Rethinking White House Press Briefings: Two Steps Forward, One Giant Leap Back

I was on the brink of applauding the White House for challenging some traditions of the daily press briefings in opening to more news organizations and adding the Skype seats, only to then learn of some mainstream news organizations not being welcomed in the room. So instead of diversifying access, this seems to be a blatant political reconfiguration of access to the briefings.

Two Steps Forward

The White House Press Briefings have been slow to change, and seem antiquated in the face of new media. For this reason, I was pleased to learn of two developments.

First, there were changes in the seating. Since 1981, 49 seats were assigned to reporters to be present at the briefings by the White House Correspondent’s Association. The Association is arms length from the White House, so less open to charges of any partisan or other political bias. However, the mainstream press dominates the Association, which are assigned the prime seats in the front and are, by tradition, normally called on first. The new press Secretary, Sean Spicer, has admitted more reporters to the briefings albeit without assigned seats. He and the President have also made clear moves to not call on the mainstream media first, and in fact, they have made an effort to by pass mainstream correspondents for new arrivals to the briefing. This is a good step toward diversifying access to the news, diminishing privileged access by the elite press, and empowering more media outlets. However, ignoring the mainstream press in answering questions is of course a worrisome bias if continued. th

Secondly, the White House enabled two so-called Skype channels for virtual and interactive participation by remote journalists. I have never been present in any White House briefing, but it appears that the set up permits about eight or more remote journalists to participate. This seems like a long overdue reform enabled by the Internet and the new media environment. Again, this diversifies and builds on the number of journalists with more direct access to the briefings. It also helps incrementally to escape from the locational bias of the press by enabling participation by correspondents anywhere in the world, not just physically in Washington D.C.

So far, some promising reforms. But then …

One Giant Leap Back

On Friday, February 24th, Sean Spicer ‘barred journalists from the New York Time and several other news organizations from attending his daily briefing’ (Davis and Grynbaum 2017: A1). In addition to the Times, other press stopped from attending included the BBC, Los Angeles Times, and the Huffington Post. According to reports, other correspondents, from the Time magazine, and the Associated Press – which traditional had the first question – decided not to attend as a protest against this action (Davis and Grynbaum 2017).

In my view, it is okay to expand access to the briefings, even if this might dilute the role of those who have assigned seats, particularly in the front rows. It is great to broaden access to those who are remote from Washington DC. But once the White House restricts access by strong press organizations, and correspondents, it taints the entire process. Even if you believe the press is increasingly biased by partisan coverage, the remedy is not to punish the opposition, but to ensure that there is a more diverse and pluralistic range of sources with access to the briefings. Create a more diverse range of news sources, rather than a more politically tailored set of news sources. These restrictions will undermine the coverage by the press excluded, but also the coverage by those who are included, but become less trusted as objective sources.

References

Davis, Juilie Hirschfeld, and Grynbaum, Michael M. (2017), ‘Trump Intensifies Criticism of F.B.I. and Journalists’, New York Times, 25 February: A1, A14.

Wright, Bruce. (2017), “White House Stops Press from Attending Media Briefing’, International Business Times, Yahoo! News, 24 February: https://www.yahoo.com/news/white-house-stops-press-attending-201309162.html

Inspiring a Startup Mentality in Legacy IT Organizations – FCC CIO at the OII on 19 June, 4-5pm

Modernizing and Inspiring a “Startup Mentality” in Legacy Information Technology Organizations

Speakers: David A. Bray, Oxford Martin Associate and CIO of the U.S. FCC, Yorick Wilks, and Greg Taylor

19 June 2014 from 4-5 pm

OII Seminar Room, 1 St Giles’, Oxford

By some estimates, 70% of IT organization budgets are spent on maintaining legacy systems. These costs delays needed transitions to newer technologies. Moreover, this cost estimate only captures those legacy processes automated by IT; several paper-based, manual processes exist and result in additional hidden, human-intensive costs that could benefit from modern IT automation.

