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Daily Democracy

Ryan Blethen discusses the press, media and democracy. Daily Democracy is part of the Democracy Papers, a series of articles, essays and editorial opinion examining threats to our freedoms of speech and the press. E-mail Ryan

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November 1, 2007

The Internet and music

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 1:02 PM

The Internet's importance to independent musicians was obvious at the Crocodile Cafe on Tuesday night. I went there for Matt Nathanson's concert, which was billed as a Rock the Net show. I had never heard of Nathanson but everybody else at the sold-out show knew him. The young crowd sang along, lyric-for-lyric, and yelled out requests in-between songs.

How is a musician on an independent label like Nathanson able to sell out a show so quickly to an obviously smitten crowd? Through the Internet and a lot of touring. The Internet is vital tool of commerce and communication for a musician who is on the road for about 10 months.

Nathanson is part of a growing list of 763 bands and 155 record labels that have joined the Rock the Net campaign. Seattleites will recognize many of the names on the list like Death Cab For Cutie, and Conduit Records.

Nathanson was part of a teleconference for Rock the Net before his show on Tuesday. The teleconference highlighted why a net neutrality law is needed for the music industry. Nathanson explained how he has used the Internet to make a career in music and communicate with fans.

The community that I have built between my fans and myself, and the network that I built -- the lifeline of my existence -- is crucial that the Internet be free and clear for everybody to use.

Independent labels and bands could be shut out if service providers are allowed to discriminate against competing content or content not to their liking.

Luckily for independent artists there are a number of groups pushing for good Internet policy. In Washington, D.C., The Future of Music Coalition is working hard for net neutrality, and closer to home there is Reclaim the Media, which was at Nathanson show. Jonathan Lawson of Reclaim the Media manned a table with literature about net neutrality and the FCC's still not figured out Seattle media ownership hearing.

Nathanson made an effective pitch deep into his set. He pointed out that Rock the Net had a table by the entrance, and explained why net neutrality is important. He couched it as a free-speech issue that demanded the attention of the youthful crowd.

The First Amendment never really goes out of fashion, he said.

The message was not lost on an attentive audience. As the crowd squeezed through the exit a group of fans huddled around the Rock the Net table.

October 30, 2007

Obama continues to talk net neutrality

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 3:26 PM

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is keeping network neutrality alive in the presidential campaign. He was asked today during a Q&A session on MTV about net neutrality. The question, which was fittingly asked through video by somebody who helps build Web sites, was if Obama would make net neutrality a priority during his first year in the White House. The questioner also asked if Obama would appoint FCC commissioners who felt the same.

The answer is yes. I am a strong supporter of network neutrality.

He then goes on to give an understandable explanation of the often wonkish issue. He explains the damage the Internet will sustain if the companies that control networks, such as AT&T and Comcast, are allowed to favor the content of their choosing.

That I think destroys one of the best things about the Internet, which is there is this incredible equality there.

Obama should be commended for making net neutrality an issue in presidential politics. Net neutrality clearly resonates with younger voters, and anybody who uses the Internet regularly. I am sure Obama did not miss the moderator say that the net neutrality question was the most asked question by viewers of the session. Hopefully the candidates from both parties were listening.

October 24, 2007

Presidential candidates and media consolidation

Posted by Ryan Blethen at 7:30 PM

Presidential candidates Sens. Joseph Biden, D-Delaware, and Barack Obama D-Illinois, are both concerned about the push by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin to change media ownership rules. Good for the senators. In a Friday press release Biden told the FCC to not lift the cross-ownership restriction, which bans a company from owning a newspaper, television station, a number of radio stations, and an Internet Service Provider in the same market. Obama sent out a press release Monday saying he is also concerned about media concentration, and urged the FCC to do more to promote diversity of media ownership.

It is encouraging to hear these two candidates speaking out on this issue. I hope the other candidates, including Republicans, can work this into their stumps. The responsibility also falls to the press. Reporters should be asking the candidates about issues such as media concentration, and Network neutrality.

Media concentration and media diversity should be at the forefront of the presidential debate. These two issues are so fundamental to our democracy, yet politicians rarely make it an issue. They might be surprised by the positive response from voters of all political affiliations if they did make it an issue. Media consolidation is not a wedge issue, which dims the flash of the lure for candidates during a primary. What candidates would discover by talking media consolidation is that it cuts across the electorate like few topics. Christian conservative broadcasters are as worried about consolidation as is Common Cause.

An inclusive issue might be too good to believe for most politicians locked in a struggle for the White House. But it is out there, and as important as the war, health care, and fund raising.

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December 2007

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