“We the Media” moves forward in Memphis
noimage By Jim Tarbell, editor of Justice Rising

Media reform is on a roll, moving from a defensive attitude to a proactive offensive stance. Evidence of this shift was everywhere at the National Conference on Media Reform, held January 12 through 14 in Memphis, Tennessee. The contrast from the last Media Conference in St. Louis was marked.

At that last gathering a disparate group of congressmen wistfully talked about their hopes to control the Bush administration's plans to further centralize control of our national media. This year Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the new chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet made the keynote address and one could feel the shift of power. Two years ago Rep. Bernie Sanders joined that wistful group of congressmen. This year he spoke as Senator Bernie Sanders, the first democratic socialist ever elected to the US Senate. At the St Louis gathering Bill Moyers reflected the mood of the conference when he lashed out at the Bush onslaught against National Public Radio. Moyers threatened to get out of the rocking chair and back into the broadcasting chair. The momentum coming out of 2005’s conference ejected Bush rube Ken Tomlinson as the Chair of NPR, and now Moyers is going back on the air.

All of this was set in the somber and soulful atmosphere of Memphis on Martin Luther King weekend. The Cook Convention Center, site of the conference, is just down the street from the Lorraine Motel where the civil rights leader was killed 39 years ago. The media silence and complicity on that tragedy is a reminder of the disinformation and power that our corporate/imperial media has over Americans and our cultural story. During the final session of this year's conference I sat next to an elder Memphisian matron who told me how her neighbor had been pulled off duty as a guard for King that day, and the pervasive sense in Memphis is that "higher-ups" were definitely involved in King's death.

The feeling at the convention was that the cover-ups were coming to an end and popular media was creating a new story in America. The spirit of the event was electric from the moment I arrived in the airport. Conference attendance was up by 50% over 2005, with 3500 participants. Bloggers declared the primacy of two-way citizen journalism. Independent media producers had a whole track of workshops. Beside the politicians, media luminaries like Phil Donahue and Amy Goodman, activists like Jesse Jackson and Jane Fonda, and decision makers like FCC commissioners Jonathon Adelstein and Michael Copps were all there. AfD founder Ronnie Dugger joined the crowd researching the media reform movement for a writing project. The exhibit hall featured 50 booths by an array of media activist groups, and attendees eagerly took copies of Justice Rising, and fliers for the 2-minute Commons Radio Spots that Jan Edwards is putting together for the AfD.

I had a breakfast gathering with Ronnie, AfD member Ben Kjelshus from Kansas City and Progressive Populist editor James M. Cullen. Ben was there with a sizable contingent from Kansas City promoting Kansas City Food Circle's Coming Home to Eat Conference on February 2 and 3 (http://kcfoodcircle.smn-rab.org/docs/greens-conf-0702.pdf). AfD member Martha Spiess was also there, filming the event for a Maine media outlet.

I attended several workshops, including one on “Faith Communities and Media Reform,” which will be profiled in the upcoming issue of Justice Rising on “Progressive Religion vs. Pervasive Corporate Corruption.” Perhaps most importantly I participated in a 2-part workshop on fund-raising for media reform activism with people from the Media Democracy Fund, Highlander Research Center and the Development Director for Free Press. The role-playing they put us through gave me a great sense of what I was going to be involved with in the search for foundation money.

Finally I watched a showing of Outfoxed, where Robert Greenwald made a presentation. I used this and other information I got at the conference, including my connections with the Newshounds, to make a presentation to 60 people at a showing of Outfoxed at the Point Arena Theater two weeks after I got back from Memphis.

I suggest that at least four AfD members attend the next Media Reform Conference and that the Alliance have a booth. It would be great exposure for the AfD to a crowd that is very sympathetic with our mission. We could use it as a way to get our Media Campaign moving ahead. You can see videos and listen to audio tapes of the conference at freepress.net. Let me know if you have questions or want more information about the conference. I can be reached at jr@thealliancefordemocracy.org or call me at 707-964-1323.