This interactive discussion will discuss the opportunities and challenges with inspiring a “startup mentality” in legacy information technology organizations. Dr. David Bray, will discuss his own experiences with inspiring a “startup mentality” in legacy IT organizations as well as future directions for legacy organizations confronted with modernization requirements. The discussion will be chaired by OII’s Dr. Greg Taylor, and Yorick Wilks, an OII Research Associate, and Professor of Artificial Intelligence in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Sheffield, will offer his comments and responses to David’s ideas before opening the discussion to participation from the audience.

David A. Bray at OII
David A. Bray at OII

Information about the speakers:

David A. Bray: http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/cybersecurity/people/575

Yorick Wilks: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=31

Greg Taylor: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/people/?id=166

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies

The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies is now available in print and OUP has created a Website for the book: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do  You can find Chapter 1, the introduction, on line and available free, if you’d like an overview of the Handbook. See: http://ukcatalogue.oup.com/product/9780199589074.do#.UQ6iIOg7i_E  It was published in late January 2013.

The first paragraph of the preface reads:

“Internet Studies is one of the most rapidly developing interdisciplinary fields of the early 21st Century. With the increasing significance of the Internet, and the range of issues surrounding its use and governance, the field is on a course to continue expanding in its range and diversity through the coming decades. Despite the pace of change, it is a time to take stock of this emerging field, examine current approaches to study of the Internet, and reflect on the field’s future. This was the key motivation behind this handbook.”

It has been published initially in hardback, but OUP usually bring out paperback versions of their handbooks in due course after first publication in hardback, I am hoping that is the case with The Oxford Handbook of Internet Studies.  Also the handbook will be uploaded to Oxford Handbooks Online (www.oxfordhandbooks.com), an online resource to which many institutions subscribe, and this should enable greater access to the material. So, I hope that for most people seriously interested in Internet Studies, that library acquisition and online access should enable access to the material, particularly if we can make the case for the paperback edition. I am very optimistic about the book’s reception, and therefore its eventual availability in paperback.

 

OeSS Seminar at the OII: The Town Hall in the Digital Era of Social Media: 5 March 2012 from 14.00-15.00

Andrea Kavanaugh from the Department of Computer Science at Virginia Tech will be visiting the OII on Monday 5th March and will be giving a talk between 14:00 and 15:00 in the Meeting Room at 1 St Giles. If you would like to attend, please drop an email to: events@oii.ox.ac.uk

Andrea’s talk will be entitled: ‘Participation in the Town Square in the Era of Web 2.0’. It is a unique case study of using computational approaches – eResearch – to enhance community discussion. Here is a brief abstract:

Collective decision-making is central to the quality of life in communities, towns, and city neighbourhoods throughout the US whether it is routine and long term planning or timely and critical follow up to crises. How can social software together with network analysis and data mining help to harness and model these myriad online resources and social interactions to support and foster broader and more diverse civic participation in America’s communities? We envision a single unified and comprehensive site – what we are calling a Virtual Town Square based on an automated, continuous aggregation of locally relevant online content generated elsewhere by others with aggregated and built-in social interaction and discussion. Our research objectives are to: 1) design, build and investigate a virtual town square (VTS) for geographic communities; 2) model communication behaviour and effects related to the use of social software, including VTS, by diverse users (e.g., civic participation, social interaction, political/collective efficacy); 3) conduct computational analyses on complex data derived from content in VTS and related uses of social software to identify and analyze implicit social and information networks, and to track and model the flow of information throughout the community.

