WASHINGTON (CNS) — One might think of the Bill of Rights as the original Top Ten list.
Goodness knows in the subsequent 230 years — with a big assist from David Letterman — Top Ten lists have flourished.
The latest is a digital bill of rights formulated by Free Press, a nonprofit that promotes equitable access to technology, diversity in media ownership and responsible journalism.
Free Press plans to send its 10-point platform to every announced presidential candidate. Not just the 25 Democrats in the race, but President Donald Trump “and others in the future who may pop up,” said Craig Aaron, Free Press’ executive director.
In this digital bill of rights are “all things we expect will be talked about in this election and need to be talked about,” Aaron said. “These media and tech issues are sure to be talked about.”
He noted how, despite a potentially mind-numbing presidential sweepstakes marathon, the country is still in “the early days of the cycle,” and Free Press needed to “put out the platform as soon as we did.”
Aaron added it is important for the 2020 presidential campaign winner to “set the tone, set the budget and appoint the right people to the important jobs.”
These are the 10 points in Free Press’ digital bill of rights, in capsule form.
— Support the Save the Internet Act of 2019, already passed by the House, which would fully restore net neutrality — a principle of equal access to the internet long supported by the U.S. bishops — and the appointment of members to the Federal Communications Commission who will support net neutrality.
— Make internet access affordable by scrapping the Federal Communications Commission’s 2017 plan to gut the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone and internet service for low-income households; establish a broadband-affordability tax credit to close the digital divide and invest $140 billion to do it; and back a bill to collect data on actual broadband prices to make internet access more affordable.
— On the topic of broadcast-media consolidation, limit ownership to just one television station per local market, with total reach capped at 15 percent of the national audience; the cap is now at 39 percent, and owners of UHF stations are assessed only half their station’s reach. Free Press also backs a bill to promote media-ownership diversity, such as one that would offer tax credits for station sales to women and people of color.
— Demand an independent FCC commission to investigate the federal government’s response to the post-hurricane communications crisis in Puerto Rico, direct hurricane recovery funds to build a resilient communications network on the island, and promote policies that hold companies accountable for building resilient networks and, as Free Press put it, “guarding against corporations exploiting future disasters for profit.”
— Oppose the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, which got a green light July 26 from the federal Justice Department; support antitrust efforts to investigate media and tech companies with outsized market power; and appoint Federal Trade Commission and FCC commissioners and Justice Department officials who, according to Free Press, “bring a critical eye to vague and unenforceable public-interest claims made by merger proponents.”
— Support a bill that repairs FCC authority over what Free Press called “extortionate” prison-phone rates, and oppose measures to replace in-person prison visitation with video calls.
— Investigate “the history of discrimination in our media system and in government oversight and regulation of our media,” according to Free Press, with an eye to producing a report “that draws on the public comments and government and academic findings, including remedies and policy proposals.”
— Support a “no unwarranted surveillance” plank that includes backing a bill to prohibit social-media monitoring by law enforcement agencies operating without strong guidelines and proper oversight to protect First and Fourth Amendment rights, and opposing data-sharing agreements with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement that target immigrants at the border and threaten their families within the United States.
— Enhance digital privacy by supporting comprehensive privacy legislation that gives people meaningful control, protections, transparency and the means to assert their rights over the collection and use of all private data.
— Support bills to tax the advertising revenue of large online platforms and redirect that money to public, independent and noncommercial journalism, and that carve out a designated path for journalism outlets to apply for federal nonprofit status. At the same time, block efforts to zero-out the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which distributes nearly a half-billion dollars each year to PBS, local public TV and radio stations, and programming initiatives.
Even prior to a questionnaire, the issues are cropping up in the news.
“Net neutrality is an issue that was brought up at the debates by Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. They’re all — Cory Booker, (Kamala) Harris — are all on the record supping the kind of legislation we want to see passed,” Aaron said.
The cellphone-service merger getting the OK from federal regulators, he added, has brought “a round of condemnation” by Warren, (Julian) Castro and others.”
Warren, Andrew Yang and “others — like Bernie — are talking about the future of journalism for sure. Some of them already have stuff up on their sites,” Aaron noted. Issues like high-speed broadband, platform accountability, and the looming presence of tech giants, have gotten their share of attention as well.
“Privacy legislation is going to be moving in Congress” after “another massive data breach,” he added, referring to the Capital One hack that exposed 100 million credit card applications.
Pattison is media editor for Catholic News Service.
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