Tuesday, December 11, 2007

6 1/2 years? Only 6 1/2 years?

Lord Black of Double-Crossharbour (that's the best one I've heard in a long time!) got off lightly, if you ask me. The key to his short sentence was when Judge Amy St. Eve ruled he should be sentenced under the previous guidelines, not new ones introduced this year, which would have likely doubled his sentence. As a result, his prison time will be less than almost all the experts polled by Maclean's predicted. Black didn't even have to surrender himself into custody, being given three months to get his affairs in order and show up for incarceration in March. Not only that, but St. Eve is allowing Black to serve his time in Florida, closer to his home in Palm Beach, and not in icy Northern Illinois.

The one saving grace in all of this, for me at least, is the revelation that it was a journalist who was responsible for the most serious charge being laid against Black. While the fraud charges were the least of his worries, it was an obstruction of justice charge on which Black was convicted that carried the most prison time. According to the Toronto Star, that charge was not laid until a curious journalist started asking questions of prosecutors.

Some weeks after government lawyers filed the original indictment against Black,Wall Street Journal reporter Elena Cherney was working the phones. Now an editorwith The Globe and Mail, Cherney asked assistant U.S. attorney Eric Sussman why prosecutors hadn't charged Black for removing boxes from his Toronto office, violating a court order. Cherney's question would spark Sussman into action and lead to Black's most severe conviction, on obstruction.

The irony, of course, is in Black's long-trumpeted contempt for journalists as a species, to which he once referred as "swarming, grunting masses of jackals." He disposed of them by the hundreds at the many newspapers he acquired over the years. Once, after putting out the Daily Telegraph from behind a London picket line with only manasgement personnel, he deemed the excercise to have exposed "one of the great myths of the industry: that journalists are essential to producing a newspaper." Now, it seems, the ink-stained wreteches have at last extracted a measure of revenge.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Conrad may have skewered himself

Lord Black of Crossharbour, as he prefers to be known, may have added years to his sentence with an interview he did with BBC radio last week. The prosecution in his Chicago fraud sentencing next week has filed a brief pointing to His Lordship's defiance as evidence of a lack of remorse for his crimes. "Black's conduct makes clear that he would engage in the very same conduct again if given the opportunity,'" states the filing by Eric Sussman, assistant U.S. attorney. "To this day, Black maintains his offences of conviction were 'rubbish' and 'nonsense.'" In an interview on BBC4's Today programme, Black called his conviction "an injustice which will be the accepted fact of this case before long." He added that he never testified in his own defense because "it was not conceivable to any of the defendants or their counsel that we had not established well beyond reasonable doubt what we needed to achieve acquittals on every count."

Meanwhile, Black is hoping his celebrity friends can help save him from himself -- and prison. Letters on his behalf have been filed by more than 100 friends and acquaintances, according to a defence lawyer, including such dubious luminaries as Elton John and Rush Limbaugh. Jeffrey Steinback, a Chicago attorney working for Black, says the letters portray describe someone "with a deep reservoir of kindness and generosity consistently exhibited to people of all stations in life and an individual who has made significant contributions to society."

On the eve of His Lordship's imprisonment, directors of Hollinger, Inc., the newspaper company Black built and then looted of millions, are still trying to find out where the money went. "I don’t know where it is,” said Hollinger chief executive Wes Voorheis. “Black has done everything to make finding the money harder,” he said. Inc, the Canadian company that was used by Black to control Hollinger International. Voorheis is suing Black to recover $750 million, and according to the Sunday Times hired Juval Aviv, a controversial Israeli private investigator based in New York, to follow the money trail last year. "Aviv, who claimed to be a former Israeli commando and Mossad intelligence officer, provided nothing investigator to track it down."

I can hardly wait for Monday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

7 years? 5 years? 29 months?

No, I haven't forgotten about Conrad Black's upcoming sentencing for fraud, which was supposed to be the original focus of this blog. It's just that the whole FCC thing kinda popped up there and took precedence for awhile. But the old Google news alert on Tubby has heated up again with the release of his pre-sentence report. According to a report in the Toronto Star, the probation officer who interviewed Black has recommended noted that the amount that Hollinger shareholders were defrauded was ONLY $6.1 million, which should equate to a sentence of seven years. The Canadian Press interviewed lawyers in the case, and from what they say it's good news for Lord Himself, who might even get off with only five years in the slammer.

Andrew Frey, the New York lawyer handling Mr. Black's appeal, said Wednesday he was encouraged by the fact that the pre-sentence investigation report didn't back up “the government's insane request for a massive sentence.” Prosecutors have asked for Mr. Black to serve between 24 and 30 years. While Mr. Frey wouldn't discuss the range of sentencing range the defence would find appropriate, he said he hopes the judge “can use some common sense here and hopefully appreciate that this is not the crime of century — even though it's a highly celebrated case — and hopefully show some common sense in devising an appropriate sentence.”

