"Prosperity always inflates the imprudent, and worldly peace weakens the vigor of the soul." - Peter Abelard

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Public Meda Blog: Post # 5

Yesterday, the Supreme Court declined to review a Second Circuit Court of Appeals decision which had upheld an injunction against the streaming TV service ivi.

In plain English, this means the service will essentially be shut down. The Seattle-based service - which sold worldwide access to 28 broadcast signals without asking for permission or even informing the stations - launched in late 2010, and almost immediately drew the ire of public broadcasters like WNET in New York City and KCTS in Seattle.

WNET and WGBH in Boston were among 11 stations that sent cease and desist letters to ivi soon after its inception, and the service was in legal hot water from the very start.

According to Broadcasting & Cable, the original injunction (which has been upheld) was based "...on the grounds that programmers were likely to win their challenge on the argument that ivi was not a cable system entitled to a compulsory license, and that those programmers, which included major studios, networks and broadcast groups, would suffer irreparable harm."

This fits into the larger trend of broadcasters battling against what they see as unauthorized or illegal re-use of their signals online, with the continuing legal battle over Aereo - a similar streaming service - as another example.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Public Media Blog, Week 4: Zombies Plague PubTV Stations

An unexpected foe arose, well, from the dead this week for several public television stations across the country. For WNMU-TV in Marquette, Mich., KNME-TV in Albuquerque, N.M., and KRTV in Great Falls, Mont., it was an especially spooky Feb. 11.

In what MNMU-TV later determined was a hack coming from an undisclosed "overseas" source, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) of the various stations were compromised Monday afternoon, and viewers were loudly warned - via a robotic voice and an on-screen ticker - that the dead had risen and had started attacking the living.

According to TV News Check
, the EAS was compromised only because the default password on the stations' EAS had not been changed since installation.

“Quite simply, someone made an unauthorized access to the stations’ firewall and somebody logged into the system using a default username and password,” said Ed Czarnecki, senior director of strategy and regulatory affairs for Monroe Electronics, the main manufacturer of EAS systems across the country. “This is a simple matter of operational security best practices. You have to change your default password on any new device," said Czarnecki.

As the NY Daily News reports, KRTV had to personally reassure viewers that "there is no emergency" after the phony alert warned of an impending zombie apocalypse.

The situation may be humorous on a surface level, but after the uproar and turmoil caused by this security breach, one would hope public television stations across the country are making sure that their EAS systems are fully protected and functioning properly. One of public television's most important functions is to broadcast emergency signals and messages to areas under-served by regular cable and satellite TV. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Public Media Blog, Week 3: PBS Drone Story

Instead of a usual blog post, this week I bring you my completed story for COMM-425 about PBS and their recent kerfuffle with a Nova program about drone warfare:

Not usually the domain of scandal or controversy, PBS has been exactly that since the Jan. 23 broadcast of an episode of Nova examining the rise of drone warfare.
“We always have an eye on PBS,” said Peter Hart, the activism director at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media watchdog group. “That night, I noticed people commenting about the episode on Twitter, and I thought it was curious,” Hart said.
What Hart and other viewers noticed that evening was a simple error on the part of Nova: they had failed to adequately disclose that Lockheed Martin was an underwriter for the episode. Even worse, Lockheed Martin is a major drone manufacturer. The resulting fallout has caused hundreds of displeased viewers to write to PBS, and has, in the opinion of several alternative media experts, shaken the foundation of public service, independent media that PBS is supposed to stand for.
 “This particular program would have been much better off without Lockheed Martin’s support,” said PBS ombudsman Michael Getler. “It was a good and useful program, but the sponsorship should have been more clearly identified,” said Getler.
The program, called “The Rise of The Drones,” was an in-depth look at the emerging military technology. It featured an interview with Abe Karem, often dubbed the “father” of the predator drone. According to Hart, PBS completely failed to mention that Karem’s current company has a business relationship with Lockheed Martin.
Though the TV broadcast included a brief underwriting message about Lockheed Martin at the start, that credit was removed from the webcast, and the company was not credited on Nova’s website for the program. After the ensuing kerfuffle, Nova retroactively added the credit to the webcast and their website.
According to Kevin Gosztola, a journalist at the progressive news site FireDogLake who was the first to write about the Nova controversy, PBS has a publically stated three-pronged test for assessing bias. The test determines, first, whether the underwriter has exercised editorial control, second, whether the public might perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control, and, lastly, whether the public might perceive that the program is on PBS mainly because it promotes the underwriter’s products.
 “Judging by the high-minded and unusually strongly-worded ethical standards PBS has set for themselves, this is an absolutely clear-cut violation,” said Hart. “ The question is really whether PBS believes its own rules – and I don’t think they do,” said Hart.
Gosztola concurred, and said that the increasing scarcity of revenue for PBS has hamstrung the public broadcaster. “I am a supporter and lover of public media, but parts of what PBS is producing these days can look like propaganda for their sponsors, and that is what parts of the drone program reminded me of,” said Gosztola.
According to Getler, the PBS ombudsman’s office has received just under 1,000 viewer complaints about the drone program to date. Getler said the number of complaints ticked sharply upwards after Gosztola and Hart posted critical reports on their respective websites within days of each other.
Producers at PBS and Nova reacted defensively to criticism, writing in Getler’s ombudsman column that “Lockheed Martin’s sponsorship of Nova is not a violation of PBS underwriting guidelines,” emphasizing that the corporation had no editorial input on the program, and stating that PBS takes “our public trust responsibility very seriously.”
“Unfortunately,” said Hart, responding to PBS’ statement, “the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to PBS guidelines, is, in of itself, a conflict of interest. Just saying ‘we’re Nova and no one controls us editorially’ is not enough: you have to either not broadcast the program or change the rulebook, but you can’t just do neither,” he said.
 PBS, beset by the dual plagues of declining viewer support and declining government allocation of funds, has increasingly turned to corporate sponsors and underwriters in recent years for a reliable stream of income. While many argue this has been a necessary shift to keep PBS afloat, Gosztola and Hart said this is an action which has also alienated PBS from its core value of public service broadcasting that is commercial-free and independent.
 “PBS is strained for cash, and Lockheed Martin has a lot of money,” said Gosztola. “Nova has to defend their donor, and that’s why I think they were so defensive in their reply to criticism,” he said.
“It’s inevitable; this kind of ethical crisis is going to happen again. I think PBS likes the philosophical idea of what their underwriting rules stand for,” said Hart. “They would rather stick with those rules and deal with the occasional underwriter hypocrisy than work to find new revenue resources,” he said.

