Cookie-Cutter News Taking Over U.S. Media Market

If your local TV news broadcasts are all starting to sound the same from channel to channel, it’s because they are. A sneaky form of media consolidation is happening all over the country called “covert consolidation” in which different local TV newscasts use the exact same stories, the same video, same scripts and the same viewpoints, but do it under different “brands.” Covert consolidation occurs when a number of TV stations in the same area are owned by a single corporate entity. Broadcasters between the multiple stations will share their news operations to save money. Covert consolidation not only circumvents Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules regarding ownership of stations, it also eliminates independent local journalism and the competition and diversity between stations that are the basis of a healthy democracy. Covert consolidation has been documented in 83 of the nation’s 210 news communities throughout the U.S. as TV stations across the country quietly merge newsrooms to cut costs — all at a time when broadcasters are already making record profits. Covert consolidation is also a factor blocking  minorities and women from owning and operating TV stations. Big media companies are using loopholes and backroom deals to get around FCC rules prohibiting media consolidation. To draw attention to the problem of covert consolidation, FreePress.org has created an interactive map showing which stations across the U.S. are consolidated, and the severity of the consolidation. FreePress also offers a free “Change the Channels” tool kit (pdf) people can download to document and record media consolidation in their areas, and instructions for  exposing covert consolidation in your own local community.

Main source: FreePress/SaveTheNews.org, May 29, 2012

The Average Soda is 6 Times Bigger Than in the 1950s?

The average fast food restaurant meal today is over four times bigger than it was in the 1950s, according to a new website by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The site, MakingHealthEasier.org, encourages healthy behaviors to help head off chronic disease. CDC finds that portion creep has resulted in a “new abnormal” for food portions in American society. In the 1950s, the average fountain soda at a fast food restaurant was just 7 ounces. Today it’s 42 ounces. The average hamburger was 3.9 ounces, and today it’s 12 ounces. A portion of french fries in the 1950s was just 2.4 ounces and today it is 6.7 ounces. Since the early 1900s, the average size of a chocolate bar has increased by 1,233 percent. Since the 1960s, the weight of the average American woman has increased by 24.5 pounds and the average weight of a man has increased by 28 pounds. As portions have grown, so have obesity and diabetes, and the problems and medical expense they bring.  In 1958, only about one percent of the country’s population had diabetes. By 2009, that number had risen 22 percent. In 2011, an estimated  25.6 million (11.3%) (pdf) of people age 20 and above were diagnosed with diabetes in the U.S., with an estimated 7 million more undiagnosed. Medical expenses for diabetics are over two times greater than people without diabetes.

Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control, May 21, 2012

Skip TV Ads, Go to Jail?

The major television networks ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC are arguing that skipping commercials while watching TV shows recorded on a digital video recorder (DVR) is illegal. In a lawsuit against Dish Network, the TV networks are charging that a new feature called “AutoHop” on Dish’s new DVR that allows people to skip TV ads “induces” copyright infringement. The networks claim that skipping ads in effect robs the advertisers who pay good money to the networks with the expectation that viewers will be forced to see them. The problem is that the manufacturer of a technology can’t be held liable for inducing copyright infringement unless customers are actually proven to infringe, so the networks must prove to a court that people who simply record a TV show, watch it at a later time and skip the ads are violating federal copyright law. The networks’ suit mimics a previous lawsuit they filed in 2002 against a company called ReplayTV that made a recording device with an automatic commercial-skip feature. The sheer expense of the lawsuit drove ReplayTV out of business before a court could rule on their theory of copyright infringement. Now the networks are leveling same charges against Dish, but Dish is fighting back. It’s filed its own lawsuit against the networks charging them with attempting to stifle its latest innovation. In its counter-suit, Dish points out that its “Hopper” recorder does not erase or delete any commercials, and they “remain on the recording and can be readily viewed at each customer’s individual option.”

Main source: Electronic Frontier Foundation, May 25, 2012

Syrian Activist Video Documents Results of May 25 Massacre in Homs

Activists opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad posted a startling YouTube video of the aftermath of the Syrian government’s May 25, 2012 massacre of 51 children and nearly as many adults. In the video, a man picks up the bodies of the dead and mangled children one at a time. As he shows them to the camera, a voice says “These are children, for God’s sake! Hey, World, look at Assad’s crimes! God is greater than you, you arrogant murderer!” English subtitles translate voices in the video that urge the international community to intervene to save the Syrian people. United Nations officials report Syrian government artillery and tank fire killed more than 90 people total in the district of Houla in the central province of Homs, which has been under almost constant attack by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad for months. Syria’s state-run news agency blamed the massacre on non-specific “armed terrorists.” The Syrian government restricts journalists from entering the country, and since several journalists attempting to cover what has been happening in Syria have lost their lives, amateur videos like this one posted on YouTube are the outside world’s main source of information about what is happening inside Syria. WARNING: The video is graphic.

