Notes for Thursday, March 9, 2000.



I. Decency: Not obscenity but decency, sexually explicit material

1. Wide protection for free speech/press

A. Communications Decency Act (CDA), 1996, declared unconstitutional

B. in Reno v. ACLU (1997)

Internet "a unique home of vast democratic forums that are open to all comers"

Newsgroups: "foster exchange of information, opinion"

Chat rooms: where anyone can be a "town crier"

Web pages: where anyone can be a pamphleteer

C. Child On Line Protection Act (CDA II)

So far, implementation blocked; Courts reviewing it.


2. Difficulty of regulation" Internet: not local, not really national, but global in scope

3. Emphasis on filtering

Block "offensive" material; Aim: Protect children, others; Effectiveness questioned (site blocked routinely include ones on breast cancer, AIDS prevention, League of Women Voters, Quakers, biochemistry, art museums)

4. Libraries and filters

Why libraries?

Loudoun County (VA) Library: Use of filters on all PCs; Courts strike this down: censorship

Options for libraries: (a) Filtering all (b) filter materials for children (c) Self censorship by patrons (d) No Internet at all (e) No restrictions

II. Dissent and the Internet: Internet difficult to regulate; aids reformers and dissidents

Oral communication: Author

Written communication: Author, text (diffusion limited)

Printed communication: Author, multiple texts (Diffusion higher but still physical)

Computer/Internet: Author, texts (Diffusion easier, faster, non-physical)


The future and the Internet

(a) Further expansion -- as more people go on line and as one line service becomes (b) increasingly sophisticated. (c) and easier to use. (d) Convergence

This will be highlighted particularly through Media convergence. Media convergence: the converging of what have been different forms. Newspapers go on line and text appears on screens; Televisions become interactive (in the way a PC is), music is not just from a CD player or from radio, but also from a PC. Books appear both in traditional formats and in electronic form. Within 10 years or so, you will be able to have a very nice multimedia tool that will be a blend of a CD player, TV, phone, newspaper, magazine and your PC. All into one small hand held, portable appliance. About the size of a small paperback book. Media products will reach you via satellite.

Nothing impossible at all about this. Already well on our way, with Internet and TV merging (High Definition Digital TV is essentially TV on a PC); we already have the ability to have electronic books; we can bring music into the PC and have movies available on the PC. And many of us use email more than we use the phone. New generation of satellites coming that will provide Internet access.

Further issues:

2. Positive aspects of New Media, Internet, Convergence

(a) more choices about media products.


1970: on TV, there were only 3 choices.

2010: there will be 1000 channels or more (Number will be held down not by delivery capability, but by content production ability). Vast proliferation of topics. There will dozens of ESPN style networks, dozens of movie networks.

Movies. These will not be dependent upon major distributors - -- of whom there are about 6. Many more independent films, small budget films, more films designed for smaller audience segments. There will still be the Armageddon and Independence Day films, but there were be a huge growth of movies such as Blair Witch, American Beauty, and other movies that aren’t particularly aimed for huge blockbuster appeal.

Music. You will be able to download music from wherever you want. Not just local broadcasters/radio stations, but find music that interests you. (Recapture it too, cutting your own CDs).

(b)More choices all the time. Not going to be constrained as much by other peoples’ schedules. Internet access is all the time. Your access to movies today is primarily limited by: time they are on TV, time they are shown at the theater, or the hours the video store is open.

If you suddenly decide at 3 a.m. to watch a movie -- well, good luck. Limited options on choice. With Internet sophistication: movies anytime you want.

(c) Tailor made to your interests.

You can personalize your viewing interests. You can create menus to meet your interests.

(d) De emphasis on middle man. Music artists can market directly to you. Movies: film makers to you, rather than relying just on distributors.

3. Tradeoffs. You need to be concerned about being a smart user.

Privacy. In this new digital world, your media use will be open to scrutiny by others.

(a) perhaps benign aspects of this. Advertisers will monitor you uses, so that they can better advertise to you. If you watch Animal Planet a lot, advertisers will know to market animal-related products to you (such as dog food or cat food, or pet toys). Efficient for advertisers, handy for you. But: note that this means that advertisers have a profile of you. Your likes and dislikes are known to advertisers and potential advertisers. Can be sold, traded.

(b) When you buy things on line -- you suddenly have disclosed a lot of credit related information about yourself. How much money you have, where you have it, and so on. Debts. Including failure to make a credit card payment, or a house payment. Repossession of a car. Accessible to many people.

