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Strange brew - energy and comfort at the Media Reform Conference NCMR2007

Reported by Chrish - January 14, 2007 -

It's been a great day at the conference, starting with an energizing speech by Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who spoke of the media's cherry-picking of moral values that deserve attention (abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, all issues near and dear to the far right.) What's not broadly discussed are the left's moral values, including economic justice and opposition to the war. These issues are treated as fringe issues and people who care about them are portrayed as radicals and extremists. But the tide is turning.

Sanders remarked (as have virtually all the speakers, on the weekend of Martin Luther King's day, in Memphis blocks from where he was murdered) that we will undoubtedly hear the "I have a Dream" speech repeated often this weekend and Monday, but what we will not hear is that Dr. King was in Memphis to march in solidarity with sanitation workers, and that he was a vocal and visible opponent of the Viet Nam war. The opposition press will do well to highlight those issues this week, to honor his memory.

(Note some new terminology: the commercial press is "for the state" and the opposition press is now the fourth estate.)

Senator Sanders and Rep. Maurice Hincheyare working together on legislation to stop media de-regulation and to make sure that licensees are responsible to the people who grant them, i.e. us. There will be Congressional hearings held and they will press to open the Fairness Doctrine again.

Judy participated in a fantastic panel titled "Trust or verify: Propaganda & the press" along with Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy, Peter Philips from Project Censored, Dr. Nancy Snow from California State U, and John Stauber from the Center for Media and Democracy. We are so lucky to have all these resources at our fingertips - no wonder the corporations want to wrest control. The panel was fast-paced, funny yet serious, and spoke about the power of exposing misinformation as quickly as it crops up - or sooner, as one audience member suggested.

Judy and I attended several other panels that we'll try to highlight in the coming days: Fighting for air - the battle to control America's media; Winning Alternatives - Independent media success stories ; and Watchdogging the media, a subject near and dear to our hearts. There were so many outstanding speakers and contributors I hesitate to single any out over the others, but we heard the passion and thougtful advice and opinions of such notables as Amy Goodman (three different panels for me), Robert Greenwald, David Brock, Norman Solomon, Josh Silver, Craig Aaron, John Nichols, and many more.

After the afternoon panels, we split for a sit-down meal. Who walked into the restaurant as we were finishing up dinner but (trumpets) Helen Thomas. I practically knocked the table over to go shake her hand and whispered to her that this is even better than Phil Donahue. I was rewarded with that famous mischievous grin and a photo op (thanks Judy!!!) My day was made.

After dinner we made our way back to the ballroom for the evening program. Robert McChesney made the opening remarks, informing us that conservative estimates of attendance at the conference was 3,500!! McChesney gave honors to Ben Hooks and Ben Bagdikian, neither of whom were able to make the conference because of health issues.

Then he told us that word had gotten out that Rep. Dennis Kucinich had made a surprise appearance last night, and an irate Republican from Washington called and demanded equal time. Underscoring the media reform movement's main message that ALL voices deserve to be heard, he introduced George W. Bush. Well, the place erupted - in mutters and boos. Out walked himself (an impersonator, silly) (James Adomian of Laughing Liberally) and did the most side-splitting piece I've ever heard. (We'll post it as soon as it is available. Pacifica was recording everything.) The Bush said he would take questions from the audience, and pointed to the the front row. When Helen Thomas' grinning face came up on the big screens, the place erupted again - this time in cheers and applause, a standing ovation in fact. The hilarity continued until we were spent from laughing.

McChesney introduced the emcee for the evening, David Brancaccio of PBS' NOW. He in turn introduced Freepress.net's Washington guy, (whose name escapes me right now - apologies) who in turn introduced the "media reform movement's quarterback" and the recently reinstated Chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA). This guy is so committed to keeping the Internet out of the hands of commercial entities: to phone companies, cable companies, network conglomerates, he says HANDS OFF. What an almost physical sense of relief!

We heard from activists Deepa Fernandes of WBAI in NYC, Erubiel Valladares Carranza who recently built a radio station to empower his community, and Rev, Lennox Yearwood of the Hip-hop Caucus.
Each told a compelling story of their efforts to be heard in the homogenous corporate media landscape.

Actress/athlete/mother Geena Davis came on next to promote her project "See Jane." She cited stunning numbers that had the audience gasping in disbelief: only one out of four kids portrayed in G-rated movies are girls. Where are the girls?

She harked back to her own childhood; when she and a girlfriend would play pretend, they would be two guys from a western TV show, because there were no women characters. She noted the "dead mother syndrome" that afflicts a lot of shows and movies (Beauty and the Beast, fairy tales... she cited others but I add Andy Griffith Show and Family Affair). Of course there was Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie - cool, superpowers! - but they had to hide their powers at the risk of pissing off their men. OMG, I never thought of this. That left her with Gilligan's Island and naturally, she chose the movie star. The rest is history.

Her intent is to work collegially within the industry to change those numbers, and to raise awareness. The study that produced those shocking numbers (by USC's Annenberg School for Communication) was of the top 100 movies made from 1990-2005, and they intend to next do a similar analysis on PG and PG-13 films. What a great presentation - I encourage you to look at the website and be aware of this disparity.

Being of a certain age, that was all the fun we could take (but what fun it was!) and so here we are. It's been nice to be out of the news loop for a couple of days - how ironic, huh? - but we'll be back with new ideas and new energy on Monday.