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The National Conference on Media Reform: Twin Fires of Change

Over 2500 people gathered in Saint Louis for three days in May, 2005: 2500 people who are sick and tired of the decay of mainstream media, that once-proud bulwark of hard-hitting investigative journalism, now largely an empty showcase for vacuous celebrities and a cheerleading squad for spoon-fed "news." They came from every state, as well as Puerto Rico, Washington, DC, and ten countries from around the world.

They came...

  • to listen to those, like Phil Donahue and Bill Moyers, who dared to espouse a deeper message on mainstream media and were thrown off—and to those, like populist author Jim Hightower, who still manage to bring a non-jingoistic message of peace to a mainstream audience, through a mainstream publisher
  • to hear messages of courage and inspiration from a few alternative media figures who've become well known: Amy Goodman, whose zero tolerance for hiding the truth has helped to bring Democracy Now! to hundreds of thousands of listeners through over 300 radio and TV stations... George Lakoff, author of the runaway bestseller, Don't Think of an Elephant... Al Franken of Saturday Night Live, who now has a home on the "they-said-it-couldn't-be-done" Air America radio network... Medea Benjamin of Code Pink, who managed to infiltrate both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 2004 with a message of peace... Noah Winer, who helped develop Internet-based mass organizing through the 3-million-member
  • to be inspired by a handful of those within the system who have placed themselves squarely on the side of change: Several Members of Congress, among them Bernie Sanders, and Diane Watson, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps
  • To see hard-hitting movies like "Outfoxed" and "Weapons of Mass Deception"—movies that explore the dangers of a closed media and the influence of corporate decision makers on our lives
  • most importantly, to share what they've learned from years in the trenches, organizing constituencies and spreading empowering technologies

    This was the National Conference on Media Reform, an inspirational and informational gathering of hard-working people fighting the death of journalism and the homogenization of popular culture on two fronts:

    1. Reclaiming our right to mainstream media that serves the public
    From license renewal campaigns, to inundating the FCC with protests when it tried to further weaken the laws protecting against ownership consolidation, to using newspaper ombudsperson offices to demand coverage of the antiwar movement, activists are taking back the mainstream media and demanding coverage that represents the full spectrum of ideas.

    2. Creating our own media, and growing its audience
    Thousands of activists are organizing alternative media centers... setting up low-power FM stations, wireless Internet access, public access cable TV programs, and community newspapers... blogging... creating social change communities and constituencies online... organizing to bring in programming like Democracy Now!—and finding ways to expose more people to the good work they're doing.

    One of the themes throughout the conference was the question of whether we should build alliances with right-wing organizers who are also feeling excluded and marginalized by the mainstream media. Some felt we should build these coalitions; others worried that working with groups like the National rifle Association could backfire.

    Also, as a business writer, I feel I need to make a distinction that many of the speakers did not: business has a strong role to play in positive social change (see, for example, my own Business Ethics Pledge campaign. and I make a big distinction between businesses that see their role as part of a wider mission of improving the world, and rapacious organizations driven only by profit-those are the ones that are grabbing up every available media outlet, dumbing down the programming, cross-selling their own products, airing thinly-veiled propaganda, and keeping alternative voices off the news. This distinction was made only occasionally at the conference.

    This article contains summaries of some of the short speeches given to the conference-wide plenaries. At the bottom, you'll find related links with summaries of the panels and some of the longer speeches.

    I have tried as much as possible to let the speakers speak in their own words. Square brackets [ ] indicate that I've condensed into my own words.

    Josh Silver, Free Press
    Yolanda Hibbenstiel, Conference Organizer
    Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America
    Malkia Cyril, Youth Media Council
    Amy Goodman, Producer/Host, Democracy Now!
    Chellie Pingree, Common Cause
    Sydney Levy, San Francisco Media Alliance
    Amanda Ballentine, Free Press
    Jim Hightower, Populist author/speaker
    Kim Gandy, NOW
    Davey D, hiphop historian/DJ
    FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein
    FCC Commissioner Michael Coops
    Rep. Diane Watson

    Josh Silver, one of the conference organizers, from Free Press, emphasized the movement's successes:

    We are actually winning. We blocked the FCC's effort to make big media even bigger. We forced Sinclair to stop broadcasting electioneering as news. We uncovered payola pundits like Armstrong Williams. We forced Congress to require that government funded fake news be disclosed, albeit only for one year. And it was because of you.

