NAB Meets the Media Democracy Movement: Round Two
Countering the NAB at the Community Media Conference: Sept. 9-14 2002, Seattle
The stars—or satellites—are aligned for the explosion of a national media democracy movement. Confronting dramatic consolidations of corporate media ownership and power, pro-business court decisions and looming threats of further deregulation from an FCC Chair who openly mocks public interest standards, activist groups across the country are finding common languages of resistance. Heartened by large and small victories in the Pacifica struggle, the fight for LPFM radio, the "Angels of the Public Interest" protests in DC this spring, media democracy activists have several opportunities this year to join struggles against the corporatization of our media systems, our airwaves and our internet.
In fall 2000, the well-organized and diverse San Francisco NAB protests in 2000 formed a catalyst and a milestone for the movement to save LPFM—then under attack by the NAB and NPR. This September, the NAB will hold their annual radio conference in Seattle, and media activists there hope to repeat history—supporting the continuing development of a broad-based, cooperative and focused movement for media democracy.
NAB: The WTO of Broadcasting
One of the most powerful lobbies in the country, the National Association of Broadcasters represents the owners and management of the corporate media; the organization works tirelessly to keep control of the airwaves away from the public and firmly in the hands of big business. The NAB has fiercely opposed Low-Power FM licensing for community radio stations, fought to abolish public service requirements for broadcasters, and pressured Congress against enacting campain finance reform measures which would have granted free airtime to rich and poor candidates alike.
The NAB has also pushed for ownership deregulation in the broadcast industry. The American radio industry is now more consolidated than ever before, with the largest single owner (the cartoonishly villainous Clear Channel) owning over 2500 stations in the U.S. alone. When the NAB met in San Francisco in Sept. 2000, they were greeted by large-scale protests from citizens' groups calling for democratic access to the public airwaves. This year, we will meet them again at the Washington State Convention Center in downtown Seattle, the infamous site of the 1999 WTO Minsterial.
The keynote speaker at this year's NAB will be Bill O'Reilly, conservative host of the Fox cable program "The O'Reilly Factor." O'Reilly's presence, and the conference's theme of "Radio Has Power," should provide ample inspiration for creative activist responses.
The Cascadia Media Alliance
Planning for counter-NAB events is being coordinated by the Cascadia Media Alliance, a recently-formed group linking journalists, media activists and political organizers from the Seattle Independent Media Center (IMC), radio.indymedia.org, microradio.net, Studio X, RiseUp Productions and regional community radio stations. Other groups expressing interest in counter-conference event-planning include the Media Alliance, Prometheus Radio Project, FAIR, Media Channel, Women in Media & News (WIMN) and the Center for Digital Democracy, among others.
The Seattle NAB Protest and Community Media Conference To date, the CMA group has focused on developing an infrastructure for the conference — lining up venues for major speakers and conference workshops, and seeking funding from private and foundation sources. In this next stage of event development, the group is eager for input from a variety of community organizations, inside and outside of the media democracy movement. What makes media issues relevant to different communities? What are the major targets for focused political campaigns? So far, plans for a Community Media Conference have coalesced around three major themes:
* Networking and Movement-Building Amongst Media-Makers
We'll be inviting alternative media-makers from around the Pacific NW (including British Columbia and California), and beyond, to engage in some regional media networking to include skill-sharing workshops, mentoring and content collaboration within a multiple-day Regional Radio Summit. The issues of media consolidation and convergence are broad and overlapping -- our hope is that we'll have opportunities for media activists on all fronts (print, cable, broadband, wireless, radio) to meet, share notes, share content, and organize.
* Public Education and Broad-based Movement-Building
Our efforts along these lines are multifold, some further-developed than others. We are currently addressing outreach: making contact and building relationships with a number of community groups and organizations, finding out what their needs and interests would be in a media democracy event (and regarding media policy in general). As Jeff Perlstein, of the Media Alliance has noted, "media" is probably not the #1 concern for most groups, but it might be #2, or 3 on their list.
Our first outreach effort was organized around David Barsamian's visit on the April 20th weekend. The Seattle IMC asked Barsamian to host an "Independent Media Encounter," gathering representatives from a variety of community-based and activist newspapers, broadcasters and other media to explore shared issues. This was followed by an exciting open-mic discussion with DeeDee Halleck, Jeff Chester, Dirk Koning, and others during the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibilty Conference. A similar "media-mixer" is scheduled for mid-June, this time inviting a wide variety of community groups and alternative media-makers to discuss the September event, and media democracy issues as they arise from local communities.
At the national level, the CMA has begun producing a series of brief media and democracy radio features, to be played daily on community and college radio stations around the country in August and September. Each of the daily radio spots will feature a noted progressive activist, media critic, performing artist, or theorist addressing a particular topic in relation to one of many media issues. We need support from writers and producers to continue work on this project; participants already include Howard Zinn, Jim Hightower, Starhawk, Anuradha Mittal, Helen Caldicott, and others.
* Protest Rally and Education Fair
September is assuredly the best time of year for an outdoor event in Seattle. We have a 3- day permit secured for the large outdoor plaza directly outside of the Convention Center where NAB will be holding its event. We have interest from some very talented political puppeteers in the area; we're able to have a riser with bands performing; and we'd love to see some how-to workshops under canopy tents (e.g. how to build a transmitter?).
For more information about the September NAB protests and the Community Media Conference, visit our newly launched website, www.reclaimthemedia.org. The site is designed to serve as a resource shared by activists working on a variety of media democracy issues; media activists are encouraged to post articles to the site, and to contact us regarding planning opportunities for September activities. Those interested are welcome to join our planning email list, firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact the CMA at cma@riseup,net, or contact us individually at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you in Seattle!
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