The following is an open letter to JABBS readers and others from Robert W. McChesney, founder and president of Free Press (http://www.freepress.net
Dear Media Reformer:
The New Year is here, and as we take stock of the state of the world and our nation, we must put media reform even higher on our priority list.
In 2004, Jon Stewart's no-nonsense critique of corporate media for "hurting America," shown live on CNN's Crossfire, echoed the frustrations of millions who are tired of the media's partisan hackery, celebrity obsession, failure to hold government accountable, narrow range of debate, unchecked commercialism, and lack of investigative journalism.
Corporate media's failures constitute what legendary journalist Bill Moyers describes as the greatest threat to our nation: "democracy can't exist without an informed public." Most Americans don't know that the presidential candidates and allied groups shattered all campaign finance records in 2004, spending $2 billion. That's right: billion. Most of that money bought political ads from the biggest media companies... who gave us back deplorable election coverage.
The gap between rich and poor continues to widen, and more than 45 million Americans are living without health insurance while Congress guts the critical programs that are the fabric of our democracy. Public education, social security, environmental protection, affordable housing, and accessible health care are all at risk.
Most Americans don't know the consequences of our ballooning $521 billion deficit and $7.1 trillion national debt. The media are silent as Congress dishes out some $125 billion every year in corporate welfare. We aren't told that global terrorism has continued to rise each year since the attacks of 9-11, while a full 49 percent of Americans still believe that Iraq had WMDs, and 52 percent believe Saddam Hussein was actively supporting Al Qaeda.
Is it any surprise that surveys showed many Americans went to the polls lacking the facts to evaluate the most important issues of our day? There is something terribly wrong when Americans know more about Martha Stewart's prison stay than they do about the torture scandals at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
The good news
Millions of citizens understand that our bankrupt media system is the direct result of government policies made in the public's name but without our consent. Unprecedented numbers of citizens joined together and organized to win a number of historic victories in 2004, proving that public participation is indeed the answer to the media problem. A genuine media reform movement is gaining momentum and getting results.
In 2004, the FCC's attempts to loosen ownership limits to let Big Media get even bigger were rejected by the courts and Congress after massive public opposition. Sinclair Broadcast Group was forced to retract its brazenly biased Stolen Honor "news" program days before the election.
Almost every egregious action by big media corporations -- once met with muted opposition -- was greeted with a swift response from an increasingly unified, bipartisan and vocal public.
But that's just the beginning. You're reading this because you are one of a growing number of citizens who are taking action to stop media conglomerates from getting bigger; to strengthen alternative, independent and non-commercial media; to force media companies to serve the public interest; to limit advertising directed at our children; and to make access to communications affordable and universal.
If you have not joined the Free Press Action Fund, please do so now. Our ability to reform the media depends on your support as an activist and as a member. Please click here to donate now
As a regular member, you'll receive my most recent book, The Problem of The Media
As we look to 2005, Free Press is focused on a four-point action plan for media reform.
Media Ownership: Blocking Consolidation, Serving the Public Interest, Fighting Commercialization.
While we don't expect the FCC to lift media ownership caps in the immediate future, it's a safe bet that they will try again in the next four years. We're keeping the issue in the news, conducting research and building the legal case for ownership limits in preparation for another Bush Administration attack on the public interest. We're also working to expand the number of low-power FM radio stations available to communities nationwide.
Community Internet: Broadband as a Nonprofit, Public Utility.
This is one of the most exciting and promising opportunities for media reformers. The goal is to offer affordable broadband Internet access to residents, businesses and local governments as a basic utility ? just like water, gas and electricity. New wireless technologies allow local governments to offer faster, cheaper and more reliable access than ever before. But these innovations are being fought every step of the way by the biggest telecom monopolies. We will continue to protect the rights of local communities to determine how best to serve their own citizens.
Public Broadcasting & Noncommercial Media: Enhanced Funding, Diversity and Accessibility.
True public broadcasting in the United States -- long under attack by commercial media giants and increasingly strapped for cash -- is now in serious jeopardy. In 2005, Free Press will launch a national campaign to organize a broad coalition to advance proactive policies that will generate secure, long-term funding for traditional, independent and other non-commercial media ? including community radio, television, expanded public access programming, student media, and local independent newspapers and Web sites.
Cable TV: Breaking Monopoly Control of Content.
Today, 70 percent of television viewers are cable subscribers. The cable franchise renewal process -- an agreement between a community and its cable provider -- offers a terrific opportunity to increase access to community media and broadband Internet. Yet all too often, negotiations are done quietly with little public participation. Working with local and national groups, Free Press is working to vastly increase the number of people aware of cable TV as an organizing and action issue, through community TV and radio PSAs, as well as outreach and education to municipal associations, nonprofits, online organizations and other groups.
The Next Great Media Policy Battle
All of these issues -- and more -- will be on the chopping block when Congress reopens the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as it is expected to do this year, shaping our entire media system for decades to come. All media issues hang in the balance -- swaying between informed citizen participation and aggressive corporate lobbying. Free Press will be there to provide analysis and tools for you to influence the debate. In preparation for the battles to come, we'll monitor and support activism on the full range of media issues, including copyright and intellectual property, global media, and the rights of media workers.
Resources You Can Use
We ring in the New Year with a badly broken media system, but an energized and bipartisan reform movement. We have a number of important victories under our belts and more momentum than ever before. To keep it going, Free Press provides several resources that I hope you'll continue using.
As always, www.freepress.net
provides updated news and information on media issues, activism, and the media reform movement. Please visit regularly and pass the word to friends and family about this excellent resource.
Our recently launched five-minute weekly radio program about media issues and activism, called "Media Minutes,"
is airing regularly on several stations and can be downloaded for free. Please tell your local radio station about it and urge them to put it on the air every week.
Our comprehensive Media Activist Toolkit will help you raise awareness about media reform. If you've already ordered one, you'll receive it in the mail soon. If not, you can still download most of the toolkit for free
And if you want to take your activism to the next level, join the Free Press Action Squad
, and commit to 10 hours per month of media reform activism.
Finally, be sure to save the date for the second National Conference for Media Reform
, May 13-15 in St. Louis. Registration will begin in a few weeks. Visit the conference Web page
for more information.
This much is clear: Media reform will not happen without all of us getting active and bringing renewed passion and commitment to building a system that serves our families, our communities and our democracy -- not just the largest media corporations.
Thank you for being part of it.
Robert W. McChesney
Founder and President
P.S.: Two of our allies have recently launched valuable initiatives. Please check out Consumers Union's HearUsNow.org
, and Media Matters for America's SinclairAction.org
. Both provide intelligent and effective tools for action.