Category Archives: media democracy

The metered Internet threat to innovation & access to information

Remember the early days of mass public access to the world wide web? Back when AOL was king, noisy dial-up modems were par for the course and having any graphics on a webpage was super-fancy? Remember in 1993 or so, when you’d connect to the Internet, download your email as quickly as possible, disconnect to read the text and write your responses, then connect and send your pre-written emails as quickly as possible? It’s the type of scenario today’s kids would find baffling and hilarious: clunky, unwieldy, expensive, and certainly not one that encouraged increased use of the technology.

Well, everything old is new again. The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission), Canada’s telecom regulator that brought us nearly-neutrality rules just a year ago, recently issued a decision on “usage based billing” or UBB (Telecom Decision CRTC 2011-44). And the meter on your Internet may well be back on – albeit measuring bytes rather than seconds this time around.

A lot of reaction to this decision is coming out, and more analysis will follow in the coming days, I’m sure. OpenMedia.ca has a petition up, Canadian news outlets are covering the decision (and reaction) widely, and online content providers are understandably furious.

I haven’t gotten a chance to comb through the decision in detail yet, and I have to take a couple of boys to the science museum shortly, but there are a few points I want to make right off the bat. I may be back later to comment further or clarify these quick notes.

1) UBB is not the same issue as net neutrality (unless #2 applies)

The reason usage-based billing sounds so appealing, so normal,  is that we do pay per item/metered amount for a lot of goods. We pay for utilities like hydro (hydro = electricity for you non-Canadians) on a metered basis, and many areas also meter water (although that is not without controversy). Frankly, the UBB idea is a brilliant example of big ISPs hearing the pro-neutrality argument that Internet should be treated like a utility and running with that concept, turning it to their advantage.

A lot of the same folk who were up in arms over net neutrality are upset about this UBB ruling. And they have good reason to be outraged. However, in strict sense, UBB is not in contradition with net neutrality (where net neutrality = slowing down of selected content en route to the consumer). My understanding of the CRTC UBB decision is that it is supposed to be content-agnostic, and only size-based. Now, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, policy-wise, anyway (as I will discuss below), but it’s not necessairly non-neutral.

However, metered use makes sense for goods for which we have  a finite supply, not for things like information, which do not require rationing. Economically speaking, information is a non-rivalrous good, meaning that my use of the good (say, a webpage, journal article or TV show) does not in any way prevent you from also using & enjoying the same good.

I know, I know, there’s that old argument about your pipes getting clogged because your neighbours are downloading too much big stuff all the time, but frankly Canadian ISPs have been given ample opportunity to show evidence of this overload, and none has materialised. In fact, the logs we did see during the net neutrality hearings showed the exact opposite of congestion, making it clear that this is just a cash grab. (I do want to make the point, however, that even if congestion were present – and eventually it may exist if ISPs fail to invest in their infrastructure – that does not mean that the correct response is to slow down Canada’s Internet in response. Other industries are required to upgrade their infrastructure over time as needs change or parts get old and fail.)

2) UBB is a potential neutrality workaround

While I think the intent of the CRTC  is allow metering of all Internet content equally within the same subscription plan, and to do otherwise is likely a violation of the still-untested CRTC net neutrality rules, there is a lot of scope here for ISPs to provide favourable conditions for content from which they benefit.

For example, an ISP may offer special promotional “exemptions” from UBB for content offered by their parent company – dinging, say, Netflix while exempting their own online TV/movie service. This isn’t throttling content in the “pipes” or charging a toll to content providers for content delivery, it’s charging a toll to users for content access. It’s throttling the consumer’s wallet.

3) UBB is a giant threat to access to information, and to innovation

Here’s where it gets really ugly. Imagine what it would (will?) be like when we are charged by the byte for information downloaded (and possibly also uploaded?) over our connections.

No one knows how much bandwidth they’re using so they minimize use, fearing fees. AJAX is no longer an asset; it is a liability and we disconnect from continuously refreshing websites to save bandwidth. The pressure is on for online content to be as compressed as possible, hitting the art community hard. Community wireless, such as building-wide wifi in co-op housing, becomes potentially pricey and hard to control.Schoolkids are no longer encouraged to post videos from the classroom to demonstrate and share learning. Employers start to police recreational Internet use more than ever. Coffee shops and other hotspots stop offering wifi all together, making life harder for freelancers, the self-employed, students and others without official workspaces.

