Center for Citizen Media Rotating Header Image

Media Reform: Only for the Left?


I’m at the National Conference for Media Reform in Memphis, where people from around the U.S. (and in a few cases, from other nations) are talking for three days about how to change American media. Some talented folks are here.

But the activist conference is also notable for what it’s lacking: any serious participation from people not on the political left. This is a conference of, by and for the left wing — and that’s a shame.

The main worry seems to be the notion that big media will throttle good journalism. I know people on the political right who believe the big media have already done so, and they’re also working to foster new kinds of media that some in this ballroom would agree we need.

Many of the topics under discussion would be better served with some serious debate. Instead, I suspect, we’ll have mostly a recitation of the prescriptions for change — many of which, no question, are much-needed — from essentially a single perspective, or permutations from that side. A conference organizer calls it “this movement,” and that sounds right.

So this is a valuable gathering. Too bad the people who also want change but from a different political position aren’t part of it. If they were, this event would be even more interesting.

ImagesOne of the real heroes of this movement is Bill Moyers, the first speaker, who wryly notes that reform movements have a way of fragmenting. He speaks of the “plantation mentality” that has permeated the nation — and today’s press — creating what Theodore Roosevelt noted was a clash between human and property rights. “Elite plunder” — the capture of wealth by the top “earners” — has become the rule. Is the anti-federalist warning true?
He notes that the resources for solid journalistic work are contracting, that print journalism resources — especially newspapers, the most vital for democracy — are being driven down by Wall Street. Worrying about the loss of real news is not an abstraction, he adds; history proves why it matters to have an independent, robust press challenging the behavior of the powerful.

He cites the sad litany of the media’s pathetic work prior to the invasion of Iraq — “solicitous hand puppets” of the government. Media tell us little about who “wags the system,” he says, and he lampoons the “Poobahs of punditry” like Thomas Friedman who “simply accept that the system is working as it should.”

It’s clear what we have to do when big media won’t: “We have to tell the story ourselves,” Moyers said. And this is what the plantation owners fear most.

It’s not a top down story anymore, he says. It’s a bottom up story, made possible through technology and activist work.

In previous cases of new media, the advertisers took over. Government turned over the keys to the marketers. What happened to radio then happened to television and cable. If we are not careful, he says, it will happen to the Internet.

Can the Net be a plantation? That’s harder, but Moyers points out News Corp.’s buyout of MySpace and Google’s deals with Time Warner and purchase of YouTube.

A media plantation for the 21st Century? What do we do?

Moyers recalls the activists — who included people on the right — successful fight against demolishing media consolidation rules a few years ago. He notes former FCC Chairman Michael Powell’s moves in public life and now in private life, where he’s at a buyout firm investing in media properties.

Even under the old rules consolidation grows. And the current FCC chairman is doing more of the same.

Moyers wrongly cites the recent AT&T case that supposedly guaranteed equal access. He and his allies on this have been conned, sadly, because the broadband carrier beat them with weasel words that will unfortunately guarantee the opposite — and is good only for two years in any case.

He believes the terms of the debate have been changed, which is true. Open access is now on the table in a major way. If it turns into a sound law, it may come out all right.

3 Comments on “Media Reform: Only for the Left?”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Jan 12th, 2007 at 11:22 am

    “In previous cases of new media, the advertisers took over. Government turned over the keys to the marketers. What happened to radio then happened to television and cable. If we are not careful, he says, it will happen to the Internet.”

    Yes indeed. Like, say, unpaid freelancing devoted to finding the most popular and demagogic stories for mass entertainment, which is so exciting because a media company can make a bundle off keyword advertising while using free, err, “user-generated” content …

    Sigh. Why bother?

  2. #2 Keith Kamisugi, Equal Justice Society
    on Jan 13th, 2007 at 1:35 pm

    Dan – I found an Alternet post ( by Free Press’ Tim Karr and Danny Schechter that agrees with you: “In order to succeed, media reformers must reach out to conservatives rather than mobilize the usual liberal constituencies.”

  3. #3 Dwight Hines
    on Jan 16th, 2007 at 7:51 pm

    Shallow Journalism
    Seventh Judicial Circuit (Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, and Volusia Counties)
    for the State of Florida
    St. Augustine, Florida
    January 16, 2007
    Dwight Hines

    The State Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in Florida is Mr. John Tanner. Mr. Tanner was recently the target of a grand jury investigation directed by Mr. Harry Shorstein, the Florida State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. Although the grand jury did not produce any criminal indictments of Mr. Tanner, it did write a summary of their findings that is currently under seal in the Circuit Court of Volusia County, Daytona Beach, Florida. Mr. Tanner has successfully argued, through his attorney, that the results of the grand jury investigation should be sealed forever and, worse, has argued successfully that all future motions in this case be sealed. The judge has agreed.

