Why is the Black Press (NNPA) selling out to AT&T & Consolidation?

The other day I spoke about how the current political climate is no longer about Dems vs Repubs. Instead its really about the rich and Wanna be Rich vs the working class and poor. I deliberately use the word ‘wanna be rich‘ because that’s the weak link and where most of the damage is done.

Corporate heads are small in number less than (10%) yet control anywhere from 80-90% of the wealth. The average CEO in the US makes 319-475 for every dollar earned by his/her workforce. In places like Japan, home to the world’s second largest economy the ratio is 11-1. In Germany its 12-1. You can peep those figures HERE.

What these CEOs have done is invested in large media companies and PR firms where they do two things, lay out attack after attack on the American workforce, in particular unions. The line has been to blame workers receiving pensions and health benefits for the collapse of the economy vs uber rich CEOs outsourcing their jobs to impoverished countries and hiding their money in offshore tax shelters.

These CEOs then entice charismatic and highly visible figures or organizations receiving funding aka ‘Wannabe Rich’ who wish to court favor to be the average John Doe ‘talking head‘ for their anti-worker/ pro corporate policies. They help create fictional boogey men against the working poor which is then propagandized all over the airwaves. We seen this happen over the issue of Net Neutrality, the bashing of unions and now with the proposed merger of telcom giant AT&T and T-Mobile.

In the AT&T deal we have the Black press (NNPA) of all people along with the National Urban League supporting the consolidation of a major industry most of us have to use in some form or fashion.. I find it ironic that a group of media folks who have seen first hand the sickening impact consolidation has both on the media industry and our community at large would team up and support a major consolidator.

Thank God our friends at the Black Agenda Report go in on these corporate lackeys and breakdown the lunacy of them supporting consolidation..We salute BAR for a job well done. Thanks for holding the line and not selling out the community for three pieces of silver.

-Davey D-

What’s the mission of the black press? To hear Walter Smith, CEO of the NY Beacon and NNPA Budget Chairman, it’s to rep their advertisers, and increase their “corporate visibility.” What happened to informing the pubic, to defending the interests of black communities, to telling the truth without fear or favor? Last week we denounced NNPA’s craven endorsement of AT&T’s buyout of T-Mobile, which will concentrate three-quarters of the US cell phone market in the hands of two massive and massively predatory corporations. They answered.

NNPA Defends Endorsement of Predatory AT&T -T-Mobile Merger. And We Answer

by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

Bruce Dixon

Last week I excoriated the NNPA, the National Newspaper Publishers Association for its instantaneous and craven endorsement of AT&T’s proposal to buy out T-Mobile. The proposed merger would give two companies, AT&T and Verizon, three quarters of the U.S. cell phone market. I listed nine reasons why the Justice Department and FCC and Congress should reject the merger, and especially why black and brown civic and leadership organizations ought to oppose it.

Since then, the National Urban League, the NAACP, both heavily dependent on AT&T and Verizon for charitable donations, rushed to endorse the merger. And Walter Smith, CEO of the New York Beacon and NNPA Budget Chairman took the time to write and take issue with us. We thank him for his letter, which you can find here, and take this opportunity to answer it.

Dear Mr. Smith,

Walter Smith NNPA

Thank you for taking the time to write us here at Black Agenda Report. In my article last week I listed nine reasons why the AT&T merger was bad economics, bad public policy and especially disastrous for black and poor communities. Regrettably your response addressed none of those points.

You began by preaching that “…Mergers, acquisitions, re-organizations, etc is the corporate building blocks of the US economy.…” That’s nonsense.

Any reputable economist, and by that I mean any economist who predicted the crash and bailout of 2008 will tell you that there is a real economy in which things are built and services rendered, and there is a parasitic “economy” in which rents and interest payments are extracted, corporate welfare is handed out, and public assets are privatized. Corporate mergers are obviously parasitic. As I pointed out last week, corporate mergers produce no new assets, they eliminate jobs and raise prices. They are anti-competitive, bad for customer service and a disincentive to innovation.

This is not a small thing. It’s such a fundamental misstatement of economic fact that it calls into question your willingness and/or your ability to tell the truth to your readers. And make no mistake, Mr. Smith, the will and the ability of the black press to tell the truth without fear or favor is what this is all about.

Your letter continued to say

NNPA has a long standing relationship with AT&T and it has become more significant with the relationship our present Chairman has with the hierarchy of the corporation…

The Black Press of America, represented by NNPA is not a WATCHDOG, it is a communicator. We report the news and record black history. Publishers editorialize about issues that affect the communities they serve.

“NNPA has a partnership with AT&T that has yielded benefits for the black community in ways you cannot see nor imagine. Black newspaper publishers hire local community photographers, writers, distributors, office personnel,and local printers. Our revenue for these jobs comes from our advertising revenues. Where does much of these revenues come from? You guessed it, AT&T and Verizon.”