Fearing the bandwidth limits on their personal subscriptions, the middle-class flock to libraries to do their downloading. Libraries cannot afford this. Libraries may not be able to afford current levels of bandwidth use, if metered, particularly academic libraries or those dealing with subject areas involving rich media (art, film, music…). I cannot over-emphasize the threat to public access to information via libraries here: libraries are currently THE places in society where anyone can access the Internet. If libraries have to limit this, ration it somehow, or lose this role, it will be a tragedy both for libraries and for the public who rely on library Internet. When public Internet access is limited or closed, public access to information, and therefore public participation in democracy, is seriously impinged. With the government increasingly moving to online-only forms, information, and dialogue with the public, how responsible is it to simultaneously move to meter Internet use?

We may move backwards in time, returning to network television for entertainment. Online course reserves could be pricier for the university than those old print custom course packages. We might actually revive the fax machine?!? Why would a country want to push its population back in time, when the rest of the world is jetting ahead with innovative multimedia content and new delivery systems? Hard to say. Just dumb policy-making? The cynic in my says it could be that those making the policy stand to benefit from old media technologies and fear the threat of the new. However we may drag our feet and try to slow things down within national borders, change and innovation are going to happen – if they need to happen elsewhere first, that will happen. Maybe the CRTC needs to attend Karen Schneider’s talk at MLA?

-Greyson

ETA – Well, that didn’t take long. The decision has already been appealed. Fasten your seatbelts!

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Filed under academic libraries, business, democracy, digitization, government information, inclusion/exclusion, Intellectual freedom, Internet, media democracy, net neutrality, privatization, public libraries, technology

Canadian DTCA Charter Challenge Indefinitely Adjourned…and a tree falls in the forest

The News

In the middle of financial turbulence, potential bankruptcy, and a storm of management changes, CanWest Global has decided to seek indefinite adjournment of their court case challenging Canadian restrictions on direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of prescription drugs.  In summary, CanWest was alleging that the ban on certain types of DTCA was infringing on their freedom of expression, especially since they couldn’t make money off that type of ad while media across the border in the US could. The case was seen as a landmark case as it was a challenge to existing law under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (a constitutional law case, for non-Canadians reading this), and thus would set new Canadian constitutional precedent.

The adjournment request came right at the 11th hour, since closing arguments were set to be heard June 15-19, which is to say, this past week. While CanWest can request to revive the case, it seems unlikely at this point, when the company is facing billions in debt and is working to secure major restructuring deals. It appears that CanWest may silently agree with opposing lawyer Stuart Shrybman, that the company should have pulled the plug on this “ill-conceived litigation” months ago,” and that the best option at this point is to avoid pouring more money into what is pretty much a lost cause.

So what? In short, this case has cost both CanWest and the government a lot of money since it was filed in December 2005. Current regulations on DTCA in Canada are not well enforced to begin with, and to my knowledge there’s not much indication that this is changing. However, by not opening the floodgates wider, we may be able to avoid even more expense and needless adverse side effects (such as Vioxx related deaths) that appear to be encouraged by DTCA.

Didn’t hear about this?  I’m not surprised. Somehow nobody else has either.

The News (not)  in the News

This story has been weirdly absent from the media.  And by media, I mean practically everybody.  When I heard about CanWest dropping this case, I immediately ran to my web browser and started searching for early news coverage…nothing.   A week later…still nothing in the mainstream news sources.

The medical journals? One article in the faithful CMAJ, which has offered ongoing coverage of this trial and whose parent organization, the Canadian Medical Assoiaition, has an official position statement opposing “Brand-specific direct-to-consumer advertisements, such as those permitted in the United States.”

Okay, well, I figured that perhaps this was an example of the failures of traditional media.  Maybe media companies aren’t nimble enough to catch this story in a timely manner; maybe the industry carries an inherent bias against reporting on what is essentially a failure (of the cut-your-losses type) of a fellow media behemoth.

The bloggers, though – the bloggers will have lots to say about this, right?  The bloggers are the new media, right?  Citizen journalism! Media democracy! They are us! We are on the ground, everywhere, reporting on the real issues in our spare time, without budgets to support travel expenses or copyediting, and hoping our cameras are not confiscated by the police and our tweets are not blocked.

So far I have found one lonely blog post about this, from the magazine marketing industry, which I’m sure has been watching CanWest’s case avidly, as a CanWest win would potentially open up a whole new world of direct-to-consumer drug ads, with accompanying revenue stream, for magazines as well as television channels. That post did link to one other blog, from a magazine marketing magazine.

