LOCAL Commentary :: Media Reform Conference

Media Reform, Media Justice & IMC

Thoughts from an NYC IMC person about the Media Reform Conference, and how (if?) IMC, Media Justice groups, and Media Reform groups can collaborate.
For me, the NCMR really threw into relief the gulf between the
perspective of IMC and the media justice groups versus a media
"reform" agenda. Below are some of the reasons I was deeply troubled
by the vision of media change articulated by free press and most of
the people I heard speak on panels.

Over and over at the conference, we heard reference to the founding
fathers and their vision of a free press, that we need to go back to
the free press vision of America's beginnings. As Malkia Cyril
pointed out at the opening plenary, who was that press free for – this
country was founded on a capitalist and slave owning vision. For most
people, the press has never been free or open. I don't want to go
back to anything, I want to go forward into a media that's new in
structure, ownership, and content.

Both panelists and people from free press talked constantly about
"our" issues, about "our" media – who is the we in that statement? If
free press has positioned themselves as the top of the media-change
pyramid, at whose behest and on whose behalf are these media reforms
being undertaken? They don't seem to listen to or check in with the
people who have been most excluded from the media. What will the media
reform and the new media structure they seek to create look like – if
the participants and stakeholders look like this conference I am
worried. The people at that conference aren't the people who most
need to be involved in the media changes.

My friend Amy Sonnie at the Youth Media Council also pointed out that
the free press model is essentially one that buys in to the cult of
personality (McChesney, Josh Silver) and of one big national
organization. They seem to subscribe to the idea that national
organizations are the keystone of the solution to our problems, or
even worse, that the organizations themselves are the solution. They
see a pyramid and we see horizontal organizing. There's also a
cultural dimension to this; national organizations like free press
seldom recognize the validity and power of different structures and
cultural models. Not everyone is comfortable or happy working in that
top-down structure that is their way of working. I know I'm sure as
hell not.

Someone asked me if I thought the split was generational – young
people in the indymedia and media justice movements, and older people
in the reform movement. I answered that no, if there had been people
from the Black Panthers or the Young Lords at the conference, they
would likely have been down with what the media justice and IMC people
were trying to say, with our various goals and perspectives – it was
who the older people were in large part, white men used to working a
certain way, used to having power and having trouble ceding it.

As Arun from NYC pointed out in the IMC caucus, we have an
anti-statist and anti-capitalist perspective. Reform doesn't really
fit into that – it's tweaking the system that I think most of us want
to dismantle. Since we're not dismantling capitalism tomorrow, and we
need reform in the meantime, reform goals should be strategic and
directed by the communities that most need change, communities
historically most marginalized.

The ultimate issue seems to be that for us (whoever us is) the end
goal is social justice. Media justice is a part of that, and media
reform is an intermediary step towards the media justice we want to
see. At the conference, most of the discussion was centered around
media reform as ends and means, reform as the goal in and of itself.
That's not anything I want to be a part of.

The next question for me is whether we can just walk away from the
whole free press/reform scene. I personally think not, at least right
now, for this reason: if they go much further forward with a media
reform agenda that isn't in dialogue with the media justice movements,
with imc, etc, then an uninformed media reform agenda will be
implemented that I think will make it harder for us to implement a
community-led and -based media reform vision. At some point soon,
their work will start to be detrimental to ours, if we haven't passed
that point already. The media reform movement is at serious risk of
losing the people who are needed to make the change. There will come
a moment where they have identified a media reform that they think is
needed, and they will ask people to support it, and the people won't
be there. You can't build someone a vehicle for change and then ask
them to drive it.

What to do, then? I don't know. I think the first step is reaching
out to some of the media justice groups. Then
maybe reaching out in concert with the media justice groups to free
press and articulating how fucked up things were at the NCMR – I know
that happened after the last NCMR, but maybe it's worth one more try? I hope we can have a productive discussion with Free Press, in which they listen to IMC's thoughts and concerns, and listen to media justice groups, if they want to participate in the conversation. I hope the impressions I have of them after this conference are proven wrong.

In some ways, the bigger question is whether reform
is something that's worth putting energy into. I think Prometheus Radio Project's
work says yes, and there are really important issues around community
wireless, shit like that. But for me, working on reform with the free
press people is only going to work if they change a lot about how they
work, and I don't know how realistic that is.

Anyway, that's my two cents, or my two bucks. Long post, I know. The whole thing really got me thinking though. Looking forward
to seeing how this dialogue shakes out.

- Kat



The focus should begin shifting toward the idea of corporate media subversion, and how to more directly confront the powers that preserve the stranglehold over public information in the U.S. We need to begin targetting the mainstream media establishment much like the WTO and FTAA were confronted prior to 9/11. When looked at accurately, the corporate media is in fact the fourth branch of government, but by its very nature, it's also the weakest link, and we must figure out how to logistically take advantage of this.
Our presence as non-reformist subversives, in fact, our very existance...let alone our vitality, strength, and historic numbers, has been kept SECRET from the majority of the American public for far too long. We need to begin devising a strategy or strategies to begin FORCING our way into the collective American psyche. This needs to be looked at.



Re: Media Reform, Media Justice & IMC

I came from Chicago to attend, and I heard numerous criticisms from fairly diverse perspectives of FP and the conference. I'm certain that "Free Press" is not the "movement"... organizations can never be the movement. But the movement brings together people from many walks of life, with a variety of motivations.

One criticism I heard from persons more familiar with the local St. Louis scene related to Free press not being willing to sign on to a letter/petition in support of a group against racial profiling and other abuses in policing. Forgive me for not having the appropriate reference. This was viewed as contradicting the claims of media reform being aligned with social justice. I dont know why they didnt sign on. There was a comment as to the issue not being closely enough linked to media issues... but I suppose the question is whether the organization should have informed itself more on the issue, and taken a stand in consonance with their purported values, as opposed to saying its not one of their issues.

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