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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.

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July 9, 2008 1:41 PM

Senate passes FISA act

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Bad day in the Senate. It passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which clears the way to spy on U.S. citizens without judicial approval. The act also grants telecoms immunity for having helped the federal government spy on citizens. I have yet to find out which senators voted for the act but will be back with more later.

UPDATE: Here is a link to how the Senate voted. Washington senators, both Democrats, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell rightly voted against the act. So did Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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June 26, 2008 12:52 PM

Say no to immunity

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The U.S. Senate has wrapped up its long debate about a surveillance program used to spy on Americans. This means the Senate will soon, possibly today, vote on the bill, which the House passed last week.

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June 16, 2008 6:16 AM

The press in the Balkans

Posted by Ryan Blethen

BELGRADE, Serbia - Two speeches and a panel at the International Press Institute's Congress did much to answer questions I had about the press's role in the Balkans. The speeches and panel also raised many questions.

The Congress began in Serbia's House of the National Assembly with welcoming statements from the host committee, IPI's director, and the Serbian president, Boris Tadic. It was impressive that this nation's president was willing to speak to a group of journalists. That would not happen everywhere.

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June 7, 2008 6:06 AM

Bill Moyers speech

Posted by Ryan Blethen

MINNEAPOLIS - Bill Moyers is giving the keynote speech at the National Conference for Media Reform. His speech can be seen live at the Free Press Web site.

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June 4, 2008 7:00 PM

Blogging from the Media Reform Conference

Posted by Ryan Blethen

I will be blogging Thursday through Saturday at the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis. There are a lot of big and interesting names on the speakers list including Bill Moyers, and Federal Communications Commission members Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps.

Stay tuned for more from Minneapolis. For more information about the conference go to the Free Press Web site.

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May 28, 2008 4:32 PM

Consolidation, unasked questions, TV news & the First Amendment

Posted by Ryan Blethen

"Media consolidation was done with so much debt it has allowed bankers and Wall Street into the tent, resulting in too much of the profits being required to pay off debt. Public ownership of media has not been good for media quality or for the ability of media owners to manage for the future."

Those are not the words of some raving media reformer that might pop up on this blog from time to time. That is a quote from David Rubin, the outgoing dean of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Rubin, who has been dean for 18 years, pointed out the obvious in an interview with the Jack Myers Business Report.

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April 21, 2008 4:04 PM

FCC Stanford hearing

Posted by Ryan Blethen

"I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea that my ability to speak my mind to whoever wants to hear is a matter of corporate grace rather than constitutional right, and I suspect other Americans will feel equally uncomfortable if the FCC abandons its responsibilities and fails to act."

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April 11, 2008 11:36 AM

Olympic journalism

Posted by Ryan Blethen

It appears journalists are jumping hurdles in China trying to cover the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

According to a Washington Post report:

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April 9, 2008 5:00 PM

PRC crack down II

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Edward Cody of the Washington Post has a story that illustrates how China is coming down on citizens who voice divergent opinions from the party. Story can be found here.

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April 9, 2008 11:35 AM

PRC crack down and the doused torch

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The communist party's desire to preserve tight control over China has been brutally displayed in Tibet and by a spate of recent jailings. The tough language used by party officials in Beijing and the use of force to quell the Tibet protests has not surprised me.

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April 3, 2008 9:40 PM

Murrow Symposium

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The symposium has ended, which means I am back in my hotel room and finally have a chance to write. I could have used the time between the panel I was on and the dinner and award ceremony but I got sidetracked by an incredibly stimulating conversation with a fellow panelist.

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March 28, 2008 10:54 AM

Keep up the pressure

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The Comcast/BitTorrent agreement is a pleasant development that should not lull the Federal Communications Commission into complacency. The story can be found here. The net neutrality question has not been answered simply because Comcast said it will figure out a way not to block or degrade the file sharing technology of BitTorrent by year end.

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March 21, 2008 9:13 AM

Sunshine Week Town Hall meeting

Posted by Ryan Blethen

TVW is airing the Washington Coalition for Open Government's, Sunshine Week Town Hall meeting. The broadcast starts at 4 p.m., today.

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March 11, 2008 4:14 PM

Democracy and Russia

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Here is a link to a short piece about Russian democracy by Spencer P. Boyer and James D. Lamond at The Root.

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March 6, 2008 3:30 PM

The Anniston Star and media consolidation

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The Anniston Star, one of America's great family owned newspapers, is running a series about the impact of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The series, which can be found here and was penned by the newspaper's editor at large John Fleming, shows readers the negative results the legislation has had on northeast Alabama.

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March 4, 2008 1:20 PM

Through the eyes of a journalist

Posted by Ryan Blethen

James Fallows has an entertaining post on his blog at The Atlantic. The post can be found here.

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March 3, 2008 3:36 PM

Democracy's future

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The Atlantic polled a number of foreign policy experts about the future of democracy around the world. The results can be found here.

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February 15, 2008 9:00 AM

The telecoms' best friend

Posted by Ryan Blethen

An excerpt from an editorial in today's Seattle Times.

"President Bush can blithely make things up as he goes along, but other federal laws cover the behavior of the telecoms. They are being sued over the wiretaps, and the court cases represent a way for the public to confront the administration's behavior and hold it accountable to the rule of law."

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February 11, 2008 4:30 PM

Olympic house cleaning

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Appears as if the People's Republic of China doing more than taking cars off the road to spruce up its image before this summer's Olympics in Beijing.

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January 29, 2008 3:11 PM

Open records assault

Posted by Ryan Blethen

In case you missed it, here is a link to the Democracy Paper edit that ran Monday. The edit dealt with another assault on open records. The edit follows a Times story about the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, a public agency, threatening to pull Monroe's liability insurance because city officials wanted to make it easier for the citizens to obtain public records.