But basically, this adjournment has been a tree falling in the forest.  Why?  Is it just tough to compete in the health news arena the week the WHO declares a pandemic? Perhaps, but the possibility of federal regulations on trans-fats  is getting press. Do we feel bad for CanWest, and not want to slag them more? I dunno, we seem to have an appetite for the details of the restructuring /fall of the Asper family empire. Is DTCA just a boring topic? Well, discussions of the topic can certainly be acronym-heavy, but there has been plenty of coverage in the media (even in CanWest outlets) about the recent Plos ONE article, “Twelve Years’ Experience with Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: A Cautionary Tale.”

What’s the deal?  I don’t get it.

My government went to court against the largest media entity in the country, basically won, and no one is in the forest to hear the media giant fall!

For previous posts on direct-to-consumer advertising, see: dtca part 1, and part 2.

Disclosure: I work with authors in the PloS ONE article cited above, including on DTCA-related topics.

ETA – Apparently I (and Google) missed The Tyee’s Hook blog coverage of this on June 12. It’s here, if you’re interested.  Of note in this article is the statement, “a spokesperson for Canwest says the company did not ask for the adjournment and plans to continue the case in the fall” — which is entirely possible but not something I have seen/read elswehere. Anyone reading this have more info on CanWest’s official stance on this?

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Filed under government, Health, media democracy, privatization

About that blank media levy

This weekend my 6 year old and I made a mix CD of his favourite music. We’re swapping it with a handful of other families we know who value music that is palatable to both kids and parents. This type of thing is how we discovered a mutual parent-child love the pop-punk band ALL (we subsequently bought 3 CDs) and the fact that a young soprano is perfect for singing backup to “Video Killed the Radio Star” (we have not bought, nor are we likely to buy, any Buggles CDs).

Unlike the mix tapes I made in junior high in the US, trying to record Dee-Lite and Billy Joel off the radio without getting too much of the announcer’s voice overlapping the end of the tracks, these CDs are more or less legal, thanks to the blank media levy we have in Canada. The same blank media levy that, as I learned at London Drugs this weekend, just increased by $.08 to $.29/CD, making the right to copy music more expensive than the actual media that was conferring the right. (Okay, apparently it’s actually called the Private Copying Levy, but I’ve always heard it called the blank media levy in casual conversation, so for the purposes of this post that’s what I’m sticking to.)

Sheltered USAmerican that I was, I had never heard of blank media levies before coming to library school in Canada. When I learned about this policy tool – and I wish I could remember what class this was in – I was amazed that someone would try to think of a way to make media copying for not-for-profit use legal rather than just ignore the fact that it happens and/or selectively prosecute to try to make an example of people who are doing what everyone was doing.

How Canadian! Sort of resigning to real life, accepting the futility of trying to enforce absolutist laws, and instead attempting to somehow apologize to those whose rights may have been infringed. Back in the US we just denied that regular people broke the laws and then villified those select terrible rotten apples who did nasty things like download copyrighted music.

Of course, there are problems with the blank media levy. For example, a lot of digital media is used for purposes other than duplication of copyrighted materials. It can be argued that private copying – e.g., backups – should perhaps be legal with no additional fees. Small artists who distribute their own music are generally under- or un-represented in the Canadian Private Copyright Collective, and thus get less than their fair share of the levy.

The levy is clearly an imperfect tool.  But a kind of interesting one, in my opinion, when compared with the blunt axe wielded by the RIAA in the US.

With all the hullabaloo about C-61 last year, I was surprised that a hike of CD levy went so under the radar. Yes, Michael Geist and perhaps a few other bloggers mentioned it, but I didn’t really notice, and neither did mainstream media outlets, to my knowledge.

Perhaps because I was so stricken with the sheer, well, difference of the levy approach, when contrasted with the lawsuit approach, I was disappointed that so few people mentioned the existing levy when discussing copyright reform last year. I admit that I wasn’t even really clear on whether C-61, if passed, would even get rid of the levy, or just add axe to tax.

People here seem not to care much for the blank media levy, and certainly no one in my circles has been discussing extending it to, say, MP3 players, as an alternative to DMCA-style copyright reform. Are we just following CRIA’s example, or is there something else going on that is encouraging copyright folk to ditch rather than reform the levy system? Because, when compared with suing teenaged kids and single mums, the levy seems like a viable option somehow. Perhaps setting up the levy vs. DMCA is a false dichotomy. But will the US let Canada get away with neither? I’m not convinced.

-Greyson

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Filed under copyright, digitization, IP, media democracy

YouTube videos on CanWest info issues

I don’t have a television, but I do love to watch stuff on my computer.  Back in the last millenium, when I did have a TV, I didn’t have cable anyway, so I am easily impressed with the amazing diversity of media to which I have access via the Internet.

