Last month, the media activist group FreePress held the second National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, Mo. I was fortunate enough to attend along with over 2,000 other media activists from across the country. The sheer number of attendees was inspiring. It feels good to know that so many other people feel that corporately owned media is doing the public a great disservice.
The three-day event included countless panels and workshops involving activists, artists, educators, policymakers, scholars, media producers and concerned citizens. Some of the major issues discussed were: media ownership consolidation, independent media, public broadcasting, copyright reform, advertising and commercialism, racial justice and media policy, localism and diversity in radio, and grassroots organizing.
I was one of two members from the local activist group C.R.E.A.M. (Coalition for Reform of Entertainment And Media). I attended as many workshops as possible and gathered an enormous amount of information.
Perhaps one of the most useful and inspiring panels I attended was entitled “Citizen Pressure and Media Policy-Tips from Legislators.” On this panel were Vermont Rep. Bernie Sanders (I), New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) and California Rep. Diane Watson (D). These three members of Congress, who recently formed the Caucus on Media Reform, shared their first-hand knowledge of opportunities and tactics for citizen activism on media legislation.
Watson described several bills in Congress for which media activists could rally support — namely, the Local Community Radio Act of 2005, the Localism in Broadcasting Reform Act of 2005 and the Fairness and Accountability in Broadcasting Act. Sanders strongly urged the attendees to start petitions in their home states to support these kinds of legislation, and not to be afraid to schedule meetings with local representatives to express their concerns. He reminded us that we elect officials to represent us and it is up to us to let them know what we want, because the major media corporations certainly are letting them know what they want — more profits.
A true democracy depends on easy access to diverse and accountable sources of information in order for us to make well-informed decisions. Real “fair and balanced” media is not owned by five major corporations who have private interests in mind (for example, General Electric, which owns NBC, is a defense contractor and producer of nuclear weapons for the U.S. government). The Telecommunications Act of 1996 greatly eased the ownership restrictions for media giants like News Corp. and Viacom. In 1995, ClearChannel owned 32 radio stations. Within a couple of years after the Telecom Act, ClearChannel had purchased an additional 1,200 stations! These stations then banned any antiwar or peace songs when the Iraq war began, including “Peace Train” and “Imagine” (real dangerous and subversive stuff). They even banned the Dixie Chicks when one band member denounced the war while performing in England, and they went on to have Dixie Chicks CD destruction/burning parties (anybody seen Ray Bradbury lately?).
As we can see, this self-censorship and content control can have an amazing effect on public opinion and sentiment. It goes beyond a pro-war/antiwar or conservative/progressive debate. It is an attack on freedom of speech and public interest — and all for corporate profit.
Media icons Bill Moyers, Al Franken, Amy Goodman, Jim Hightower, Phil Donahue and many others were at the conference speaking about the dangers of a one-sided government squawkbox media that refuses to challenge the policies and opinions of the rulers. Panelist Bob McCannon of the New Mexico Media Literacy Project reminded us that it was the Nazi minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, who invented the modern advertisement, which made me think, “You know, the German people thought that they were on the right side during WWII.”
Most Americans are too busy working to pay their bills to be able to research their news and seek accountable and reliable sources like the PWW. That is why it is so essential that we work to reform the media we have and expand the number of diverse and independent sources of information in every locality.
To learn more about the conference and media reform, visit the FreePress website at www.freepress.net. You can also email C.R.E.A.M atto attend a monthly meeting in Connecticut.
Todd Vachon is co-chair of the Coalition for Reform of Entertainment And Media, in eastern Connecticut.