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Media Reform and Democracy

An account of The National Conference on Media Reform held in Madison, WI November 7-9, 2003. Also, Eugene media activist organizing opportunities.
Media Reform and Democracy
Amy Pincus Merwin 2003

The National Conference on Media Reform held in Madison, WI November 7-9, 2003 originally expected 200 attendees, but grew to accommodate 1700 independent and working journalists, media activists and organizers, media-wannabees, and media celebrities. I attended representing KWVA, KBOO and my own InForm Radio, TV and Productions.

The long list of media celebrities, included FCC Commissioners Jonathan Edelstein and Michael Copps; Democracy Now's Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez; Congress members Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) NY, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D), Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) OH, Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D) WI, and Rep. Bernie Sanders (I) VT; Senator Russ Feingold (D) WI; PBS's NOW host Bill Moyers and PBS President Pat Mitchell, social and political activists Ralph Nader and Reverend Jessie Jackson, and Saturday Night Live writer/producer, Al Franken.

Last spring conference co-organizers Robert McChesney and John Nichols advocated furiously against FCC Commissioner Michael Powell's (son of Secretary of State Colin Powell) ruling that would allow consolidation of ownership of all media (TV, radio and print) in local areas by large media corporate giants. Their advocacy resulted in the largest reactive outpouring of emails, letters, and calls to Congress in history. Subsequently, Powell's ruling is in jeopardy.

The ruling overturned in the US Senate is currently being held on, Rep. Dennis Hastert's, the Speaker of the House, desk. Congresspersons Bernie Sanders, Maurice Hinchey and others spoke passionately about forcing Speaker Hastert to move the Senate's action off his desk and onto the US House floor where a vote on the ruling could be taken and consequently overturned. This would place the onus on Bush to either issue his first veto of Congress, leaving the ruling in place against the wishes of both the people and Congress, or abandon Powell and his corporate media influencers.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey spoke impressively about how after Powell's FCC ruling was overturned that he would introduce legislation to rescind the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed ownership-consolidated control of radio, resulting in the heavy presence of both Clear Channel and Cumulus Radio in the Eugene area and throughout the nation. Hinchey took my breath away when he also committed to reinstate "The Fairness Doctrine", which established the origin of "fair and balanced" reporting of equal time for opposing points of view in media and had been rescinded during the Reagan years.

The conference was filled with excellent landscape and strategic workshops, from 'New Initiatives in Media Funding' to 'Youth and Campus Activism for Media Reform' to 'Radio: Reclaiming the People's Medium' and many, many more.

The highlight of the conference was when, to the surprise of everyone, 92-year-old Studs Terkel came on stage to introduce Bill Moyers, and did so by saying that Moyers was the one person he knew in whom he would have perfect confidence in having as a US President.

Bill Moyer, host of PBS's NOW, and whose invitation to conference co-organizers McChesney and Nichols to appear on NOW resulted in the national response to Powell's FCC ruling, spoke eloquently explaining that the history of American Democracy has been inextricably tied since prior to the revolution and until now to a free and open press. He bemoaned that corporate control of the media, government secrecy, large media conglomerates and a right wing, partisan press would change that reality and said, "I know journalism and democracy are deeply linked in whatever chance we human beings have to redress our grievances, renew our politics, and reclaim our revolutionary ideals. Those are difficult tasks at any time, and they are even more difficult in a cynical age as this, when a deep and pervasive corruption has settled upon the republic... " And Moyers inspired us by saying, "I take heart in your presence here. It's your fight now. Look around. You are not alone."

Al Franken's Saturday night keynote address parodied the Fox News lawsuit against his use of the words "fair and balanced" in the subtitle of his latest book, Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, because Fox News considered the term "fair and balanced" as their trademark. Franken's hilarious storytelling recounted how the judge in throwing out Fox's case stated that its lawsuit was "totally without merit". Franken lightened the serious, action-orientated mood left after Bill Moyers' speech by saying that Fox's new slogan would be "Fox News: Totally without merit!"

Riding on the enthusiasm of the The National Conference on Media Reform, local activists are organizing media activism through several venues, including: pursuing a LPFM (Low Power FM radio frequency) appeal with the FCC; exploring the establishment of an Independent Media Center to support cooperative media efforts in a variety of means; and encouraging more citizens to pick up a microphone, camera, or pen to contribute their voice to the chorus of the free and independent press exercising our First Amendment Rights.

My heartfelt reaction to this inspiring experience was that a free and open American press is crucial to the establishment of free and open societies with real democratic constitutions and institutions throughout the world.

National Conference on Media Reform Website

About Free Press

For more information about progressive media in the Eugene area, contact:
InForm Productions,  inform@rio.com (after mid-December,  amy@informproductions.com), (541) 345-1633.

Listen to Democracy NOW M-F, 7-8am on KWVA 88.1 FM and watch it on CTV Cable Channel 29 M-F, 4:30-5:30.
Listen to FreeSpeech Radio News M-F, 6-6:30pm on KWVA 88.1 FM, and InForm Radio News Mondays, 6:30-7pm on KWVA 88.1FM.

Amy Pincus Merwin owns InForm Productions, TV and Radio and is an audio and video producer. InForm Radio air on KWVA 88.1 FM/Eugene, Mondays 6:30-7p, KWVA.org and KBOO 90.7 FM/Portland, Tuesdays or Wednesdays news hour. InForm TV airs on CTV Cable Channel 29 on Sundays @ 7pm, Mondays @ 7am, Fridays @7pm, and Saturdays @7am.