Posts Tagged ‘broadcasters’

AT&T Time Warner merger

My new piece at CNN begins by noting that antitrust law has moved on since the Truman era, even if the U.S. Department of Justice hasn’t quite:

In 1948 the US Supreme Court ordered Hollywood studios to sell their movie theaters, following the then-popular idea that the government should police marketplace competition by restraining businesses’ vertical integration — or as we might put it these days, by ordering content kept separate from distribution.

The surprise in 2018 is not so much that US District Judge Richard Leon rejected the government’s challenge to the $85 billion AT&T-Time Warner merger. That much was expected by most antitrust watchers. The shock came from the stinging way he rejected the government’s evidence — using language such as “gossamer thin” and “poppycock.”

CNN, of course, is owned by merger participant Time Warner. The question is not whether vertical integration will happen in video delivery, but whether older companies will be allowed to catch up. For Washington to block a merger like this, I suggest, “would be as futile as attempting to separate Net from Flix or You from Tube.”

A panic over replicated local TV news

Sinclair Broadcasting, currently under fire for having local news talent read a canned script, is itself the product of earlier rounds of anti-media-consolidation rules, and tales of “70 percent market share” tales are sheerest bunk, reports Matt Welch [Reason] On local use of canned scripts, see also the regular Conan feature “Newscasters Agree.”

Trump: we’ll go after their broadcast licenses

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” — @realdonaldtrump Wednesday morning. Later that day he tweeted, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”

As was quickly pointed out [AP], the chances are extremely remote that presidential wrath is actually going to cost any broadcasters their licenses (networks as such are not licensed, but their local affiliates are, including network-owned local stations). First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said that the threats could nonetheless have a chilling effect on coverage: “The threat, however unlikely, is one that broadcasters will have to take seriously.”

Note that the threat is utterly inconsistent with Trump’s having recently reappointed Ajit Pai to head the FCC. Had the chief executive seriously contemplated a drive against the broadcast licenses of his foes, as a 1960s-era president might have done, Washington is full of aspiring agency heads who would have served his ends better than free-marketeer Pai. Not for the first time, it would seem we have a President whose Twitter hand knows not what his signing hand is doing.

Matt Welch has already dug up a speech by Pai last month, as reported in Variety, that is to the point:

Pai said that he also sees “worrying signs” at the FCC, pointing to Twitter messages in which “people regularly demand that the FCC yank licenses from cable news channels like Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN because they disagree with the opinions expressed on those networks.”

“Setting aside the fact that the FCC doesn’t license cable channels, these demands are fundamentally at odds with our legal and cultural traditions,” Pai said.

John Samples reminds us of the bad bipartisan history of power plays aimed at broadcast speech, which didn’t work for Richard Nixon. David Harsanyi writes that “even if you’re not idealistic about free expression, it might be worth remembering that any laws or regulations you embrace to inhibit the speech of others, even fake-news anchors, can one day be turned on you.”

Of course, another theory one hears is that Trump doesn’t really mean it with his loose talk about curbing press freedom but is just, as it were, vice signaling.

Free speech roundup

  • Good news for Donald Trump! Sticking with speech-protective opinion rule, New York judge dismisses libel suit by PR consultant against him based on his derogatory tweets [ABA Journal]
  • “Jawboning” at FCC, under which media companies bend to commissioners’ wishes on content and hiring rather than risk their disapproval, should be recognized as danger to both First Amendment and rule of law [Brent Skorup and Christopher Koopman, Regulation via Cato Institute Tumblr summary]
  • The family of Ahmed Mohamed, of schoolboy clock fame, may have to pay $200,000 or more to targets of frivolous libel suits [Popehat]
  • Harsh epithets, calls for investigation and accusations of whitewashing, rhetorical comparisons to infamous persons could all lead to media liability if D.C. Court of Appeals reasoning in Michael Mann case isn’t overturned [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry, Cato, earlier]
  • NYC, San Francisco criminalize listing property on AirBnB except on authorized conditions. A question of commercial speech [Glenn Lammi, WLF]
  • Can Colorado regulate groups that run ads with the message “call your lawmaker to support this bill”? [Ilya Shapiro and Thomas Berry]

Investment-adviser fiduciary rule could trip up broadcast personalities

Brokers who advise retirement investors are bracing for more intense regulation under the Labor Department’s new “fiduciary” rule, and some are already planning to reduce the business they do. The rule is also expected to accelerate a shift toward fee-based investment advice, and is welcomed by some fee-based advisors. [Michael Wursthorn, WSJ] Perhaps less expectedly, the rule could trip up large numbers of persons who less obviously fit the role of financial advisor. John Berlau, Forbes:

Experts both for and against the rule I have talked to agree its broad reach could extend to financial media personalities who offer tips to individual audience members, a group that includes not just Ramsey but TV hosts like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer, as well as many other broadcasters who opine on business and investment matters. They would be ensnared by the rule’s broad redefinition of a vast swath of financial professionals as “fiduciaries” and its mandate that these “fiduciaries” only serve the “best interest” of IRA and 401(k) holders.

One insurance agent, Michael Markey, has written that such media personalities need to “be regulated and to be held accountable” by the government for the opinions he dish out, and “hailed the Labor Department rule as ushering a new era in which “entertainers …can no longer evade the pursuit of regulatory oversight.” Prof. Bainbridge wonders whether there might be a First Amendment issue lurking here, as well as an impulse to support regulation that works to handicap one’s competitors.

“Fox Sports trample[d] my religious liberty” by withholding TV gig

Football analyst Craig James, who is filing a federal lawsuit in Dallas, claims that “Fox Sports trample[d] my religious liberty” by not giving him further work as a TV commentator after a single appearance — he “had yet to sign a contract” — after it became aware that he had said controversial things while running for the U.S. Senate seat from Texas ultimately won by Ted Cruz. [Washington Post, Feb. 2014 Dallas News] James is now affiliated with the Family Research Council, where his biography notes: “Craig is known for his ability to see an opportunity and for his relentless pursuit of uncovering every rock to make sure he knows the deal before he buys it.”

Free speech roundup

  • Long before North Korea “Interview” episode, Hollywood was caving repeatedly to power-wielders [Ron Maxwell, Deadline] Relevant: “A Tyranny of Silence,” new book by Danish-Muhammad-cartoons editor Flemming Rose published by Cato Institute [Kat Murti, earlier on the Danish cartoons, related Liberty and Law]
  • Score 1 for First Amendment, zero for Prof. Banzhaf as FCC rejects “Redskins” broadcast license attack [Volokh, earlier including the prof’s comment on that post]
  • Court dismisses orthopedist’s defamation suit against legal blogger Eric Turkewitz [his blog]
  • “Hate speech” notions reach the Right? Author claims “justice” would mean incitement “charges” vs. liberal talkers [Ira Straus, National Review]
  • Wisconsin prosecutors said to have eyed using John Doe law to aim warrants, subpoenas at media figures Sean Hannity, Charlie Sykes [Watchdog] More: George Leef on California vs. Americans for Prosperity;
  • “British journalist sentenced for questioning death toll in Bangladeshi independence war” [Guardian] Pakistan sentences Bollywood actress Veena Malik to 26 years for acting in supposedly blasphemous TV wedding scene [The Independent] Erdogan regime in Turkey rounds up opposition media figures [Washington Post editorial]
  • “Is it a crime to say things that make someone ‘lack self-confidence in her relations with the opposite sex and about her body-build’?” [Volokh; Iowa Supreme Court, affirmed on other grounds]