How Free Should Speech Be?

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

Recently, I was invited to speak at Utah Valley University’s Center for Constitutional Studies Constitution Day conference. It was a great experience to reach across traditional scholarly boundaries to discover new ways of looking at old problems. A modified version of the speech is below.

Because I study media and their effects, I often look at current events through a theoretical lens. I could (and often do) ponder everything from what it means to be a citizen in our digital era to how media cover mass shootings.

Of course I’m not the only person to spend endless hours contemplating media effects and their role in society. In 1944, the Hutchins Commission — a group of esteemed faculty from the University of Chicago, Harvard, and the New School — began deliberating on the proper functions of media in a modern democracy. A mere four years later, they released their report, which suggested that the media play an important role in the development and stability of modern society. The Commission argued that the press could be “inflammatory, sensational, and irresponsible” and when the press engage in these practices, “it and its freedom will go down in the universal catastrophe.” Yet they also held out hope for the press, claiming it can “do its duty by the new world that is struggling to be born… by promoting comprehension and appreciation of the goals of a free society.” The Commission concluded that the press should be free, but also accountable. Among the five “requirements” the commission proposed were that the media should present and clarify the goals and values of the society, and serve as a forum for comment and criticism. When I talk to my theory students about this “social responsibility theory,” they understand its basic goals. But in practice, these propositions are simply too abstract and difficult to enforce. The press, needless to say, didn’t respond kindly, and the Commission’s report remains largely that — an unrealized theory on paper.

So why am I spending so much precious Internet space on a nearly 70-year-old report that didn’t seem to effect much change? Because it’s worth reconsidering such normative questions in the face of disputes over freedom of expression and censorship, whether they regard Hollywood photo scandals or threats toward national security. Americans know that freedom of expression, as outlined in the First Amendment, is a central tenet of American democracy. In fact, studies show that more than 90 percent of the U.S. public endorses the importance of protecting freedom of speech and of the press. (Of course, they are decidedly less so when it comes to complicated speech like pornography and hate speech).

But importantly, this concern about freedom of expression and its effects dates back far earlier than the Hutchins Commission. It predates television, radio, even silent films. This goes back to Gutenberg, who famously invented the printing press in the 1400s. Let’s travel back to a time a bit more recent — 1644 to be exact — when printing became a predominant method for communicating about religion.

At this time, printing was controlled by licensing, registration, and censorship. When John Milton published an unlicensed pamphlet defending divorce (quite controversial at the time), he defended himself to Parliament, after which he published his defense as the “Aeropagitica.” This, of course, was also unlicensed. In it, he said, “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience above all liberties.” Milton argued that open communication, with no regulations, can create a forum where truth and an ideal social order can emerge. Of course, Milton was not promoting unrestrained free expression; his liberty was reserved only for some Protestants sects (Catholics, Jews, and Muslims need not apply).

But now we have the new kid on the block — the Internet — which has reignited the conflict between our ideals of free expression and regulation of mass media. Two recent examples have illustrated how free expression is both facilitated and hampered by new technologies. Perhaps the most recent, and starkest, challenge to free expression is the Islamic State, or ISIS, and its use of social media to spread information. On August 19, 2014, the group released a video depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley. Shortly thereafter, a similar video appeared showing American journalist Steven Sotloff, also brutally beheaded. More recently, we saw the eerily similar beheading of a British aid worker. Is this free expression? Should such videos be censored? Some argue that — as revolting as it is — this content should not be censored because it is protected under the First Amendment. Yes, the videos are gruesome and could incite terrorist copycat acts. But on the other hand, Americans could be made aware of the sheer brutality of which this organization is capable and support change. Indeed, recent polls suggest that a stunning 94 percent of Americans have heard about these beheadings; that’s higher than the 2012 health-care decision by the U.S. Supreme Court (78%) and Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons in 2013 (79%). And it’s true, the American public has largely backed the recent strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Others argue that such videos are clearly propaganda meant to incite violence, and that we shouldn’t give into what ISIS “wants.” But, of course, propaganda is not prohibited under the First Amendment or any other statute. Indeed the U.S. has actively engaged in a propaganda war with ISIS to prevent Westerners from joining the movement.

