May 19, 2017 Last Updated 7:38 am

FCC and the media: Rule changes could dramatically change media ownership landscape in US

Morning Brief: Roll Call reporter and chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team, John M. Donnelly, was ‘manhandled’ by security guards as he attempted to ask FCC commissioners questions yesterday

During the presidential campaign Donald Trump several times mentioned his desire to change the nation’s libel laws. Along with his frequent criticism of the media as promoters of ‘fake news,’ his threat to look at libel laws was a clear signal that press freedom in the US would be under attack should he win the White House.

I’m going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money,” Trump said on the campaign trail.

Indeed, the new administration has looked at libel laws, with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus saying last month on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos “I think that’s something we’ve looked at, and how that gets executed and whether that goes anywhere is a different story.”

But changing libel laws would prove difficult. Current laws make it difficult to sue for libel in the US, and the aggrieved party must prove malice, that what they were reporting was actually false, but reported it anyways. Plus the courts, citing the First Amendment, might strike down any new laws as unconstitutional.

But changing the rules of the game for media can be done in other ways. For instance, the examples of reporters being harassed and sometimes arrested this year have increased. Pro-Trump bots and trolls continue to harass journalist online, though many are now getting used to it, and many readers are now learning to identify bots and trolls in comment threads.

The FCC, meanwhile, is actively pursuing changes to regulations that some media companies will find a positive change, but many others will object to. The rules governing media consolidation, for instance, will give huge advantages to media monopolies, possibly driving some media companies out of business. And changes to net neutrality laws might put many media companies at a disadvantage should the large cable companies decide to tier their services to their detriment.

The National Press Club, Julie Schoo:

Reporter manhandled by FCC guards because he asked question

Security guards at the Federal Communications Commission headquarters here manhandled a well-regarded reporter at a public hearing today and forced him to leave the premises after he had tried to politely ask questions of FCC commissioners.

The reporter, John M. Donnelly of CQ Roll Call, is an award-winning journalist. He is also chairman of the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team and president of the Military Reporters & Editors association. He has chaired the NPC Board of Governors and formerly served on the Standing Committee of Correspondents in the U.S. Congress, which credentials the Washington press corps.

Donnelly said he ran afoul of plainclothes security personnel at the FCC when he tried to ask commissioners questions when they were not in front of the podium at a scheduled press conference.

The Hill, Harper Neidig:

Sinclair deal puts heat on FCC

The proposed acquisition by Sinclair Broadcasting Group of Tribune Media Company is inflaming criticism of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which helped pave the way for the deal by relaxing media ownership restrictions…

…Broadcasters are now limited to serving 39 percent of the country’s households. Last month, the FCC reinstated what’s known as the UHF discount, which makes stations that used to broadcast on ultra-high frequency count less toward the 39 percent ownership limit. Without the discount, Sinclair already reaches 38 percent of U.S. households, according to an analysis from Fitch Ratings. Once the discount goes into effect, the Fitch study finds, Sinclair’s share will drop to 25 percent — giving the company more room to buy local television stations.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange had his rape charges dropped by Swedish prosecutors — but his troubles, rather than going away, may increase. Without any official charges against him, the Ecuadorean Embassy in London may well see this as their chance to get rid of their most famous resident.

FranchInfo are reporting that Assange has asked for asylum in France.

But US authorities may still pursue a case against Assange for his involvement in recent hacking episodes.

“We know there has been an open investigation against WikiLeaks for quite a few years,” Christophe Marchand, a lawyer representing Assange, told Le Monde. “There were also very recent statements by the CIA chief, who said he was making the fight against WikiLeaks and Julian Assange his priority, considering them a secret non-state service. It is a new way of seeing freedom of information that makes us fear the worst.”

The New York Times, Christina Anderson and Dan Bilefsky:

Sweden Drops Investigation of Julian Assange, WikiLeaks Founder

Prosecutors in Sweden said on Friday that they would drop their investigation into Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder who sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London five years ago after the authorities in Stockholm opened a preliminary rape inquiry against him.

With a legal cloud hanging over him, Mr. Assange, 45, an Australian, had refused to go to Sweden for fear of being extradited to the United States, but the decision does not mean that Mr. Assange is in the clear.


UK police say WikiLeaks’ Assange will be arrested if he leaves Ecuador’s embassy

British police said WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange would still be arrested if he leaves the Ecuadorean embassy in London after Swedish prosecutors said on Friday they would drop a preliminary investigation into an allegation of rape against him.

Assange, 45, has been holed up in the embassy since 2012 after skipping bail to avoid extradition to Sweden over the allegation of rape, which he denies.

“Westminster Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the arrest of Julian Assange following him failing to surrender to the court on the 29 June 2012,” London police said in a statement. “The Metropolitan Police Service is obliged to execute that warrant should he leave the Embassy.”

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