Tensions in the Checks and Balances

by Coyote Jack on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons License Attribution 2.5I watched Part 1 of Frontline’s News War on PBS a few weeks ago, and I left the show with many new questions. What are the constitutional freedoms and constraints of the government and the press? What values (or wastes) is our current media structure producing? Who are the customers of the media and the government? I would like to share a few highlights of the show with you that opened up these questions in me.

  • The Changing Role of Confidentiality: Tom Rosentiel claimed that before and during Watergate, confidentiality was a tool offered to reluctant sources in order to have them speak. Now, this has changed; often the source imposes confidentiality on the reporter. He uses the example of Deep Throat to show that a case of a reporter urging his source to speak was very different than a high-level politician speaking to a journalist and spinning the journalist under the guise of confidentiality.
  • Confidentiality as an Integral Part of a Journalist’s Role: Leonard Downie Jr. talked about the precept in journalism that a journalist should protect his/her sources at all times. This ethic protects the journalist tradition: if a journalist breaks her promise of confidentiality, that journalist can no longer be trusted by her sources and thus can no longer perform her job.
  • The Branzburg v. Hayes Case and the Rights of a Journalist: Branzburg v. Hayes (in my limited understanding) was a case brought before the Supreme Court asking the question if journalists are protected by the constitution not to testify in criminal cases against their confidential source. The Supreme Court decided they were not . About it, Earl Caldwell said that the First Amendment protects the process of free speech along with free speech itself. James Goodale claimed that the press cannot be the arm of law enforcement because then this group, responsible to showing citizens what is happening in their world, including in the elite sectors of government, business, entertainment, etc., is not able to uncover and show problems as well. Another opinion was given by William Bradford Reynolds, the prosecutor on the case, who said that he understood the principle that journalists held, but that is was also the duty of a citizen to tell the authorities when they know of criminal action happening.
  • Confidentiality as a Structure to Support Important Relationships in Society: Another articulation I found very valuable from this conversation was that certain confidential relationships are protected legally from having to testify against their counterpart: husband & wives, lawyer & client… Confidentiality in these relationships are protected as a way (declared by whom?) to build important societal relationships. Another question I have here is why are journalists not protected under the constitution the same way as lawyers/clients? What is the (legal and other) understanding of journalism in our society? Who declared it as such and what problems/advantages did this bring and is bringing now?

The tension that I see (from this documentary and in our present society) exists between journalists protecting their sources as a way to reveal the major secretive breakdowns in domains of our society and the protection of the citizens against criminal and terrorists acts. When does one practice reach a point where it can be declared that it is harming the values of the country and where is it acceptable?

And as I finish writing all of this, an articulation is coming to me in a visual image. Our country is not an innately “free and democratic” entity but instead is a ever-changing mesh where if you pull on it in one direction, tension increases and other domains shrink. This could happen when one aspect of society increases power, and another loses freedom. This balance seems to me to be very delicate, and as citizens, we should be diligently responsible to watch these tensions and act when they are no longer producing the shape of the country we want to live under.

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How Sarah wasn’t there, and I found my blog.

photo-29.jpgWell, hello internet community. This is my very first blog. I expect my bloggin trajectory to be quite long, pretty much emcompassing my entire life from now. As I see it, blogging and other forms of building internet identity will become crusial in our everyday life (even more so than now). I have no idea how, when, why yet, but I’m betting that it will be.

A very good friend of mine, Sarah Cove, shares this gut feeling, this hunch that seems to make so much sense but I can’t explain yet, and we have decided to study up on this phenomenon and try to master some skills that will allow us to articulate a cohesive story about the internet. If she doesnt agree she will respond to my blog, I trust.

I’m embarrased to admit that initially I wanted to start my blog with a pompus schpeel about CODE 2.0, a book that I have partially read and that, notwithstanding its great content, I have not even begun to explore. So you must imagine how unprepared I felt to make my first blog, my first step into what I consider the rest of my cyber life. Confronted with such qualms I called Sarah…. no answer. I opened my blog and had no idea what to write about… I called Sarah again. She wasn’t there.

Noentheless, I decided to embark on this blog. Why do I belive cyberspace is a powerful tool? Because it leads to honest, fruitful conversations about our futures. A place where communitites can be built and enriched, a new America with wild Buffalo and endless forests, great rivers and mountains, and all sorts of riches to be dicovered.

And what better way to start, than to establish a frank conversation. I’m glad I had to tackle this by myself because in the end this is my blog. A world of my curiosity, my qualms, and struggles in attempting to enter this cyber community. I know I’m not the first and wont be the last blogger, but this will certaintly be my blog, my cyber life.

Anyway, so here it is, my first cyber me. I hope to see me grow here.

I added a picture, which I dont know where it will go, but its me and my puppy.

Plagarism Versus Copyright Infringement

I just listened to a podcast by Open Source. In this podcast, they discuss the historical and current practice around copyright infringement, and claim that the tighter practice and debate of copyright has only developed in the last 20 years or so. It is an interesting discussion that you can find, along with the podcast, here.

They also brought forth a new distinction for me: plagarism versus copyright infringement. I had never differentiated between the two, but they claim that plagarism is an ethical wrong, determined by a community of artists (whether academic scholars, musicians, etc.) while copyright infringement is a legal one. There is a small intersection between the two. The example they give is if a journalist is pushed for time and stupidly grabs a column written by someone else in a copyrighted journal, puts his/her name at the top, and prints it.

There are some interesting discussions at Open Source’s site. I especially liked silvio.rabioso’s suggestions of further reading. More avenues to explore.

An Invitation

There is a lot of unsettlement happening right now around what is media, what is its role in a democracy, what will its role be in the future, how can interesting new spaces for journalism be constructed to expand freedom and knowledge of the world. This blog is an experiment in these conversations. And we invite you to join with us and hopefully build something valuable.