Saturday Plenary

Robert McChesney: at least 3500 attenders, plus 60,000 participating online, and tens of thousands listening over Pacifica. You really appreciate that one of the five planks of the First Amendment is the right to assemble. And that’s why people in power have historically done everything they can to prevent people like us from getting together.

Commissioner Copps laid out a wonderful bill of rights for America, and the first one is the right to media that strengthens democracy.

Both commissioners and Sen. Sanders—that sounds pretty good!—made is that it’s fun to play defense but now we have to play offense. We have to organize, protest, demand that our politicians put these into place.

A light switch went off for millions of Americans four years ago. They all perceived there was nothing they could do about it. And four years ago, people realized that today’s media isn’t natural, it’s the product of massive subsidies. Suddenly, they said it doesn’t have to be this way. And that changed everything .Then it became not only a right but a responsibility.

Ours is a very unusual movement. It’s nonpartisan, we favor no particular viewpoint. We fear no points of view; we just want a robust debate. We’ll create enough heat down below that whoever’s up above will get the message or get out of the way.

The soil out there is remarkably fertile. People care greatly, and when they’re spoken to as intelligent smart people, they’re smart, they get it, they wan to participate, they’re worth listening to. But coincidentally, we’re progressive. We’re all about creating the institutions and structures that make informed self-government possible.

Those on the outside, the dispossessed, need a free press the most. It’s all about enabling informed self-government. And that’s why so many progressives support this movement.

Why now? Why has it taken off at this moment? It’s a rare moment where we have the chance to make decisions about our institutions that will last a long time, and won’t be easy to change. We have a chance to make history for or children, grand children, great grandchildren.

  • Digital revolution
  • Collapse and free fall disintegration of journalism under commercial pressures
  • Broader social crisis: unwanted illegal war, debt.

If we don’t organize and get involved, the decision will be made by AT&T, Comcast. We can’t let that happen.

Public broadcasting, LPFM still matter, even if broadcasting disappears.

There are fundamental questions we face in this society. The Internet alone won’t create a viable society. We have to prevent the digital rev from merely enhancing the commercial carpet bombing. That Madison Ave could use it to pummel us. Our heterogeneous movement is why we’ve succeeded but also why [we are feared].

There will come times we’ll be tested. We’ll have to stand tall and remember we’re all in this together. Dr. King, shortly before his death, said we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools.

We’d hoped to honor Benjamin Hooks and Ben Bagdikian. Hooks was first black FCCC commissioner and then led NAACP for 15 years. Bagdikian was the mentor for the whole media reform movement, and fought in the 50s to cover civil rights.

David Brancaccio, MC

Last year, I was plumbing some deep data from Reuters, around the world. They asked the same questions in Russia, South Korea, Zambia, USA, 50-60 questions. One set of responses knocked me flat: Is the media in your country free to report the truth? In the US, 50% said no, only 30% said yes.

You will each come up with your own reason why a journalist would not be free to report the truth. And then I got to thinking. Maybe it’s some initial proof that the American public is starting to cotton on to all this; they’re becoming skeptical, and it’s due in large part to the efforts of all of you.

If you look at the transcript of my interview with Vonnegut, it appears to be extremely downbeat. But if you sit with him, and if you saw it on TV, you’d have seen a certain joi de vivre, a certain delight. I asked him, what make life worth living given that you think it’s too late. And he said, join a gang. What makes life worth living is getting together with a group of people who think they can actually make the world a better place.

He did a drawing on a random piece of paper, using stationary from when he was selling Saabs in Cape Cod [decades ago].

Erubiel Valladares Carranza, Radio Organizer with KPCN-LP (Picun), Originally from Queretaro, Mex.

To explain community radio, I have to take you to a school board meeting. Everything is in English. The parents were there and able to make an opinion, but they couldn’t. They couldn’t understand the complex language of the politicians. Now, another event that happened last April, in a town where 50% are Latino and only 10% can vote. Until now, there have been two radio stations. And every activist was preparing for La Huelga, the boycott, May 1. As Ramon is doing this [speaking on the radio], people were coming out to the rallies. People participated in a rally that Picun organized. After the strike, that commercial station cut Ramon’s program, cold.

This shows us that the people today are hungry to understand. And second, how hard it is to organize by traditional media.

At our radio station, people are dong things they couldn’t do before.

Back to that school meeting. Imagine every parent showing up with the radio in their ears, getting a translation.

Seeing this helps me believe in the movement, justice, family, culture, community. [It doesn’t happen]when you don’t own a radio station so we built one.

Deepa Fernandez, WBAI (Pacifica station in NYC)

There’s a fundamental question that we’re in Memphis to answer. It’s not difficult but it requires that we all act together. What does media reform mean to us? The bigger and more critically important q: what are we going to do about it

I’m proposing a vision of media that completely overhauls what we have today, visioning of those who believe in media justice. Media justice is not a way of calling for democray but of changing who is at the table at every single level. Disenfranchised people don’t want to just put a mike in our hand,. We want to own the mike and own the station, we can’t put our trust in the system as it exists now. We need to be the voices of change.

180th anniversary of the first African-American newspaper in the US. Freedom’s Journal. It was so much more than a knee-jerk reaction to white racism; it was a community communicating among itself.
If we simply managed to change some existing rules, it wouldn’t be a victory. In the role that Freedom’s Journal played, it preceded Garrison’s Liberator. Freedom’s Journal finished its three year run, and rather than funding FJ or another African-American journal, he, a wealthy white, [started his own]. I hope we can take inspiration and march forward 180 years later.

Imagine a community of street vendors in NYC, almost all of color, could benefit for a system of municipally owned wireless. It could serve as an effective organizing tool.

We’ve been forced to think about how to change the media game so that people who are locked up for immigration could have wireless communication.. Thank god for Hannah and the prison moratorium project, the only youth covering this issue, and her was a national report that got no overage.

Rep. Ed Markey

I was elected to Congress 30 years ago and I had no fundraiser that was more than $25 per head. You can’t do that today. I was chair of the Telecommunications Committee from 1987 until Gingrich took it in 1994. I went to the Civil Rights Museum this afternoon, and I thought about MLK (Martin Luther King) and how far we’ve come in 40 years. But if you think of the media using a study by FreePress, we know that minorities only control 3.26%, and African-Americans only control 1.3 percent. I know what MLK would say—that that is a disgrace. Media ownership has been a key component to insure diversity, localism.

In 2003, this country was challenged by the FCC, the Bush FCC. On a 3:2 vote, the FCC agreed that it would be permissible that one company could own [in a single market] 3 TV stations, 8 radio stations, the only newspaper in town, the cable system and all related websites, simultaneously. It would have made Citizen Kane look like an underachiever.

And the people rose up and said this will not happen. The good news is the challenge was responded to. The courts enacted some limits, and it showed that the people can make a difference. And that the voices of two heroic people, [FCC Commissioners] Adelstein and Copps, could be heard.

Now we are going through a new round, and the FCC knows it has to do public hearings. It’s up to you to shape the decision.
In 2005, Bush said he was going to spend his political capital, and he started slashing the public broadcasting budget. We were able to get one million signatures in two weeks. It’s the fear of voters that scares politicians. And when they come back and try it again, we’re only going to be bigger and more powerful. And we’re going to guarantee that they keep their mitts off public TV and low-power LP stations. And so this new world, then moved to 2006.

Back in the 1970s, it was lonely. When Reagan took the Children’s TV rules off the books, it took me four years to get it back.