped take a struggling station to one that is winning national awards for local news coverage.

Read more

Petitioners ask FCC to block Gannett-Belo deal

Free Press | Variety

Gannett and Belo are trying to get around FCC cross-ownership rules by transferring broadcast licenses to shell companies, Free Press and other groups say in a petition asking the FCC to block the companies’ planned merger.

Gannett announced in June it would buy Belo, making it the fourth-largest owner of major network affiliate stations. The company already owns many newspapers. Investors have cheered the deal.

Time Warner Cable, the American Cable Association and DirecTV have also filed a petition opposing part of the deal, Ted Johnson reports. Those entities say “the deal threatens to drive up retransmission fees and risk even more station blackouts in negotiation standoffs,” Johnson writes.

“These arrangements attempt to mask the true intent and effect of the transaction: to allow Gannett to simultaneously influence and control multiple media outlets in the same local market in a way that is contrary to the public interest and otherwise prohibited by the Commission’s rules,” Free Press’ petition (embedded below) says. Read more

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Supreme Court decision offers no clarity on unplanned profanity in live broadcasts

Broadcasters won a narrow victory over the Federal Communications Commission today, but the U.S. Supreme Court did nothing to clear up which expletives are or are not allowed over the air. The court ruled in a case called FCC V. Fox Television Stations, but it avoided the key questions about what power the government should have to ban certain words or images from the airwaves.

This case wasn’t about expletives in news broadcasts, and the FCC has tried to assure journalists that they’re not the target of its indecency rules. But broadcasters have been worried because the agency has changed its mind before.

The FCC had cited Fox and ABC for three incidents that happened on the air. In two cases Fox aired live expletives that were uttered on awards shows; in the third case ABC aired video of a nude female’s buttocks for seven seconds on the show “NYPD Blue.”

The FCC issued new standards after these incidents aired; the court said it can’t apply those standards to incidents that occurred before the rules were in place. The court did nothing, however, to inform broadcasters what should be allowed.

The FCC wants to ban so-called “fleeting expletives,” things that an athlete may say in a live locker-room interview or a passerby might say in a live broadcast. A fleeting expletive is different from a planned event like a swear word in a movie or even ABC’s image of a naked behind.

Broadcasters argued in briefs that they might stop airing live broadcasts if the FCC enforced the “fleeting” rule, aimed at unplanned expletives uttered just once.

They have been especially frustrated that the FCC would not tell them in advance whether they’d get in trouble for airing something, such as when they asked about airing “Saving Private Ryan.”

Dennis Wharton, executive vice president of communications for the National Association of Broadcasters, responded to the court’s ruling:

NAB has long believed that responsible industry self-regulation is preferable to government regulation in areas of programming content. … We don’t believe that broadcast programming will change as a result of today’s decision, given the expectation from viewers, listeners and advertisers that our programming will be less explicit than pay-media platform providers.

As broadcasters, we will continue to offer programming reflective of the diverse communities we serve, along with program blocking technologies like the V-chip that empower parents in monitoring media consumption habits of children.

The court offered no guidance on what would happen if another actor were to swear on live TV, which is what Nicole Richie and Cher did on the Fox awards shows, and what Bono did in another incident.

While the FCC’s rules are in question, as they are now, it seems unlikely that the agency will take on any further enforcement actions.

Networks, television stations and professional organizations like the Radio and Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) and the NAB all filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case, asking for clarity and guidance. They also said that imposing a video/audio delay system on broadcasters would be too costly to install and monitor.

Moreover, the broadcasters said they were confused by FCC rules that appear to allow, for example, the “F word” to be uttered during an airing of “Saving Private Ryan” but not in a comedy show.

Consider, for example, whether this video would be allowable under the FCC rules. It is the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals hearing on the case, aired by C-SPAN. The judges use words in the courtroom that the FCC would consider to be at least indecent, if not obscene. Indecency rules, enforced against broadcasters for decades, have applied only between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. So if the FCC’s standards applied to this court hearing, it could only air after 10 p.m. and before 6 a.m., not as a daytime news program on an over-the-air station.

Background resources

The SCOTUS Blog, which tracks cases step-by-step

Amicus Briefs in Support of the FCC Enforcement:

Merit Briefs for the Respondents:

Amicus Briefs in Support of the Respondents

Read more
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How reporters can mine political ad spending records

The Federal Communications Commission stirred debate last week when it voted to require some broadcast television stations to post their political ad spending records online. The four largest broadcasters in the top 50 markets soon will be required to post the records online; all other stations are exempt until 2014.

During a live chat, we discussed the vote with Columbia University’s Steve Waldman, formerly of the FCC, and WCNC-TV Investigative Reporter Stuart Watson.

Waldman recently referred to the records as a “gold mine of data” that will “help make our political system more transparent.” But not all broadcasters see it that way. Many have argued that putting this information online would be too costly, and that in doing so, they would be letting their competitors know how much they charge for ads.

While many TV stations have avoided reporting on this issue, Watson has made it a point to inform viewers about it. He noted that “very few members of the public know of the existence of the so-called ‘public file’ available for inspection at television stations, and even fewer people understand what’s in that file.”

WCNC’s I-Team scanned political ad spending records from the public files of WBTV, WCCB, WCNC, and WSOC and entered the net and gross costs into a spreadsheet that Watson hopes to update and repost online. ProPublica, meanwhile, has asked readers to visit their local TV stations and copy the records so the site can post them online.

During today’s chat, Waldman and Watson talked with Columbia Journalism Review’s Greg Marx about the questions the vote raises, the value of putting political advertising reports online, and how journalists can mine this data for stories.

You can replay the chat here:

<a href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=20dcd58ac4″ mce_href=”http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=20dcd58ac4″ >How reporters can mine political ad spending records for data</a> Read more


FCC votes to require broadcasters in top 50 markets to post political ad records online

NPR | ProPublica

Update: The Wrap reports that the FCC has voted to require the four largest broadcasters in the top 50 markets to post records online; everyone else is exempt for two years. This means that 160 markets, everything smaller than Louisville, Ky, are excluded, as the Sunlight Foundation illustrates. ProPublica’s Justin Elliott notes that stations will be allowed to provide the reports in any file format, so they won’t be searchable.

The sticking point, as noted below: disclosure of ad rates. Read more

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