Moreover, does what ISIS want matter in whether its videos are made public or not? One interesting issue here is how traditional media — who often self-censor as a result of the norms of prior constraint established in the 17th century — have handled it; many outlets have refused to broadcast the video, even as they remark it is widely available online. But the organizations publishing this content are not traditional media. They are private corporations, which of course are not accountable in the same way that government-regulated communication or media are. Twitter, Reddit, and others have the right to display some content and to exclude others. When it comes to such gruesome and horrifying content as the beheadings videos, some organizations have chosen to remove offensive accounts, even as others pop up to repost them.

A second recent example is the celebrity nude photo scandal, in which private photos of many Hollywood actresses were posted to various web sites. This comes after a slew of cases involving what some people refer to as “revenge porn,” which has devoted followers and sites designate for making private photographs public material online. Such situations have led 11 states to enact new laws aimed at better tackling revenge porn.

At Reddit, where the celebrity photos garnered the most views in the company’s history, CEO Yishan Wong openly struggled with the decision to keep the photos on the site. Wong published a blog post attempting to clarify the company’s publishing philosophy: “We understand the harm that misusing our site does to the victims of this theft, and we deeply sympathize,” Wong wrote. “Having said that, we are unlikely to make changes to our existing site content policies in response to this specific event.” The blog was inexplicably titled, “Every man is responsible for his own soul.”

Reddit’s policy allows users to post almost anything, as long as it abides by U.S. law. Since linking to stolen material isn’t a crime, Reddit said they didn’t feel obligated to remove the content. Yet about a week after Wong’s blog post, Reddit removed the subreddit “The Fappening,” which was where most of the photos were being viewed. Why? Not because of concerns about free expression, indecency, or theft. It was because some photos were of minors, which does violate U.S. law. But what if there hadn’t been minors? What responsibilities do companies like Twitter and Reddit have in publishing questionable content?

John Milton surely couldn’t have imagined our media landscape today. Even the Hutchins Commission, which labeled 1940s mass communication as the “most powerful single influence on society,” would likely have difficulty applying its requirements to today’s media. So what would they recommend? Is it possible to balance the freedom to publish such content with accountability? How might we begin to encourage and/or enforce social responsibility in an online world? And perhaps more importantly, should such an approach be taken with a medium where, some argue, information wants to be free? As is often the case when I ponder such issues, I’ve come up with more questions than answers. But these kinds of events require us to discuss the tensions between freedom of expression and regulation; social responsibility and accountability; and private and public communication.
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Seriously Skewed: What a Bollywood Movie Would Be Like on Mars

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor

So what would a Bollywood movie set on Mars be like? Pretty much what most earth-bound Bollywood movies are like (although to be fair, the industry has come a long way), and it goes something like this.

Read more: Bollywood, Mars, India, Hollywood, Movies, Hinduism, Islam, Pakistan, Space News, Nasa, Satire, Humor, Funny, Comedy News

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Netflix To Release ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ Sequel

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” the Academy Award-winning martial arts film, is finally getting a sequel — and it’s going to be on Netflix.

The streaming video (and DVDs-by-mail) company announced a deal with The Weinstein Company on Monday night that will bring “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Destiny,” to Netflix subscribers on Aug. 28, 2015. The film will also be shown on select IMAX screens.

Fans will have unprecedented choice in how they enjoy an amazing and memorable film that combines intense action and incredible beauty,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in statement cited by Variety. “We are honored to be working with Harvey Weinstein and a world-class team of creators to bring this epic story to people all over the world and to partner with IMAX, a brand that represents the highest quality of immersive entertainment, in the distribution of this film.”

“The moviegoing experience is evolving quickly and profoundly, and Netflix is unquestionably at the forefront of that movement,” TWC co-chairman Harvey Weinstein said, according to Entertainment Weekly. “We are tremendously excited to be continuing our great relationship with Netflix and bringing to fans all over the world the latest chapter in this amazing and intriguing story.”

Netflix has been expanding its original programming with shows such as “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and the animated series “BoJack Horseman.” Unlike network television, which releases one episode at a time, Netflix has been posting entire seasons at once, feeding the “binge-watching” trend.

Now the company appears to be taking aim at what’s known as the windowing system, in which films are usually shown exclusively in theaters before being released for home viewing via DVD, Blu-ray, video on demand, etc.

