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Media Democracy Week


"Angels of the Public Interest" and Media Democracy Week Campaigns

As one of our first activities, Women In Media & News worked in coalition with grassroots media reform groups including Media Tank, Prometheus Radio, Center for Digital Democracy, FAIR, DC IndyMedia and others to organize a creative "Angels of the Public Interest" protest outside the FCC, as part of the March 2002 Media Democracy Week.

The multi-strategy national campaign included workshops, teach-ins, petitions, street theater, press conferences and media outreach. Read the call to action distributed by the coalition, and the post-report from Media Tank.

WIMN's role included promoting the campaign and engaging allied women's social justice groups including the National Organization for Women, Women's Institute for Freedom of the Press, Women's International News Gathering Service, the Girls, Women + Media Project, the feminist division of the International Communications Association and other feminist groups, authors, activists and as co-sponsors, speakers and participants.

Additionally, WIMN organized the political satire group "Billionaires for More Media Mergers" to "crash" the press conference at the FCC rally as "counter-protestors."

WIMN's Executive Director, Jennifer L. Pozner, dressed as "Mya Cash, media mogul," praised Michael Powell for doing a great job and instructed reporters to "report news of media mergers from the perspective of media conglomerates and gloss over the impact of consolidation on competition, diversity and access, because 'The news is brought to you by MYa cash... not yours,'" a message she also published in the online magazine TomPaine.com.

Pozner also sat on a widely-attended panel on "Strategies for Building & Networking Public Media" at the Media Democracy Week teach-in at American University, discussing ways to build diverse, inclusive, grassroots coalitions for media reform that are respectful of and responsive to the needs of the feminist, anti-racist, low-income, LGBT and youth communities.

The coalition helped to broaden the base of the media reform movement, and generated positive coverage of the need for structural media reform in corporate and independent print, broadcast and online media outlets, some of which included:

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Call to Action: The Angels of Public Interest Will Descend Upon the FCC!

Protest at the FCC: Friday, March 22, 2002
from 3-6 p.m., 445 12th Street SW, Washington, D.C.

Media Democracy Teach-In: Saturday, March 23, 2002
12 p.m., Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University, Washington, D.C.

Join WIMN, Media Tank, Prometheus Radio, NOW, the Billionaires for More Media Mergers and other national organizations as we remind the FCC what the "public interest" really means.

This weekend in Washington D.C., protestors, academics, public interest activists, and community organizers to come together in defense of our media democracy. The recent wave of media mergers, network consolidation, and misguided FCC deregulation has everyone from Robert McChesney to William Safire questioning the FCC's judgment.

Over the next six months, almost every FCC rule protecting the public from further media consolidation is up for review. The FCC is losing courts cases that it may not bother to appeal. Tauzin-Dingel passed the House. Cable companies providing broadband internet no longer have to open their monopoly-owned networks. The future of the media in this country is teetering on the verge of complete control by a few powerful multi-national corporations. This represents a very ugly combination of trends.

In conjunction with Alliance for Community Media's Media Democracy Week, grass-roots organizers have planned two events aimed at stopping these trends in their tracks:

  1. PROTEST outside the FCC on Friday, March 22 at 3 p.m.
    445 12th Street SW, Washington DC
    The protest will focus on FCC Chairman Michael Powell's self-proclaimed lack of understanding of "the public interest." For more information, just keep reading - and also see Why Angels?

  2. MEDIA DEMOCRACY TEACH-IN: Saturday, March 23 at 12 p.m.
    Kay Spiritual Life Center, American University, Washington, DC
    The teach-in will examine the trends and issues most threatening to a democratic media. Three panels will be led by experts, but designed for interaction and inclusion:

    • Panel 1: Structural, Cultural, Political - what's gone wrong?

    • Panel 2: Defining the Public Interest - what's the vision?