Sadly, I could not have said it better. Your vision of the black press is that of “communicator” on behalf of those corporations who give you advertising revenue, which you use to pay a handful of contractors and staff.

This is a profoundly different mission for the black press, for journalism in general, than the framers of the Constitution had in mind. Journalism was the only industry that got its own constitutional amendment precisely because democracy depended on journalists faithfully and fearlessly informing the public.

Frederick Douglass

You have radically departed also from the mission of the black press of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Frederick Douglass preached and organized tirelessly, first against slavery, then for Reconstruction, and finally against lynching and Jim Crow. Ida B. Wells carried this legacy on into the twentieth century. The mission of the black press in those days was first to allow us to speak with and to hear our own voices, not those our masters appointed to speak for or to us, and secondly to defend black interests by fearlessly exposing injustice of all kinds. The black press of those days was truly a weapon of mass discussion. But no longer, as your letter points out:

No the Black Press ain’t what it used to be. Its a new day for the Black Press under New leadership with an experienced entrepreneur who has the business acumen to negotiate a financial partnership with corporate America and does not sell out one Black person in doing so.

If you want to fight the merger, by all means do so. However the black press does not need your input nor approval on the position we take be it political or financial. The Black Press is still operating under the same creed as it did in 1827, “We wish to plead our own cause, Too long have others spoken for us.

Your position on the AT&T merger is indeed selling out millions of black people. Pretty much everybody who pays a cell phone bill will pay a higher one thanks to this merger. Thousands of jobs, many held by black people, will disappear. The tens of billions AT&T might have spent extending wireless and broadband service to poor, black, brown and rural communities will go instead to buy out its competition.

If your job, Brother Smith, is to report the news, then you should report news, not be the sock puppet for your advertisers. If your mission is to “record black history,” you get a choice there too. You can write that history from the viewpoint of ordinary black families, or you can write it from the viewpoint of your corporate advertisers and donors.

The New York Beacon, where you are CEO is about as good as black newspapers get these days. Most offer far less non-advertising, non-entertainment copy. Many are entirely composed of ads, PR handouts from local governments, corporations and other institutions, wire service copy from Reuters, AP, and sometimes NNPA, and entertainment fluff.

How many NNPA newspapers have bothered to educate the public on the fact that text messaging, because it rides on the otherwise empty communication packets between phones and network servers, costs cell phone providers literally nothing, though they have regularly raised prices on this service? Not a one. How many NNPA newspapers have explained to audiences that the artificial broadband scarcities of the digital divide are a basic and permanent feature of telecom company business models from Comcast to Verizon to AT&T, and even reaching back into era of analog telephone service?

One of the reasons that Americans, including black ones, are the best entertained and least informed people on earth is your abandonment of the core mission of journalism, lack of interest in an informed public, the very reason for the existence of journalism.

Your letter concludes thusly:

As a result of Chairman Bakewell’s tenure with NNPA, we have increased our visibility in corporate America, have increased revenues to the association, have increased advertising revenues to our member publishers, have regained credibility with the readership, and have increased membership in the organization. Have you done as much for Black Agenda Report?”

Evidently Mr. Smith, you have confused your own business model with the public good of our black communities.

The telecom industry spreads a lot of charitable contributions and advertising revenue around. It rains cash upon utilizes legacy African Americans like the NAACP, the Urban League and your NNPA, and funds wholly astroturf outfits like ADE, the Alliance for Digital Equality. It uses you, and them, to hurl false and spurious accusations of white racism against national media reform organizations like Free Press who advocate network neutrality and the extension of broadband to black, brown and poor communities.

Black Agenda Report is doing what you should be doing, Mr. Smith. We are commited to educating the public on the facts, not increasing our corporate visibility and raking in the maximum ad revenue. We are committed to gathering 50,000 signatures of black people, and all people on a petition to stop this ill-advised merger, and presenting that petition to the FCC, to the Congressional Black Caucus, to the National Conference of Black State Legislators, to the White House and the Justice Department later this year demanding that this predatory, anti-competitive merger be halted.

We invite all who read this to help prove you wrong by signing the petition themselves, and forwarding it to as many of your friends, neighbors, co-workers and associates as possible. You may also want to forward this article from last week, which outlines nine reasons why the merger is a very bad idea.

Respectfully,

As I said last week, Ida B. Wells, the champion of the black press in the early 20th century, is rolling in her grave. If she were alive today we both know what side she’d be on.

Respectfully,

Bruce A. Dixon

managing editor, Black Agenda Report

bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com

The AT&Tea Party: We’re in the Business of Silencing People & Net Neutrality

These are indeed strange times we live in where even when we’re repeatedly told we should not be surprised as to what goes down, especially in the world of politics-goes down. It was surprising to learn that AT&T is one of the biggest backers of the Tea Party and together they are working overtime to try to get rid of the Democratizing concept that has made the Internet so powerful called ‘Net Neutrality‘.

