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Ustan b. Reinart
Law & Order
John M. Laforge
Press The Press
Dru Oja jay
Lee Siu hin
Z Papers on Vision
An interview with Betsy Leondar-Wright
Gay & Lesbian Community Notes
Herbert P. Bix
European Union News
Eleanor J. Bader
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Media Reform and Media Revolution
T he dominant evaluation of this year’s National Conference on Media Reform is that it was an overwhelming success. On the contrary—relative to where the movement could and should be—the conference’s achievements seem underwhelming as political divisions, a dearth of democracy, and a short-sighted agenda threaten the future effectiveness of the movement.
Free Press, a national, non- profit media reform organization, which convened the conference, advocates a reform agenda. Their goal is to facilitate democratic control over the policies that govern the press and broadcast media. In their own words, they seek to “generate policies that will produce a more competitive and public interest-oriented media system with a strong nonprofit and non-commercial sector.”
Free Press’s agenda is dominated by policy reform. As Free Press directors Ben Scott and Russell Newman put it in their contribution to The Future of Media : “To win just media, we must deliver just media policy.” As representatives of Free Press articulate again and again, this is the order in which change occurs: first just policy, then just media.
Judging by the loud cheers when Naomi Klein said, “It’s not a question of reform, it’s a question of revolutionizing the media,” media revolution (at least in the abstract) is not an unpopular idea with conference-goers. (This might be contrasted with the collective grumbling with which an otherwise extremely enthusiastic audience received Bill Moyers’s citation of NPR’s “courageous coverage” of the Iraq war.)
Indymedia activists made a prominent show of their discontent by setting up an ad-hoc Open Publishing center outside of the conference’s Saturday night keynote, inviting the audience to participate in an open online discussion about the conference.
Instead of regulating the corporate press, Indymedia activists seek to render it irrelevant by empowering people to “be the media” by doing their own reporting, creating their own radio stations, and publishing their own newspapers. Indymedia projects are democratically-run and decisions are made by consensus by those who participate in media-making. The overall goal of Indymedia is to empower people to represent themselves when they are misrepresented in the media.
The end result that Indymedia activists are working towards is quite different from (though not incompatible with) those of Free Press: a world where historical and current injustices are addressed, where local democratic self-governance and autonomy have primacy, where control of resources and production falls under democratic community control.
In five years, with no foundation or corporate funding, Indymedia has grown to a global media network with almost 200 local collectives spanning 36 countries and 20 languages. Their websites receive an estimated 30 million page views per month. Indymedia has many problems (lack of age, class, gender, and racial diversity are frequently cited, and some see its chaotic nature as a weakness), but its successes are undeniable.
The point I’m making is not that Indymedia is superior to less radical media reform efforts; it is that being uncompromising and being wildly successful are not mutually exclusive. Success at the grassroots level sprouts from other criteria, of which solidarity, democracy, and local relevance are examples.
Looking at the mandates of the reform-minded Free Press and the revolution-oriented Indymedia, there is a lot of room for agreement. In principle, Free Press seeks to open space for the grassroots—and so do Indymedia, Prometheus Radio, Community Wireless, and hundreds of other initiatives—to reach an audience without being shut down or marginalized by the government and corporations. So why is there a problem?
Structure of the NCMR
I t has been said that, “Whatever your first issue of concern, media had better be your second, because without change in the media, the chances of progress in your primary area are far less likely.” This seems to have become a sort of mantra for Free Press organizers, but they have carried it one step further. Media reform, they have said repeatedly, is the issue of concern here and we shouldn’t get distracted by other political fights.
Their concern is understandable and no doubt well intended. If the movement is dominated by infighting, it could lose momentum. As Free Press would have it, we need to stay focused on policy reform and then we can have independent media. Unfortunately, this concern betrays a lack of understanding of this movement in particular and politics in general and could ultimately stifle the emerging resistance instead of accelerating and empowering it.
Let’s look at the format of the conference. Friday: speakers address the conference, followed by pre-planned panels, workshops, and films, punctuated by breaks. Panels were followed by a short question period during which audience members were asked to keep things short and told to “please ask your question.” Saturday: pre- planned panels, workshops, and films until 4:30, at which point there were caucuses, the one official time that people could speak directly to each other. This was followed by a two-hour “Media Democracy Showcase” where various organizations set up tables. Soon after, there was a star-studded keynote session featuring Al Franken, Jim Hightower, FCC Commissioners, and others. The final day made time for “action clinics,” followed by a plenary session where there was a packed five minute summary of concerns with the conference—a rare moment of questioning.
I attended the Independent Media Producers’ Caucus and was surprised to find that instead of participating in a discussion among peers, I was subjected to an agenda, set ahead of time, of discussing ways in which the full room of independent media producers could advance the agenda of media reform. It felt insulting.
In hindsight, I should have been more careful in reading the conference program, which states: “The objective for these caucuses is to allow participants from specific stakeholder constituencies to meet other conference participants from their constituency, allow participants to articulate this group’s stake and role in media reform, and to discuss ways this constituency can engage more deeply in media reform.”
