Media reform convention coming to town

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The National Conference on Media Reform is coming to Minneapolis June 6-8, with more than two thousand participants expected. The conference, sponsored by Free Press, focuses on diversity and democracy in media. Key issues include net neutrality, media consolidation, the future of the internet and the quality of journalism.

[Full disclosure: the Twin Cities Media Alliance, parent organization of the TC Daily Planet, is a participant in the conference.]

Bill Moyers
Legendary broadcaster Bill Moyers, who helped organize the Peace Corps and served under President Johnson before going on to a distinguished career in journalism, will speak at NCMR.

BILL MOYERS: … Public broadcasting today is not the adventuresome, the risk-taking exercise in diversity and pluralism and democracy that we had hoped it would be. It lacks the financial independence to take the risks that you can only take when you have nothing to lose, because 70 percent of public broadcasting’s funding comes from Congress. That makes it political in the eyes of many people, even though that influence is marginal. …

And there should be other reasonable voices with different philosophies than yours and mine on the air. But it is hamstrung by financial penury, and it’s embedded in a system that is altogether too political, and so it doesn’t take the risks that we ought to be taking. We ought to be the forum for the country.

[Democracy Now, 5/7/08, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.]

National Conference on Media Reform, June 6-8
Minneapolis Convention Center
Registration and information

Progressive media heroes including Bill Moyers, Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzalez, Arianna Huffington, Dan Gillmor, Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Naomi Klein will be there, speaking on topics ranging from Spanish-Language Media to Hip Hop Activism, to Cell Phone Politics.

The Daily Planet interviewed Josh Silver, executive director of Free Press, by phone.

TCDP: The conference proposes to address issues of diversity and democracy. What do you see as the connection between media and democracy?

SILVER: Critical journalism is really against the ropes in the United States. That is having a hugely negative effect on our democracy, on our domestic and foreign policy. People are increasingly aware that we need to create a bona fide movement that is focused on building the kind of media that participatory democracy requires.

What we have seen since 2003, when our first conference happened in Madison Wisconsin, has been an awareness building across the country of people who see the way that the mainstream media is failing to ask the tough questions and hold government and corporations accountable. The American public is being led by the nose by government and corporations, which is resulting in disastrous policies, like the Iraq war, failure of domestic policies in regard to our education system, living wages, health care, etc.

Due to consolidation and lap dog journalism, we are seeing a mainstream media that hinders rather than helps democracy. People understand that if we are going to be able to learn about and elect good candidates, if we are going to be able to advance any issue that we care about, we have to build a different media system.

Dan Gillmor
Dan Gillmor will speak at NCMR. The founder and director of the Center for Citizen Media, a new initiative aimed at encouraging grassroots media and citizen journalism wrote recently about the San Jose Mercury News call for bloggers:

“…Bloggers and others running websites in a community are able to supplement, and in some cases replace, what the newspaper has been doing, or failing to do.

“Every newspaper should be a portal to the bloggers, Flickr and YouTube posters and others who are creating media about the towns and neighborhoods in the circulation area. That so few understand this is testament to the industry’s continuing cluelessness.”

TCDP: What are the issues of diversity affecting the media?

SILVER: The U.S. media system is not natural. It is completely shaped by government policy. We have seen so much concentration of media ownership that has been blessed and allowed by government policy.

Mainstream media is overwhelmingly owned by white men. Less than eight percent of radio stations are owned by people of color, and less than four percent of television is owned by people of color. About seven percent of television and radio is owned by women, despite the fact that women are over 50% of the population. The only solution to this in terms of diversifying ownership by race and gender and geography, is changing government policies to encourage diversity and independence.

Are the laws that shape our media system going to be crafted on behalf of the giant corporations that own most of the media as they have been for decades, or are the laws going to be shaped on behalf of the American people? That’s what this conference is about.

Amy Goodman
Amy Goodman, the host of Democracy Now, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 500 stations in North America, will speak at NCMR. In a 2006 show, she explained:

The vital issue at stake is something called “net neutrality”–it is the concept that that everyone, everywhere, should have free, universal and non-discriminatory access to all the Internet has to offer. …

The principle of net neutrality has come under attack from cable and telephone companies which provide over 90 percent of all high-speed Internet service in the United States.

Phone and cable lobbyists are calling on the federal government to permit them to operate Internet and other digital communications services as private networks, free of policy safeguards or governmental oversight. …

The effects of preferential control over the Internet may already be coming to bear. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, America Online has blocked delivery to its customers of all emails that include a link to a website called DearAOL.com, which is critical of its CertifiedEmail system.
[Democracy Now, 4/14/06, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.]

Net neutrality is another key issue. Currently, everyone uses the same internet “highway,” and all information can travel at the same fast speeds. Media activists say that the large telecom companies, which are the internet service providers, are planning to offer a “tiered” service that discriminates against content and competing services they don’t like. In effect, they would put speed limits on the internet highway, with fast speeds reserved for large or favored customers.

Media people like to talk about media, and previous conferences (Madison in 2003, St. Louis in 2005, Memphis in 2007) have been well-attended. Many participants will arrive even before NCMR opens to attend pre-conference events.

New Pamphleteers/New Reporters: Convening Entrepreneurs Who Combine Journalism, Democracy, Place and Blogs, will take place June 4-5 at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota. The event will focus on local online news and community-building websites, launching the American Society of News and Community Forums (ASNCF), a professional/trade group for “placebloggers.”

Other pre-conference conferences include:

Academic Symposium for Scholars: “a forum for presenting new research about reform movement issues and for promoting dialogue between academics and media reform proponents.”
Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) Summit and teach-in by “a national media education nonprofit run entirely by citizen/teacher volunteers”
Consumers Union Pre-Conference from the publisher of Consumer Reports
Democracy Day “to connect electoral reform with the media reform movement.”