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National Conference for Media Reform a Bigger Coalition than One in Iraq

Reported by Judy - May 13, 2005

The News Hounds gathered in St. Louis today (May 13) for the National Conference on Media Reform are doing our best to bring our irreverent attitude to the serious topic of breaking the national media monopoly.

Chrish got us off to a good start during the plenary session after Free Press co-founder Robert W. McChesney told the gathering that the conference was such a hot ticket that registration had to be cut off after 2,500 people, representing all 50 states and eight foreign countries, including France.

"That's a bigger coalition than the one for the Iraq war," whispered Chrish to the five News Hounds at the conference.

It will be hard for our loyal blog readers to believe, but the five of us, despite wearing look-alike News Hounds tee shirts made for us by Chrish, don't stand out much in this crowd of people trying to create a media that better serves our democracy.

There are so many big names -- Amy Goodman from "Democracy Now," Robert McChesney, and Bill Moyers on Sunday -- that even Ellen, author of the mule post, can't get any attention. More importantly, there are so many other people just like us -- grassroots activists, young, old, male, female, people of color, people of non-color -- that the News Hounds just blend in, tie-dyed shirts and all. And that's so cool.

We're not here to get attention, of course. We're here to learn -- about the upcoming fight over the renewal of the telecommunications act in 2006, about how to keep corporations in the cable and telephone business from monopolozing the coming revolution of community wireless networks, about how to make media serve the people.

St. Louis is the perfect location for a conference on media. Just down the street is the Old Courthouse, on whose steps Joseph Pulitzer, the man who helped set the standards for excellence in journalism in a democracy, bought the assets of the bankrupt St. Louis Post-Dispatch more than 100 years ago.

St. Louis also was the heart of the world fur trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a symbol of the intrusion of imperialism into the lives of indigenous peoples on this continent. Such an intersection of media power and imperial power is part of the reason the media reform movement was born early in the twenty-first century.

Amy Goodman reminded us at the opening session how often the standards of journalism excellence have been compromised recently by a media that has been deployed by the Pentagon to cover the glory of war and ignore its gore, by a media that relies for its explanations of the world on pundits "who know so little about so much."

Instead of such tactics, Goodman urged journalists to "go to where the silence is." What she meant is that journalists should avoid the herd mentality. Avoid the press conferences and dog and pony shows of the powerful. Watch what they do, not what they say, to find the real stories.

Goodman herself has gone to the silence, covering the Haiti coup and the forced departure of Jean Baptiste Aristede from his own country at the hands of the Bush administration. In an incident of what she called "trickle up journalism," Goodman's reports on Aristede's deportation to central Africa were picked up by The Associated Press, CBS, and CNN.

The message of the conference is that you don't have to be Amy Goodman to have an impact on the media. Bloggers, independent radio and television stations, cable access channels, cable franchise fights, and the ability to hold the media accountable are all things everybody can take part in.

What good will it do? Malkia Cyril, of the Young Media Council, said when the media made the rules on coverage, people in her community suffered by being called super predators and welfare moms. National policy was made based on those stereotypes, and national policy on welfare reform, crime, and so on, hurts local communities.

"It is dangerous to let people speak for themselves because it breaks down stereotypes that fuel hate groups," said Goodman, echoing Cyril's point.

The big elephant in the room for the News Hounds this morning was Fox News. Nobody was talking about Fox, but lots of people were probably thinking about the network you don't have to watch because we do. Fox, of course, symbolizes all that is wrong with American media, all on one channel, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

As Goodman pointed out, however, the fight for media reform is about more than Fox because the "mainstream media" has become the "extreme media," a media that beat the drums for the Iraq war and interviewed only three anti-war activitists amongst nearly 400 pro-war voices in the days before the 2003 invasion.

At the News Hounds, Fox remains our focus and special mission. We're here to learn how to do it better, to network, to bond with each other, to refresh our spirits.

But hear this Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, and Alan Colmes. We'll be back.

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