As you may have noticed from previous blog posts, I am a fan of YouTube and similar video sharing sites. I love them.  I love just searching for a video to explain science concepts that we can’t demo in our kitchen (like that whole beluga whale tail-first-birth so it doesn’t drown thing- so cool!) to the kid. I really appreciate being able to watch various political debates (back in 2000 I couldn’t watch the US presidential debates b/c I couldn’t find anywhere with a TV to watch them), or just see someone’s version of the highlights if I don’t really want to watch the whole thing. I admit ot using short online videos in my teaching quite frequently.

And I absolutely adore the way people are using this medium for activism.

Of course there’s the best ever super simple explaination of net neutrality from the Save the Internet coalition. (Old news in web-time, I know, but still relevant.) Just this week, however, two different new activist videos about CanWest came through my inboxes. Since I’ve been struggling to demonstrate the ironic connection between CanWest’s attempts to muzzle others’ free expression and the company’s fight to be allowed the “free expression” to sell ad airtime to drug companies, I thought I’d highlight both new videos here.

1)Media Blackout: CanWest Global Attacks Drug Ad Laws

This came to me via a colleague’s email. Rob Wipond connects ad revenue in our corporate media with the role of the media as our major source of health information (and historic firings of journalists who deviated from media/advertiser party lines). Not content to merely point out the misleading nature and accompanying health risks of drug advertising, he calls out drug industry-funded health advocacy groups.

2) Canwest Media Bully

I saw this one in my RSS feed from the We Read Banned Books blog.  WorkingTV covers and explains the “SLAPP” lawsuit over the Vancouver Sun parody printed June 2007, making connnections between media concentration and lack of tolerance for diversity of viewpoints.

Tara over at We Read Banned Books commented:

I’m excited to see old school activists start to social media effectively.  This video feels especially appropriate as they are standing up to a mainstream media conglomerate, like CanWest and the Vancouver Sun.  I think this video has much broader appeal than a didactic pamphlet written in Times New Roman 10 point font.  My only critique is the seriously corny folk song at the end

I couldn’t agree more (sorry David Rovics – I am quite fond of you, personally). While neither of these  videos is as slick as the net neutrality clip linked above, they are FAR more engaging than a flyer handed to me on a street corner, another mass email sitting in my inbox, or a speaker that I probably can’t go to see because I can’t get childcare for yet another meeting. And I’m one of the old skool print media lovers, right? (see: no TV)

Call me dumbed-down if you wish, but keep on making these engaging videos!  I love them!

-Greyson

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Filed under censorship, digitization, Health, Intellectual freedom, media democracy, net neutrality, Other blogs, publishing, technology, tips and tools

Canadian Election Advocacy Resources

While there’s been a lot of coverage of the US Election (in particular the, er, interesting choice of an apparent wannabee book-banner as Republican VP nominee), the relatively un-showy and non-flashy Canadian Federal Elections aren’t getting much press in the LIS blogosphere. October 14, 2008 is not just the first Open Access Day, it’s also Election Day for us Canucks!

If you are Canadian in any way, shape or form, you can do something to influence the political agenda in this country.  Telecom and information issues are not really making the headlines in the campaign coverage, even though Canadians clearly care about issues such as copyright and net neutrality in 2008.

Here are a couple of resources to help you remind the candidates that we care about library and information issues, to push the parties to make committments, and to advocate for the kind of change you want to see.

MP Contact Info & Suggested Questions

1) How to contact your candidates

On the Elections Canada FAQ page , find your electoral dictrict by typing in your postal code.

On the lower right-hand side, under “Candidates,” click on:

Who are the candidates in my electoral district?

On the upper right-hand side, under “Related Questions,” click on:

How do I contact the candidates in my electoral district?

This will give you at least the phone number of your candidates.  I know, email is better, but I haven’t found an email directory of all the candidates yet, so the best thing I know to do is google “Firstname Lastname.”

If you know of a better source, please let me know in the comments!

2) What to ask/tell your Candidates?
Obviously, you should ask about anything you find important.  However, two sources that I know of have compiled collections of issues and talking points you may find useful:

  1. The CLA’s 2008 Election Campaign Kit (link to pdf)
  2. The Campaign for Democratic Media‘s question list “Where do the candidates stand on democratic media?” (link to pdf)

The CLA kit offers general election advocacy tips and focuses on 9 issues: Copyright, Library Book Rate, Removal of the GST on Reading Materials, Library services for Canadians with print disabilities,The Community Access Program, Public Library Infrastructure, Support for libraries through Library and Archives Canada, National Literacy Initiatives & Net Neutrality.

