A few months back I spent quite some time on the phone with two producers from 60 Minutes
concerning a story they were planning on Kim Dotcom. They insisted that it was going to be a more nuanced piece than the usual media coverage portraying Dotcom as the "Dr. Evil" of the copyright industry. The episode finally aired this past weekend
, and to the show's credit, it definitely does take a somewhat more nuanced look at Dotcom. An interview with Dotcom is the centerpiece of the story, which certainly allows him to express some of his position. However, it also allows a number of highly questionable statements from the FBI and others, including saying that the $500 million that Megaupload made is "lost revenue" from Hollywood. However, when Dotcom himself makes a claim about being a businessman, the reporter openly laughs at him and points out the fact that decades ago, Dotcom claimed to have hacked into government computers. Much of the piece (and the extra material on the web) focuses almost exclusively on the fact that he lives in a mansion (they conveniently leave out that it's rented). It's not a completely one-sided portrait, but it hardly gets at any of the underlying legal issues that are at the core of the case. Basically, every time they suggest any of the legal issues, it's almost immediately followed up by "But look at this amazing house!"
Meanwhile, a day or two before the 60 Minutes episode aired, Vice released its own interview with Kim Dotcom
which is worth watching as well. It covers some of the same stuff from a very different perspective, of course. A lot more of a focus on video gaming, music and such. Unfortunately, it too, is a bit weak on the legal issues. In the second half of that video (the first half is basically just wandering around the house), Dotcom finally is given some chance to weigh in on legal and policy issues -- things that never come up at all in the 60 Minutes interview. Dotcom focuses much more on the NSA revelations, discussing how it's had such a negative impact on the tech industry. Of course, right after Dotcom goes into discussing all these points, the reporter immediately jumps to asking him about the photos of Dotcom on a private plane and a yacht. Also, way too much of the video focuses on the reporter wanting to sing in one of Dotcom's songs. Really?
In the end, both of them are kind of different generations doing the same thing: a story on Kim Dotcom that focuses on "Gee, look at his massive house, and this crazy guy," rather than really presenting the key issues concerning copyright, surveillance, privacy, internet freedom -- and the policies behind all of the laws related to those things. That's too bad, as it's really a lost opportunity for both media properties. Vice at least lets Dotcom raise some of these issues, but pays almost no attention to them.
I can understand the "media" appeal of both stories. Dotcom and his persona are entertaining. But unfortunately, it seems like that too often is used to obscure the underlying issues which are incredibly important and serious.