Tuesday, January 16, 2007

How to reform the media

Over the weekend, roughly 3,500 people descended upon Memphis for the third Conference for Media Reform. The event, sponsored by nonparitsan group Free Press, also drew journalists, politicians, activists, bloggers, celebrities and even a couple FCC commissioners.

The late Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down in 1968 not far from the Cook Convention Center, where the event was held, and loomed large over the conference. References to Martin Luther King Jr. abounding, its organizers pointed to the symbolism of the event, its setting in the Bluff City and the importance of protecting a free press.

Among the highlights, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) made an surprise appearance at the convention to announce that he would be heading up a new House subcommittee which will focus on issues surrounding the FCC. Kucinich plans "hearings to push media reform right at the center of Washington.” The Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee was to be officially announced this week in Washington, DC, but Kucinich opted to make the news public early.

In addition to media ownership, the committee is expected to focus its attention on issues such as net neutrality and major telecommunications mergers. Also in consideration is the "Fairness Doctrine," which required broadcasters to present controversial topics in a fair and honest manner. It was enforced until it was eliminated in 1987.

Kucinich said in his speech that "We know the media has become the servant of a very narrow corporate agenda" and added "we are now in a position to move a progressive agenda to where it is visible."

Also at the conference, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps blasted the media for putting out a rather shoddy product. Valuing the cost of the nation's airwaves to be roughly "half a trillion dollars", he claimed that the return on the nation's investment is pretty poor, insisting that there's "too little news, too much baloney passed off as news. Too little quality entertainment, too many people eating bugs on reality TV. Too little local and regional music, too much brain-numbing national play-lists. Too little of America, too much of Wall Street and Madison Avenue. That’s what we get for half a trillion dollars. It’s one hell of a bad bargain, don’t you think?"

Copps proposed a new "American media contract" with broadcasters offering "local stations that are actually local," "news that isn’t canned and radio playlists that aren’t for sale," and "a right to programming that isn’t so damned bad so damned often," although he did not specify who would define what programming qualifies as "quality."

Copps then urged Free Press and the other activists and organizers present at the event to “shift from the defense to the offense” and mobilize millions of Americans to make corporate media sign on to the Contract:

“We, the American people have given broadcasters free use of the nation’s most
valuable spectrum, and we expect something in return. We expect this.

First, a right to media that strengthens our democracy;

Second, a right to local stations that are actually local;

Third, a right to media that looks and sounds like America;

Fourth, a right to news that isn’t canned and radio playlists that aren’t for sale; and

Fifth, a right to programming that isn’t so damned bad so damned often”

There was just too much going on at the conference to do just a 'Reader's Digest treatment' here. For more in-depth information, as well as video from the conference, check out the following:

Robert Greenwald's report
WMC-TV 5's blog
Media Channel.org


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