Source: Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2012 and YouTube, May 25, 2012

R.J. Reynolds’ “Salem Black Initiative,” 1989

This 1989 R.J. Reynolds marketing report summarizes a company brainstorming session to find ways to increase sales of Salem cigarettes to African Americans. It exemplifies how marketers view a target audience and try to appeal to them, in this case to market an addictive and deadly product. The report concludes that “the best way to reach minority consumers is through their local communities.” It says,

“…the brand’s support must be seen as being backed by other blacks — not as a big white company’s tactic to sell to blacks. If Salem can become a positive contributing factor to blacks’ economic and personal well-being, it could ultimately be ‘unpatriotic to smoke anything else.”

RJR's 2004 Kool Mixx campaign featured images of rappers, DJs and dancers on cigarette packs and in ads.

The marketers say “Salem should be seen as a friend,” and suggest ways to play up the positive aspects of [young adult] black smokers and their lifestyle, listing words and fashion items from the African American community at the time:

“…fresh” “fade” (kill) “bank” (money) “hooked”(together) “chillin'” “def” (cold, funky, hard, it’s happening) “stylin'” “dis” (disrespectful) – lots of bracelets – 2-3 holes in ear (African influence) – nose studs – fades, parts, braids – thrashed jeans – micro spandex shorts – side snap warm-up suits…”

Amazon.com is 16th Corporation to End its Affiliation with ALEC

The retail internet behemoth Amazon.com announced it would cut its ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) after activist groups delivered a petition signed by over a half million people asking the company to ditch the conservative organization. The petitions were delivered at Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting in Seattle, Washington. They filled seven bankers’ boxes, and were collected by ColorOfChange.org, People for the American Way, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other progressive groups. Amazon.com joined ALEC in 2011, and worked with them on tax issues. Amazon spokeswoman Mary Osako stated that “…[W]e’ve decided not to renew our participation in ALEC, in part because of positions that group took on issues unrelated to our business.” She did not say what the issues were. At the meeting, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos also promised to spend $52 million to improve working conditions at its warehouse facilities, including retrofitting them with air conditioning. ALEC is the legislative bill mill implicated in spreading legislation like the “shoot first” law that led to the Trayvon Martin case, voter ID laws that block people’s access to the ballot box, school voucher bills that direct taxpayer money to private and religious schools, and other controversial legislation that has been sweeping the country state by state.

Tobacco Companies Work in Secret to Defeat California’s Proposition 29

A pitched battle is on over California’s Proposition 29, a measure on the statewide ballot to raise the cigarette tax by one dollar to fund smoking cessation and research on tobacco-related diseases. If enacted, the measure would increase California’s per-pack cigarette tax to $1.87 per pack.  According to Maplight, the biggest donors favoring the tax are the American Cancer Society ($7.42 million), the Lance Armstrong Foundation  ($1.5 million), the American Heart Association ($546,256), the American Lung Association ($412,086) and Michael R. Bloomberg ($500,000). Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Steve Jobs, kicked in $25,000 to support Prop. 29. But those amounts pale in comparison to the tidal wave of money tobacco companies and their allies are pouring into defeating the measure. Philip Morris (Altria) alone has given just over $24 million, Reynolds American, Inc. has put in $9.57 million, and U.S. Smokeless (also owned by Altria) has put in $1.5 million. The California Republican Party contributed $1.14 million to defeat the tax. As usual, tobacco companies are trying to hide their role in the campaign by refusing to speak to journalists, running ads without their fingerprints on them and fighting the campaign through a front group, “Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,” which is aligned with right wing, pro-business groups funded by millionaires and billionaires like Americans for Prosperity, FreedomWorks, the Chamber of Commerce and the Petroleum Marketers Association. Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending doesn’t even list tobacco companies among the “No” campaign’s endorsers on the group’s website — as if tobacco companies weren’t involved.