    Community Internet—the whole future of communications is going to be a digital pipeline. Cable and telephone companies are working to make it illegal for anyone else to offer high speed Internet. You stopped legislation where the cable companies are unable to move forward because of us.

    Cable franchise renewals: great fights in Arizona, where we beat back hostile legislation. We've seen a loud and effective response to the White House/corporate attempt to inject partisan politics into our public broadcasting system. We're here because we understand that our democracy hangs in he balance. Because the current system is corrupt. The victories we've had, the growing momentum have proven the skeptics wrong. We are more unified and more organized than ever before, and we've just begun.

    We need to support some of the other structural issues: campaign finance reforms, redistricting, election reform, We have to reinstall democracy in this country.

    The victories of the past years have happened amid one of the most hostile political climates, and we're just beginning.

    Yolanda Hibbenstiel, conference organizer, says the movement is growing exponentially:

    This is a watershed moment. A delightful thing is that media is in crisis: danger and opportunity. Things could get better, or a lot worse. [Corporation for Public Broadcasting chair Kenneth Tomlinson's campaign to make PBS more conservative]—creates a phenomenal organizing opportunity. Five years ago, media were like the Rocky Mountains: they were just there and in the way, an obstacle. You felt helpless. But a switch has gone off. Increasing numbers of people have realized that the system is based on corrupt policies and bought-off politicians. And as they realize, they say 'policies made in my name have to be made with my informed consent.' We saw three million people rise up to oppose media consolidation in 2003. We had to close off enrollment [to the conference]; we could have had twice as many people. MoveOn and True Majority—polled their members: Media reform was #2 on both lists. Organizing on this issue is not hard. People respond, they soak it up. All we have to do is organize, make this an issue the public talks about, and we'll win. They want it to be behind closed doors so no one notices. We're Moore's law, we're doubling every 18 months.

    Mark Cooper, Consumer Federation of America, provided some long-term history: The media reform movement will reclaim the airwaves because of law, history, technology, and economics.

    The law is on our side. Prometheus stopped broadcasters from gutting low-power FM, Brand X turned back the cable companies, the court refused to shut down Grockster file sharing: celebrations of free expression and fair use—Free speech and fair use are deeply embedded in our history. The roads over which Paul Revere traveled were available on a nondiscriminatory basis, like community wireless. The Committees of Correspondence were acts of civil disobedience that the British could not control, like the blogs and websites of today. The airwaves belong to the public, they have not been able to get rid of that.

    At the end of the 19th century, when the railroads tried to shut down the flow of ideas, the people rose up and said no.

    Dramatic democratization of the means of communication: computers, Internet, declining cost of digital production have transformed consumers into producers, listeners into speakers. The growth of WiFi networks: the best demonstration that not only do the airwaves belong to the people, but they are best maintained as a commons, unfettered by licenses. Whenever entrenched interests lose their technical and economic edge, they turn to force, It's evident in 10,000 lawsuits filed without due process against file sharers, in the effort of the telephone companies to stop the paving of America's communications highways with community Internet.

    10 years ago Congress gave the spectrum for free. Now they want [to sell it] That is our legislative donnybrook, But you are the wedding celebration of democracy; you will not let them do that. The stakes are different than in 1996. Today it's not long distance versus local phone, it's free speech. In 1995, there were no bloggers, The Communications Act of 2006 will not be written behind closed doors! More and more Americans understand that this is a time of moral crisis, brought about in large measure by the failure of media to provide its function. You have the tradition, the technology, the aroused people. We will win. We will not only stop the stealing of the tools of our future, but [communicate our ideas].

    Malkia Cyril, Youth Media Council

    We are winning—but there remain questions about who we are. A fight to determine the destiny of this country is who owns the media and who makes the rules. The answer: dispelling myths, developing a framework.