I guess one shouldn’t be shocked at the hypocrisy of the Tea Party which claims it takes issue with big corporation but then generously supports their agenda. I’m more upset with Apple which uses AT&T and upset that my hard-earned money which pays for this Iphone is going to uplift a political party that many of feel are racist and in opposition to many of our concerns.

As for Net Neutrality, for those who don’t know about this concept, it essentially says all data is to be treated equal. This means the little blog in the middle of Iowa can be accessed just as easily as the NY Times in NY. All websites are essentially one click away metaphorically speaking.

What telecoms have been doing to the tune of over 100 million dollars in lobbying money in 2009 alone with AT&T leading the way is try to change the basic structure of the internet and re-create the very conditions that drove us away from traditional media to the internet in the first place.  Instead of everyone being ‘one click away’ they want to create a tiered system where websites and companies who pay top dollars are one click away while everyone else could be 2, 3, 4 or not even on the system at all.

This means if I am living in Oakland, California and wish to present additional information to the rest of the country about some important event like the tragic Oscar Grant shooting from 2009 I would no longer be on par with the mainstream outlets.  My information could be slowed down or even blocked.

Hence, someone in NY might click on the Oakland Tribune site and get the information immediately, but it might take a couple of hours or maybe even a day or two to be visible to on my website DaveyD.com or the websites Indy media SF, ColorlinesYouth Radio or the SF Bayview. The sad part is that person in NY might not even know this additional information had been slowed down or suspended by AT&T, Comcast or some other ISP that may have a political agenda that they want to carry out that is in stark contrast with your content.

The person on the receiving end of the information will do as they’ve always done since the internet been around and click on a link expecting to move seamlessly from one site to the next. When one site is slowed down or not accessible they move onto another. So again what AT&T wants to do is make sure the NY Times loads up quickly while the small blogger comes up slowly.

When one considers how so many people have been able to come up, challenge traditional media with other facts and various narratives to a story, net neutrality has leveled the playing field.  Unfortunately the big telecoms do not want this..and apprently neither do the Tea Party and several prominent gatekeeping civil rights orgs and politicians they have spent money on.

AT&T sponsored National Urban League Centennial Celebration. Was that part of their strategy to reach out to Civil Right orgs and get them to echo GOP talking points on Net Neutrality?

Initially the Net Neutrality debate was partisan with mostly conservative folks against it. AT&T decided that one of their strategies would be to use their money and influence to get key civil rights leaders to come on board. This may have included generous sponsorships they’ve given folks over the years with everyone from Jesse Jackson of Rainbow Push to Marc Morial of the National Urban League whose centennial celebration they recently sponsored.  Their defection and non-commital responses to supporting net neutrality was even welcomed and celebrated by top conservative bloggers like Andrew Breibart the man behind the Shirley Sherrod controversy .

Jackson has noted both in his statement to the FCC and publicly that he and Rainbow Push give ‘voice to the voiceless’. How does one have a voice without Net Neutrality protections?

Even more troubling is seeing members of the Congressional Black Caucus standing alongside the AT&T/Tea Party. How does this happen in 2010 where CBC members were just a couple of months ago complaining about racism where they were called ‘Nigger’ and being spat upon by the Tea Party members, are walking now hand in hand? Oh yeah that happens when big time lobbying money enters the picture. I guess folks can afford  to buy a clean handkerchiefs to wipe away the spit and ‘let bygones be bygones’ as far as the racial insults are concerned as they all stand under the money tree-lined umbrella of AT&T. Peep this article called ‘Hey, Capitol Hill: Who’s Your Daddy ? AT&T‘ to get a better understanding the pervasiveness of this telecom giant.

NAACP head Ben Jealous

AT&T and the telecoms even got Ben Jealous and the NAACP which relied heavily on the freedoms of the internet to launch a campaign to try to save Troy Davis from being executed to take a ‘neutral position on Net Neutrality. Remind me to let Ben know they spelled the word ‘endorse’ wrong in their clarification statement.

In recent days an online petition was put together by Color of Change pushing CBC members to step up and get on the right side of this issue. That would be away from the position of the huge telecoms.

It’s our hope that all of us stop and take a long hard look at what’s going on with Net Neutrality and not allow this important issue to get away from us the way it did when it came to media consolidation.  If you recall, back in the days leading up to that landmark telecommunications bill of ’96 we heard similar arguments from the big media corps on how giving them all this power would be a good thing for consumers. We also saw there were handfuls of Black and Brown folks who tried to jump in bed with the Clear Channels of the world. They were told they would have better opportunities. Have things gotten better since  the Consolidation? Turn on your local radio station and the answer is more than obvious-‘Hell Naw’.

The ‘Clear Channeling of media has been horrific. Again, its the main reason so many of us fled to the Internet. We wanted something better. We wanted our individual voices to be heard.  If we allow the telecoms to gut Net Neutrality with the help of the Tea Party and a handful of civil rights leaders leading the charge we will be talking about what a big mistake this was 15 years from now. Don’t let history repeat itself.

written by Davey D

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