“We fundamentally believe that the only way to attack the windowing system — that is the centerpiece of the business model of the movie industry versus what consumers want — requires an outsider,” Rich Greenfield, a media analyst with BTIG Research, told The New York Times. “Netflix already changed the TV business in a very, very significant way. The movie business is teed up next.”

Released in 2000, the original “Crouching Tiger” film was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It ultimately won four: Best Foreign Language Film, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score and Best Cinematography.

Actress Michelle Yeoh will reprise her role as Yu Shu Lien while Donnie Yen will join the cast as Silent Wolf, according to Variety. However, director Ang Lee will not be returning. Yuen Wo Ping, who choreographed the fight scenes in the first film, will direct the sequel.

The Verge reports that filming is currently under way in New Zealand.

“‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend’ echoes the themes of the original movie, but tells its own story — one of lost love, young love, a legendary sword and one last opportunity at redemption, set against breathtaking action in an epic martial arts battle between good and evil that will decide the fate of the Martial World,” the press release states.
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James Napoli: Breaking: Dude with 38,000 Twitter Followers Stops Tweeting. Nothing Changes.

September 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor

According to sources at the United Nations, neither the troubling events in Syria or Ukraine have changed in the slightest in the wake of a man with so many thousands of Twitter followers deciding to call it quits.

Read more: Social Media, Entertainment, Social Networking, Satire, Twitter, Media, Technology, Ukraine, World News, Syria, Comedy News

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Live Video From The Times Center Lobby At Advertising Week 2014

September 29, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

Advertising Week 2014 is underway! To ensure you don’t miss panel discussions or speeches from your favorite leaders in the advertising industry, we’re livestreaming the events from venues around New York City all week.
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NY Post Mocks Chelsea Clinton’s Baby. No, Really.

September 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

Because obviously, even babies deserve the loving scrutiny only the world’s classiest tabloid can provide.

PHOTO:
new york post
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This Reporter’s Interview With Kristen Wigg And Bill Hader Is Hilariously Awkward

September 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

This reporter probably should’ve seen “The Skeleton Twins” before he interviewed the film’s stars, Kristen Wigg and Bill Hader. But if he had, we wouldn’t have this hilariously awkward moment.

News anchor Chris Parente starts off his interview with Hader and Wigg by asking them to describe the film’s plot. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Parente asks Wigg, “Kristen, I am thinking, on this program, of doing the news completely full-frontal, completely nude. Do you recommend that? Do you have advice for going nude?”

Wigg, like everyone else, was completely thrown off by the question: “Um, do I have advice for going nude?”

When Parente says, “You do it in the film!” Wigg quickly catches onto his mistake.

“Not this movie. That’s a different movie,” Wigg clarifies, referring to her nude scene in “Welcome To Me.”

The “Bridesmaids” actress ended up saving the totally awkward moment, listing off ridiculous plot twists that never actually happen in “The Skeleton Twins.” Luckily, Parente was interviewing two actors with a sense of humor.

Watch the painfully awkward clip here:

[h/t E! News]
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(VIDEO) Addressable TV Ads Are ‘Holy Grail’: Videology’s Scott Ferber

September 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

COLOGNE — Imagine the highly targeted advertising the web is great at plus the broad reach that only ye olde TV can deliver. Old-fashioned broadcasters have long resisted but are now warming to the idea, says one online video technology boss.

“The IP capabilities are so great right now, that makes it easy to focus on just digital video,” tells Videology CEO Scott Ferber tells Beet.TV in this recorded panel interview with LUMA Partners founder Terence Kawaja at DMEXCO. ”However, the big opportunity is truly linear feed. We’re focused on the 20% (of industry revenue) – but the 80%. is the big opportunity.

“Very traditional television media buyers are now starting to say, ‘If I could have the data and the addressability of the internet, I would love it.’ They’d love to be able to pick up behavioural oriented data from the internet that they don’t really have in the traditional demographic information (sets) sets.”

This video is part of series of videos covering DMEXCO.  Please find all of our coverage of the show right here.

You can find this post on Beet.TV.

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Renee Fisher: Let’s Trash Books

September 26, 2014 by  
Filed under Humor

Like finally being asked out by the cute boy at school and then finding out he has really bad breath and no personality, Life in the Boomer Lane has lately been disappointed by a couple best-selling books.