    Distorted media content built [false impressions] about content of my character. It is more than a fight for media, it's a fight for our lives. We face a war on the world with hundreds of thousands of deaths, Our media system represents a crisis of democracy. Our media rights are being rolled back, but not without a fight. From alternative media and public TV to low power FM, we demand telecom policies that are in our interests, When we speak of media from the constitutional interpretation, [we get limited answers]. Both invisible and unreliable is the colonial context of its birth. The founding fathers were building a slave-holding economy that could impact media for centuries to come. Our current media system reproduces and maintains the colonial system. Understanding racism is not a secondary issue; it's fundamental.

    Apply the lenses of racism [and other isms]. For people of color, women, young folks there has never been a free press, and without racial, gender, and economic justice, there never will be.

    Myth: communication rights are individual civil rights guaranteed by citizenship, But what of [undocumented aliens, prisoners], people whose civil rights require social movements?

    Myth: we can address consolidation without [dealing with ism oppressions]. No press can be free unless the people who have been impacted are also free. Media justice is a framework of media policy change. Develop marginalized communities [as media voices]. We want media reform that spins on the axis of media justice and strategic alliance.

    [Organize around license renewal, telecomm act, and other pressure points] and lay the foundation for national opposition to Bush's plan. It is our turn now, our time. Marginalized communities care because our lives are at stake. Our people remain producers and consumers of a media system over which they have no control.

    We are working on the local level where the US has used our media to sell racism, sell war, and [assert its right to dominate], the US media is a problem for the entire world. Victory is imminent, and in fact it's everywhere. Marginalized communities are here as organizers, stakeholders, visionaries.

    Amy Goodman, Producer/Host, Democracy Now!

    35 years ago today, 5/13/70, the Ku Klux Klan blew up KPFT's (Pacifica station in Houston, Texas) transmitter after two months on air. They understood. Taking KPFT of the air for a couple of weeks—it was an explosive introduction to this new media form, and it drew more attention, They did it again and blew it off the air for thee months.

    Lew Hill [founder of the Pacifica Network and its first station, KPFK, Berkeley, California) felt there had to be media not run by corporations with nothing to tell and everything to sell.

    In the 50s, Paul Robeson was 'whitelisted' from almost every public space. He knew he could be heard on Pacifica. James Baldwin debating Malcolm X, broadcast over the airwaves of WBAI. Fannie Lou Hamer—the largest collection of this great civil rights leader.

    When I came in yesterday past the courthouse where Dred Scott's case was fist hard—although the Supreme Court ruled that he should remain a slave, he launched a movement. The Civil War ensued. He was one of those who freed them. We have to recognize movements and have a media in this country that doesn't focus on celebrity but on these movements. I was thinking of mothers of movements: Rosa Parks didn't do it alone, and not just because she was tired. She was an organizer. She worked at the NAACP, she'd been to the Highlander [Research and Education] Center [a social change training center in rural Tennessee, still in existence], and she understood how powerful nonviolent civil disobedience was. And she knew this was the moment. And she stood up for everyone.

    It's critical that we have a media in this country that broadcasts the voices of those who are on the target end of US foreign and domestic policy, We all know what the media did when I came to the invasion of Iraq: Beat the drums for war day after day, the top papers, the top stories of the networks—not just Fox. FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy In Media] did that critical study just before the invasion: 393 interviews around the war, only 3 with antiwar leaders. This an extreme media; it didn't represent mainstream Americans; most people were opposed to the invasion at that time. The voices that are excluded are not a fringe, but the Silenced Majority. We have to unembed the media. The media has reached an all-time low, More powerful than any bomb, any missile. The Pentagon has deployed the US media, and we have to take it back. The media are the most powerful institutions on earth, they are the way we learn about each other, about the rest of the world, and the way the rest of the world learns about us. It cannot be though a corporate lens, We listened to the small circle of pundits on very network who know so little about so much, explaining the war to us.

    Embedding has been a disaster for the media, we have hundreds of reporters with the troops, but what about in the hospitals. In other parts of the world, we saw the images of war—we need a little reality when it comes to war. If we saw for just one week, babies dead on the ground, women with their legs blown off by cluster bombs, soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins... This helped end the Vietnam War. Would we see the picture of the girl running from napalm today? These are stories we should see in the media.

