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Danger and Spectacular Opportunity

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Issue: 29 Section: Accounts Geography: USA St. Louis Topics: media

June 2, 2005

Danger and Spectacular Opportunity

The National Conference for Media Reform hosts a growing movement against corporate media in St. Louis

by Steve Anderson

Participants at the National Conference for Media Reform. Photo: San Diego Indymedia
Out of 393 interviews by the major news networks leading up to the invasion of Iraq, only 4 contained anti-war voices," said Democracy Now's Amy Goodman at the opening of the National Conference for Media Reform (NCMR)

Over 2,500 media reformers and revolutionaries gathered in St. Louis, Missouri in mid-May to discuss everything from micro radio licensing policy to direct action campaigns against media conglomerates. The second annual NCMR had to turn away attendees, with registrations far exceeding capacity.

"That is not a mainstream media, that is an extreme media," Goodman added, to loud cheers from the standing-room only crowd.

Norman Solomon of the Institute for Public Accuracy reminded conference-goers that The Phil Donahue Show was cancelled by MSNBC because it allowed room for anti-war voices during the Iraq War. Solomon quoted a internal MSNBC report that stated that Donahue's show could create a "difficult face for MSNBC in a time of war" and that there was a danger of the show becoming "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity".

"Every day, we hear a story that, if amplified, could bring down the government"
Populist radio personality Jim Hightower noted that "108 cities have defeated Wal-Mart" and asked: "why isn't the big media reporting this?" Author and filmaker Naomi Klein commented that "every day, we hear a story that, if amplified, could bring down the government."

Celebrating Media Reform Victories

Participants were reminded that media reformers have much to celebrate, starting with an unprecedented level of popular support. According to Janine Jackson of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, "when we used to talk about media reform people used to tell you to just turn [your TV] off; you don't hear that so much today".

One widely-touted success was the recent Congressional decision barring federal agencies from producing video news releases (VNRs) that do not clearly disclose the government as their source. Another came in 2003, when the FCC was forced to role back plans to further deregulate media ownership after hundreds of thousands of people voiced their oposition in letters to the FCC. It was the largest outpouring of public input the commission had ever received.

The growth of independent media at a time when mainstream print and TV outlets are shrinking was also celebrated. Democracy Now!, a daily newscast featuring social movements and underreported news, airs on 330 stations in North America, and was nearly ubiquitous at the NCMR. By some estimates, as many as three million hear host Amy Goodman's passionate style of journalism every day.

Conference organizers created a space specifically to feature independent media organizations. Over 70 organizations staffed displays for the "Media Democracy Showcase" meet and greet.

A proposal for an "Independent World Television" network generated considerable buzz. Founding Chair Paul Jay, the former executive producer of CounterSpin, announced plans to raise to raise $25 million to start a global television network featuring "serious news and full-spectrum debate".

The Perfect Storm

Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein predicts what he calls a "perfect storm" in the coming years. In the next few years, he says, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and US congress will make crucial policy decisions regarding internet content and broadband delivery. These decisions will come at a time when media reform activists, media education organizations, and independent media outlets enjoy their greatest influence and political momentum in decades, while the corporate media (especially those involved in telecommunications) are pouring unprecedented resources into lobbying the FCC and Congress. The result of these forces gathering momentum in the coming fight over policy, says Adelstein, will be an historic clash with massive implications for the coming decades.

Bill Moyers addresses the National Conference for Media Reform. Photo: San Diego Indymedia
Jim Hightower called it "an historic moment" and Free Press chair Robert McChesney said that the present is "a moment of danger and a moment of spectacular opportunity." While the outcome is far from decided, the media reform movement appears to be gaining momentum and enthusiasm, and activists seem to be spoiling for a fight with corporate media conglomerates.

"The public is beginning to understand how critical healthy media are to a healthy democracy," said Robert McChesney. "They are recognizing they must get involved if they want a better system."

US public broadcasting veteran Bill Moyers galvanized this recognition in a widely rebroadcast speech to an electrified audience.

"An unconscious people," said Moyers, "an indoctrinated people, a people fed only partisan information and opinion that confirm their own bias, a people made morbidly obese in mind and spirit by the junk food of propaganda is less inclined to put up a fight — ask questions and be skeptical. And just as a democracy can die of too many lies, that kind of orthodoxy can kill us, too."

Steve Anderson is Managing Editor of COA News. Sign up for the free COA News Alert Service.

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