For John, BLUF: Freedom needs to be pursued every day. Nothing to see here; just move along.
To be up front about this, I blame President George Bush (43). In his zeal to prevent another terrorist attack on the United States, perhaps one killing way more than 3,000 Citizens and Residents, he started us down the gentle path of increased surveillance. Then Senator Barak Obama, Professor of Constitutional Law that he had been, railed against weakening of our Constitutional safeguards. Now here we are into the sixth year of the Obama Presidency and things are worse, not better. For example: In a zeal that reminds one of the Nixon White House, the US Attorney General, Eric Holder, has been going after leaks. Past use of secret subpoenas or search warrants, against the Associated Press and Fox News, have raised some questions and received some pushback. Now the Department of Justice is saying it is going to abandon that practice, with some exceptions:
a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harmSo, somewhere between SECRET and TOP SECRET. Incidentally, since the definitions of SECRET and TOP SECRET come to us via Executive Order (Executive Order 13526), why the ambiguity?
From the news report by Reporter Peter Yost of Yahoo:
Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota professor of media ethics and the law who speaks often on First Amendment issues, said she was troubled that there remain instances under the new rules in which the government might not notify news organizations of plans to obtain records, such as when the government believes notice would threaten national security.I would say that DOJ moved to cauterize this before they got help from Congress or the Federal Courts. This bears watching.
"It seems that in times of crisis, there's a tendency to see everything as a major national security breach," she said. "Obviously the intelligence community is always going to represent security breaches as a big deal. My question is, are they all created equal? Do they all rise to the level of severity to justify what I see as an intrusion into press independence?"
The other little item is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) backing off, for now, its plan to do a news content study ("Critical Information Needs" or CIN). The original survey was to be dry run in South Carolina. This item was covered Reporter Tim Cavanaugh, of National Review and Reporter Hadas Gold of Politico.
Part of the original survey tool included interviews of newsroom management and employees, raising concerns about intimidation of those who develop and report the news. This would be a breach of our First Amendment. That said, Congress has mandated that the FCC examine barriers to entry by entrepreneurs and other small businesses, under Section 257 of the Communications Act.
The survey tool was to look into issues such as health, education, transportation, emergency(?), economic opportunities, environment, civic info, political info.
Now the survey is on the back burner, but it hasn't gone away. The National Review article concludes:
One observer speculated to National Review Online that the FCC may take this opportunity to revisit a matter on which it has repeatedly been shot down. The airwaves regulator has been consistently blocked by courts in its efforts to establish race-based media ownership rules – on the grounds that it did not have data to justify such rulemaking. There is a movement to make the CIN a mechanism for gathering such data.I am all for minorities having a shot at entering the broadcast world. On the other hand, I am not sure what "control the distribution and creation of images about themselves" means. That reminds me of the kind of thing going on in Canada and Europe, where those critical of Muslims in print and on the air are being suppressed by the Government. This is America. Everyone takes their lumps, but everyone gets a chance to push back. This is sort of a tradeoff between freedom of expression and a desire for "dignity". I go with freedom of expression, even if it means you can make fun of me and demean me in the press. Heck I get demeaned on City Life a couple of times a week. Hasn't hurt me yet. :-)
A December comment on an unrelated FCC docket suggests this idea is not as far-fetched as it sounds. A group called the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights singled out the CIN survey as an avenue for race-based research by the FCC.
“Communities of color and women should have opportunities to control the distribution and creation of images about themselves,” the Conference wrote on December 5. “We look forward to working with the Chairman to consider the variety of technologies and policy initiatives that would accomplish that objective. We emphasized the importance of collecting data that tracks the impact of media consolidation on women and people of color, as mandated by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Prometheus v. FCC… We expressed our support for the Section 257 Critical Information Needs studies as a mechanism to obtain such data, and encouraged the Commission to move ahead with the effort, paying special attention to its ability to assess the needs of linguistic minorities.”
Regards — Cliff