Bush Administration Planted Fake News Stories In Media (Again)

May 31, 2006

From The Independent:

Federal authorities are actively investigating dozens of American television stations for broadcasting items produced by the Bush administration and major corporations, and passing them off as normal news. Some of the fake news segments talked up success in the war in Iraq, or promoted the companies' products.

Investigators from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are seeking information about stations across the country after a report produced by a campaign group detailed the extraordinary extent of the use of such items.

The report, by the non-profit group Centre for Media and Democracy, found that over a 10-month period at least 77 television stations were making use of the faux news broadcasts, known as Video News Releases (VNRs). Not one told viewers who had produced the items.

"We know we only had partial access to these VNRs and yet we found 77 stations using them," said Diana Farsetta, one of the group's researchers. "I would say it's pretty extraordinary. The picture we found was much worse than we expected going into the investigation in terms of just how widely these get played and how frequently these pre-packaged segments are put on the air."

Ms Farsetta said the public relations companies commissioned to produce these segments by corporations had become increasingly sophisticated in their techniques in order to get the VNRs broadcast. "They have got very good at mimicking what a real, independently produced television report would look like," she said.

The FCC has declined to comment on the investigation but investigators from the commission's enforcement unit recently approached Ms Farsetta for a copy of her group's report.

The range of VNR is wide. Among items provided by the Bush administration to news stations was one in which an Iraqi-American in Kansas City was seen saying "Thank you Bush. Thank you USA" in response to the 2003 fall of Baghdad. The footage was actually produced by the State Department, one of 20 federal agencies that have produced and distributed such items.

Many of the corporate reports, produced by drugs manufacturers such as Pfizer, focus on health issues and promote the manufacturer's product. One example cited by the report was a Hallowe'en segment produced by the confectionery giant Mars, which featured Snickers, M&Ms and other company brands. While the original VNR disclosed that it was produced by Mars, such information was removed when it was broadcast by the television channel – in this case a Fox-owned station in St Louis, Missouri.

Bloomberg news service said that other companies that sponsored the promotions included General Motors, the world's largest car maker, and Intel, the biggest maker of semi-conductors. All of the companies said they included full disclosure of their involvement in the VNRs. "We in no way attempt to hide that we are providing the video," said Chuck Mulloy, a spokesman for Intel. "In fact, we bend over backward to make this disclosure."

The FCC was urged to act by a lobbying campaign organised by Free Press, another non-profit group that focuses on media policy. Spokesman Craig Aaron said more than 25,000 people had written to the FCC about the VNRs. "Essentially it's corporate advertising or propaganda masquerading as news," he said. "The public obviously expects their news reports are going to be based on real reporting and real information. If they are watching an advertisement for a company or a government policy, they need to be told."

The controversy over the use of VNRs by television stations first erupted last spring. At the time the FCC issued a public notice warning broadcasters that they were obliged to inform viewers if items were sponsored. The maximum fine for each violation is $32,500 (£17,500).

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FCC Won’t Investigate NSA

May 24, 2006

FCC Chariman Kevin Martin announced today that the FCC was incapable of investigating the telecommunications companies who gave their customer's records to the NSA.  Congressman Markey, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet had requested Martin open an investigation.

 Martin writes to Mackey: 

"In this case, however, the classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations discussed in your letter at this time," writes Martin. "The representations of [Director of National Intelligence John] Negroponte and [National Security Agency Director] General Alexander make clear that it would not be possible for us to investigate the activities described in your letter without examining highly sensitive classified information."

"The Commission has no power to order the production of classified information."

In his response, Markey chastised the FCC for "refus[ing] to demand answers."

"We can't have a situation where the FCC, charged with enforcing the law, won't even begin an investigation of apparent violations of the law because it predicts the Administration will roadblock any investigations citing national security," Markey remarked. "If the FCC initiates an investigation and gets blocked by the White House, then the White House is stonewalling. But if the FCC refuses to even demand answers, then the White House never has to block the enforcement agency from getting to the bottom of this. The American people deserve answers." 

Official notification is posted here.


FCC Commissioner Call For Inquiry Into NSA Wiretapping

May 16, 2006

From The FCC Website:

COMMISSIONER MICHAEL J. COPPS CALLS FOR THE FCC TO OPEN AN INQUIRY INTO THE LAWFULNESS OF THE DISCLOSURE OF AMERICA’S PHONE RECORDS
 
Washington, D.C.—Reacting to recent news reports that the nation’s largest telecommunications carriers provided the government with customers’ calling records, Commissioner Michael J. Copps stated:

“Recent news reports suggest that some – but interestingly not all – of the nation’s largest telephone companies have provided the government with their customers’ calling records. There is no doubt that protecting the security of the American people is our government’s number one responsibility.  But in a Digital Age where collecting, distributing, and manipulating consumers’ personal information is as easy as a click of a button, the privacy of our citizens must still matter.  To get to the bottom of this situation, the FCC should initiate an inquiry into whether the phone companies’ involvement violated Section 222 or any other provisions of the Communications Act. We need to be certain that the companies over which the FCC has public interest oversight have not gone – or been asked to go – to a place where they should not be. ”


The Day The Internet Fractured

March 23, 2006

From Networking Pipeline:

FCC Chief: AT&T Can Limit Net Bandwidth
 
FCC Chief Kevin Martin yesterday gave his support to AT&T and other telcos who want to be able to limit bandwidth to sites like Google, unless those sites pay extortion fees. Martin made it clear in a speech yesterday that he supports such a a “tiered” Internet.

Martin told attendees at the TelecomNext show that telcos should be allowed to charge web sites whatever they want if those sites want adequate bandwidth.

He threw in his lot with AT&T, Verizon, and the other telcos, who are no doubt salivating at the prospect at charging whatever the market can bear.

He did throw a bone to those who favor so-called “net neutrality” — the idea that telcos and other ISPs should not be allowed to limit services or bandwidth, or charge sites extra fees. He said that the FCC “has the authority necessary” to enforce network neutrality violations. He added that it had done so already, when it stepped in to stop an ISP from blocking Vonage VoIP service.

But Martin’s interpretation of “net neutrality” is far too narrow, and almost besides the point. By siding with telcos who want to be able to offer adequate bandwidth to sites that pay up, and to limit bandwidth to sites that don’t, he’ll help kill off new sites that can’t afford to fork over the money.

That could help end Internet and network innovation, and we simply can’t afford that.