(c)Even less benign aspects of this. Imagine you want to buy pornography. Can go to a store and buy it, and if you use cash, there’s no record that you yourself were even there. But if you download it from the web, and we have a record for a very long time. If you go to a video rental place and rent a pornographic movie, the records of your use are at that store. But download it, the record is not physically contained. All of this could come back to haunt you. When Clarence Thomas was facing confirmation by the US Senate in his nomination for Supreme Court Justice, there was some talk (never carried through) of looking at records of his video rentals. If those had been easily available on line -- they may well have been publicized.

(d) potential employers could find out a lot more about you.

(e) How do others gather information about you? How can this threat to personal privacy exist?

First: Cookies. A cookie is a tiny file that can collect data about a web user. When a user connects his or her computer to a Web-site server through the Internet, the Web-site server sends a small data file (cookie); the user’s computer saves it on the hard drive.

As the user and the web site communicate, some data are stored in the cookie. When the user disconnects the cookie remains in the computer. Other data about the user’s Internet use may be automatically stored in the cookie later. The next time the user connects to that web site, the site reads the cookie for information on the user. Cookies are designed to help the web site operator provide better service to those who use their sites by making the site more easily accessible. But they can and do gather considerable personal information about the web users, and most web site operators don’t disclose their use of this data gathering device.

In 1997, the FTC warned business about the need to protect web users privacy. A year later, in 1998. FTC surveyed 1400 web sites and found that 92 per cent collected personal data from users; only 14 per cent disclosed how the data were used. Further crackdown in early 2000 by the FTC, but it appears that companies are still actively gathering a good deal of information about people.

 Second: It’s easy to retrieve files. Even if you have erased files, they can be retrieved. "Recovering files that were deleted from a computer directory is a trivial process," says one expert. You may delete a file, but until it is overwritten in the hard drive, it remains there.

Third, Email messages pass through several exchange points on their way to recipients. It is possible to copy, re route or tamper with the message at any one of these points.

WSJ article (2/4/00): Two dozen employees at the New York Times Co’s business office were fired for sending email that violated company standards. About a month before the firings, an employee sent a letter on company stationery in an effort to get unemployment benefits for a friend. The letter was improperly addressed and bounced back to the Times office -- and set of an investigation in to the employee’s computer files. In the course of their inquiry, managers found a number of potentially offensive emails, some of which had been sent by or forwarded to other employees in the office. This led to a wider investigation, and to the firings. The offending messages all included sexual images and jokes that would not be tolerated in the workplace.

Employees say: the material was more sophomoric than pornographic. Stunned that the company didn’t reprimand them in some way, rater than firing them.

Solutions? Look for sites that

(a) Tell you if they are observing you rather than surreptitoiusly observed

(b) that list their privacy rules on the site

(c) that promise that they won’t share information about you with others.

b. Crime. How secure is the web?

 c. Digital Divide. Who’s benefiting? Who’s not?

Some evidence -- actually a lot of evidence -- that two groups emerging -- those with Internet and New Media skills and those without. Those without tend to be 1. Racial minorities -- particularly African Americans and Hispanics 2. Rural rather than urban 3. Lower classes in general There are lots of reasons for the growing digital divide -- including access costs, a sense of exclusion, and so on. Could be a real problem for a society in years ahead. Large underclass -- social instability (which could include crime

d. Free speech. There’s an old saying that freedom of the press belongs to the person who owns a newspaper. But the Internet has meant that more and more people have access to distribution channels than before; you don’t have to have the wealth required to own a newspaper (or TV station, magazine, etc.) in order to distribute your ideas widely these days. As more people come on line, more have the ability to address the world.

Much of this is good. But this also has a down side. Traditional media tended to be good gate keepers for the larger society. We don’t have them serving that function as much any more. (Some of this is good, as more can be involved in social debates; more speech is generally better than less speech). But we will also see more hate speech (which has been traditionally excluded by gatekeepers), and this will invariably test our dedication to free speech and press.

Before the Internet, hate groups (such as Neo Nazis) didn’t have as efficient and fast a way to spread their message widely. But now it is next to impossible to monitor the net.

