Monday, 15 July 2024

Media reform an issue across the country


In Memphis, 3,500 independent and alternative journalists and academics converged for the third annual Media Reform Conference, to share their methods for informing a public in the grip of media ownership by a shrinking number of corporations.

In Manhattan, Stephen Colbert and Bill O'Reilly converged, trading guest spots on each other's programs. Considering that Colbert's a graduate of Jon Stewart's “fake news” The Daily Show and his Comedy Central Colbert Report (Cole-bear Ray-pore) is a satire of O'Reilly's grandiosity on Fox News, it was pretty tame, with “Papa Bear” and his mocking imitator both on their much-too-polite best behavior.

But it yielded a mind-bending metaphysical gem near the end of The Colbert Report. O'Reilly said "I'm not a tough guy. This is all an act. I'm sensitive." Trickster Colbert responded, "If you're an act, than what am I?”

It's a question many media moguls must ask themselves daily as their news programs stumble through bewildering mixes of government press conferences, crime and gee-whiz repetitions of celebrity gossip, while their audiences flock to scripted “reality” shows.

The Memphis gathering, Jan. 12-14, which was very short on moguls, got some straight answers from speakers like Bill Moyers.

In a talk called “Life on the Plantation,” he told them: “It has long been said (ostensibly by Benjamin Franklin, but we can't be sure) that 'democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.'

“My fellow lambs:

“It's good to be in Memphis and find you well-armed with passion for democracy, readiness for action, and courage for the next round in the fight for a free and independent press.”

And: “The lobby representing the broadcast, cable and newspaper industry is extremely powerful, with an iron grip on lawmakers and regulators alike. Both parties bowed to their will when the Republican Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996. That monstrous assault on democracy, with malignant consequences for journalism, was nothing but a welfare giveaway to the largest, richest and most powerful media conglomerates in the world Goliaths whose handful of owners controlled, commodified and monetized everyone, and everything, in sight.

“Call it the 'plantation mentality' in its modern incarnation.”

Project Censored, based at Sonoma State University, had a team there. Director Peter Phillips, who spoke at a December benefit for Lake County radio station KPFZ, was unavailable for comment. Sandy Brown, a PC graduate and now an independent filmmaker, said she will post coverage of the conference on the Internet this week and expects to post a brief documentary early in February.

Brown said last weekend's conference differed from one 18 months ago in St. Louis mainly in that “Independent media was then coming into its own and gaining momentum. Now it's settling into the work of challenging corporate media and working within your community as grassroots media.” reported on another convergence of the weekend conference: “demands for media justice and equal representation echoed across the balcony of the Lorraine Motel, where a museum memorializes Doctor Martin Luther King’s struggle for civil rights. In the city where the besieged Dr. King’s voice would not be silenced, but forever amplified after his death, a cacophony of voices reconverged to challenge a media behemoth as oppressive now as the forces of inequality he decried then with such vigor and efficacy.”

Surprise speaker Dennis Kucinich, Democratic congressman from Ohio and former candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, wowed the gathering with his announcement that the Domestic Policy panel of the House Government Reform Committee he will head plans hearings on reviving the Fairness Doctrine and on media ownership issues.

The Fairness Doctrine was adopted in 1949 by the Federal Communications Commission. It required stations airing information on controversial issues of public importance to offer contrasting points of views. From the 1970s to the early 1980s it was interpreted as also requiring stations that presented attacks or criticism to seek out and provide equal time for the other side.

It was generally abandoned during the Reagan administration in the 1980s.

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein told the conference to bury “six feet deep” any attempts by the FCC to roll back media ownership rules.

He said “if the FCC passes an Order to increase media consolidation, there’s nothing to stop Congress from vetoing it. If it comes to a vote on the Hill, we’ll see bipartisan support that’s been bottled up come pouring out.”

Fellow commissioner Michael Copps urged several actions, including “expand the number of media outlets in each community. That means more support for Low Power, PEG programmers and community wireless movements that defend the last bastions of localism as Big Media marches toward one-size-fits-all national programming and distribution.”

Seattle Times reporter Ryan Blethen likened attending the conference as a member of the mainstream media to being mugged and said, “The journalist’s job has become more difficult because of some external newsroom forces. Technology has knocked newspapers off kilter. Gone are the days when classified ads generated cash as fast as a press printed the paper. Financial problems have been further compounded by consolidation.

“Proponents of consolidation use incomprehensible business-speak to justify buying more. Newspapers become 'properties'; Web sites, television stations, radio stations and the printed page become 'platforms.' In reality, these are just terms money-changers use to excite Wall Street. Great journalism does not happen quarter to quarter. Great journalism is curiosity layered upon a fluid expanse of time.”

Part two of Bill Moyers' address.

E-mail Sophie Annan Jensen at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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