Billboard Companies Poisoning Trees

Poisoned trees in front of a billboard (Photo credit:FairWarning.org/NC DOT)

A former billboard company employee in Tallahassee, Florida has revealed that billboard companies intentionally poison trees that block their billboards from view. Robert Barnhart, a former crew chief for Lamar Advertising, stated in court filings that he was instructed to poison trees located on private property not belonging to Lamar if they were too big to be pruned or cut back, and blocked Lamar’s boards from view. In a court filing (pdf), Barnhart states he was instructed to wear nondescript clothing without any logos, drive to the area of the offending tree in a truck without Lamar logos, park several blocks away from the offending tree, walk over, use a machete to hack into the root system surrounding the tree’s base and pour herbicide onto the roots. The herbicide was kept in containers marked “AC Cleaner.” Barnhart said he was instructed to do this at least seven times. The actions violate numerous laws and constitute criminal mischief, trespassing, and violation of environmental laws regarding dumping of poison on land. After Barnhart provided his employer with a written objection to the offensive practice, he was subsequently threatened with termination and then fired. It wasn’t Lamar’s first such offense, either. In 2010, Lamar was found liable for trespassing and killing 83 trees along Interstate 84, and in 2009 Lamar was ordered to pay about $182,000 to a couple in Ohio for killing 34 trees on their property to improve views of their billboards. Lamar owns approximately 146,000 billboards in 44 states.

Source: FairWarning.org, (news of safety, health and corporate conduct), April 26, 2012

Skechers Pays $40 Million for Deceptively Advertising “Butt Toning” Shoes

Kim Kardashian helped market Skechers "toning shoes"

Skechers, the maker of those roly-poly  “toning shoes” that were a big craze back in 2010, will shell out $40 million to settle charges that it deceived consumers with phony claims the shoes conferred health benefits like weight loss, muscle strengthening and butt toning.  Back in 2010, fitness footwear companies like Skechers, Nike and Reebok raked in about $1.1 billion from the “toning shoe” market by charging between $100 and $200 a pair for the shoes. Skechers controlled about 60 percent of the market, and Reebok had about a 33 percent share. The companies created demand for the shoes by running ads that falsely claimed they would help wearers “shape up while you walk” or  “get in shape without setting foot in a gym.” The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged that the shoe manufacturers fudged studies and statistics to make claims about the shoes that they could not support. Last  September, Reebok agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges that it deceptively advertised roly-poly shoes with names like TrainTone, RunTone and EasyTone.  The companies are paying the millions of dollars into a fund to which shoe purchasers can apply for a refund. If you bought Reebok toning shoes, you can click here to apply for a refund. People who fell for Skechers “butt toning” shoe ads and bought them can keep an eye on this website to get refunds when the account it set up.

Main source: Advertising Age, May 16, 2012

Is the Limbaugh Show on the Ropes in Missoula?

Rush Limbaugh

Twenty advertisers have now officially pulled their ads from Rush Limbaugh’s show on KGVO talk radio in Missoula, Montana, and the airwaves went dead during his show not once, but twice — and for more than a minute each time — on Friday, May 20th. Another sign Limbaugh could be in trouble in Missoula: KGVO has started broadcasting brief comedy bits during what would normally be blocks of advertising time on Limbaugh’s show, according to listeners from RushOutOfMissoula.com, the effort to push Limbaugh off the radio in Missoula.  RushOutOfMissoula.com posts a frequently-updated list of current advertisers on Limbaugh’s show on their web page, along with the businesses’ contact information, and asks people to contact the businesses and ask them to “stop putting money in that bully’s pocket” by pulling their ads. The web page urges callers to remain polite and respectful. Many advertisers have pulled their ads as a way to remain neutral in the conflict. Businesses still advertising on Limbuagh’s show on KGVO include Allegiant Airlines, Adair Jewelers, Air Quality Mechanical, Bagels on Broadway, Edward Jones, Furniture Row, Hoagieville, Lithis Chrysler, The Montana Club, the Ravalli Family of Banks and Time Rental.  Jim Adair, owner of Adair Jewelers — one of the remaining local advertisers on Limbaugh’s show in Missoula — is fighting back by increasing his ads on the show, and running ads saying he is being blackmailed by people who want to take all talk radio off the air.  RushOutOfMissoula.com reports that 1,751 people have now signed their petition asking KGVO to take Limbaugh off the radio in their town.  RushOutOfMissoula.com was organized after Limbaugh carried on a three day tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke late last February in which he called her a “slut” and repeatedly derided and insulted her for testifying before Congress about the need to fund women’s health care.