This language, and my experience of the “caucus,” in which attendees’ protests were repeatedly glossed over, reflects a fundamental confusion on the part of Free Press organizers about how popular movements function and what feeds them.
Whence the Movement?
I t’s important to note where popular movements do not come from. They do not come from a concern with policy or with a desire to democratize federal bureaucracies and regulations; 99.9 percent of Americans do not dedicate a significant part of their day to thinking about policy qua policy. However, a clear majority do think there is too much advertising, do want better news coverage, do want their communities accurately represented in the media. A significant number have tried to make their own media only to be shut down—by corporations, the government, or both.
It is likely that the majority of these people have not heard of either Indymedia or Free Press. The media reform policy agenda is important, and thousands of people have recognized it as such. But to sustain its growth, the movement (and its self-appointed leaders) must recognize where it comes from. It comes from being misquoted. It comes from an attempt to start a radio station or community wireless network that is shut down by Clear Channel or Verizon. It comes from Fox News. It comes from a lack of community reporting. It comes from a lack of critical coverage of Social Security “reform.” It comes from propaganda for war. It comes from the stereotypes of Muslims or women (for example) that are cultivated by the media.
If one accepts that this is the case, then the way to cultivate a movement many times the size of the current one is clear. Rather than enlisting the (relatively small) existing pool of people into policy wars, the goal should be to make sure as many people as possible have the experiences that lead them to become active in the fight against corporate media and then help them fight their own fight. And win.
The National Conference on Media Reform facilitates this in a limited way, but it seems to do so despite itself. The U.S. part of the global justice movement that marched in Seattle, Washington DC, New York, and San Francisco has been learning that asking people to sign on to your agenda because you know best isn’t the way to build a movement; it’s the way to limit it. Free Press can learn this too. It needs to.
How Does Reform Happen?
N ow that hundreds of thousands of people are concerned enough to act, how do we channel that concern into concrete change on the ground? The question should be asked before an answer is provided.
The MoveOn.org/Howard Dean/Free Press model of turning concern into action, whereby widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo is channeled into focused campaigns to change specific policies, has become popular—though concerns about the lack of accountability or democracy in this model (e.g., who decides what campaigns to take on) have been voiced. While no one can deny the power of uniting millions of people in favor of one cause, we must ask: is that enough? Not nearly. The model is simply a way of harvesting the existing discontent, not building, connecting, and expanding it. For reforms to be substantial, the threat of revolution must be real.
If we want to reform the media, we must undermine their credibility and their very existence from one end, while providing a “reasonable” way out on the other. If they do not heed the call of reform and we replace them, so much the better.
In the U.S., the right understands very well how to use its more militant factions to move the debate in their direction. I remember hearing Republican leaders on NPR calling attention to some “challenging” proposals—by more far right House Republicans—to legislate the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions. They may have little hope of passing such legislation, but calling attention to it as an imminent threat helps to move the debate in their direction and further their anti-abortion agenda. In the case of the right, cultivating a base of uncompromising militants has only helped them accomplish their political objectives.
The liberal left in the U.S. has yet to figure this out. Democrats wouldn’t be caught dead saying, “Well, some people are calling for the breakup of the media monopolies and local democratic control over the electromagnetic spectrum, but we’re making the much more reasonable request for more spectrum for LPFM stations in cities.” But there’s a good reason: broadcasters fund the Democrats and control the news coverage about them, too. Thankfully, Free Press is non-partisan.
In Front of the Parade
O n many levels, Free Press recognizes these facts remarkably well. (I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t think they do good work.) However, the organization’s tendency (by no means monolithic) to try to constrain the movement and keep its own agenda at the fore will be damaging in the long term. Having placed itself at the front of the Media Reform parade, it is in danger of confusing being in front with being the reason the parade is happening—just as liberals confuse the fact that they were forced to implement a social safety net by the threat of social movements taking power with the idea that it was their leadership and benevolence that made it happen.
While it is an extremely important component of a strategy against corporate control of the media, policy is a secondary consideration in the building of a movement. Free Press’s Ben Scott and Russell Newman make the opposite case in The Future of Media: Resistance and Reform in the 21st Century , invoking the potential of consolidation of control over Internet networks and the end of common carrier rules: “The Indymedia battle cry of ‘Hate the Media? Be the media’ will ring hollow if ‘being the media’ requires signing a contract with Comcast or Verizon to have a mass-media mouthpiece in tomorrow’s media system.”
But while the case for media activists of all stripes to lend some kind of support to Free Press’s policy reform agenda is a compelling one, the political fact remains: Free Press won’t build the grassroots movement it needs by asking for the existing movement to submit to its agenda and stifle their tendencies to build alliances and to self-organize.
What is the goal of the National Conference on Media Reform? Does the NCMR exist to further the immediate agenda of Free Press, raising its profile and lending support to its campaigns? If so, this should be made clear so that the other parts of the anti-corporate media movement can regroup and create their own venues for networking and growing the movement as soon as possible.
Or is it to further the political goal of creating a media that serves the public and works for a more just and democratic society? If so, Free Press needs to water and fertilize the grassroots and sow seeds of resistance. You get our back, we get yours. That’s solidarity and that’s how you build a movement. The role of the conference organizer should be twofold: to address the needs of the movement, and to facilitate alliances between individual initiatives. It’s that simple.
