Media Reform Conference -Friday

Here are my notes from the various sessions.

Opening plennary- Good opening session. The grand ballroom at the Millenium Hotel is completely full.
Josh Silver, Free Press’ Exec Director, is hitting on my favorite theme: we are, in fact, WINNING the media reform fight, and have been since 2003. (I keep running into morons and dinosaurs, fresh to the movement, who think that we are too disorganized to win. The annoying thing is this is usually dumb-ass funders who want a nice, neat top down movement that looks like the environmental movement. Except the environmental movement has lost every high-profile fight since 2003, and we have won. _sigh_ and then they wonder why liberal causes are losing.)
A few key victories for those just tuning in:
1) on traditional media – ownership dereg stopped, no major mergers since 2003.
2) IP- no major bills out of Congress except the most recent, which represented a win for our side since it allows end users to manipulate and control content.
3) Spectrum- property initiative dead, new spectrum opened to non-exclusive use.
3) Community internet- no new anti-muni bills since PA, muni systems deploying all over the country.
Bob McChesny, major media scholar and one of the founders of Free Press, hit the same note- we’re growing, winning and we’re going to keep on winning.

Shifting from welcome to opening plennary. getting down to a bit more business- what do we mean by media reform? What is the end game? Why is it important? “Media reform for what?”

As the panelists speak, there emerges one of the fissures in the movement, although it is not really charcterized as one. But it fills me with a great deal of worry. It can be boiled down to the difference between Mark Cooper’s remarks and Malkiah Cyril’s remarks. Mark, who is white, male and Director of Research at CFA, is one of the movement’s leading econ experts. In fact, I would say he is probably the only fulltime activist equally at home in academia. In his speach, he argued that our country has a long tradition of keeping information open as necessary to democracy, and that when corporations have tried to privatize these things, the people have pushed back. Paul Revere road along public roads, our mail system was maintained as public infrastructure, when the trains and phone companies emerged and pushed for private monopolies of commerce and information, the populist and progressive movementsd pushed back and impossed obligations of common carraige and non-discrimination. Media reform is part of the fight to keep communication and commerce open and maintain democracy.

Malkia, who is female and black, spoke with great passion of how our media was founded on racist colonialist imperialist policy, born of slavery. That the media have always worked to perpetuate negative stereotypes of minorities, and people of color and queer folks have never been able to speak with their own voice. Media reform must emenate for a struggle for racial justice, and must stand on principles of racial justice and revolution.

O.K., different strokes for different. My fear is when anyone tells me what the media reform movement _must_ do or _must_ be based on. The movement is a modern movement in being a loosely organized mob of people and organizations united by common goals (with regard to the mass media, it is that the current media sucks). But the moevement succeeds because it can house people who believe the media oligarchy got us into the war because they are servants of the Bush administration and people who believe that the media oligarchy is out to destroy the Iraq war and break the will of the American people by refusing to run the success stories.

It is perhaps no surprise that the Media Reform Conference is overwhelmingly dominated by the left wing liberal/progressive community that see the conservative agenda as indistinguishable from the corporate agenda and regard anything associated with the Republican party as evil. But it worries me if the movement becomes too closely associated with one political party or as too opposed to another political party. Nearly all of the liberal movements of the 1960s and 1970s — the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the environmental movement — have suffered because they became inextricably linked with the Democratic party.

More fundamentally, I believe the media reform movement is about creating a world in which all are free to speak and hear information from a diversity of sources. Where everyone, regardless of race, sex, or whatever has true access to the means of economic and political power. That includes a racial justice component. For moral reasons as well as economic reasons, we as a society suffer when any segment of our society lives with either de jure or de facto discrimination based on some arbitrary criteria. But it does not make this a movement for racial justice. More to the point, I will be damned if I allow anyone, friend or foe, to define what those who care about reforming the media “must” or “must not” be. That way lies not merely political destruction, but destruction of the core principles of freedom which defines for me the media reform movement in all its aspects. We are free people in the land of the free.

A personal note. When my ancestors were dumped by pirates in New Amsterdam, they, as Jews, were not allowed to be citizens anywhere in the world. Jews were property of the crown, or the bishop, or Caliphate, or the Sultan, or whatever ruler kept them under protection until it became expedient to expell them. Peter Styvesant attempted to impose the same rule on Jews in the new world. He ordered that we could not stand guard, but must instead pay a head tax to pay non-Jews to stand guard in their place. Jews would again be property of the governor, not true citizens in charge of their own fate.

Asher Lev, said no. He invented the field of civil rights litigation, suing for the right to stand guard and not pay the tax. And he won. In the new world, he argued, people should be free, not property of the crown as they were in all preceding history.

This country has failed in that promise countless times since its inception. But it is still a goal worth fighting for. Not as recompense for past wrongs. Not from nobles oblige from a ruling class. But because all peoples, everywhere, ought to be free, and all the more so in a land founded on that principle.

I do wish to tell anyone who feels otherwise what they should or should not beleive. I am as much a product of my upbringing and environment as anyone else, but as someone who left a rather lucrative private practice for media reform before it was trendy, I hope that we collectively, as a movement, will continue to function as a magnificent mob working toward a common goal. If we begin to divide ourselves along ideological lines or political affiliations, the laughter of media barons will be our only reward.

There is a story told of a wealthy man who promised a rabbi he would make a large contribution to a fund to feed the poor. The next day, the wealthy man said “Rabbi, I realize that I made that pledge only so that poor people would praise my name. It came not from a genuine desire, but from my vanity. Should I still give the money, even if it is only to serve my own vanity?” The Rabbi replied “the poor still need your bread, no matter what reason you give the money.” Frankly, I don’t care why people show up to fight for fewer media owners, deployment of broadband, and direct access to spectrum. I just want ’em in the fight.

In less dramatic news, good lunch with some folks from Arin about IP address allocation for community wireless networks. Also good break out sessions this afternoon.

I will post the Saturday wrap up late, as I won’t be online on Shabbos.

Stay tuned . . .

One Comment

  1. Well this sounds like an interesting conference indeed. Somehow I had not heard of it beforehand, but have seen several mentions of it since.

    This blog entry by Steve Guilliard (spelling?) is tangentially related to your topic:


    I like this guy’s blog a lot. He does not proofread, evidently, and sometimes rambles, but he’s nearly always interesting. Plus, I (mostly) like his politics.

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