    • Panel 3: Networking Community Media - what's the strategy

    Panelists include:

    • Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy

    • Eric Galatas, FreeSpeech TV

    • DeeDee Hallek, Media Activist, Professor, Independent Filmmaker

    • Sam Husseini, Institute for Public Accuracy

    • Walda Katz-Fishman, Project South, Howard University

    • Jennifer Pozner, Women In Media & News (WIMN)

    • Jay Sand, Media Activist (IMC pioneer)

    • Andy Schwartzman, Media Access Project

    • Pete Tridish, Prometheus Radio Project

    See below for more details about the teach-in and panels.

    BRING YOURSELF. BRING A FRIEND. SPREAD THE WORD!!!

    There is no issue more fundamental to a democracy than the freedom of speech. There is no group in this country that these trends won't affect.

    THE PROTEST

    What: Citizens, activists, media professionals, media scholars, public interest practitioners and members of Media Tank from around the nation will parody the Federal Communications Commission with a loud and colorful press conference and protest. Protesters will come dressed as "Angels of Public Interest" and deliver a message to the Federal Communications Commission that demands government officials fulfill their promise to defend and serve the public interest and maintain a democratic media.

    Who: Sponsored by Media Tank and organized by a national coalition of media activists. The protest will feature outraged citizens dressed like angels who wish to convey a divine message to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. Also appearing will be various experts on public interest media. Media Tank, a Philadelphia-based non-profit media group, works at the grassroots level to bring awareness of and to promote actions to defend public interest and maintain a democratic media system.

    Why: FCC Chairman Michael Powell announced: "The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come." Since he had trouble seeing one Angel that dreadful night, protesters will descend in droves on the FCC Building to demonstrate that the public and the public interest do exist and must be served by their government. "The FCC was created to protect the public from monopoly interests, not the other way around. Powell's position indicates a drastic shift in the mission of the FCC -- I would think that would require a vote by Congress," stated Inja Coates, co-founder and director of Media Tank, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit media group. The protest by the Angels of Public Interest also comes in the wake of the recent judicial decision that further jeopardizes the protections the public has against media monopoly.

    Media Visuals: Individuals dressed as angels; massive angel puppets carrying signs with "free media" messages; street theater parodying Chairman Michael Powell and the rest of the FCC

    THE TEACH-IN *

    PANEL 1: Structural, Cultural, Political: What's gone wrong? 12 - 1 p.m.

    • What's happening to our media & why? What's wrong with this picture?

    • As a group, work on developing a clear statement of the problem.

    • Convergence, Competition, and Conglomeration?

    • What's the role of the FCC? Congress? Courts?

    • What do we mean by "corporate media"?

    • What is harmful about media conglomeration?

    • Can these harms be "quantified" and should they be?

    • Is the FCC in collusion with the courts?

    • Is market competition the same thing as the public interest?

    Panelists:

    • Jeff Chester, Center for Digital Democracy

    • Andy Schwartzman, Media Access Project

    • Pete Tridish, Prometheus Radio Project

    PANEL 2: Imagining the Public Interest: What's the vision 1:20 - 2:40 p.m.

    • What are out working definitions of this elusive term?

    • Discuss where this term came from and its effectiveness.

    • How do we clarify the objectives of media democracy?

    • What does "public interest" mean to media activists?

    • What does "public interest" mean to other community groups?

    • What are the current legal/legislative definitions?

    • Is there one definition or are there many?

    • What are they key principles behind the term?

    • What do these principles mean to policy?

    • Who should implement these policies? Congress? FCC? Courts?

    Panelists:

    • DeeDee Hallek, Media Activist, Professor, Independent Filmmaker

    • Sam Husseini, Institute for Public Accuracy

    • Eric Galatas, FreeSpeech TV

    PANEL 3: Strategies for Building & Networking Public Media: What's the strategy? 3 - 4:20 p.m.

    • What models of media democracy do we want?

    • What does that look like?

    • What are the roles & relationships of media democracy for:

    • a) media activists

      b) independent media producers (film, audio, video, print, etc.)

      c) community groups (representing the under-reported, access to technology and communication, etc.)

    • Looking both inwardly and outwardly, what kinds of coalitions exist?

    • How should coalitions work? What are the priorities?

    • Where do we go from here?

    Panelists:

    • Walda Katz-Fishman, Project South, Howard University

    • Jennifer L. Pozner, Women In Media & News (WIMN)

    • Jay Sand, Media Activist (IMC pioneer)

    * Not all panelists "officially endorse" the protest.

The Angels of Public Interest To Descend Upon the FCC!

Friday, March 22, from 3-6 p.m. 445 12th Street SW in Washington, D.C.

Hark Ye, Friend!

Angels of Public Interest shall descend upon Washington, DC three hours past noon on the 22nd day of March in the vicinity of the Federal Communications Commission at 445 12th Street NW. The Angels shall resolutely teachth those who command power within the FCC that Media and Communications Technology Should Forever Serve People Over Profits.

We encourage all Angels such as yourself to come to the gathering dressed in your best Angel garb--halo, wings, glitter, the whole nine yards.

If your halo and wings are still at the dry cleaner, perhaps you could at least keep with the Angel color-scheme by wearing a solid white or black shirt. Still, an Angel's presence and attitude are always more important than his or her duds, so if you can't dress up, don't worry about it. This is your time to shine!

I AM HUMAN. WHY ANGELS?

FCC Chairman Michael Powell has said "The Market Is My Religion." This most unwise and unrighteous mortal made the mistake of claiming: "The night after I was sworn in, I waited for a visit from the angel of the public interest. I waited all night, but she did not come." Since he had trouble seeing one Angel that dreadful night, on March 22nd we shall descend upon him in droves.

We suggest you question your mortality. Maybe you are an Angel after all? If not, we're sure Michael Powell would benefit from being in the company of humans, too. For more information on Michael Powell, including snapshots of him and his friends, visit his tax-payer financed Internet home page at: http://www.fcc.gov/commissioners/powell/Welcome.html.

WHY SHOULD THIS ANGEL CARE ABOUT THE FCC?

The Federal Communications Commission is a government agency that could help make media beautiful. Instead, the FCC using its power to collapse control of the media into the hands of fewer and fewer transnational corporations. Dig this...

Turning Media Oligopolies into Media Monopolies

Just two days after the tragedies of Sept. 11, while most Americans were still trying to cope with the shock and trauma, the never-say-die FCC decided to "review" its own regulations on media cross-ownership. A rule that currently prevents a corporation from owning newspapers and television stations in the same city (aka "market") is now under serious threat. If overturned, locally-owned newspapers, and even newspaper conglomerates like the New York Times Company, Gannett and Knight-Ridder, could be bought up by such community-friendly giants as General Electric, Disney, Viacom and AOL/Time-Warner.

This "review" could extend even further into areas like limits on the size and scope of corporations' broadcasting power. One current regulation says that a single corporation can only own enough television stations to reach 35 percent of American households. If dismantled, a single television network like ABC could potentially buy up the holdings of the few remaining independents and its major competitors. "No more 'Seventh Heaven' in Cleveland, I'm afraid. The WB affiliate's just been bought by Disney!" (Not that 'Seventh Heaven' is quality entertainment, what with its regressive gender role stereotyping, but it's the principle of the thing...)

So really, what does this mean to you? A single transnational corporation--with absolutely no allegiance to your own community, only to its stockholders and advertisers--could own and control the daily and weekly newspapers you read, in addition to the television stations you watch, the radio stations you listen to, the movie theaters and video stores you frequent, the magazines you peruse, the music labels you buy, the internet service provider you use and even the sports teams you root for. Okay, but so what?

In a media monopoly, synergistic opportunities to make more money (like stories about the Pets.com sock puppet or the latest happenings on "Survivor") are hyped to the point of making you nauseous. At the same time, really important stories that just might happen to threaten the monopoly's profits (like coverage of the environmental impact of an advertiser's product, or better yet, recent FCC policy decisions) get seriously downplayed. That monopoly on information is bad for you and it's bad for democracy.

For more information on the government's plans to eliminate the last remaining media ownership limits, check out MediaChannel's in-depth guide explaining the issues and steps you can take to get involved.

Slamming the Door Shut on an Open Access Internet

Right now, any company that wants to be an internet service provider can use America's telephone lines to do so. It's called open access. If you want email or web-hosting or instant messaging, you can use your telephone lines to dial-up to Earthlink, AOL, Jimmy's Internet Shack, and dozens of other companies willing to sell those services to you.

If you want high-speed internet access over your cable lines, that is another story. Most cable operators are not forced to share their cable lines with other broadband companies. So, in many areas, if you want high-speed cable internet access, there is only one show in town. You pay their monopoly rates, and if thy choose to do so, the potential exists for them to limit the types of websites you get to visit. Right now, major cable giants like Comcast (which is trying to swallow up AT&T's cable operations to become the largest cable company in the world) are pressing the FCC hard to make sure that doesn't change. But it gets worse...

On Valentine's Day, the FCC showed its love for Big Business by proposing that regional telephone monopolies get to have complete control over their "souped-up" telephone lines. If the regulation passes, there will be no choice between telephone-based high-speed internet providers just like there is no choice between cable-based high-speed internet providers. (Satellite providers? There are only two major ones in the US, and they're trying to merge.)

If the massive media conglomerates get their way, the Internet will become as concentrated as television and radio ownership, with everyone across the nation, and the world, watching and listening to the same exact things. Sites like this could quickly go bye-bye. That will probably sit just fine with FCC Chair Michael Powell, who has called public interest regulations "the oppressor." But does it sit fine with you?

To learn more about the threats to open access and ways to combat them, check out the Center for Digital Democracy.

THAT SOUNDS DEFENSIVE. DON'T YOU ANGELS HAVE ANYTHING PRO-ACTIVE TO OFFER?

Darn straight we do! For years, our mortal friends in public interest groups, labor unions, feminist organizations, civil rights organizations, grassroots organizations, universities and elsewhere have offered alternatives to media business as usual.

All Angels should bring their own ideas and demands to the glorious March 22nd gathering: media democracy means making room for everyone at the table. But if you're in need of some ideas to chew on before then, here are just a few of the pro-active proclamations and commandments that will be issued that day:

I. The FCC shall serve public interest by dismantling the monopolistic concentration of media and communication systems.

II. The FCC shall serve public interest by promoting information as a worldwide common good. This shall include defending public airwaves from privatization and dismantling any Intellectual Property Rights policies that act to prohibit the sharing of knowledge.

III. The FCC shall serve public interest by supporting and encouraging the creation of media content that respects pluralism and diversity of expression, and balance in terms of gender, race, culture, language and geographic region.

IV. The FCC shall serve public interest by promoting the creative, widespread use of interactive technologies in such a way that these technologies are open to all and do not further create new sources of social fragmentation.

V. The FCC shall serve public interest by defending civil liberties and privacy from all invasive use of surveillance technology.

VI. The FCC shall serve public interest by banning advertising during children's television programs and by supporting the taxation on all advertising aimed at adults.

WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENT MEDIA?

Independent media rocks! We're not talking major label, Top 40, Clear Channel rock. We're talking hard-core, harp and heavenly-choir rock!

The demands we will make of the FCC on March 22nd and into the future will help defend independent media and bring it further into the mainstream. Things like open access internet accessible to all are good for independent media, as are great diversity among broadcasters, publishers and the like.

If you're an independent media-making Angel, please join us on March 22nd. We need your reporting, your photography, your sketches and your poems and more! Learn more at www.indymedia.org.

I'M IN. HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?

Organize yourself and as many other Angels as you can muster to descend upon the FCC at 445 12th Street NW on Friday, March 22, 2002 from 3- 6 p.m. Bring whatever props and signs and street theatre you think best! This glorious gathering should enlighten, but also offer rapture! Go wild!

If you want to be included in discussions with the Organizing Angels, lease sign up for the Media Activist discussion list at: www.mediatank.org

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