The CDM list offers a brief summary of the issues and suggested specific questions to ask candidates about: Net Neutrality, Cultural Funding, Canadian Ownership of Broadcasting & Telecommunications, The CBC, Local News, Employment Equity, Concentrations of Media Ownership, Community Media, Appointments to Federal Boards and Commissions, & Broadcast and Telecom Regulation.

If you get answers from any MP Candidates avout the CDM questions, post them, please! I’m sure the CDM would like to collect responses.

Thanks to the tireless folk at CLA and CDM for making it easier for the rest of us to make a difference!

-Greyson

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Filed under government, media democracy, The Profession, tips and tools

Tomorrow’s History & the Role of Public Libraries

I’ve been thinking about digitization and history; specifically the trusim that history is written by the victors (aka the privileged), and what that means for our current era.

With literacy and war-conquests-slash-oppression on the part of literate groups, orality became devalued as “official” history in most of the mainstream, dominant, Western societies.  Non-literate or illiterate people and groups have largely either been written out or written *about* in what we now deem to be literature and history. (Please forgive my rushed-through and simplistic history of the conquests of literacy-based-culture here…this is just the context part of the post!) With mass printing, the privilege bar to produce, distribute and preserve was reinforced, perhaps nudged a bit, right?  Certainly by the 20th century just writing something down was rarely enough to incorporate it into official narratives of “history”; the writing had to be adjudicated and then reproduced by a professional publisher, preserved by an archivist, or otherwise selected by someone with societal power.

I went to undergrad in 1994.  It was a heady, exciting time, especially if you worked in a library, as I was fortunate enough to do.  The Internet had just gone public!  Netscape and Mozilla were battling it out!  Web 2.0 was already being foreshadowed by innovators like Crayon (remember CraYoN – Create your own newspaper?  Early mashup, back in ‘95!). All the street-level activists in my circles were xeroxing radical zines on their temp job office photocopiers, and the Internet was going to democratize the world! Anyone could publish their work and reach the whole world! Well, anyone in the portions of the world that had electricity at least.  Or at least the literate portions of the world that had electricity…

< – -time warp here- – >

Now, we have these amazing Open Access repositories forming, and we have increasing numbers of people creating and sharing content online. I’m particularly excited about and interested in the community-based archiving projects that are popping up. (**Note to self: write a post about some of these cool projects soon**)

BUT, I have a big concern. I think we’ve all outgrown the “the Internet is going to democratize the world!” phase by now (yes? no?), but I don’t think we’re paying adequate attention to the fact that this migration of “scholarship” and preservation – basically the bulk of what will be tomorrow’s “history”  – is reinforcing the exclusive nature of historical preservation.

We are beginning to see documentation of the same type of hierarchical dynamics in online content generation as we do in printed matter.  I’ve seen recent scholarship focused on the male-female gender gap both in scholarly self-archiving and in creative digital media sharing.

I know most of us aren’t purposefully torching the libraries of our enemies and competitors.  And I don’t want to question the very sensible move of scholarly communication into online, open access format.  But I would like to talk with more folk about how we can hark back to our idealistic 1994 mentality and regain those ideals, if not the naïveté, relating to the potential that digitization holds for the whole of society.

Academic libraries are working fast and furious toward digitally archiving their institutions’ scholarly output.  I think there’s a place for public libraries to serve an organizing function in the community in terms of creating public history. A public history project, perhaps.

Public History Project…I kind of like the sound of that.  Too bad the acronym’s already pretty much “taken.”  Maybe if we slap a “Canadian” on the front end or some such…

Of course, it’s easy to spout off about, and much harder to actually figure out the nuts & bolts: How to you ensure broad community representation?  What do you do with communities that don’t want to participate? How do you select what is of long-term value – or do you at all?  Is that up to the communities themselves, perhaps?  Do you allocate more space to groups under-represented in formal histories and scholarly communities?  Is there content that is unacceptable? What about illegal stuff?  Who’s responsible for the maintenance?  And where does all of this…stuff…reside, anyway?  What formats can reasonably be accepted and preserved? Should the government be involved in this?  What about private funding?  How do you keep things impartial?  Should you strive to keep things impartial?

Despite all of this chaos in my mind about the details, I do think that public libraries are uniquely suited to facilitate a public history project: something technically based on open source software, and developed in coalition with community groups.  And, frankly, perhaps in collaboration with academic libraries, who are doing TONS of work already getting Institutional Repositories up and running.

What are your thoughts?

