February 2004

Tech in Public Space contest

FusedSpace is hosting a design contest for “innovative ideas that, by means of existing technology, can change or improve our current relationship with physical public space or that can otherwise bring about innovations in the public domain.” (Where by public domain they mean in the sense of common space, not in the intellectual property sense.) Props to Corante and Eric Nehrlich for the link.

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Durbin on CBS’ censorship of MoveOn.org

As most of you have no doubt heard, the MoveOn.org Voter Fund sponsored contest for anti-Bush political ads called Bush In 30 Seconds. The winner was a very nice piece, IMO, called Child’s Play, and MoveOn tried to purchase time to play it during the Superbowl halftime tomorrow. CBS refused, claiming they have a policy against airing advocacy ads. (Though apparently some advocacy ads, like the one that will liken the tobacco industry to a company that sells ice cream mixed with shards of glass, is OK.) MoveOn is running the ad on other stations, and is calling on viewers to switch channels to CNN at 8:10pm and 8:35pm EST to watch it — I have to wonder which sponsor CBS plans to saddle with the $1.6 million slots that get caught in these one-minute-boycott periods.

Of all the editorials and discussion on the subject, the bit that interests me most is this segment of Senator Richard Durbin’s (D-Il) speech on the Senate floor a few days ago:

Now let’s connect all the dots because there is something more direct and topical behind this CBS decision, from my point of view. These are the same executives at CBS who successfully lobbied this Congress to change the FCC rules on TV station ownership to their corporate advantage. The provision that was sneaked into the Omnibus appropriation bill that passed last week and has been signed by the President. It establishes a new ceiling of 39 percent as the maximum percentage of American TV viewers in a market that may be reached by TV stations owned by any one company. Remember that number, 39 percent.

Before the FCC adopted rules in June to raise the cap to 45 percent, the cap was limited to 35 percent. Upset at what the FCC had done, a strong majority in the House and Senate agreed to roll back the FCC rule and take it back down to 35 percent. Why is this important? The White House and the Republicans in this conference on this Omnibus appropriation bill, with no Democrats present, came up with a figure of 39 percent as the new cap–39 percent. What is so magic about 39 percent? Allow me to explain. This wasn’t chosen at random; it wasn’t a good-faith compromise. No, it just so happens that Viacom, which owns CBS, currently owns stations reaching 38.8 percent of American households, and Rupert Murdoch’s news corporation, the owners of that “fair and balanced” Fox Network, owns stations reaching 37.8 percent.

Interesting. Interesting that the White House and Republican leaders in Congress pushed a provision in a spending bill in the dark of night, without Democrats present, that benefited two corporations when it came to their ownership of television stations–Fox, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, and now Viacom, CBS. Both entities currently violate the old FCC limitation. They needed this new language. They would have been forced to sell off stations if their Republican friends in Congress and the White House had not come through for them.

So the White House and the congressional Republicans give CBS a significant corporate favor and CBS rewards them by killing an ad critical of the Bush White House during the Super Bowl. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect subject for a “60 Minutes” investigation? Oh, I forget. “60 Minutes” is a CBS program. I don’t think we are going to hear about this on “60 Minutes.” I don’t think Mike Wallace and Lesley Stahl are going to be taking an undercover camera into the boardrooms of CBS to find out what is going on there.


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