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Wisconsin Media Conference
M edia scholars, reporters, and activists converged in Madison, Wisconsin from November 7 to 9. The big draw was the National Conference on Media Reform, organized by Free Press (www.mediareform.net) and UW- Madison’s A.E. Havens Center. As Free Press cofounders Robert McChesney and John Nichols stated, the turnout of more than 1,600 far surpassed their initial estimates of a few hundred attendees. But the national conference wasn’t the only game in town. A free parallel meeting of marginalized voices greatly enriched the conversation. In all, three not-mutually exclusive visions were advanced: be the media, reform the media, and radically transform the media.
Be the Media
C oncerned by the national conference’s registration fee, emphasis on big names, and focus on “reform,” Madison Indymedia, Infoshop, and WORT community radio organized a free parallel meeting called Be the Media!
Be the Media! opened Friday evening with the film Independent Media in a Time of War , by the Hudson Mohawk Independent Media Center, and a discussion with Juan Gonzalez, Jeremy Scahill, and Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” Although many in the packed auditorium likely came to see Amy Goodman, local activists also spoke. Volunteers at the community access TV station warned of a threat by city council members to cut their funding (a cheap political stunt that, fortunately, failed). El Salvador and Palestine solidarity activists gave updates on their work. “Being informed is only the first part,” Madison-Arcatao (El Salvador) Sister-City Project member Marc Rosenthal stated. “We also need to organize.”
Saturday was devoted to hands- on, action-oriented workshops on subjects ranging from making bilingual media to starting a microradio station to performing political theater. Attendance was on the small side, though participants included both national conference attendees and local activists. Workshops assumed knowledge of the issues and a desire to put information gained to use with local media projects and in the streets—assumptions which seemed pretty accurate.
In the same DIY spirit, and correctly guessing that “any corporate media coverage of the conference will be perfunctory (if at all),” activists launched a Be the Media! Blog (www.wisconsinite.net) to report on the weekend’s events. The Bloggers also pulled off the impressive feat of webcasting many national conference events with “less than a month’s worth of planning, a budget of $0, a handful of volunteers, and a whole lot of donated time/resources.”
Reform the Media
T he National Conference on Media Reform’s stated aims were to strengthen grassroots and national coalitions, develop unified plans for immediate and long-term reforms, and generate policies and strategies that will structurally improve the media system. Though it was impressive in many respects, the conference, in my opinion, failed to meet the last two of its goals.
Perhaps because of the overwhelming participant response, the conference relied on an “expert” to audience one-way flow of information. Only one hour at the end of the conference offered a more interactive structure. These “issue salons”—on issues including hyper-commercialism, media ownership, and democratic governance —used a speed dating format in which people talked in small groups for six minutes and then changed groups. It was fun, but any in- depth discussion was impossible.
Although it fell short of its admittedly ambitious goals, the conference did an excellent job at building community among independent journalists, policy activists, nonprofit leaders, and even some policy makers. The large turnout and all-star speakers’ roster, including Naomi Klein, Ralph Nader, Bill Moyers, and FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein (who played a mean harmonica during Saturday night’s performance), were exciting. The energy and camaraderie generated will be important to the long-term struggle for media reform.
Transform the Media
T here was only one workshop that discussed media and communities of color and it stood in stark contrast to the rest of the national conference. “We ain’t fighting to take back the media, because we never had it in the first place,” stated one of the media justice presenters.
Groups organizing in communities of color, working with youth of color, and women of color media collectives are working together under the banner of media justice. One core principle is that access to media is a human right. Another is that mass media—through its racist, sexist, heterosexist, and classist language and images—is an instru- ment of genocide.
The media justice approach “depends on base-building and community organizing—not lobbying.” Another presenter highlighted the media reform/media justice divide with an anecdote: Philadelphia organizers door-knocking to register people in opposition to the FCC plan relaxing media ownership rules encountered many people of color unwilling to give their names and addresses to any government agency.
Realizing that they had almost completely ignored issues of race, class, and gender, Nichols and McChesney asked the media justice coalition to speak at the closing plenary—ten minutes before it started. Malkia Cyril took the opportunity to inform the audience, “We won’t stay at the margins of the media and events like this much longer.” The coalition is planning its own conference in 2004 (www.media justice.org).
The best evidence from the weekend that the media democracy movement is thriving is that there was no single event or single answer to the question of what needs to be done. Hopefully the conversation will continue, with an increased awareness of and respect for the range of strategies and actions.
Diane Farsetta is a radio journalist, freelance writer, and research director at the Center for Media and Democracy.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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