-Greyson

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Filed under academic libraries, archives, censorship, community development, digitization, gender, globalization, media democracy, OA, preservation, public libraries, publishing, racism, technology

Irresponsible health news reporting redux: the CBC on bone density & breast cancer

Can you stand to hear me kvetch again about irresponsible health reporting?

Today it’s the CBC (among others), whose health headline screams: Bone density level may act as predictor of breast cancer

It’s one of those articles without a byline, and the nameless reporter who penned this brief article clearly has no idea what they are talking about. But I guess fearmongering is always a good story-seller, so they wrote an article anyway.  They must have been in quite a rush, however, as not only is this yet another article written based only on a press release about a forthcoming article, the press release isn’t even quoted correctly.

The article begins:

In addition to mammograms, ultrasounds and blood tests, doctors may have a new tool in their breast-cancer-screening arsenal.

Off to a bad start. Bone density testing is not used like a mammogram or ultrasound, both of which are used to detect masses that may indicate cancer. I mean they’re all imaging tests, but there is nothing in bone densiometry that can indicate a suspicious lump in your breast for investigation. It seems that the article in question here is about screening for risk factors, which one could liken to blood tests if you’re talking about the small minority of breast cancers that are linked to the BRCA 1 & 2 gene variations found in 0.1-0.6% of the US population…but even that is a stretch.

The article about the unseen-article states that:

In the study, 10,000 post-menopausal women with an average age of 63 were studied in 40 health centres in the U.S.

without mentioning the critical context that this study was done on Women’s Health Initiative participants and is part of the WHI study backlash/follow up wave we are currently riding.

The CBC delivers the article punchline that:

Higher bone mineral density, which is governed by hormonal levels in a woman’s body throughout her lifetime, may lead to a higher a risk of breast cancer.

Without mentioning the CRITICAL fact that the study was funded by the Eli Lilly Company.  Lilly, incidentally, makes Raloxifene (aka Evista, Keoxifene), a newish bone density drug that – unlike the older bisphosphonate class of bone density drugs – may reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Wait, you mean to say that a study that says that high bone density could be linked with higher risk of breast cancer, funded by a company making a drug that builds bone density while allegedly decreasing risk of breast cancer might be victim of conflict of interest? Crazy.  </sarcasm>  Of course, we can’t evaluate for ourselves because the full article isn’t available…but we’ll get to that later.

Raloxifine, of course, has been struggling to gain market share against the older bisphosphonates in the face of a black box warning (for Increased Risk of Venous Thromboembolism and Death from Stroke) and multiple FDA warning letters for direct-to-consumer advertising practices in violation of federal guidelines (and if you know how rare it is for the FDA to actually send these letters, you know these must be rather egregious violations!). Not hard to imagine that the maker of such a drug might wish to have some studies encourage new prescriptions.

It would have been nice – ethical even – to have some context for this article’s findings: not only the study’s funding source, but also an idea of how prevalent the problems of osteoporosis, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease are for postmenopausal women.  Want it?  It’s not hard to find (pdf here). Almost 39% of deaths among women 65+ in the US are due to heart disease or stroke.  19.3% are due to all cancers combined.  1.8% are due to unintentional injuries, and even if you attributed every single pneumonia death to a fracture and hospitalization (common but certainly not the only way to die of pneumonia) that only adds an additional 1.6% of all total deaths.  While personal and family medical specifics make a lot of difference in terms of the weight given to risk factors, it’s a no-brainer that cardiovascular events should be a bigger concern than bone fractures as far as preventable deaths in postmenopausal women.  It’s not rocket science here; I’m a librarian not a doctor.  Finding this info took only a mere Google search, not even a single subscription database.  A health journalist should be able to provide this context too.

Finally, in case you were a CBC reader who happened to be health literate enough to question the, er, thoroughness, of the news clip and wanted to go to the full article to read it, the CBC includes a final sentence:

The study is published in the July 28 issue of Cancer.

This would be quite helpful, were there a July 28 issue of the journal Cancer. However, Cancer is published on the 1 and 15 of each month.  As of today there are not any “early view” articles released on the 28 either, nor does this article appear in either the July 15 or August 1 issue. Way to fact check, CBC.

(For those who are interested in the actual study, please note that this article should be found in the September 1 issue of Cancer.)

A better example of quick but accurate health reporting from a pre-publication press release can be found here. CBC, please take note. You’re supposedly the national public broadcaster.  I expect better.