    It appears now that State Attorney Tanner, who was elected by the people, does not trust the people to evaluate information from a grand jury composed of people. It appears that State Attorney Tanner, who is the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, does not want to be governed by those parts of the Constitution of the State of Florida that guarantee the right of citizens to public information. I believe a fair interpretation because it is supported by other facts, like the rampant violations of Chapter 119, Fla. Stat. (2006), Florida Public Records law in the City of St. Augustine, the County of St. Johns, and the St. Johns County Mosquito Control Board that are not investigated or prosecuted by Mr. Tanner. These facts turn ugly when you realize that there are false affidavits filed in the Circuit Court in St. Johns County that swear the City of St. Augustine has purchased, and uses, computers unable to memorialize information and has computers that unable to print out information because the information is not “memorialized”.

    It might be time to note that the newly elected Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist, has created an Office of Open Government to help the people find out about what the government of the State of Florida, and the local governments in Florida are doing, and to ensure compliance by local and state government with Florida Open Records laws. Ms. Pat Gleason, who wrote the book on Open Government in Florida, who has worked thousands of hours over the years conducting seminars, engaging in mediation between government agencies and private citizens to resolve conflicts on obtaining government records, and serving as General Counsel to then Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, will be Director of Cabinet Affairs. Joann Carrin, with experience in prosecuting organized crime, will be the Director of Open Government. If you believe that open government is essential to democracy, they are a dream team.

    Parallel to the announcement of an Office of Open Government by Governor Crist, nearly in time but completely in substance, was the determination by the United States Center for Medicare and Medicaid that they will be publishing hospitals’ heart attack and heart failure mortality rates on the internet. The decision will impact not only hospitals and emergency care providers but on a hospital’s larger communities — all the potential and real consumers of their services. Not to be forgotten in this increasingly transparent soup we call healthy democracy, is the new California law that requires hospitals to report many of the adverse incidents that happen to patients. These are all reasons for celebration, if you trust the people to make good decisions when they have adequate information.

    There are more exciting events in the incredible amounts of new transparency in the United States — the release by the Federal government of tons of documents on December 31, 2006, that were classified 25 years ago. President Bush did not block the release of these records and deserves our respect for that decision. It has never been done before on such a scale by us or anyone else and it is a continuing process. Paranoids, eat your hearts out.

    The Securities and Exchange Commission rule now in effect that requires benefits paid to higher management be publicly disclosed if they are greater than ten thousand dollars in value per year is wonderful and will have a stabilizing effect on our financial system, increasing the robust confidence of investors for local governments that use Municipal Bonds to raise money. Imagine investing your money in places where they not only don’t report any vulnerabilities, but pay for country club memberships and other perks for their executives.

    There is little doubt now that a good part of the reasons for the poor level of compliance with the Florida Open Records Act in St. Johns County is due to the tone set by the leadership of Mr. Tanner — the constitution of Florida is fine and dandy, but don’t use the right to access public information against me or other government officials. Such an attitude and such behaviors in any elected official is unacceptable, but when committed by the highest law enforcement person in the Circuit, by a person who has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution of the State of Florida, it is perverse.

    It is time for the Governor to appoint another special prosecutor, one charged with the specific tasks of investigating violations of the Florida Rules of Administration, Rule 1B-26.003 and violations of Chapter 119, Fla. Stat. (2006), as well as any perjury, abuse of office, witness tampering, and obstruction of justice that precedes, accompanies, or follows violations of Rule 1B and Chapter 119.

    While citizens wait for the appointment of a special prosecutor by Executive Order, it would be a good idea for private, ordinary citizens to file a motion in the Circuit Court in Volusia County to intervene in the current controversy between the two state attorneys, if they can not afford an attorney. I would accompany the motion to intervene with a motion for the court to unseal all documents produced by the grand jury, and to unseal any motions made by either side, or others thus far, and to forego sealing any other documents related to the present controversy. I would include in the second motion that any arguments on motions or hearings must be held in public, as the constitution requires, unless adequate public notice is given to all interested parties and individuals in the Seventh Judicial Circuit. However, I can not give legal advice so you would be wiser to write your local media and ask why they are not demanding the grand jury report be released.

    I don’t know why Mr. Tanner is fighting the publication of the grand jury report. Obviously, he did not commit any criminal acts because he was not indicted. Maybe he feels he will be embarrassed by his behaviors, like the sheriff in another county who was found to be charging lingerie for his mistress on the county charge card. Maybe he doesn’t want anyone to know that he might have told some of his assistants not to prosecute public records violations because they were not ‘real’ crimes. Maybe, only maybe, Mr. Tanner told his employees not to prosecute his good supporters if they only committed perjury or obstruction of justice when they were failing to comply with those irritating public records requests. I hope those are not true, but what we know is true is that Mr. Tanner, with all his resources and access to the media to present his side and his interpretation of the facts, is afraid to trust the people to discern good information from bad, to tell fact from fiction. The fear of common people being too ignorant to judge their leaders, or themselves, does not feel good when it comes from someone who is in charge of a justice system in four counties that is based on openness and verdicts by juries.

    Ah yes, shallow journalism is when not a single newspaper or broadcast station has filed motions to unseal the records and to block sealing of records, but this coming March, during Sunshine Week, these traditional media people will write and speak effusively about the importance of a free press and the right of access to public information. This is so shallow it is painful and the people hurt the most are those who think and who believe that biased justice is the best we can do.