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Issue Watch







Issue Watch

2015 Issue Watch

From the 'Vast Wasteland' to 'Net Neutrality'

Newton N. Minow’s legacy as FCC Chairman often is summarized by the “vast wasteland” catchphrase in his speech to the National Association of Broadcasters several months after he took office. Minow was an activist FCC Chairman appointed by an activist Democratic President. His speech sent shockwaves among television executives nationwide. Minow’s powerful metaphor also resonated with the public at large, with many agreeing that broadcasters were aiming too low in developing entertainment programs with mass audience appeal.

But over time, and particularly within the communications policymaking community, Chairman Minow’s impact was more profound…. » Read More

Not a Very P.C. Thing To Say:
How the Language Police Are Perverting Liberalism

Around 2 a.m. on December 12, four students approached the apartment of Omar Mahmood, a Muslim student at the University of Michigan, who had recently published a column in a school newspaper about his perspective as a minority on campus. The students, who were recorded on a building surveillance camera wearing baggy hooded sweatshirts to hide their identity, littered Mahmood’s doorway with copies of his column, scrawled with messages like “You scum embarrass us,” “Shut the fuck up,” and “DO YOU EVEN GO HERE?! LEAVE!!” They posted a picture of a demon and splattered eggs.

This might appear to be the sort of episode that would stoke the moral conscience of students on a progressive campus like Ann Arbor, and it was quickly agreed that an act of biased intimidation had taken place. But Mahmood was widely seen as the perpetrator rather than the victim. His column, published in the school’s conservative newspaper, had spoofed the culture of taking offense that pervades the campus. 

» Read More

Defiant Parisians Snap Up Copies of Latest Charlie Hebdo Issue

PARIS – Residents of this traumatized city stood in long lines to snap up copies of the latest issue of Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday, defiantly affirming a commitment to freedom of speech a week after a terrorist attack on the newspaper’s offices left a dozen people dead and ignited days of violence and manhunts.

In its own show of defiance in the face of threats from Islamist militants, the satirical weekly featured a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad on the cover of its first issue since the massacre.  He is shown shedding a tear and holding a sign that says “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) under the headline: “Tout Est Pardonné” (All Is Forgiven).

Newsstands across Paris quickly sold out of the latest edition of the paper, whose previous content about Islam has broken taboos and enraged militant Muslims.  Lines snaked for blocks as some newsstands ran out of copies minutes after opening, leaving Parisians dashing madly from kiosk to kiosk in search of a copy.

Highlighting the extraordinary demand, the paper printed 3 million copies, some 50 times its normal print run.

» Read More

The Mormons, Benzhazi, and Charlie Hebdo

The biggest hit on Broadway for the last few years has been The Book of Mormon, a satirical musical comedy that mocks the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  But rather than venting outrage, organizing protests, or seeking to shut down the play in New York or on its national tour, Mormons have commendably turned the other cheek.  Unfortunately, many Muslims around the world are not as easygoing or wise.

As the terror attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reminds us today, Islamists are determined to enforce a ban on offenses to their sensibilities.  Those who draw mocking cartoons about Islam’s prophet or leaders of terror groups understand that they are taking their lives into their hands.  There is a reason that the same team that produced the South Park television series chose the Mormons as the butt of their Broadway joke rather than Muslims.  But while that choice was understandable, the question we need to be asking ourselves today is whether the West is prepared to go on tolerating the offense to our values of free speech that lies behind the tragedy in Paris.  » Read More

Former ‘Onion’ Editor: Freedom of Speech Cannot Be Killed

When I was editor there, The Onion was located in the heart of Manhattan and the one person manning our front entrance was our petite, tattooed office manager, Jessie.  She was the definition of unthreatening, and we used to joke that she was the only thing standing between us and some heavily armed radicals, should any ever become enraged by something we put in print.  Right now, that joke makes me sick to my stomach.

Twelve people were murdered at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, today, apparently for doing the very thing does: satire.  These people – including one guest and one police officer – are dead.  They were cartoonists and editors and humorists.  People whose job in life was to point at hypocrisy and laugh at it; to ridicule hate; to make us all try to see our own failings as humans.  And they were killed for it.

For those who would trivialize the idea, this was what an actual attack on freedom looks like.

Our joke at The Onion was, like most of our jokes, borne out of some reality.  We received hateful letters and emails on a semi-regular basis.  I’ve personally spoken on the phone with at least two individuals who threatened to rape me and kill my family.  At one point, we even had to call the police.  But I never could have imagined anything like this.  » Read More

Fear and Censorship: Paris, Sony Attacks Put Creative Freedoms Under Fire

A brutal attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad has jolted Hollywood, escalating concerns by artists and producers that major studios and networks may avoid greenlighting movies and TV shows with potentially inflammatory content.

Wednesday’s murder of 12 people at the newspaper comes on the heels of the hacking catastrophe at Sony Pictures.  The FBI pinned that act of cyberterrorism on North Korea as retaliation over the studio’s release of “The Interview,” an R-rated comedy that depicts the assassination of that country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Freedom of speech is under attack, but, given Sony’s initial decision to pull the release of the “The Interview” and its subsequent about-face, it’s not clear how rousing a defense the entertainment business is willing to mount in the midst of financial pressures, political dangers and the threat of violence.

“All of this is deeply concerning to me because increasingly we live in a culture of fear,” said documentary director Joe Berlinger, whose films include “Paradise Lost” and “Crude.”  “This culture of fear is economically based, and that doesn’t mix well with freedom of expression.”  » Read More

Internal CNN Memo: 'We are not at this time showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons'

CNN is not showing detailed images of cartoons from the Charlie Hebdo magazine that could be viewed as offensive to Muslims, CNN senior editorial director Richard Griffiths said in a message sent to CNN staff Wednesday afternoon. Griffiths' email:

"Although we are not at this time showing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet considered offensive by many Muslims, platforms are encouraged to verbally describe the cartoons in detail. This is key to understanding the nature of the attack on the magazine and the tension between free expression and respect for religion.

"Video or stills of street protests showing Parisians holding up copies of the offensive cartoons, if shot wide, are also OK. Avoid close-ups of the cartoons that make them clearly legible.

"It's also OK to show most of the protest cartoons making the rounds online, though care should be taken to avoid examples that include within them detailed depictions of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons."

Griffiths' memo comes after several news organizations came under fire for censoring various Charlie Hebdo cartoons that depict Muhammad. The Associated Press, The New York Daily News and The Telegraph were among those that blurred or cropped photos of the covers.  » Read More

The Power of Convening in Our Digital World

I spent part of last month in sunny Doha, which hosted the annual International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Telecom World Forum.  The ITU, based in Geneva, is the specialized agency of the United Nations that historically has focused on issues such as global spectrum management and the allocation of orbital slots for communications satellites.

The centerpiece of the Forum was a vast exhibition area in the Qatar National Convention Center, filled with high-tech displays and booths from various countries touting how they were rapidly-accelerating digital nations worthy of increased interest and investment.  At any given time, there were only a few dozen of the 3,500 attendees walking through.  The anemic foot traffic would have led many to conclude that the gathering was lacking.  Why would so many people from around the world, myself included, assemble for a few days to pick up a handful of brochures that they could easily download from various websites?  » Read More