Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Critical Juncture for Media Reform

A Critical Juncture for Media Reform

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Welcome to the Free Press Action Network — I will be back tonight, September 27th at 9 pm EST to discuss the state of the U.S. media and why we are at a critical juncture for media reform, as well as answering your questions.

If you had told me five years ago that 800 people would show up on a Thursday night on the South Side of Chicago to discuss media consolidation, I would have asked you to pour me a glass of whatever you were drinking.

But just last week, 800 people from all walks of life did gather at Rainbow PUSH headquarters, and many passionately described media as a “life or death issue,” a far cry from the technocratic policy discussions that sometimes dominate Washington, D.C. Watching the hearing, one thing was made crystal clear: The stakes are high.

Last week’s hearing was just the latest example in the increasingly long list of evidence that we’ve reached a “critical juncture” for media reform — one of those moments when old mores and institutions are collapsing.

It is at these moments that social change happens. During a critical juncture, which usually lasts no more than a decade or two, the range of options for society is much greater than it is otherwise. The decisions made during such a period establish institutions and rules that will shape our world for generations.

At every crossroads there is more than one direction we can turn. The movement for media reform is now more proactive than ever before. People from every corner of society are building a new kind of media system by working together to create policies to stop runaway consolidation and remake our media to look more like us — more diverse, democratic and accountable. And with each Big Media outrage, there’s also a glimmer of hope for changing the media system that perpetuates these problems.

In my newest book, Communication Revolution, I offer five indicators of this new phase in media reform. The media reform movement has:

* led the way in imagining and promoting a super-fast ubiquitous broadband, wired and wireless, uncensored by corporate or governmental gatekeepers, as a birthright of all Americans;
* fought for media ownership policies that make competitive commercial markets possible, so the idea of starting one’s own outlet is again realistic;
* worked to develop polices and subsidies to support a diverse non-commercial and nonprofit media, especially at the local level;
* supported quality journalism that actually informs citizens about our democratic process, and does not turn over the job to advertisements and spin doctors;
* helped to establish clear limitations on the penetration of commercialism into our media content, and fought to protect children from relentless marketing.

Many of these policy debates remain unresolved, but for the first time, media reform has taken the offensive, and the public has responded. We have to continue to focus on the urgency of this moment and keep uniting diverse communities to challenge the corporate media machine.

If we can do that, we have an unprecedented opportunity to create a communications system that fosters a more egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and creative society. The media is not and has never been the outcome of geniuses and free markets. It is the result of structures and markets created and shaped by policies and extraordinary public subsidies. What we as citizens do — or don’t do — in the coming months and years will make all the difference. The future is in our hands.

I hope the new Free Press Action Network will be a forum to help expand this growing movement across the country. I welcome your questions and ideas for how we can seize this unique moment. After all, we may not get another chance.

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