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January 26, 2008 12:28 PM

Shanghai protests

Posted by Ryan Blethen

I wrote in a recent column about the media in China, and the country's need for some personal freedoms. The Washington Post has a story today about Shanghai's middle class doing something rare; demonstrating. The protesters are speaking out against a maglev train that they fear will disrupt their neighborhoods.

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January 17, 2008 8:00 AM

Journalism & the Olympics

Posted by Ryan Blethen

A recent post on Blogging Beijing resonated with me. Daniel Beekman, a Fulbright researcher in Beijing who is penning the blog for seattletimes.com, wrote about the many journalists that are showing up in Beijing for this summer's Olympics.

I related to many of his observations of "parachute journalism" and the difficulties facing reporters in China. I have been reading stories from China with a much more skeptical eye since returning from a work related trip there in September. It did not take me long to understand the Chinese government's obsession with controlling the message.

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January 14, 2008 10:16 AM

The media and China

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The final installment about my September trip to China ran as the cover to Sunday's Opinion section. It can be found here. The first two columns dealt with college students, and translators. This piece reflected on my experience as an American journalist in China. I will not go into a long summary, but am curious to hear reader feedback. Especially if you have spent time in China.

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January 11, 2008 9:40 PM

More than a political system

Posted by Ryan Blethen

I was struck by a New York Times op-ed about the violence following Kenya's election. Aidan Hartley, a columnist for The Spectator, touches on how the violence has affected his family's farm in central Kenya. His observations about the situation is interesting, but what got me was this graf:

"Kenyan democracy has failed because ordinary people were encouraged to believe that the process in and of itself could bring change. So Kenya's leaders - and often international observers - interpret democracy simply in terms of the ceremony of multiparty elections. Polls bestow legitimacy on politicians to pillage for five years until the next depressing cycle begins.

In the campaign rallies I attended, I saw no debate about policies, despite the country's immense health, education, crime and poverty problems."

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January 9, 2008 1:07 PM

Postman v. Blethen

Posted by Ryan Blethen

A couple posts back I suggested that journalists should speak out against media consolidation. My colleague, and fellow Seattle Times blogger, David Postman responded with a different point of view. Here is his comment on my post:

"Ryan, I have to disagree. There is a political line for journalists, and speaking out about consolidation and the FCC is on the other side of that line from good reporting. I think reporters should refrain from giving their political opinions, even if it is something that might help our business.

The Newspaper Guild has spoken out against consolidation. The union and the Blethens are on the same side of that issue I think. There have been instances where the union wanted members to take political stands. There are some who think we should even be able to work on political campaigns.

There have been issues, certainly the estate tax comes to mind, that management of the Times believes is about the survival of our industry. If reporters speak out about consolidation should they also be free to express opinions about tax policy? I don't think so.

We have an editorial page that can do that, and an owner, a publisher, press organizations, the union leadership etc. Adding reporters to the list would only compromise our independence."


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January 3, 2008 2:01 PM

ACLU's year in review

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The ACLU released its best of/worst of civil liberties lists today, which can be found here. Reading through the worst of list is depressing. Enough to make an old KGB agent reminisce for the good old days in East Germany.

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December 23, 2007 6:38 AM

J-school deans

Posted by Ryan Blethen

The deans of America's top journalism schools called for journalists to become more active in the political discussion of their profession. In the op-ed, which can be found here, the deans write:

"But our profession needs to cast its reluctance to discuss broadcast regulation aside, and to let its voice be heard, loud and clear - on behalf of local reporting. The outcome of F.C.C. policy that matters most to us is not who owns what, but how much news gathering goes on."

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October 24, 2007 7:30 PM

Presidential candidates and media consolidation

Posted by Ryan Blethen

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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October 21, 2007 8:32 PM

Welcome to Daily Democracy!

Posted by Ryan Blethen

Welcome to Daily Democracy, an extension of the Democracy Papers, which is an ongoing project that examines the press and democracy. This space will be used to keep the discussion fresh, and vigorous. I will be writing about the media reform movement, the press, and its place in a democracy. I will also direct readers to related stories, materials, and sources.

Enough with the introductions. There is too much happening to waste time with the pleasantries. The big news on media reform came out of Washington, D.C. last week. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin said he wants the commission to vote on media ownership rules by Dec. 18. Martin is also calling for public hearings on the matter in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 31, and here in Seattle on Nov. 2.

Martin's timing is curious. He seemed content to move the FCC at a pedestrian pace on media ownership until now. Since Martin's predecessor, Michael Powell, the FCC has had a soft spot for the big media companies. Tribune, one of those big media companies, has for some reason been allowed to operate newspapers, and television stations in a number of cities with temporary waivers. Tribune is going through a sale to Chicago developer Sam Zell. Zell and Tribune want to close the deal by year end. Zell wants to keep Tribunes televisions stations. Tribune wants to be able to sell Zell its newspapers and stations in one nice neat package. A Dec. 18 vote would be convenient for Zell and Tribune.

The New York Times had a good story about Martin's plans. It gives some good history about an earlier effort to weaken cross-ownership rules. There are also some good quotes from FCC commissioner Michael Copps, and Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.

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Recent entries

Jul 9, 08 - 01:41 PM
Senate passes FISA act

Jun 26, 08 - 12:52 PM
Say no to immunity

Jun 16, 08 - 06:16 AM
The press in the Balkans

Jun 7, 08 - 06:06 AM
Bill Moyers speech

Jun 4, 08 - 07:00 PM
Blogging from the Media Reform Conference

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