It’s not very often that a singular political victory can be ascribed to a few minutes of air time, but that seems to be the case in today’s three-two Federal Communications Commission vote mandating rules to ensure net neturality.
From the the Christian Science Monitor:
Net neutrality’s stunning reversal of fortune: Is it John Oliver’s doing?
- A year ago, few outside the telecom community had ever heard of net neutrality, despite extensive news coverage. Here’s how a comedy program made the general public care about a topic considered ‘even boring by C-SPAN standards.’
Less than a year ago, when a wonky policy debate over the principle of net neutrality and prioritized Internet “fast lanes” seemed to interest only telecom company suits and nerdy open Internet advocates, a comedian’s 13-minute segment may have helped turn the national conversation’s tide.
At the time, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and a former top lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries, was mulling new rules to allow broadband companies to provide “fast lanes” for content providers who were willing to pay for it.
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“Yes, the guy who used to run the cable industry’s lobbying arm is now running the agency tasked with regulating it,” said John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” in June. “That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo…. ‘Make sure they’re in bed by 8, there’s 20 bucks on the table for kibbles, so please don’t eat my baby.’” He then urged his viewers to contact the FCC.
Tens of thousands did, crashing the agency’s website and flooding it with comments the next few days, with millions more to come – the vast majority calling for net neutrality. And Chairman Wheeler, appointed by President Obama to lead the commission in 2013, was a good sport about it, telling reporters, “I would like to state for the record that I am not a dingo.”
From HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, here’s the segment, posted 1 June 2014 and attaining 8,063,173 views by the time we reviewed today:
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Net Neutrality
Cable companies are trying to create an unequal playing field for internet speeds, but they’re doing it so boringly that most news outlets aren’t covering it.
John Oliver explains the controversy and lets viewers know how they can voice their displeasure to the FCC.
Four months after the segment aired, David Bauder of the Associated Press wrote:
Oliver has journalists who worked at the New York Times Magazine and ProPublica on his writing staff.
Robert Thompson, director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture, calls Oliver’s work “investigative comedy.” Thompson has played the net neutrality segment for his students.
Research indicates that young people are much more likely than their elders to take a deeper dive into news stories that interest them, searching for more information online, said Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the American Press Institute. What Oliver is doing responds to that desire, he said.
“There is a natural link between committing journalism and committing comedy,” Rosenstiel said. “They’re both in the uncovering and unmasking business, but with different approaches.”
So congratulations to John Oliver for stepping on some powerful toes and accomplishing — aided by a wide range of activist organizations and individuals — a defeat, at least for now, on yet another attempted by media monopolies to pick our pockets.