With more than 3,000 journalists, activists, bloggers and media critics having gathered in Minneapolis last weekend for the National Conference for Media Reform, it is clear that corporate press' domination over the media is being challenged by a new media movement.
Whether it is well-known news sites like Democracy Now!, or lesser known activist groups like Reclaim the Media, a growing number of people are realizing that media democracy may be the most important issue in America – you can't have an open or honest discussion about war, poverty or inequality unless the press properly covers them.
Perhaps one of the most interesting workshops at the conference was the 'The Changing Role of Media Critics,' with Janine Jackson from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Eric Boehlert from Media Matters, Diane Farsetta from the Center for Media and Democracy, and Eric Deggans from the St. Petersburg Times.
Each of the panellists talked about the need to understand the structural makeup of the media if we're going to know how to fix it – you need to know who owns the newspaper you read, the newscast you watch, the blogpost you download and how they profit from it. This is what the media democracy movement is very good at. It continues to shine a light on media corporations and expose how a company like General Electric, which manufactures weapons, profits by having its news agency, NBC, promote the need for war in Iraq.
While there has been a lot of talk in both the alternative and mainstream press about how the media is in a state of crisis, the NCMR proved that there is hope. There is a dedicated base of people that understand the importance of having an accessible and democratic media and will continue to produce news no matter the financial restrictions.
However, the media democracy movement still has some fundamental problems that it needs to work out within itself if it's going to succeed. The main problem is that the line between journalism and activism has become too blurry. The NCMR had many liberal activists who seemed more concerned about denouncing Republicans that practicing good journalism.
While Arianna Huffington claims the HuffingtonPost.com is non-partisan, she loses credibility (and independence) when she stands up on stage at the NCMR and tells attendees that they should do everything they can to ensure Barack Obama becomes the next president. People were very disturbed (and rightfully so) when Rupert Murdock endorsed George Bush. Why is it okay for liberals to do the same thing with Obama?
If the progressive press simply fawns over Obama for the next five months and vilifies everything John McCain does, then they will be following the exact formula they claim taints the corporate press. If they refuse to ask the hard and critical questions of their own leaders and their own movement, they will ultimately fail.
Media democracy has attracted people from all sides of the political spectrum (both Democrats and Republicans successfully fought together to defeat the Federal Communications Commission's attempt to loosen media ownership laws). It has galvanized people across the world, from various economic and cultural backgrounds – people who once assumed that media reform simply meant changing the channel during the commercial.
A number of speakers at the conference talked about the issue of timing and how now was the right time to get the change they want to see. But media democracy is too important of an issue to be used to promote certain political beliefs.
The organizers of the NCMR, Free Press, have done an amazing job of keeping the media democracy movement non-partisan and working with all types of groups (brining mainstream news stalwart Dan Rather on board is a testament to the movement's growth and success). While activism certainly plays an important and necessary role in brining issues such as media concentration and net neutrality to light and pulling back the curtain on the corporate press, the movement must also ensure its followers practice good journalism, or pull back the curtain on them.
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