Andrea Kavanaugh

A Fulbright scholar and Cunningham Fellow, Andrea Kavanaugh is Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director of the interdisciplinary research Center for Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Her research lies in the areas of social computing and communication behavior and effects. Dr. Kavanaugh leads research on the use and social impact of information and communication technology funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. Prior to joining the HCI Center in 2002, Dr. Kavanaugh served as Director of Research for the community computer network known as the Blacksburg Electronic Village (BEV) from its inception in 1993. She holds an MA from the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania, and a PhD in Environmental Design and Planning (with a focus on the telecommunications sector) from Virginia Tech.  She served on the Board of the International Telecommunications Society (2002-08) and currently serves as Treasurer (formerly Secretary) on the Board of the Digital Government Society (DGS). More detail at http://www.cs.vt.edu/user/kavanaugh; she can be reached at kavan@vt.edu.

Selected Responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter

I worked with several colleagues at the OII (Victoria Nash, Monica Bulger, and Alissa Cooper) to pen responses to Jeremy Hunt’s Open Letter, requesting feedback of relevance to the new communications bill. They were submitted under my name as director of the OII, but also as a Co-Principal Investigator of the ESRC Seminar Series, entitled ‘Digital Policy’. In fact, all of these responses were shaped to some degree by discussions that took place at the OII Forum, entitled ‘Digital Policy Issues of the New Communications Bill’, held at the OII on 24 June 2011. A summary of that forum will be distributed in due course. In the meantime, these responses provide some sense of what my colleagues and I took away from the forum.

Question 1

What could a healthier communications market look like? How can the right balance be achieved between investment, competition and services in a changing technological environment?

Many of the questions in this review focus on aspects of competition and industrial policy, however it is our view that for the economic benefits of the Internet to be maximised, attention must also be devoted to closing the digital divide. Efforts such as Race Online 2012 demonstrate that the UK government realizes the significance of access to the Internet in supporting efforts to erase the digital divide, increase participation and enhance digital media literacy. Yet less than 30 percent of adults in the UK report receiving training in media literacy, even though training could promote participation among those with little to no experience (Ofcom, 2011; Livingstone & Wang, 2011). Our view is that access must be paired with understanding of options and risks to promote a healthier communications market.  Based on our 2011 OxIS survey findings, 73 percent of individuals in the UK use the Internet, leaving more than a quarter of the population off the Internet.  Efforts to increase Internet use among Britons has critical significance for 21st century economic and civic participation, but need adequate resources to promote understanding of the associated opportunities and risks.

For earlier OxIS figures see:

Dutton, W. H., Helsper, H. J., and Gerber, M. M. (2009), The Internet in Britain. Oxford: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford.

Livingstone, S. & Wang, Y. (20110) Media Literacy and the Communications Act. London: LSE.

Ofcom (2011b). UK adults’ media literacy. London: Ofcom.

Question 3

Is regulatory convergence across different platforms desirable and, if so, what are the potential issues to implementation?

This question was discussed at a recent policy forum convened by the Oxford Internet Institute, in which field-leading academics with media, communications and regulatory expertise were asked to consider the proposed Review of the Communications Act. This forum served to reinforce our view that it would be a significant mistake to seek regulatory convergence across platforms if this means imposing a model of broadcast regulation on the Internet. It is often assumed that the Internet is a modern era ‘Wild West’, lawless and unregulated. In fact, the opposite is true – there is already extensive regulation of Internet service provision, content and activities. We would argue that traditional regulatory models for broadcasting, common carriers (such as post or telecommunications) and the press cannot be imposed wholesale on the Internet without serious risks to its vitality and its contribution to the UK economy as well as potential chilling effects of speech. Further analysis of this point can be found in: Dutton, W. H. (2010b), ‘Aiming at Copyright Infringers and Hitting the Digital Economy’, Prometheus, Vol. 28, No. 4, pp. 385-388, December 2010. Available at SSRN:http://ssrn.com/abstract=1778422

Question 13

Where has self- and co-regulation worked successfully and what can be learnt from specific approaches? Where specific approaches haven’t worked, how can the framework of content regulation be made sufficiently coherent and not create barriers to growth, but at the same time protect citizens and enable consumer confidence?