Source List

1. Kevin Gosztola (Journalist for FireDogLake.com’s “The Dissenter”)
·         574-261-4465

2. Michael Getler (PBS Ombudsman)
·         703-739-5768
·      ombudsman@pbs.org

3. Peter Hart (Activism Director at FAIR)
·         212-633-6700

Supplementary Links

·      Nova page for the drone program: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/military/rise-of-the-drones.html

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Public Media Blog: Week 2

On Sunday, Feb. 3, PBS - and its star program, Downton Abbey, went up against the TV ratings behemoth that is the Super Bowl. Surprisingly, the historical British soap scored a 4.4 Nielsen household rating, averaging around 6.6 million viewers.

Those audience numbers - up 69 percent from the same Sunday last year - were actually good enough to put the program in second place for all of television that night. Meanwhile, the Super Bowl averaged around 108.4 million viewers, down slightly from the record audience drawn in by last year's game.

In addition, PBS struck social media gold during the 34-minute Super Bowl blackout, garnering over 3,500 re-tweets from this post:


According to Paid Content, a site that covers online business models, "PBS was one a handful of brands, including Oreo and Audi, to “newsjack” the so-called #BlackoutBowl. These nimble moves on social media typically garner a flurry of free publicity but it’s unclear how much they change people’s intention to purchase or watch something."

Judging by the better-than-expected ratings, this tweet may very well have had some impact on the programming decisions of some impatient football fans.

PBS is not a media outlet known for its hipness, ability to cause a social media craze, or ability to draw big ratings, so Super Bowl night was a bright light for the public television leader on several different fronts.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Public Media Beat Blog: Week 1

For my blog this week, I want to discuss the fire that PBS, and specifically the Nova television program, has come under for its Jan. 23 broadcast - "Rise of The Drones."

Nova describes the program as an investigation into drones: "...cutting edge technologies that are propelling us toward a new chapter in aviation history."

On Jan. 28, five days after the program had aired, the progressive press watchdog group FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) came out with a report criticizing the Nova drone program, most importantly noting that the Nova episode was underwritten by Lockheed Martin, a major drone manufacturer.

According to the FAIR report, "The program’s sponsorship tie to the drone industry were never mentioned — though there were opportunities to disclose that relationship."

According to FireDogLake, a collaborative progressive news site, PBS' test for underwriting bias is supposed to cover three areas:

  • Editorial Control Test: Has the underwriter exercised editorial control? Could it?
  • Perception Test: Might the public perceive that the underwriter has exercised editorial control?
  • Commercialism Test: Might the public conclude the program is on PBS principally because it promotes the underwriter’s products, services or other business interests?
The answer to the first test is unclear, but PBS appears to be failing on the other two test measures. According to a post at Current, PBS ombudsman Michael Getler had already received over 550 comments about the program as of Tuesday morning, and response from PBS is in the works.

Even more so in public and alternative media, readers expect fair, balanced, and impartial information. The thought of public media news being unduly affected by politics or business connections is particularly slimy for the American consumer.

Clearly, though, as revenue sources dry up all around the media landscape, content-producers are increasingly hesitant to turn down scarce sources of revenue. Take, for example, The Atlantic's recent fiasco that came from running a controversial "advertorial" for the Church of Scientology on a prominent spot on their (usually) venerable website.

Media organizations are almost always caught and somewhat shamed by these run-ins with bias and unscrupulous monetary involvement, but, yet, the problems seem to persist. Following why, how, and how often these mini-scandals pop-up will certainly be a worthy topic when considering the problems facing public and alternative media.