    Going back to World War II, the media has not just been embedded, it's been perfected. [General Douglas McArthur ordered Hiroshima sealed off after the atomic bomb.] Two reporters got to Hiroshima. Wilfred Burchett was horrified; he didn't have the words to describe what he saw. He sat down in the rubble and typed, "Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller has passed over it and squashed it out of existence. I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world." William Laurence of the New York Times won a Pulitzer for saying there was no radiation sickness. We found out he was on the government payroll. The New York Times should be stripped of that Pulitzer! [Amy and her brother David wrote an extended essay on this. Click here to read it.

    A judge showed that he got [papers that have] just proven that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq are illegal—did you see that in the papers?

    You have to ask: in a just society, who would be behind bars, and who would be free?

    [Conscientious Objector] Pablo Paredes had witnessed prison abuse elsewhere in Iraq. `We should be hearing the story daily of Ivan Neptune, the democratically elected Prime Minister of Haiti, lying near death in a Port Au Prince jail.

    February 29, 2004, President Aristide [of Haiti] was kidnapped in a modern coup, backed by the US. It was the independent media that bought this story out. That's not enough.

    Democracy Now! had a chance to cover the return of President Aristide to this hemisphere. He's brought to the Central African Republic not even knowing where he's going. Representative Maxine Waters and Randall Robinson [of TransAfrica] went on a small plane to bring him back, Democracy Now! went to cover it. Where were the networks? They negotiated Aristide's release. The US had said President and Mrs. Aristide went voluntarily, so they had to let them go. The US ambassador to Haiti said they were not to return within 150 miles.

    MS-NBC, CBS, CNN were taking our reports. The CNN lifestyle host did not know, he thought it was a vacation story. He asked about violence, and I said that's who's engaged in this coup.

    And the host said, "you're kidding!" I call that 'trickle up journalism.' What we can do in this country, working together, building these forums, is a force more powerful than anything the networks have presented, It also involves taking on the networks and challenging them: what has given them the right to take over our property, the public airwaves?

    Rep. Diane Watson

    Hitch your wagon to a star, and then get out and push like hell.

    Our shared media experiences often lay the groundwork for finding common solutions. From "Roots" to "All the President's Men" to "Hotel Rwanda." But the roles our nation's creative people play are undergoing changes. They have been under siege, the consolidation of ownership, the lack of consumer choices, the exclusion of the public from back-room deals conspire to choke off this stream of creativity. We must seize the opportunities created by such convergence to propel change on capitol hill.

    Bush's press conference two weeks ago was his first conference of the new term. People are not as dumb as Karl Rove thought. We are not a nation of sheep. Americans are still risking their lives in a place where we should never have been. Our friends at CBS originally decided to vote the President of the island in favor of Survivor. They would air it live on the digital network, radio and dotcom. How many Americans know the channel number of the CBS digital network, or even have a digital set? As media technology expands, it pales before the number of people who watch traditional TV. CBS finally relented, but only after the White House agreed to move it up half an hour, And they cut him off at 9, in the middle of Social Security.

    The real question is whether Americans have the real choice of receiving the programs they desire. If the President can't be heard, how can a local candidate?

    Chellie Pingree, Common Cause

    Whoever would have thought a geeky little[ issue like media could take on this importance. This, in the end, can't be about a great weekend. It is not just about creating a movement. It can't even be about specific issues. We have to remind ourselves of this time of great peril, of the huge assaults. And sometimes our 'friends': the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania taking us out on the wireless issue.

    A reporter told me how fed up he is that he can't do the stories he wants to.

    We took on a pricing bill, and the reason we won is we had a really well-educated populace, and we have locally owned media.

    When I ran for the Main state legislature, I had six radio stations that covered my campaign.

    We put together a great project for affordable housing, but when my community members debated this, I realized they didn't have the information to make the decision. So we decided to have a free newspaper. If they have good information, they will vote the right way and do the right thing, So for 20 years we've published the paper, and next week we're going to have community wireless broadband. It's about access to the information. We can't let a bunch of gossips decide how we're going to fight the battles of our democracy. This is a fight we cannot afford to lose, and we're not going to.

    Sydney Levy, San Francisco Media Alliance

    1. Connect media policy to social justice: race, class, gender and sexuality. If our first issue is social justice, our second must be media reform, If our first issue is media reform, our second must be social justice.

