ST. LOUIS – Over 2,000 media activists from across the country attended “Gathering, Momentum” the National Conference on Media Reform, held here May 13-15. Grassroots print, radio, Internet, and other media activists shared experiences and analysis at panel discussions and workshops, while networking for future projects.

Robert McChesney, author of numerous books on media reform and founder of FreePress (sponsors of the conference) opened the conference. “This is a historic moment, a watershed moment, a turning point. This is a moment of danger and of historic opportunity,” he said.

Emphasizing the growth of the independent media movement McChesney said, “Five years ago there was no media movement,” adding, “We have a long way to go. But all we have to do is organize, and we will win.”

Janine Jackson, from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), asked the question: Media reform for what? She said, “I want media reform because bad media hurts real people. I want media reform because 44 million Americans don’t have health care.”

In a workshop titled “Media Ownership and Consolidation” participants focused on media deregulation, diversity and the affects of media conglomerates. The vast majority of movies, TV and radio stations, newspaper, books, magazines, and Internet sites we watch, hear and read are owned by corporate giants. Frank Blethen, from the Seattle Times, said, “Over 75 percent of daily papers are controlled by corporations. They don’t care about democracy. “

Linda Foley, from the Newspaper Guild-Communication Workers of America (TNG-CWA), said when media is consolidated, corporations “cut jobs, layoff reporters, and investigative journalism suffers, all while profits go up.” She stressed the need to fight for the “freedom of association, not just media reform, but the ability of media workers to organize into unions.” Adding, “the right to organize is being obliterated by the Bush Administration.”

Media diversity was a topic discussed in the workshop also. Federicio Subervi, with the Latinos and Media Project, said, “there are 40 million Latinos in the U.S., 14 percent of the U.S. population. There has been a 350 percent growth in the Latino population since the 1990s. Yet, most of the media directed at Latinos is not owned by Latinos.” He added, “Latino news makes up less than one percent of the news stories reported.”

One of the most interesting workshops of the three-day conference was “Media Workers and Media Reform.” Media workers talked about their experiences as workers, as the “front-lines” in the media reform movement. Foley said, “we are working to reform the media from the inside out.”

“All of our problems, wages, hours, resources, job security, health care, are affected by what is happening in media,” said Foley.

Tariq Jalil, a member of CWA Local 53, said, media consolidation “is a systemic, much larger problem.” Jalil told participants that when NBC bought Telemundo, in LA, reporters and other news staff, who worked side-by-side, doing the same job, got paid different wages. The old Telemundo employees had to work longer hours, were paid less, and got different benefits. He said, “They went from two newscasts, to six a day. NBC tripled the workload. We got paid less. And we lost diversity.”

Participants also heard from communications’ workers from other countries. Luis Romero, from APAGA, the Puerto Rican communication workers union, said, media consolidation isn’t just an attack on workers and their living standards. “It is also an aggressive cultural attack.” Media giant, Univision has reduced local, Puerto Rican programming, ignored local issues, replaced performers because they sound “too Puerto Rican,” and have ignored cultural word usage differences that are offensive to Puerto Ricans, said Romero.

In the “Tips from Legislatures” workshop Vermont Representative Bernie Sanders said, “Corporate ownership of the media means that the media is pro-corporate.” He added, “the corporate media ignores the reality of tens-of-millions of working Americans.” He said, there is “no reflection of the reality” that we are “working longer hours for lower wages than we were thirty years ago; there is no “reflection” of the fact that the U.S. has a major health care crisis. “In fact, health care is disintegrating.” Sanders added, “four million more people have entered the ranks of the poor, twenty percent of children live in poverty,” and there is no “reflection of this reality in the corporate media.”

The conference ended with a special guest appearance from media personality, Bill Moyer. He said, “the corporate media is controlled by radical right-wingers, who are obsessed with control, and are using government to intimidate and confuse. They are using the long arm of privilege and power to squelch free speech.” Adding, “we are bombarded with the junk-food of propaganda” and that “democracy dies when it is fed nothing but lies.” He said it is up to the independent media reform movement to “get it right – not, right-wing!”