Many different regulatory models have been applied to various aspects of the Internet. Mobile operators in the UK voluntarily adopted industry codes of conduct to limit Internet access to adult content to minors, and to limit the use of location-aware services. Similarly the UK-licensed Internet gambling industry has proved that age verification (at least for the 18 threshold) is possible, and further has been widely recognised to have implemented this so successfully that even the child protection lobby have registered their satisfaction with this system. The UK model for control of illegal content, such as child pornography and hate speech, could undoubtedly benefit from more transparency and judicial oversight, but has broadly proved an effective way to limit the distribution of such material. Such measures are almost all co-regulatory – individual businesses and industry bodies signing up to common codes of conduct or unofficial norms, with the backing (or threat) of legislation.

We do not believe that the Internet requires further heavy-handed regulation, and would propose two principles as a suitable basis for advance:

·       A presumption in favour of ‘democratised regulation’, namely pushing more control to the users and producers of communication and information services – the public. This is not simply another term for self-regulation, as it requires regulatory support at many levels (see below). A good example of democratised regulation would be the currently evolving system for content regulation whereby only extremely limited forms of illegal content (such as child pornography) might be blocked by mandate or on a centralized basis, with users having access to PC-based tools, a ‘home hub,’ or an ISP filtering system that enables them to choose how much content (if any) they want filtered. In this sense, parents, educators and users generally, could be given more control over their own communications infrastructure in a way that is low cost for government and industry.

·       A presumption in favour of regulation only where it is needed to ensure the preservation of a fair, accessible and open Internet, or to protect the most fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or protection from abuse.

I would also like to draw your attention to related post by Roger Darlington at http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/?p=2900 Roger has been posting links to other submissions here: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/commswatch/

Roger Darlington’s Website: http://www.rogerdarlington.me.uk/convergence.html

David Grahams’ Blog: http://www.attentional.com/david-grahams-blog/2011/05/a-new-communications-bill-is-coming/

Creating an Information Sharing Environment in the Public Sector: Talk on 8 April 2011

This was an important talk about information sharing in the public sector, given by one of the key people seeking to create an information sharing environment for the US government.  It was entitled:

‘The Need for Achieving Appropriate Information Sharing and Information Protection’

I was held on Friday, 8 April 2011 at 16.00-17.30 at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, 1 St Giles Oxford OX1 3JS

The slides are posted on Slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/information-sharing-and-protection and an audio recording of his talk should be posted in due course in the OII’s Webcasting archive.

Speakers

Abstract

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the United States began a historic transformation aimed at preventing future attacks and improving its ability to protect institutions at home and abroad. As a result, the US is now better informed of terrorist intentions and plans, and better prepared to detect, prevent, and respond to their actions. Enhanced information sharing has provided a greater capacity for coordinated and integrated action.

The Information Sharing Environment (ISE, www.ise.gov) was established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The ISE provides analysts, operators and investigators with integrated and synthesized information on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and homeland security. This talk will describe what the ISE is and by doing so will explore post-9/11 information sharing in the United States, and the efforts being made towards information sharing and protection. David will also give a brief outline of on-going ISE development efforts.

In essence, this talk highlights that when examining the full scope of information sharing and protection, there are many widespread and complex challenges that must be addressed and solved by multiple agencies together. Policies and solutions should be framed to address all types of protected information, classified and unclassified, as critical national and homeland security issues cut across security domains. Protection also includes privacy and civil liberties protections. Without privacy and civil liberties protections, sharing is not possible; and without sharing, protection loses its relevance.