    2. Before the media policy battles, we must rise to the needs of the common person's hopes and aspirations. Media is a mater of life and death for Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans. [When you engage there] you build and you win.

    3. Build from the bottom, When I married my [same-sex] partner, it was overturned by the courts; we didn't fully build a base. When I look at my ring, I remember my love for Mark, and I remember we need to build from the ground up. A lot of this work is being done by volunteers. We need to share resources: expertise and also money. It is on the backs of people who can't do it alone anymore. Fund the grassroots. If we don't have that base, we will not be able to sustain ourselves.

    4. I hear a lot of talk about the perfect storm. We struggle in ways that also build our movement. Go home, roll up your sleeves, an get going,

    Amanda Ballentine, Free Press

    Meeting you has made me so confident that this movement is going to prevail, and soon. We know that we must educate our policymakers, organize thousands of citizen lobbyists to bang on doors This movement must grow. We need to give these [uninvolved] folks the tools they need. Big media has the money, but we have the numbers. When we combine, we're more powerful than [newspaper and broadcast mogul] Rupert Murdoch's money and his lobbyists.

    Action steps:

    Join your local media reform organization. We need to join these groups to support local citizens' created media. If there's not a local group, start one; we'll help. Join the action squad.

    Introduce the Media Bill of Rights ( to local organizations you're involved with.

    This milestone presents a positive unified vision of a competitive, diverse, and independent media that will serve our society for generations to come, We need thousands of organizations. Get your organizations to sign on, so each our policy makers that people care about media policy.

    We understand that the fight is happening right now, and we need to work as hard as we can, as well as we can. We know we can build more democratic, vibrant, diverse media in this country and the world, This is our moment--we need to seize it.

    Jim Hightower, Populist author/speaker

    Air America*, long may it wave. What a joy to be part of this all-night hoorah and hog-callin' contest. They speak to people in ways that politicians can't even imagine. I urge our hosts to take this to the regions, maybe one a month. It makes me happier than a flea in a dog show. You concerned citizens and corporate butt-kickers, coming together to strategize, organize, and mobilize for taking our media back, our democracy back, and our country back from the thieves who stole it. I think of Woody Guthrie and his song about Pretty Boy Floyd, some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.

    We're up against the greedheads and the bone-heads. Thank you for not only questioning authority but questioning the answers of authority.

    It's not easy, but it is essential. I referred to you as agitators. The powers that be like to make that a pejorative. Agitation is what built America! If not for agitators, we'd all be singing God Hail the Queen and wearing white powdered wigs.

    In the first presidential election, only 4% were even eligible to vote. Democracy came from people doing what you're doing: Thomas Paine, Sojourner Truth, Mark Twain, Mother Jones, Phil Donahue and Nicholas Johnson here tonight.

    When they say your just an agitator, say, 'damn right, that's the centerpost in the washing machine that gets the dirt out. We've been paisley progressive. Now we need to get aggressive. They are running roughshod, they think they're the top dogs and we're just a bunch of fire hydrants.

    We gather tonight in open defiance of King George the W. here in the land of John Ashcroft. Never have so few done so much for so few. In 4-1/2 years, they have looted our treasury, shredded our constitution, now they have us launched in this messianic maniacal war to make the world safe for Halliburton.

    My message, and I'm sure you're wondering, is that this is a big time in our country, a historic moment. It's not just a matter of jobs offshored, environmental protection destroyed. They're stealing the very idea of America: The notion of egalitarianism, that we're all in this together. The ethic of the common good holds us together, this brawling sprawling nation. As I travel around America, I find that people know this. I saw a bumper sticker: Where are we going and what am I doing in this handbasket? That's the importance of our movement. Gunter Grass said the first job of a citizen is to keep your mouth open. But it helps if the mouth is attached to a brain. You're providing the directions, connections that we must have.

    The big news: the majority of Americans are on your side. Not just the beansprout eaters but the snuff dippers, the red states as well as the blue states. They've got the fat cats but we've got the alley cats, and there's more of us. I've been to about every zipcode and I find a different America than I read in the New York Times. I find a bunch of mutts and mavericks and rebels. On issue after issue, they're with us. Even the smallest dog can lift its leg on the tallest building. Let's take one poll: public education. 71% say educational improvements ought to focus on fixing the public school system. 84% say they'd pay more taxes if that money went to raise teacher salaries, fix school buildings.

