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.]
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.
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.
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.”