The Globe suggests Black's co-defendants might even get off with house arrest. According to a report in the Canadian Press, judge Amy St. Eve has been inundated with letters written on Black's behalf that portray him as . . . almost human. "Black's lawyers also argued his constant pronouncements of victory throughout the trial - including called the four Jewish prosecutors 'Nazis' - was a show of optimism, not arrogance, his lawyer said." So deep is Black's "reservoir of kindness," according to his lawyers, that he should even get off with the same 29-month sentence agreed to by David Radler, Black's former business partners and the prosecution's star witness. Oy, vey! Stay tuned as the rhetoric is bound to increase by sentencing on Dec. 10.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Only the Big to get Bigger?

Having escaped Seattle with his scalp -- although the jeers and catcalls from last Friday's sixth and final public meeting on cross-ownership rule changes must still be ringing in his ears -- FCC chair Kevin Martin finally unveiled the extent of his proposed changes yesterday. Under his plan, noted Editor & Publisher, only newspapers in the 20 largest television markets would be allowed to hold station licences.

The rewrite Martin is proposing is, as his own office said in its announce-ment "notably more conservative in approach" than the sweeping cross-ownership rule change it proposed in 2003. That rule change was overturned by an appeals court that nevertheless endorsed the general idea that newspapers could own broadcast in their markets. Martin's rule would allow dailies only in the top 20 Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs), and would allow a paper to own either one TV station or one radio station.

The drive by media activists to preserve local news diversity apparently had some impact on the extent of the proposed changes, as newspapers would have to show that also owning a broadcast outlet would "increase the amount of local news in the market." As a result, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) expressed disappointment at the "extremely limited" change to what it called "the onerous, decades-old" cross-ownership ban. Small-market publishers also cricitized the limited extent of the change. Martin claimed in a New York Times op-ed piece on Tuesday that the financial viability of the newspaper industry is at stake. "If we don't act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die," Martin wrote. "Without newspapers, we would be less informed about our communities and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints."

In that case, noted small-town publisher Sidney H. "Skip" Bliss of the 21,000-circulation Janesville, Wisc. Gazette, only dailies in the largest U.S. cities will see any relief. "To say that, and then to backtrack and say, well, there's only 20 newspapers that would see this relief when he seems to be talking about the whole newspaper business, well, it's really hard to understand."

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), vowed to continue his plan to block the changes, claiming Martin's proposed relaxation of the rules is based on a faulty assumption. "He has yet to make the case for why any further media consolidation is necessary,"said Dorgan."Indeed, he is relying on an assumption that newspapers are doomed and that cross-ownership is necessary to save them. I believe this is not the case."

The targeted nature of the proposal further bolsters suspicions that it is intended to smooth the sale of the Chicago Tribune chain, which since buying up the Los Angeles Times chain has held waivers for several cross-ownerships nation-wide. Tribune has been granted temporary waivers pending the FCC's review of ther rules, but needs an answer by year's end. Martin's bid to ram through the change carries a Dec. 18 end date, which dovetails nicely with the Tribune sale, noted Radio Online.

In May, fourteen lawmakers from Illinois asked Martin to end the cross-ownership ban, so that Tribune could move forward with its bid to go private. The group, including Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and House Reps. Rahm Emanuel (IL-5) and Dennis Hastert (R-IL), encouraged the FCC to act on Sam Zell's $8.2 billion bid "expeditiously and to avoid administrative delay."

Monday, November 5, 2007

Battle of Seattle Redux?

Fittingly, the Final Battle in this round of the media ownership war will be held in the Pacific Northwest. I say "fittingly" because it was there that the 1999 Battle of Seattle galvanized opposition to globalization and led to the rise of IndyMedia. The FCC has announced that its last public hearing on changes to media ownership rules will be held in Seattle on Friday. In so doing, it gave exactly ONE WEEK'S NOTICE of the hearings. Nonetheless, opponents of its plan to lift the long-standing ban on cross-ownership of newspapers and television stations in the same city should be out in force. The short notice did not go unnoticed by the Seattle Times or the Democratic members who comprise a minority on the FCC.

The announcement drew immediate fire from opponents of the proposals, who charged the short notice is part of a plan by the commission's Republican majority to short-circuit public involvement and push major changes through before Christmas. "It shows there is a preordained outcome," FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, the two Democrats on the five-member board, said in a statement.

Times publisher Frank Blethen has been an outspoken critic of media ownershiop concentration, which is highly unusual for a newspaper owner. The American Journalism Review profiled him a few years back as "The Gadfly." Blethen was in the forefront of opposition to the FCC's 2003 attempt to roll back the cross-ownership ban, noted AJR.

