Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Media "Reform" Conference Finds Plenty of Media Available to Report on It

A conference of a sort was held last weekend in St. Louis called the National Conference on Media Reform to “mobilize to fix our broken media system.” According to the conference Web site, among its grievances are “shoddy journalism”, “government-funded propaganda,” and “corporate consolidation.”

In a column reporting on the event,'s Danny Schechter summarized the goal of the organizers: “To redirect the most powerful arsenal of communication technology humanity has ever known away from serving corporate interests and into the hands of our citizens and public needs.”

As best I can tell the event was totally the faithful preaching to the choir. If you look through the list of speakers there is no one invited to speak, on even a token basis, to articulate the positive, to question the assumptions of the organizers. To be sure, it was their conference (Robert McChesney, John Nichols and others from The and they could invite whomever they wanted. But I wonder if this is what they mean with their mantra of “diversity” and "media democracy." I think it safe to presume that the conference organizers and attendees share the rhetoric of Part of that group’s mission statement is “to provide information and diverse perspectives and inspire debate, collaboration, action and citizen engagement.”

Makes me wonder how these folks would program the mass media with their vision of democracy should “they” succeed with their agenda. Does media democracy mean imposing their values for someone’s else’s values? How would media content be any different if “they” took over without it being less responsive to the “people” than it is now? If the marketplace does not determine what gets watched, read and listened to, then another, alterative mechanism must be in place. And if that mechanism is anything other than what the audience chooses from a plethora of options it must be less democratic than the existing system. Recall that when there were only three commerial networks, the PBS network rarely achieved a rating greater than 2%, about one tenth of commercial network ratings.

I was also struck in viewing the conference’s Web site how much they touted the media coverage the conference received from multiple outlets:

  • A video stream archive provided by Cambridge Community TV [my home town local access TV organization] from selected conference sessions.
  • Daily editions of the Media Minutes radio show -- with interviews and audio highlights from the conference.
  • MP3 audio files of panels and sessions that will be posted throughout the weekend.
  • Links to the "best of the blogs" reporting from St. Louis.
  • Pacifica radio affiliates across the country broadcast live from the keynote event.
  • Highlights from the conference on LINK-TV, Free Speech TV, Chicago's CAN-TV and community televisions stations from across the country.
  • And in the coming weeks, they promised, their site will include archived audio and video recordings and full transcripts of the sessions.

I suppose they can complain that CBS did not cancel their prime time schedule for live coverage. Or even provide a 90 second report on the evening news. But then, I could grouse that neither did CBS report on the press conference releasing my new study, "The Media Monopoly Myth", which provides data that undermines the entire premise of the media reform movement almost as thoroughly as their own recounting of how the Internet and radio provided substantial exposure erodes any argument that a handful of companies control our access to information. In promoting the media that gave an outside voice to the conference they blew away much of the explicit rationale of their movement.

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