    Tom DeLay is Gingrich on Viagra. His approval rating is 27%. That's beneath mad cow disease. You look at him and you think, 100,000 sperm and you were the fastest? People are not enamored. They are lighting little prairie fires of rebellion against the political and economic exclusion. They're passing living wage ordinances in 80 cities. 180 cities have defeated Wal-Mart. We've got Pacifica, Air America, indy book stores, alternative newspapers. We've got to invest in what we have and build that power, don't wait for CBS... Willie Nelson said 'the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.'

    This is enormous fun, just about as much as you can have with your clothes on, so turn it loose, battle the bastards. Mary Ellen Lees of Kansas was known a the Kansas Python; she said [a century ago], 'it's time to raise less corn and more hell.'

    * Air America is a national progressive talk radio network. Its best-known host, Al Franken, mc'ed the plenary at which Hightower spoke. Franken followed Hightower's colorful monologue by joking that he's from Minnesota, where they also have colorful speech—like "pretty good."

    Franken also noted, gleefully, that despite Rush Limbaugh's pronouncement that there wouldn't be a market for liberal talk radio, Franken was beating Limbaugh in certain key markets.

    Kim Gandy, NOW

    Gloria Steinem said 'The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off.'

    We have a website, But the number one page people e-mail is the Bushisms page.

    We work on media reform because it affects every single thing we do. When the media doesn't represent our issues or doesn't represent them fairly, we can't get our work done, And the impact on women specifically of this administration—they are paying off journalists for hawking the administration line. And the woman got a fraction of the money. Not only can't we get equal pay, we can't even get equal payola.

    Even the outlets we used to count on, like NPR and PBS, are taking on some of the biases. Just look at poor Buster, the cartoon rabbit. He couldn't go to Vermont because the maple farmers were a gay couple. I think they were talking to the same people at CBS and NBC who wouldn't let United Church of Christ air their [gay-tolerant] ad.

    Even some of our progressive friends don't get it right. Just because Don Imus doesn't like Bush doesn't make him progressive.

    Put media reform and media diversity on your agenda. If you have a Political Action Committee, ask the question when you interview candidates. If they're not hearing that our side cares, we're not going to get the support that we need.

    Davey D, hiphop historian/DJ

    I think I speak for a lot of communities of color when I say we have to be concerned about media justice, the negative portrayal of people of color, We can no longer afford to treat media as a passive spectator sport. We hold everyone on the news accountable, we have to be in their faces 24 hours a day. These stations leading the assault spend a lot of tine to seduce, attract and lull a lot of people to sleep, And one day we wake up to find out there's a lot of the things we don't know about. It's up to us to inform, creatively and intelligently, those who don't find this issue very attractive. I tell the rap artists, know the business before you get in the game. If you don't know these people, there's a problem, because they shot-call what goes on the airwaves. When we talk about poor people and crime and we look at media as an agency moving people in the wrong direction but has the potential to move in the right direction, we have to know the 40-year-old man who makes the decision to air [obscene lyrics] and blame the artist.

    `We strategize, what's the weakness? So in 2005 you do hear local artists on local radio in the Bay Area. In New York City, in 2002-03, Bob Law held a tribunal in Harlem and brought everyone in to talk about radio. They started a Turn Off the Radio campaign. Hot 7 [a commercial radio station catering to the African-American market], this year, ran a parody song about Asians. But blacks and Latinos and Asians came together and [organized to end the airplay]. We started sending e-mails to advertisers. They had to call a meeting.

    Intelligent human beings are demanding—we hear your DJs say the n word, and we don't want to hear that on the radio. It's not the people in our neighborhood making these decisions.

    This is the fight, but we are winning. Recognize our victories. We shifted the conversation from the shortcomings of the artists and DJs to the shortcomings of the people making the decisions. These are victories [got a program taken down about black women beating each other—illegal in New York].

    Communities of color are creating their own media and making themselves competitive. I wish those stories could be told in fuller detail.