Is it too impolitic for me to say that I hope the good folk over at Media Doctor let the CBC have it over stuff like this?  Hmm…perhaps what I ought to be doing is talking with fellow health librarians about how we can better reach our health beat journalists in order to make it easier for them to write accurate articles. Okay, okay, I’ll do that.  But I’m still gonna kvetch about irresponsible reporting in the meantime.

-Greyson

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Filed under gender, Health, media democracy, publishing

The Vancouver Sun parody & SLAPP

When I moved to Canada, I was shocked to learn that parody is not a specially protected form of speech here. It is in the US, and I like to think I made pretty good use of that principle over the years. You may already be aware of some of the freedom of expression lawsuits media company CanWest has been involved with. Here’s another for the list: CanWest is suing Vancouver activist Mordecai Briemberg for a parody of the Vancouver Sun newspaper – a parody Briemberg maintains he had no hand in creating.

The parody is well done, with high production values, although I doubt anyone could mistake the four-page
parody for the actual newspaper being spoofed. The parody focuses on the alleged pro-Israel bias of the Sun and the Asper family (owners of CanWest). While the suit documentation from CanWest discusses at length Briemberg’s “anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian media activities,” the part of the suit that has actual potential legal grounds is trademark infringement. You see, the parody paper creators used the actual title “The Vancouver Sun” and mocked it up to look just like the real newspaper header. However, I daresay that CanWest will be hard pressed to show any actual damages done by reprinting the trademark.

What is most outrageous about this lawsuit is that it is a prime example of a “SLAPP” – a strategic lawsuit against public participation. Such suits are aimed at, well, shutting people up, to put it bluntly.

Briemberg maintains that he had no hand in the creation of the parody paper. Briemberg admits to picking up some copies at a public meeting at the public library and handing them out. Briemberg is a well-known activist who has been critical of the State of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian people. The best I can figure is that CanWest was pissed off about the parody and shot in the dark at a likely suspect who also irritated them, figuring that even if it wasn’t Briemberg, at least maybe the SLAPP in the face would shut him up.

In solidarity with Briemberg and/or out of anger toward this kind of lawsuit and intimidation tactic, several individuals and outlets have been posting copies of the parody paper both in print and online. Great idea!

Here’s my contribution:

Sun Parody frontpage

Feel free to print it out and put it on your office door, post it in your neighbourhood or your own blog! Better copies of front page and a PDF of the full text (no images) are also available elsewhere.

For ideas of what else you can do/more background on Briemberg and this case, see the recent post from We Read Banned Books and the Seriously Free Speech Website. Or look at the BC Library Association resolution on the issue from the recent AGM. Seriously Free Speech is coordinating many efforts in support of Briemberg, from a Facebook group (go there for details; Facebook is too evil for me) to petition to briefing notes you can use.

-Greyson

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Filed under censorship, Intellectual freedom, IP, media democracy, Other blogs, publishing

Net Neutrality in a Nutshell

Here’s the backgrounder I pulled together for the BCLA Resolution on Network (Net) Neutrality. A great debt is owed to Danielle Dennie (of LibrarianActivist fame) for her assistance in writing both the resolution and this backgrounder. Yes, this has been cross-posted in a couple of other places. -Greyson

Net Neutrality in a Nutshell:
Backgrounder for the BCLA AGM, April 19, 2008

What is “Net Neutrality”?
Network (“Net”) Neutrality is “the principle that all information that is sent over the Internet should be treated equally.” This means that:

  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs, like Telus, Shaw, Rogers or Bell) shouldn’t interfere in web content getting to you
  • All sites and formats should be treated the same by ISPs
  • Users are free to go where they want on the Internet, and access whatever information they wish

Who is opposed to Net Neutrality, and why?
The primary opponents of regulation to require net neutrality are telecommunications and cable companies. They argue that they need the ability to block or filter their networks in order to prevent illegal file sharing, viruses and spam, and congestion due to bandwidth-intensive traffic (such as video streaming). Net neutrality regulation would also prevent ISPs from levying surcharges on users or content providers who want premium (fast or equal) access to their networks.

Who supports Net Neutrality, and why?
The National Union of Public and General Employees (which represents more than 340,000 workers across the country), the Council of Canadians, the Campaign for Democratic Media, and the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, and the Independent Film and Television Alliance, to name a few. The Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage also raised concerns about non-neutrality’s impact on Canadian heritage, in their recent report.

Primary arguments for net neutrality are that both the Internet and Canadian Telecommunications Policy rely on the principle of “common carriage” – that public networks shouldn’t discriminate among content. Supporters of net neutrality don’t want to see the Internet run by a bidding war, with fast access sold to the highest bidder. As Michael Geist warns, “imagine a world in which Chapters cannot compete in the online book space because its content is on the slow lane while Amazon is on the fast lane.” That is a world without net neutrality.

