Tales of the Sausage Factory

Oh Canda! Lessons for My Native Land.

Someone tell me why Canadians seem to be so much smarter than we are, at least on the public policy fronts that I cover. Maybe we should try to convince Michael Geist to take a position at one of the local law schools here in DC?

Whatever it is, two recent developments in Canadian media and information policy highlight that a does of common sense and a willingness by government ministers to (a) actually listen to what people have to say, and (b) learn something from our mistakes.

First, the Candian Radio-Television Commission (CRTC) just announced it will impose new national ownership limits and cross ownership limits on its broadcast media. Why? As stated in the CRTC release:

The trend toward greater consolidation in the broadcasting industry has raised concerns that a large ownership group could achieve a dominant position through acquisitions, which could bring about a reduction in the diversity of local, regional and national content. To address these concerns, the Commission has decided to:

* impose limits on the ownership of broadcasting licences to ensure that one party does not control more than 45 per cent of the total television audience share as a result of a transaction; and
* not approve transactions between companies that distribute television services (such as cable or satellite companies) that would result in one person effectively controlling the delivery of programming in a market.

While I think their national cap is too high, I applaud CRTC for recognizing the need for regulation staring them in the face as consolidation continues to grow. What a far cry from the debate we have in public policy circles in this country, in which regulators vie with each other for who can do more favors for their industry patrons, discuss how to raise ownership limits to permit more consolidation, and argue over whether to deregulate just a little more or a whole lot more.

The second “Canada is smarter than we are” example comes from last month’s succesfull citizen campaign to delay introduction of a “Canadian DMCA”. When Canada’s Conservative government seemed quite willing to acquiesce to industry demand to produce — in a fair use parody of Simpson’s Comic Book Guy — the worsht copyright ever, a grass roots movement organized that apparently shocked the government with its vehemence and popularity with mainstream Canadians. The government delayed introduction of the proposed Copyright Bill until at least the end of this month, where hopefully Canadian common sense will once again send it packing.

Meanwhile, in the United States, Democrats and Republicans join together for bipartisan legislation designed to turn the Department of Justice into the enforcement arm of the entertainment industry, and judges weigh whether the act of copying a legally obtained CD onto your computer for your own personal use constitutes a copyright violation for which you can be fined and/or do jail time.

Oh Canada, why can’t you teach my native land a thing or two?

Stay tuned . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

The Media Ownership Endgame: Martin's Opening Gambit on Newspaper-TV Cross Ownership

As I’ve said before, Kevin Martin plays a mean game of hardball — but an honest one. And while I’m happy to have him on the right side in limiting cable market power, it makes fighting on the media ownership side an utter bitch and a half. Like Belichik prepping the Patriots, Martin has carefully studied the mistakes of Michael Powell, studied the strategies of the media reform movement, carefully considered his own strengths and weaknesses, and set up his game plan with a determination to win.

This tends to make some of my friends and colleagues in the movement hate Martin personally, or get bogged down in the distractions and the moves Martin throws. But that’s as stupid as letting yourself get distracted by trash talk. To win this fight, we need to keep our eye on the game, stay nimble, have our own special teams prepped, and remember we’re in this to win in the long haul.

With this in mind, we turn to the opening moves in Broadcast Media Ownership Endgame. Martin already has one key advantage in that because he is the Chairman, he can set the agenda. He controls the timing and can float trial balloons, decide when to hold new hearings or release new studies, and finally declare when he wants a vote. Martin demonstrated his skill in this over the last month, gradually building to the end game, alternating period when nothing seemed to be happening with sudden frenzied activity. Each such move requires us to mobilize resources and exhaust ourselves, and forces us to make process demands for more time and reasonable opportunities for comment. Martin can then chose to acede to our requests in a limited way, letting a deadline slip a few weeks or postponing something by a month. This makes it look like Martin is being reasonable and accommodating, and casts us in the role of partisan foot draggers. Worse, it makes it increasingly difficult to mobilize our troops, because how many times do we have to fight and win these minor skirmishes over procedural issues and timing? People get tired of the issue, or think we already won when what we achieved was merely a temporary respite. Then, like a matador administering the coup de grace on the exhausted bull, Martin plunges his point directly into the heart. (‘Scuse me a minute, I need to check to see if my ears and tail are still attached.)

But Martin has now clearly committed to the final moves of the end game with a PR blitz/charm offensive similar in many ways to his approach in the 700 MHZ proceeding. And, as with the C Block “open access” condition, I do not expect Martin to make signifcant changes to his proposal now that he has put himself out in front and committed to a public position. Martin the Matador has dropped the cloak and gone for the sword. The question is whether the media reform bull is as exhausted or confused as Martin thinks, or if we still have sufficient wits and stamina to give him a surprise.

More below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Keep Azeroth Tax Free!

With massive budget deficits, an ever-increasing trade deficit, and fear that our aging population will be unable to support spiraling Social Security and Medicare costs, the Republicans have finally begun to consider softening their hardline stance against imposing new taxes.

Bad news, rather than try to raise revenue from companies locating off shore or megacorps enjoying windfall taxes from manipulating oil prices, the Republicans prefer to tax “virtual places” like Azeroth and Second Life’s user constructed “the World”.

I know the current crop of Republicans tend to live in a happy fantasy world where we we are treated like liberators in Iraq, all Americans are enjoying the benefits of our booming economy, and deregulation cures cancer and whitens your teeth, but GOOD GRIEF!

I swear to God, it’s like Terry Prachet working with Neal Stephenson instead of Neil Gaiman.

What’s next, real estate taxes on Boardwalk and Park Place? Capital gains taxes on Yahoo’s “virtual portfolio” tracker? Income tax every time I fantasize about winning the lottery?

Why Congress needs to stop playing with itself and get a life below . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

Meanwhile….Back at the FCC….

The forces of media consolidation continue to make headway now that the FCC has a full contingent of 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats. At the June 21, 2006 meeting, the FCC, by 3-2 vote, began the process of reexamining the rules on broadcast media ownership. Last week, the proposed order approving the Adelphia transaction began circulating. It has a very narrow outlook and very meager conditions (so far). Procedural moves by Martin could cut off any further public debate or input as early as this Thursday (July 6).

But all is not yet lost. Chairman Kevin Martin had also intended to adopt a rule requiring cable operators to carry the additional digital streams of broadcasters after the DTV transition, the so-called multicast must-carry. The Dems have long refused to go along unless the Commission also resolved the long-pending proceeding to define new public interest obligations for digital broadcasters. Martin had long made it clear that he did not intend to impose any new obligations on broadcasters, and that as soon as he had a third Republican, he would ram through multicast without public interest obligations.

But it didn’t happen. Robert McDowell, the new Republican Commissioner, refused to go along. Either because he didn’t like the idea, or because he didn’t like getting pushed so hard so quickly on a controversial matter, McDowell refused to vote “yes” on the multicast item. As a result, Martin pulled the item from the June meeting.

What will McDowell do on Adelphia? With the Dems dead set against approval without firmer conditions, Martin needs both Rs to toe the line.

More analysis and speculation below . . . .

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Tales of the Sausage Factory

FCC Pulls Broadcast Ownership Item and Makes My Summer Easier

Given my current insane workload, I can only rejoice at the last minute decision by the FCC to pull from this morning’s meeting agenda a new rulemaking that would start the broadcast media ownerhsip fight all over again. Contrary to what I’m sure will be the popular wisdom, I think this demonstrates a healthy, functional agency rather than the usual partisan sniping. My analysis below.

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