Read more: Commentary, Book Reviews, Humor, Satire, Books, The Fever, The Auschwitz Escape, Fifty News

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Ruling Galaxies But Not Countries: New Research on Women in Film

September 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Videos

It’s a pleasure to feature a research/industry collaboration that is having measurably positive effect. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (GDIGM) has a long-standing relationship with Dr. Stacy Smith‘s laboratory at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Smith has conducted more than two dozen studies on gender and media. With the findings, she, Davis and GDIGM CEO Madeline DiNonno have forged a unique and positive strategy for engaging industry leaders.

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The most recent research — debuting this week at GDIGM-sponsored forums in New York, Washington and Los Angeles — is an international analysis of movie characters in 11 countries’ recent domestic films (Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United Kingdom and the US). The study covers 120 films — 10 per country, with an extra category for US/UK co-productions — that were rated each country’s equivalent of G, PG or PG-13.

To be honest, the results are pretty bleak. A female in film is more likely to be royalty or a galactic ruler than a political leader (of the 12 found across 120 films in the study, three were Margaret Thatcher).

Worldwide, across about 5,800 speaking or named characters, roughly 69 percent were male and 31 percent female. Fewer than a quarter of the films had a female lead. These numbers have changed little in the past 50 years: Davis notes that at the current rate of change, parity will be achieved in “just 700 years” and says “we are working hard to cut that in half.”

Some countries do better, some worse. Of particular note, UK-only films are far more equitable than US/UK co-productions.

In a previous study, GDIGM found that crowd scenes average about 17 percent female. Davis has a theory that writers, directors and animators think women don’t “gather”; presumably, she suggests, “they have better things to do.”

It’s not just ratios. Females are vastly more often the subject of references to weight or beauty, shown in revealing clothing or in some state of nudity. Distressingly, teen females are equally sexualized as those age 20-39. (At the risk of employing a double standard, it’s nearly as sad that older women lose virtually all sexuality.)

Women are vastly under-represented in professional roles. In no country were they shown as participating in the workforce at a percentage equal to real life. Beyond the political realm mentioned above, women with “clout” are in short supply in filmed portrayals of business, law, academia, entertainment and religion. They are shortchanged, as well, in STEM professions despite — at least in some countries -concerted efforts to foster progress among girls and women in science.

A key element in the path to equality is increasing representation of women behind the camera. To the extent gender could be identified, women constituted only 7 percent of directors, just under 20 percent of writers, and about 23 percent of producers in the international study.

Some might take in these numbers and start to “name and shame” studios, channels or producers. GDIGM has taken a different, constructive approach, focusing on simple solutions that don’t intrude on creative freedom, cost money or time.

Geena Davis’ stature (pun fully intended) in the industry gets her in the door to meet with senior executives; they know she’s not a basher and understands their business.

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Once there, she asks questions as simple as “what if…,” “what do you think…” and “what would it take…” (she’s even done this on set). Usually, the answer is “not much.” In 2010, after GDIGM’s initial studies analyzing gender balance in movies and TV, Stacy Smith asked studio leaders how difficult it would be to achieve parity in children’s and family films. Half indicated that it would be “not at all” difficult – the talent was there and they had some flexibility in casting, depending on stories’ needs.

The Institute had simple ideas for writers, too; as basic as altering a script, from “a crowd gathers” to “a crowd gathers; half are female.”

It works. In a recent survey of those GDIGM had briefed, 68 percent said they had used the Institute’s research to influence two or more projects; 41 percent said three or more. The most frequent changes were to “aspirations or occupations” of female characters, followed by altered dialogue.

GDIGM’s motto has been “if she can see it, she can be it.” At present, girls still need corrective lenses to see their true potential, but the Institute remains optimistic. In an interview with USA Today, Davis said: “Art doesn’t have to imitate life. We can turn it around so life will imitate art.”

Have you asked a “what would it take” question today?

Full disclosure: I’m a longtime member of the GDIGM “Ambassador Council and was an Honorary Committee member for the recent New York forum. I come by my passion for gender equity in children’s media honestly. I was well trained by a strong mother (and a feminist father) and three strong older sisters, and further shaped by a strong wife and two strong daughters. My very first foray into children and media was a paper on sexism in children’s literature that I wrote as a high school junior.

This article first appeared in Kidscreen on September 25, 2014.
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