What are some examples of non-neutrality?
Non-neutrality is often likened to a highway with a toll fast lane for content providers who pay a premium, and a regular slow lane for the rest of us. Here are just a few exampled of violations of net neutrality in Canada:

Do any existing laws or regulations pertain to Net Neutrality?
The principle of Common Carriage is enshrined in Canada’s Telecommunications Act (1993), Sec. 27(2): “No Canadian carrier shall, in relation to the provision of a telecommunications service or the charging of a rate for it, unjustly discriminate or give an undue or unreasonable preference toward any person, including itself, or subject any person to an undue or unreasonable disadvantage.”

But in 1999 the CRTC decided that regulating the Internet was beyond its scope. The CRTC is currently reviewing its jurisdiction over new media and their report should be released in May. Several organizations and individuals are filing submissions to the CRTC this spring, and there is a call for public hearings on the issue.

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Brand Sponsorship of YA Novels?

As a major YA novel fan, this made me want to cry.

A NYT article this week discusses what happened with the innovative and bestselling “Cathy’s Book” and what is in the plans for a new tween series, “Mackenzie Blue.”

After Running Press/Perseus Books, publishers of Cathy’s Book, revealed that they had agreed to have the characters wear particular brands/lines of makeup in the novel, they experienced a big backlash from public advocacy groups and authors alike. The Press has issued a revised paperback edition with the specific product references removed.

The Cathy’s Book fiasco would feel like a victory if there weren’t other attempts – such as Mackenzie Blue – waiting in the wings. Harper Collins has hired not an author, but a marketing executive to write these books. A marketing exec who specializes, of course, in marketing to teens and pre-teens. *shudder* The NYT article quotes this woman explaining how the partnerships will work:

Ms. Wells said she would not change a brand that she felt was at the core of a particular character’s identity merely to cement a marketing partnership. “Mackenzie loves Converse,” she said, referring to the series’s heroine and the popular sneaker brand she favors. “Does Converse want to work with us? I have no clue. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Mackenzie loves Converse.”

However, when asked what she would do if another sneaker company like Nike (one of her clients) wanted to sponsor the books, she said, “Maybe another character could become a Nike girl.”

Oh, well, that’s a relief! For a moment there I was worried that corporate sponsorships might influence content! (<–sarcasm) (…also, does it skeev you out too to hear the phrase “a brand…at the core of a particular character’s identity”? I’m all for realism in teen books, and I understand that some young – or old – people identify strongly with a particular brand, but seriously now, a brand should not be at the core of every character. That is not realism; that is advertising.)

As a a librarian, parent and book reviewer, I have many concerns about product placement in books for youth. Will authors eventually be expected to write in specified products to their stories, in order to get a publishing contract with a major press? How will we know about these sponsorship deals? Presumably all publishers won’t be (haven’t been?) as forthcoming about their “sponsorship” agreements as Running Press.

    And what can we do to send a strong message back to publishers that we do NOT approve of such meddling in our YA literature?

    When I teach college courses in Women’s/Gender Studies, I always sneak in media literacy stuff. Learning how to read and question health reporting, the sad state of our media “democracy” these days, what is “net neutrality,” etc. Invariably, many students are shocked and appalled after reading an article about product placement in TV shows. What does this say to me? Educated, bright, young Canadians – even those who choose to take elective courses that focus on critical thinking – have no idea about all the marketing that surrounds us.

    Like many librarians I am a bit of a bibliophile.  Books are sacred things, and somehow the idea of novels becoming as corrupt and marketing to our youth as much as television upsets me. Can we do something about this? Exclude books from the running for awards if they have paid product placement or some such, perhaps?

    And what of book buying for libraries? When the “select for literary quality” philosophy bumps up against the “give them what they want” ideology for collection development, does product placement in books ever cause them to be removed from a list? Should school libraries, who do have some responsibility to act “in loco parentis” eschew sponsored books? Is this different from commercial popular books like those modeled on TV shows, toys, etc.? (It feels different, somehow, because it’s more sneaky.)

    Other than the makeup fiasco, Cathy’s Book sounds like an interesting concept…but should I not read it on a moral stance? Fortunately, I checked my local library catalogue and it appears that they have bought the revised, paperback edition. But what if the publisher was brash enough to refuse to offer a non-commercial edition?

    Off to tear my hair out now…right after I put a hold request on Cathy’s Book.

    -Greyson

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    Filed under media democracy, privatization, publishing, school libraries