NEW YORK – As its contribution to Media Democracy Week, the Manhattan Neighborhood Network (MNN), hosted a conference titled “Media Democracy: Where it’s Headed.”

The three-day conference focused on topics dealing with media and media access. Workshops included social responsibility and community media, creating community media, increasing youth involvement, and looking at media critically: youth media against the war.

According to MNN, which administers public access cable television services in Manhattan, media democracy is about ensuring non-commercial space as an important counterbalance to the mainstream media and helping people in the community gain access and training.

In a short interview with Steve Mendelsohn, executive director of MNN, these questions and others were answered.

Media democracy, he said, “Is about empowerment and developing a medium where ordinary people can express themselves.”

With the 2.8 million dollars a year as its share of franchise fees received from Time-Warner and RCN, MNN provides a mix of programs, produced by people in the community as well as training in administrative, technical and public access programming.

Mendelsohn said that by holding regular training sessions in video production, use of equipment and by making editing facilities, cameras, lights, tripods and other media equipment available to the public, MNN is “creating spaces that allow different voices to be heard.”

He said that while MNN programming can be thematic, artistic, educational, or express ethnic and religious perspectives not usually heard in the mainstream media, it’s most important contribution is the potential to facilitate community dialog and public discussion about information and information access through the media.

Mendelsohn said that while fewer and fewer corporations own more and more of the media and while the federal government is attempting to deregulate ownership “it becomes imperative to safeguard the free exchange of ideas and diverse opinions, which is the mandate of public access television.

“Whereas corporate media provides news and perspectives from a narrow viewpoint, inevitably excluding and marginalizing diverse communities and peoples, media democracy is about providing the training, tools, resources and money to ensure that diverse perspectives are heard,” Mendelsohn concluded.

As part of the conference, MNN hosted a showing of Strange Fruit by acclaimed director, producer and editor Joel Katz. Strange Fruit an award winning documentary on the history and legacy of the song by the same name, chronicles the importance of the song in its historical context and gives examples of how it, and its lyrics, are remembered and used today.

Strange Fruit, written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher and member of the Communist Party, was made famous by the great singer Billie Holiday. To many the song is a cry of protest, and its lyrics articulated the feeling of the African American people, many of whom had been lynched and murdered.

The documentary also deals with the concept of popular front politics and how cultural and artistic expressions can politicize and mobilize broad cross-sections of the people.

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org

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