    The big white elephant that is determining a lot of the stuff we have to deal with, that says we're gong to play these nasty songs to seven-year-olds—the payola word. We're making it known that this is bought and paid for by corporations, if you've got big-time money funding the records. [They] don't talk about the war opposition. Don't play the compilations of antiwar hiphop songs. Who's paid for that not to happen?

    Next year, let's make sure the landscape has significantly changed for the better.

    FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein (click here for full text)

    We won this first big battle [on then-FCC Chair Michael Powell's attempt to drastically reduce ownership restrictions] because like the first patriots, we were fighting for our country—and we fought for it with the belief of our revolutionary forbearers that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

    What our media produces is exported around the globe as the most influential expression of our culture. We can't afford to simply reinforce negative stereotypes, increasingly violent and coarse. Our media should reflect the diversity and the rich artistry that is our true character.

    Even as we fight media consolidation, we need to fight one of its most pernicious symptoms—the increasing commercialization of the media. Thinly disguised payola fueling homogenized corporate music with no room for new, vibrant or local artists; video news releases masquerading as news; PR agents pushing political and commercial agendas squeezing out real news coverage and local community concerns; product placements turning news and entertainment shows alike into undisclosed commercials; rapacious advertisers preying on the unsuspecting minds of our young children.

    Some good news: Two days ago, I testified before the Senate Commerce Committee about the need for the government to let viewers know when it is behind a video news release. We heard a bipartisan commitment to disclosure.

    But there's still much more to do. 1. If you see a video news release, a product placement, or a news segment that looks like an advertisement—hit the record button. 2. Check if there is a disclosure anywhere in the broadcast. If not, it may be [illegal] payola. 3. Send a formal complaint to the FCC; be sure to copy me. Together, we can shut down this fraud perpetrated on the American people.

    Thanks to all of you, we've gotten the whole country up in arms over media concentration. While we continue that fight, we can do the same with rampant commercialism.

    You've galvanized everyone's attention, including the FCC, Congress, the White House and the Courts.

    You've made media ownership the third rail of FCC politics. You are the energy that charges it up and makes people in Washington very, very nervous about touching it again. Keep that energy flowing through it so if anyone does dare to touch it, they get the jolt they should have expected.

    We've got to open our airwaves…restore public interest obligations on broadcasters as they enter the digital age…and keep the Internet open and free.

    We have to protect our legacy as Americans — the free flow of ideas and information. Like the Revolutionary minutemen before you, our very democracy depends on you. And like them, it is you whose fight and whose victories will be remembered and celebrated for generations to come.

    FCC Commissioner Michael Copps

    You have made a tremendous difference. People came and fought in the red states and the blue states, for America. These things are hurtling back toward us. Those awful rules have been sent back by the courts to the same folks who dreamed them up in the first place. I'm worried about the effects of consolidation, worried that anything with the word independent is on the endangered species list. Worried about artists who can't get heard on their hometown radio, because hometown stations are no longer locally controlled. When bluegrass and zydeco disappear from the air, is America going to be better off?

    There will be pressure to do the rules piece by piece, out of the spotlight. I have no intention of letting that happen. But it will happen without another massive outpouring. If citizens insist on our role, citizens will win. But that's the only way.

    Don't listen to those who counsel that now is not the time to fight. Use every resource you can access, do everything you can and then do a little bit more. If we all roll up our sleeves, we can settle this issue in favor of airwaves of, by and for the people of this great country.

    Closing Address by Bill Moyers:
    Read the complete transcript
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    The National Conference on Media Reform: Twin Fires of Change
    By Shel Horowitz and the Speakers and Presenters at the Conference

    National Conference on Media Reform Panel: News, Information and Corporate Media
    By Shel Horowitz and the panelists

    National Conference on Media Reform Panel: Online Organizing
    By Shel Horowitz, the panelists, and the audience

    National Conference on Media Reform Panel: Engaging New Constituencies in Media Reform
    By Shel Horowitz, the panelists, and the audience

    National Conference on Media Reform Panel: Media Reform One Community at a Time: Case Studies in Local Organizing
    By Shel Horowitz, the panelists, and the audience

    National Conference on Media Reform Panel: Visioning a Media System that Serves Our Democracy and Culture
    By Danny Schecter

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