Media @ McGill

Reclaiming Communication as a Civil Right

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In Memphis, the National Conference for Media Reform discussed strategies for opening the U.S. Media Reform Movement

National Conference for Media Reform, 12-14 January 2007
Social Science Research Council Pre-conference, 11 January 2007
Memphis, Tennessee.

By Evan Light

Co-presented by the Social Science Research Council, SSRC and Freepress, the Media Policy Research Pre-Conference took place on 11 January, setting the stage for the next three days of dialogue and debate during the National Media Reform Conference. The opening keynote speaker was Federal Communications Commission, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, one of two activist Commissioners at the American regulator who is trying to curb commercial dominance of the communication and media sectors.

He spoke frankly, condemning the undemocratic processes at work in American policy-making, the overarching power of the Chair of the FCC and the regulator's poor research practices (a war cry to the academics in the room if there ever was one). In the form of a poster session, 26 students, researchers, activists and academics presented new research on a vast range of communication policy research. Topics varied, ranging from future approaches to community wireless networks and digital radio to the use of radio by Latino immigrants in California and media policy in South Korea. While a total of 150 participants took part in the morning session, smaller working groups focused on more specific issues during the afternoon.

The National Media Reform Conference brought together some 3,600 media activists, producers, researchers, policy-makers and interested citizens to galvanize the national media reform movement in the US. The conference provided a space for networking, organizing and education. While increasing dialogue and research on communication rights in a global context is taking place, the American movement is adapting the discussions to their particular historical context by evoking the tradition of the Civil Rights Movement. While Bill Moyers spoke of the new plantation of mass media – the space in which we are all slaves to the corporations and what they dictate, Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke of the tradition, life and dedication of Dr. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and equivocated the media reform movement to a new breath (and a wider breadth) for the American Civil Rights Movement. This was doubly significant as the conference took place just days before the US commemorated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. In addition, the conference took place in Memphis, where Dr. King was assassinated in 1968.

While this massive conference (only in its third year) certainly serves to build considerable momentum for the current structure of policy debate, it suffers from a certain inability to substantially incorporate the minority communities that compose a majority of the country's population – a criticism that emerged in conversation, observation and ultimately in two of the closing keynote speeches. In order to truly succeed as a movement for the democratization of communication and the reform of media, the conference will need to fully integrate the entire spectrum of the American demographic. Community-owned mesh wireless networks will not become a topic of discussion in inner-city Philadelphia unless it is an issue owned by the community that lives there. In addition, the conference would benefit greatly from the inclusion of more international perspectives. Rather than talk about bringing the increasingly mobilized global media reform movement to the US, organizers and participants alike would be wise to become part of that movement.

That said, this conference appears to be at a crossroads. Having swelled in size and importance, how does it open its arms wide while staying focused and meeting the deadlines of the political machine? As human rights leader Van Jones put it in his closing keynote speech, “…we can all help by putting our arms around those with whom we are dissatisfied and “holding” them accountable”.

For additional information and videos see the conference site

See also two Montreal-based bloggers' comments: Leslie Regan Shade and Alison Powell

And an article by Steve Anderson on rabble.ca