It is crucial that people be treated
as human beings with the ability to make political decisions for
themselves. It’s our job to give them the tools to do it
and make the case for doing it. It’s up to them to do the
rest. People will appreciate this.
the conditions for action instead of giving orders:
Free Press decided not to set up a media center where people
could update their blogs, publications, upload audio, etc. But
it is exactly this kind of resource that will achieve the desired
effect of amplifying the message of media reform. Hijacking the
independent media producers’ one chance to talk to each other
seems to have the opposite effect (a quick glance at Indymedia
coverage of the conference confirms this).
(solidarity is mutual):
the excellent “Globalizing the Media Reform Movement”
session, speakers from Korea, Brazil, and Africa spoke of the
need to support media reform movements inside the U.S. Our ability
to hold media accountable to the truth will make the difference
between life and death, poverty and prosperity for millions of
people. The support of those millions is there, waiting for a
connection. For some reason, the connection isn’t being made.
Why not invite delegations from social movements in Argentina,
Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine, France, Haiti,
South Africa, India, Nepal, and dozens of indigenous communities
to speak about how disinformation in the U.S media harms them?
The potential in those names alone shifts the focus from why the
movement is so large to why the movement isn’t much, much
For anyone wanting to organize a serious caucus outside of
what the conference had already planned, the responsibility for
promoting it rested firmly on their shoulders. Why not announce
all independent caucuses at the close of each panel, workshop,
and film that takes place right before the caucus? Better yet,
devote one of the concurrent sessions in each time slot to open,
facilitated discussions on specific areas of strategy and organizing.
(Those who want to see big names get what they want, and so will
those who want to build and discuss. Everyone will be happy.)
Brainstorm ways to get people who are working on the same things
talking to each other. The result will be a stronger and better
and encourage the contribution of all participants:
can’t be said often enough that media reform doesn’t
come from policymakers, it comes from a broad range of movements
for social justice, independent media, and community organizations.
It’s not enough to recognize their past contributions; they
should be an integral part of any successful movement to reform
are political tensions in the movement, which remained invisible
to most conference-goers. The majority of attendees are not invested
in one side or the other of any conflicting set of visions, but
depriving everyone of a clear delineation of the possible futures
of the movement only impoverishes our collective imagination while
maintaining the illusion of unity.
Make public the minutes of your organizing meetings and the archives
of your mailing list, and consult widely before making major decisions.
It’s difficult, but you will earn trust, hear a lot of valuable
suggestions, and your organizing (and its political outcomes)
will be much more rooted and solid as a result. I know from experience
that this is a difficult step to take, but, nonetheless, a worthwhile
- Democracy : At the very least, send out emails asking what people want from the next conference and open up an online discussion about how best to run the conference. And then listen. Open up the organizing to involve other groups and distribute responsibility for different parts of the conference. (For example, let the Indymedia set up the space for people to make their own media and learn about open publishing that didn’t happen this time around.) The result will be a richer and more dynamic convention.
- React to politics with creativity: When the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression asked Free Press for workshop space so that police brutality could be investigated independently, Free Press responded that they were “here to discuss media reform.” If Free Press can’t see how police brutality and the lack of a civilian oversight board is a media issue, then there’s a fundamental disconnect.
- Shed the bizarre fear of politics: Most people realize that they live in a world with a lot of different points of view, cultural values, and political agendas. There’s no need to protect them from anything. The question that should be asked is not how conflicting agendas can be kept from clashing, but how dialogue can be made as productive and open as possible. The margins and the intersections: that’s where the breakthroughs and innovations happen.
- Make it more accessible: Nice work with the scholarships. Now expand them, make the price sliding scale, lower it overall.
- Ask not what the movement can do for you: Where are the strongest social movements in the world? In the U.S.? Hire organizers to go and ask them what they need to fight the bad media coverage that they are inevitably getting. It’s going to be different in every case. Some people need legal protection or to be bailed out of jail, some need sophisticated web sites, and some need the media reform toolkit.
W hether Free Press embraces these (and similar) suggestions or not, their decision will help organizers and activists decide how to respond. Do we put our energy into other gatherings to fight corporate media? There is considerable momentum in this direction already, but Free Press will decide to what extent its National Conference on Media Reform will stay relevant to the movement as a whole. If it exists primarily to further one agenda, rather than to build a movement, it’s better for everyone that we know sooner rather than later.
If Free Press decides not to broaden the conference to achieve political goals and remains focused on a narrow reform agenda, their resources and formidable organizing power will be missed, but the movement will ultimately be better served by cultivating gatherings (the Allied Media Conference is one example) that focus on formulating a mass-based political challenge to corporate media.
That said, if there’s anyone who claims that defeating corporate media is possible without a broad based movement that takes social justice into account, that’s a dialogue I’m keen to participate in, as are many others. Now all we need is a venue.
Dru Oja Jay works with Indymedia, the Indigenous Peoples’ Solidarity Movement, Haiti Action Montréal, and is coordinating editor of the Dominion.
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.