One example: a February 1999 case. Planned Parenthood and other similar groups recently won a $108m lawsuit against several anti abortion organizations whose tactics they said incited violence. Used one particular site, the Nuremberg Files, to illustrate their point. The aim of its site, its creators say, was to collect info on those who actively support abortion rights so that they might be tried for crimes against humanity when abortion is made illegal once again. The first page of the Nuremberg Files tells visitors to "envision abortionists on trial." It also lists information about abortion doctors across the country and offers a regard for people who send them more information about abortion provides. The names of doctors appear as a hypertext link; then to a page with the doctor’s picture, Social Security number, driver’s license number and names of the doctor’s accomplices: friends, spouse and then names and dates of birth of their children. The site asks for info about the doctors, offers a cash reward for info about specific doctors the stie is targeting. Any info received will be posted -- from license plate numbers to home addresses. When a doctor is injured, his or her name appears in a light gray text. When a doctor is killed, his or her name is crossed out -- like an item on a grocery list. A line runs through the names of those like Dr. Barett Slepian, who have been killed. He was a general practice physician who did some abortions and was killed by a sniper -- when he (Slepian) was in side his own home. Slepian’s name is especially disturbing to many, given the fact his name was crossed out before his death became public knowledge.

Opponents of the site say all of this, plus other info, is inciting people to violence against abortion providers. There has been violence against abortion providers and abortion clinics: 39 acid bombings and 7 murders. Political speech? deserving protection?

Libraries -- facing lots of efforts to install filters. So we will see challenges to our traditional notions of free speech and press -- as traditional gatekeepers are replaced with a system in which anyone who wishes to speak may publish widely.



Media Reality, Reality

I only want to be with you

Ever since we met, you've had a hold on me…No matter what you do, I only want to be with you. I wanna spend each moment of the day with you. It's crazy, but it's true. I only want to be with you…I feel into your open arms and I didn't stand a chance…ever since we met, you've had a hold on me.

Film: The Thirty Second Dream.A world where no one really lives, but it's all for you.

The key theme in this course has been Media Reality v. Reality. Our goal has been to learn, first, how and why media distort reality -- and then learn to differentiate. This has not been a message that the media are bad. I think it's fine to enjoy the media -- as there is much to enjoy. The media provide often exciting entertainment (high drama, action, special effects), that's interesting and for many of us, quite relaxing to view (read, etc.).

It's important to get a sense of this Media Reality -- Media World -- and who lives there and how they behave. It's a world where most people are young, thin, beautiful and living in beautiful homes or apartments. Most people in the Media World never have to work; when they are at work they usually are talking about things they do outside of work. Their problems, if they have any, are usually ones that can be resolved fairly easily (within 30 minutes or an hour of TV time); other problems (such as insecurity, lck of friends) can often be solved by the purchase of a product (such as a mouthwash, a certain kind of soap or a beer, new car, new clothes, etc.). Poverty is seldom seen.

We can't live in Media World. It's not real. Media World is a pretty nice place. It's fun to watch it but it's important to remember that it's not real. You cannot live there. It's make believe. For those of us who are fairly heavy users of media products, it's crucial to remember this.

Media influence. Media influence how we see the world. There is substantial evidence that heavy users are more influenced by light users. Gerbner's discussion of the mean world syndrome clearly shows that people who watch a lot of violence come to think the world is a far more violent place than it is.

But you don't have to be a heavy viewer, I'd contend, to start to confuse Media Reality with Reality. I've found that students who have never watched a show such as Ally McBeal still have some knowledge of it; shows such as that resonate in the larger culture.

Media don't cause all of our cultural beliefs or common sense notions, but they certainly help reinforce them. Such as the notion that beauty means to be thin. (The result is that we have young girls in the 3rd or 4th grade dieting, with eating behaviors as a common problem for up to 10 per cent of young people). Media also reinforce racist assumptions about others, notably that Asian Americans are inscrutable, that African American men are criminals.

Why is Media Reality different from Reality? It's easy to blame the media for all of this. Politicians and various kinds of moral reformers (across the political/social/cultural spectrum) blame the media for doing a bad job, contending that they are biased. Important to get a larger sense of how media operate -- and therefore why media almost invariably distort reality.

External influences. There are many people who are tireless (and apparently with unlimited funds) who work to influence media. Politicians work very hard to manage and shape the news, making it difficult for the media to present an unvarnished story of what's going on. Across the political spectrum this is true; this is not a criticism of any one political party. George W. Bush works just as hard as Al Gore -- and as do their campaigns -- to influence the news about them. Through media events, leaks, spin; they rely on a large and sophisticated group of people who try to make sure they always look good in the news.

