Public figures join reformers and religious groups in demanding media reform

By staff writers
17 Jan 2007

Jane Fonda, Jesse Jackson, US Congressman Ed Markey, and American Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein have joined with a broad alliance of reformers - including religious organisations - to demand equal access and fair ownership of media provision.

They all passionately support the media reform movement sweeping the USA and highlighted in a large three-day national conference held from 12-14 January 2007, in Memphis, Tennessee, reports the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC).

Three thousand two hundred people took part in the event. A further 2,000 blogged the gathering and thousands more listened in to live web streaming. Veteran television journalist Bill Moyers opened the conference, highlighting SavetheInternet.com's successful campaign for net neutrality. He said, "I believe you changed the terms of the debate. It is no longer about whether equality of access will govern the future of the Internet. It's about when and how."

The National Conference for Media Reform was organized by Free Press, a nonprofit NGO launched in December 2002 by professor and author Robert W. Mc Chesney in collaboration with journalist John Nichols, to promote local ownership of media, community and public broadcasting. It took place against the background of the great 1960s civil rights movement led by the late Dr Martin Luther King - whose birthday was marked on 15 January.

Invoking Dr King's legacy, the Rev Jesse Jackson imagined what King might have said about concentration of media ownership and control, "the broken promises, the new schemes of denials, the impact of a media that freezes out democracy, media that looks at the world through a key hole and not the door."

Congressman Markey is chair of the House Subcommittee that will oversee new telecommunications legislation. In regard to congressional hearings on Internet freedom, and to huge applause, he said, "I can promise you it won't be just the CEOs of the telephone and cable companies who are there. You will be selecting witnesses to testify right next to them on the same day before the same Congressmen so that the voices of the American people will be heard as well."

The conference programme covered an immense amount of ground - from mass media to community media, from the digital divide to gender and racial equality. Media activists listened to a range of opinions and insights, debating and discussing the challenges facing media reformers throughout society. They also saw several documentaries on aspects of media reform and benefited from a lively marketplace of stalls.

Conference participants responded enthusiastically to several points of action. These included stopping the big media from wholesale consolidation of local newspaper, radio and TV outlets, saving the Internet from phone and cable giants that want to own and operate it, and promoting media justice especially in terms of access and diversity.

Many representatives of religious organizations took part in the conference. Bob Chase, director of communications for the United Church of Christ, moderated a discussion reflecting the concern of faith communities and media reform. WACC general secretary Randy Naylor and Philip Lee, deputy director of programmes, spoke up for communication rights and media gender justice.

Actor and political activist Jane Fonda wrapped up the conference. She powerfully criticized the media's impotence in covering the Iraq war, adding that, "A truly powerful media is one that can stop a war, not start one." Fonda has founded a Women's Media Center advocating greater representation of women in the media and in decision-making positions.

The National Conference for Media Reform is a rallying point for social and media activists concerned about the plurality, diversity and accessiblity of communications, mass and community media. It deserves - and is increasingly getting - the committed support of thousands of people who want to see social justice - and, therefore, media reform - at the top of the agenda.

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