Blethen says the public finally is getting fed up with this cynical media environment, which puts the news consumer dead last in the pecking order. "There's this level of arrogance that comes when these companies get so big, and so out of touch," he says. "I think that's important because they keep throwing fuel on the fire. They can't help themselves."
This should be interesting.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Sanity may yet prevail

Senators from both parties have promised to act against any FCC move to lift the long-standing cross-ownership ban, just as they did in 2003. Byron Dorgan, a Democrat from North Dakota, and Trent Lott, a Republican from Mississippi, said last week they would provide the same sort of bi-partisan opposition they did four years ago to allowing a newspaper owner to also hold a licence for a television station in the same city.
The two senators said they were studying several ideas for derailing the FCC's expected decision in December, including a rarely used mechanism called a "resolution of disapproval," which would require passage in both the Senate and the House. Dorgan said there was "massive support" for such a move among Democratic senators, who control the chamber. Lott was less sure about Republicans backing such an effort.
The threat to block any such FCC move makes it unlikely it will lift the cross-ownerswhip ban in the dying months of the Bush administration.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Salvos from left, right, and center

Now that a few days have passed since the New York Times revealed FCC Chair Kevin Martin's plan to push through by year's end a vote on lifting the long-standing ban on cross-ownership of a daily newspaper and a television station in the same city, the political fallout has started to descend. Predictably, the left-wing Nation magazine warns that the "FCC Promotes Media Monopolies" in its Act Now! blog.

FCC Commissioner Martin's latest attempt to curb as much diversity and democracy from the nation's media as possible is both a mogul's dream and a citizen's nightmare.

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), on the other hand, lauded research studies done for or by the FCC as they "support the case for reforming outmoded ownership restrictions that only apply to local broadcast stations."

The trade association notes that the Commission's studies generally demonstrate the lack of harm, and the benefits that would be gained, from allowing local broadcasters to adopt more economically viable ownership structures. In particular, NAB points out, the studies show that the cross-ownership of broadcast outlets with newspapers actually promote the Commission's traditional goals of competition, diversity and localism.

Has everybody forgotten last summer's revelations made by Senator Barbara Boxer of California, who produced not one but two studies that had been suppressed by the FCC because they did not support the FCC's deregulationist agenda? No wonder the NAB likes the FCC's ownership studies, because it seems they only release the ones that support lifting the cross-ownership ban.

Finally, Barack Obama lambasted Martin on the campaign trail for rushing through the deregulation bid in the dying months of the Bush administration. Can it be? Will media ownership finally thrust into the national spotlight and even become . . . dare we dream . . . AN ELECTON ISSUE!!! Well, reading a little bit further in the campaign trail story, it appears Obama may just be playing to his base.

In a letter sent Monday to Martin, Obama called the accelerated timeline proposed by the chairman "irresponsible," saying the FCC had failed to take steps to encourage greater involvement in media ownership by minority and local interest groups. "I object to the agency moving forward to allow greater consolidation in the media market without first fully understanding how that would limit opportunities for minority, small business, and women-owned firms," said Obama.

In other words, politics as usual. Grrrr!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Media armageddon is nigh

Thus the final battle begins. Should we really be surprised? Why would we think they wouldn't at least try one last time to rewrite the rules on cross-media ownership? Just because they got slapped down so convincingly a few years ago by both Senate and the courts? Well, apparently that wasn't enough to cool the fervor for media consolidation of the Bushies who hold a 3-2 majority on the FCC. Neither does the fact that almost three million Americans protested the last time they tried to quietly lift the ban on owning both a daily newspaper and a television station in the same city. But hey, what have they got to lose? Bush has just over a year left in his mandate, after which it may be a while before the Republicans see power again. Here's a quote from the story in this morning's New York Times:
In recent months, industry executives had all but abandoned the hope that regulators would try to modify the ownership rules in the waning days of the Bush administration.
I guess it just goes to show that there's no limit to how far deregulationists will go in their quest to remove any and all safeguards erected to protect the public interest. Perhaps they think people have such a short memory that they won't rise up in anger again the way they did in 2003. (Can it really be four years ago?) For those of you unfamiliar with that episode, here's a nice little recap in the Columbia Journalism Review. According to Gal Beckerman, the public anger that was directed at the FCC's end run around the media ownership limits was fuelled by the role U.S. media played in enabling the invasion of Iraq.
The massive public response to the rule changes, in fact, had been unprecedented. For months before and after the new rules were announced on June 2, opposition had been loud, passionate, and active. Hundreds of thousands of comments were sent to the FCC, almost all in opposition. It was the heaviest outpouring of public sentiment the commission had ever experienced.

The new head of the FCC, Kevin Martin, can expect just the same kind of furious reaction that his predecessor, Michael Powell, experienced. It could get very hot in the chair's seat, as evidenced by this quote from today's Times article:

“This is a big deal because we have way too much concentration of media ownership in the United States,” Senator Byron L. Dorgan, Democrat of North Dakota, said at a hearing on Wednesday called to examine the digital transition of the television industry. “If the chairman intends to do something by the end of the year,” Mr. Dorgan added, his voice rising, “then there will be a firestorm of protest and I’m going to be carrying the wood.”

If this all unfolds over the next couple of months, as the Times story suggests, things could get very heated indeed. Stay tuned!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Marc gets a blog

I didn't think I'd like blogging. I was wrong. . . .