And it's not just politicians. As we've discussed, there are others -- advertisers, public relations agents and others -- who work to get their messages into the news. These people are not all bad. But it's crucial to see that they have a vested interest in the way things appear in the media. We have large numbers of situation comedies on television today because advertisers like those sorts of shows. They see them as ideal vehicles for connecting audiences with their products.

Internal influences. Media are private businesses, with a desire for market share, emphasis on ratings. Least Offensive Programming, big blockbuster shows (such as Who wants to be a millionaire? Or marry one…) In news, routines do much to shape content (particularly notions of objectivity and reliance on sources).

Mass media really operate today within fairly substantial economic constraints.I would argue that it's questionable whether a system such as this can do a good job in terms of the larger society.

Let's look at TV, in particular.

1. Age. Television ignores people over the age of 40. Nearly have the population doesn't exist on TV in any particular numbers.

2. Race. Entertainment television is overwhelmingly white, thus appealing to the perceived comfort zones of the majority. More than 20 per cent of the country is left out.

3. Gender. Men are more likely than women, particularly in entertainment shows, to have meaningful jobs, to be smart and to be respected.

It's hard to see that this serves democracy well -- particularly when many people are essentially excluded from representation.

Is this a problem?

About 40 years ago, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Newton Minnow, argued that television is one of the most powerful voices in all of America, but that it was not serving people very well. Heavy escapism, coupled with an endless supply of commercials ("many screaming, cajoling and offending") meant that TV provided a distorted view of reality to the American people. Minnow did not contend that TV had to be boring or intellectualized, but he said it could be far more balanced that it was. He argued that the constant pursuit of the highest ratings did not serve the nation.

Around the same time, a pioneer broadcast news figure, Edward R. Murrow, also exhorted television programmers to do a better job. He said he didn't want to turn television into some sort of boring forum for "long haired intellectuals" but, he said he was "frightened" at the imbalance of television's pursuit of profit (no matter what) rather than quality. "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate, yes, and it can even inspire, but it can do only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box."


So What should we do? The goal of this course was to help you become a critical media consumer. What one writer years ago called the "citizen of the world." You need to read, listen, view with sophistication. Ask yourself: Who could benefit from this? Are there other sources? What has been left out? Who's missing? Is this realistic?

It's OK to enjoy the mass media and to enjoy media reality, as long as you know it's not really media reality.

I have both pessimism and optimism about the mass media. Pessimism: media impact is high but quality is often low. Media are very good at a narrow sort of entertainment, profit obsessed but not quality obsessed. Optimism: people are a lot smarter than programmers realize, and can analyze what they see, read and hear. The fragmentation of audiences means that the economic threshold for quality is lower than ever before.

Wm. O. Douglas, a long time member of the Supreme Court, once argued that a democracy could flourish if it had vigorous and analytical citizens. That's been our goal 


 Make your voice/views heard.


1. The Stranger ( 1535 -- 11th Avenue, 3rd floor. Seattle,Wa. 98122. 206-323-7101 Email:

2. Seattle Times. ( Letters and email must include full name, address, telephone number. Letters editor, The Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, Wa. 98111. Fax: 206-382-6760. E-mail: The paper's web page also lists e-mail addresses for all staff members so that you can write to a reporter if you want to comment on an individual story.

3. Seattle Post-Intelligencer ( Mailing address: P.O. Box 1909, Seattle WA 98111-1909. The main phone number is 206-448-8000. Primary e-mail addresses: Letters to the Editor: Letters to the Sports Editor: Webmaster:


1. KOMO-TV (ABC) ( 100-4th Avenue North., Seattle,WA. 98109 206-443-4000. Dick Warsinske, senior vice president, , General Manager 206-443-4061; Fax 206-443-8120; E-mail: Sandy Montgomery, vice president/director, station marketing and broadcast operations. 206-443-4031. E-mail


2. KIRO-TV (CBS) ( 2807-- 3rd Avenue, Seattle, WA. 98121 206-728-7777E-mail:

 3. KING-TV (NBC) ( 333 Dexter Avenue North Seattle, Wa. 98109 206-448-5555 E-mail address (comments & info):
E-mail address (news tips):
E-mail address (programming):

 4. KCTS-TV (PBS) ( 401 Mercer, Seattle,WA. 98109 206-728-6463. E-mail: