US media in court showdown over White House access

CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta (L) leaves US District Court after a hearing in Washington, DC, on November 14, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 15 November 2018
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US media in court showdown over White House access

  • CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president
  • Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s effort to revoke a CNN reporter’s credentials went to court Wednesday, in what media groups said was a matter of press freedom — while the White House argued it had a broad right to restrict access to the US president.
Lawyers for CNN and the White House argued before US District Judge Timothy Kelly, appointed last year by Trump, on the cable news channel’s request for an order reinstating correspondent Jim Acosta’s White House pass.
In an emergency hearing, CNN’s lawyer Ted Boutrous asked the judge for a temporary order allowing Acosta to get his pass back ahead of a full hearing on the matter.
Boutros argued banning Acosta violated the constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of a free press because it was “based on the viewpoint of Mr. Acosta” and not his behavior.
“They don’t like the reporting” of the CNN White House reporter, the lawyer said.
US Justice Department lawyer James Burnham echoed comments filed in a legal brief earlier in the day for the administration, saying that “there is no First Amendment right to access the White House” and that the rationale behind the decision was that Acosta “disrupted” a news conference last week.
Judge Kelly said he would issue his decision at 3:00 p.m. (2000 GMT) Thursday.
CNN’s suit was backed by a broad coalition of media groups including rival Fox News, which is controlled by Trump ally Rupert Murdoch and often draws praise from the president.
Fox said earlier Wednesday the banning of Acosta raises concerns over press freedom.
“Fox News supports CNN in its legal effort to regain its White House reporter’s press credential,” the news channel’s president Jay Wallace said in a statement, indicating it would join an amicus brief on supporting CNN.
“Secret Service passes for working White House journalists should never be weaponized,” he said.
“While we don’t condone the growing antagonistic tone by both the president and the press at recent media avails, we do support a free press, access and open exchanges for the American people.”

Others backing the CNN arguments in court included the Associated Press, Bloomberg, First Look Media Works, Gannett, the National Press Club Journalism Institute, NBC News, The New York Times, Politico, Press Freedom Defense Fund, EW Scripps Company, USA Today and The Washington Post.
“Whether the news of the day concerns national security, the economy, or the environment, reporters covering the White House must remain free to ask questions,” the media groups said in a joint statement ahead of the hearing.
“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the president and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons.”
The White House said in its legal filing it has “broad discretion” to restrict media access to the president, disputing the argument that its actions violate the constitution.
“The President and White House possess the same broad discretion to regulate access to the White House for journalists (and other members of the public) that they possess to select which journalists receive interviews, or which journalists they acknowledge at press conferences,” said the brief.
The filing by US Justice Department lawyers argued that “the president could choose never to hold another press briefing again and cancel all press passes, without implicating due process protections.”

The White House brief argued there is no imminent harm to CNN or Acosta because he “remains able to practice his profession and report on the White House” and that CNN “has roughly 50 other employees who retain hard passes and who are more than capable of covering the White House complex on CNN’s behalf.”
Acosta, CNN’s chief White House reporter, had his press pass lifted November 7 after a testy exchange with Trump at a White House news conference.
CNN — part of the WarnerMedia division of AT&T — filed suit on Tuesday.
Trump’s administration initially said Acosta was banned for inappropriately touching a White House female intern as he struggled to hold on to a microphone. The White House cited a video which analysts said had been sped up, giving the appearance that Acosta struck the intern’s arm.
Trump later said other journalists might be barred as well if they were not “respectful.”
Free speech activists have warned the case has important implications, and that public officials should not be able to bar access to journalists if they dislike news coverage.
The White House has dismissed CNN’s complaint as “grandstanding” and vowed to “vigorously defend” against the lawsuit.


Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround

Updated 28 min 43 sec ago
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Dubai pay-TV network OSN plots high-tech turnaround

DUBAI: OSN, the Dubai-based pay-TV provider, must develop technology to keep pace with customer demand and “deliver entertainment that matters” if it is to regain growth, according to its new chief executive. 

Patrick Tillieux, who took over as CEO at the end of November, joins at a time of uncertainty for the network. Last month Kuwait Projects Co. (KIPCO) hired Goldman Sachs to advise on the sale of its majority stake in the company.

Increased competition from online streaming sites such as Netflix and Amazon, combined with piracy and a perceived lack of value for money, contributed to OSN’s declining fortunes. According to Bloomberg, KIPCO’s share of profits from the network fell to a loss of $65 million in the first six months of this year, compared with a profit of
$36.1 million in 2014. 

“The Middle East and North Africa region is still under-served by pay-TV,” said Tillieux, who has been on OSN’s board for two years and chairs its executive committee.

“Yes, there are more options for customers now, but I believe there is room for all players to coexist and grow. We were, in fact, the first to partner with Netflix in the region, which has been a big step toward industry collaboration and integration. 

“Changing viewing habits and the explosion of social media short-form content has affected everyone. However, this does not mean (customers) do not want high-quality entertainment for the family. What it does mean is that players such as OSN need to evolve our technology to meet customers’ viewing preferences.”

OSN declined to comment on the nature of that evolution, saying only that it faced both increased competition and high operating costs. Organized piracy is also hitting the network hard. The pay-TV provider is responding to these challenges by adapting its offering through “value pricing and relevant packaging.”

“Managing an entertainment network such as OSN, offering such a diversity of programming, technology and viewing experience, is a massive operation,” said Tillieux.

“Operational costs increase every year, and this is true for every pay-TV operator. As an organization, we are responding to higher operating costs through stronger resource use efficiency and cost optimization, but at the same time we need to adapt and evolve much faster to be able to provide the entertainment that our customers want to watch, via any platform of their choosing and at a price they can afford. 

“This means we also need to review our content strategy and focus on delivering entertainment that matters to our customers. We recently piloted a new proposition called El Farq in the region, which offers all our entertainment at one price so customers get everything, contract free, providing exceptional value.

“So far, the results have been promising and we will continue to tweak our proposition and pricing until we hit the sweet spot between price, package and value for money.”

Turning OSN around, however, will be tough. The network’s sluggishness has been a significant contributor to its current predicament, with Karan Kukreja, general manager of media agency OMD UAE, saying that disruption in consumer viewing habits meant “opportunities for those players with deep pockets, the right strategies, and the agility to act accordingly.” None of which, arguably, applies to OSN. 

Diala Hamad, media director at Vizeum MENA, also believes that insufficient resources have been invested in Arabic content for OSN’s core Saudi Arabian market. The popularity of YouTube in the Kingdom has further complicated matters, while content providers such as Starz Play and Istikana are delivering Arabic content at much cheaper rates.

“Netflix and other content providers have definitely played a role in OSN’s current downturn, especially as OSN’s content is still not addressing the local population in Saudi Arabia through relevant Arabic content that speaks their language,” said Hamad.

“OSN could have become a strong competitor to the current video-on-demand platforms, but the entry point of a paid-TV subscription became a barrier,” said Kukreja. “The content line-up also would have played a key role.”

For Tillieux, however, OSN’s biggest strength is its diversity of content, provided through both linear and digital platforms. Yet, at $30 a month, even its new El Farq package is triple the price of a monthly Netflix subscription.

“One of my key priorities is to evolve the OSN value proposition to match customer needs and their wallet,” he said.

“The perception of value for money is changing. People are more cautious about their spending and the time they spend on TV or streaming services. One of my priorities is to find the sweet spot between product, experience and price.”