About David Bray

Dr. David A. Bray is Executive for Innovation, Integration, and Interoperability, Office of the Program Manager, Information Sharing Environment. He  joined the Office of the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment (PM-ISE) in October 2010 as a Senior National Intelligence Service Executive. The Program Manager has government-wide authority to plan, oversee the build-out, and manage use of the ISE to implement the President’s information sharing priorities. Dr. Bray’s work focuses on empowering the ISE partnerships of five communities – Defense, Intelligence, Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs, and Law Enforcement – in support of whole-of-government solutions for assured information sharing, protection, and access. Prior to joining ISE, Dr. Bray served as a strategist at the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Science and Technology Policy Institute. Dr. Bray holds a PhD in information systems, a MSPH in public health informatics, and a BSCI in computer science and biology from Emory University, alongside two post-doctoral associateships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Collective Intelligence and the Harvard Kennedy School’s Leadership for a Networked World Program. He also serves as a Visiting Associate with the National Defense University.

Digital Wales: A Segue into Wide-ranging Discussions of Policy Issues

The launch seminar of our ESRC Seminar Series, ‘Digital Policy: Connectivity, Creativity and Rights’, was held Friday, 1 April 2011. This first seminar was held at the Centre City Campus of the University of Wales in Newport and hosted by the School of Art, Media and Design. Professor Gillian Young, recently appointed at the University of Wales, and Principal Investigator of the ESRC Seminar Series, chaired the launch. The Web site for the series is at: http://idl.newport.ac.uk/digitalpolicy/

This first seminar was entitled ‘Digital Wales: Inclusive Creativity and Economy’ to take full advantage of key speakers and participants from Wales, including: Cardiff University Professor Ian Hargreaves, one of the founding members of the Ofcom Board; David Warrender, Director of Digital Wales for the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG); Alan Burge, Communities Directorate for the WAG; and Rhodri Williams, Director Ofcom Wales. This worked well, in part because Wales has placed a real priority on a set of initiatives around a ‘Digital Wales’, focused largely on the creative industries, but also on access to next generation Internet infrastructures. http://wales.gov.uk/topics/businessandeconomy/publications/heartofdigitalwales/?lang=en

The discussion was wide-ranging and engaging – too broad to be summarized here, but it will be summarized in due course on the series Web site. However, Professor Young has posted a short overview of the objectives of the series online at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzKZF6Ff7JY

I came away from the launch seminar more fully convinced of the value of having a focus on specific local, regional and national initiatives, such as Digital Wales. It anchors the discussion in a specific setting and provides an impetus to discuss specific projects, such as initiatives in video production across Wales. My own contribution to the forum focused on providing one perspective on the agenda for the series as a whole. I argued that the series could make a contribution by focusing on the UK context and the particular issues raised for nations, and such issues as rural access, the vitality of small businesses, and emerging debate over the ‘big society’. In addition, I thought we should focus on clarifying distinctions between initiatives relevant to network individuals, as well as networked institutions. And of course we need to address key issues of infrastructure, content regulation and new policy, such as the drafting of a new communications act for the UK.

My other point was the there were several ways in which academic participation in this policy discussion could add value. One was the role we could play in assessing alternative policy initiatives from the perspective of connectivity, creativity and rights, among other criteria. We should be particularly well equipped to bring evidence and empirical research to bear on these issues, and be well positioned to question taken-for-granted assumptions about the impact of policy. Secondly, we should be well positioned to provide a neutral meeting ground for discussion among a full range of stakeholders. We may have interests and preferences ourselves, but our primary incentive is to be open, and accountable as academics. If we do not provide a neutral meeting ground, our reputation is at risk. Thirdly, we should have a special role in putting local developments, whether in Wales or Britain as a whole, in a broader context, whether that be global trends or the broader ecology of particular policy areas. I used my work on the ecology of choices shaping freedom of expression as an example. Finally, I hope that the participation by academics opens up discussion of the policy process in Britain. Is the policy process providing adequate opportunities for debate? Is it sufficiently transparent and publicly accountable? Is government tapping the expertise of citizens? My own sense is that progress could be made on all of these fronts.

Slides for my own presentation are posted on Slideshare at: http://www.slideshare.net/WHDutton/towards-an-agenda-on-digital-wales-2011