Free Press: the media reform network
returning real content to journalism; expanding media literacy
Wonder what's happened to the news? Why TV screens and radio airwaves are full of celebrities and their fashionable lives but you don't hear a sensible discussion about ways to create jobs, restore the economy, rein in Wall Street speculators, improve educational opportunities and outcomes, or the impact on our children's future of the mandated testing policy in the No Child Left Behind Act? Why more of us turn to international sources such as the BBC to find out what's going on inside the government of the United States? Why fewer and fewer corporations own more and more media outlets (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, books, music, concerts, and maybe even the Internet)? Why your local radio station disappeared into a sea of automated programming or your hometown newspaper disappeared altogether?
Well, you're not alone. More of us are talking about it — and now, more people are doing something about it. In an unprecedented show of national concern, some 2.5 million Americans expressed their disapproval of the move toward media consolidation to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) following their June 2, 2003 decision to expand the ownership rules and allow the handful of existing media conglomerates to own even more properties. Politicians as diverse as Trent Lott of Mississippi, Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota spoke out against the monopoly of information.
Clear Channel, now the owner of more than 1400 radio stations nationwide, is only one example of how media concentration shuts out local information. You've heard the story of the chlorine gas spill in Minot, North Dakota? Well, neither did the local residents. Perhaps that's because Clear Channel owns the majority of radio stations in town — but they're automated, meaning that the music and "talk" comes from some pre-packaged faraway source. The only real person in the area is a technician who monitors the machinery, and that person is not always in the building. Which is why the citizens of Minot couldn't get any information about the chlorine gas leak in their own city in time to protect themselves. Is this what we want for our communities?
Free Press is a national organization intent on increasing our participation in democracy and in the public policy debates about the media and its value to participatory governance. They sponsored the (first of many) National Conference on Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin (November 7-9, 2003), where veteran journalist Bill Moyers, a roster of national dignitaries, and two FCC Commissioners gave important speeches.
Free Press also joins the media literacy effort with groups including Action Coalition for Media Education, Democracy Now!, and others, in helping us all learn how to watch a TV program or film, how to read the underlying messages in advertising, how to find child-friendly, family-friendly, and just plain people-friendly media fare, and how to ensure a wide range of thought and opinion in newspapers, radio/television broadcasting, online/social media, and access to information technology.
The conversation about diversity of media ownership is crucial to the health of our democracy. When fewer outlets are available, fewer opinions — regardless of their message — are expressed, and that's not good for any of us. A recent study of young people, eligible to vote for the first time, found that many did not vote because they said they didn't have enough information to make an informed decision.
In a democracy, it's not important that everyone holds the same opinion (in fact, that's counter-productive); it is important that each of us has the information to hold an informed opinion and to respect the opinions of others (even when we don't agree with them) as we participate in the community dialogue that makes our system work. We can't do that if we don't have access to information in the first place.
Everything we do is now shaped by some form of media. Keeping ourselves involved and informed is a critical responsibility of citizens in a democracy, and all of us need to be sure we can — and do — get in the game.
Oh, by the way...
The evening of November 8, 2003, also offered a spectacular lunar eclipse, clearly visible to most in the Northern Hemisphere of the United States. If you didn't stand outside and gaze appreciatively during its approximately 7:06 -7:36pm totality, check out MrEclipse.com and the NASA Eclipse website, both products of long-time eclipse guru Fred Espanek. He offers tips for how to photograph eclipses and information on the ones that will appear in coming years. Then, search Space.com for 'eclipse' to see more fantastic images.