Sunday, January 07, 2007

Media and democracy

Marching on Memphis: Revitalizing the Media Movement
By Danny Schechter

submitted to portside by the author

New York, New York: 'The conservative era is over,'
proclaimed a well-known progressive activist on the day
that the Democrats triumphantly took charge in
Congress. There has been lots of smiling and back-
slapping since the midterm meltdown election in which
the hard right stumbled and took a well deserved fall.

The Democrats of course are a fractionated party with
as many wings as there are Congressional committees.
Progressives have been taking cover for so many years
that it remains to be seen how open and forthright they
will be as the likely Bush counter-offensive is
orchestrated to 'surge' more troops into Iraq and keep
the edifice of the national security state and its
repressive legislation intact.

Remember, the Senate's future turns on the health of
one man, and the Supreme Court has been taken over by
smooth talking neanderthals who have tremendous power
to overturn the popular will. The Democratic victory
was less a victory for new ideas than a rejection of
corruption, frustration with a war that many Americans
still see as legitimate if unwinnable, disgust with the
incompetence we saw in New Orleans in the aftermath of
Katrina and a reaction agains demagogues with nothing
to say but unlimited time to say it.


But even more importantly, please recognize, as many on
left and right still do not, that the conservatism of
our society is embedded not just in one party but in
our culture with its media fostered consumption
orientation and celebrity fixation. Although it may
appear radical to say it, the most conservative
institution and one of the most powerful in our society
is not in Washington at all, not even in the political
zone. It is the media apparatus.

It is the media that sets the agenda and limits it.
It's the media that frames our issues, narrows our
choices, deifies our icons and institutions, and pumps
out the distractions that focus our attention and keeps
us uninformed. If we are to revitalize our democracy,
we need to make the media an issue and a target.

We need to fight for a different type of news and a
different story. As Bill Moyers said recently, it's
more about narrative than negativity. 'Everywhere you
turn you'll find people who believe they have been
written out of the story,' he says, 'the reality of the
anonymous, disquieting daily struggle of ordinary
people, including the most marginalized and vulnerable
Americans but also young workers and elders and
parents, families and communities, searching for
dignity and fairness against long odds in a cruel
market world.'

I saw this up close and personal while making my recent
film IN DEBT WE TRUST on the credit crunch that is
strangling the lives and hopes of so many Americans
across the partisan and every other divide. Americans
are hurting and our media system is not educating them
about why its happening and what we can do about it.


Media activists have to recognize, embrace and even
lead this broader fight-beyond partisanship and
centrist politics -- if we are to help roll back the
conservatism that is choking our culture and
desperately needed changes in our society.

Next week, 2500 Media activists will be assembling in
Memphis for the third National Media Reform Conference
(following in the footsteps of the two Media and
Democracy Congresses of the 90's).

The challenge there will be to redefine the media
problem as an issue of culture and democracy, not just
media rules or government regulation. We need a new
vision and a new agenda to build the fight for better
media, more public access for all, a public media
system that serves the public, not just the
professionals it employs. We seek accountability,
transparency, and responsibility by a media system that
makes billions off the people without serving the
public interest or the needs of our anemic democracy.

In years past, these events have been great arenas for
inspiration and interchange. They have brought
activists, advocates, media-makers and media critics
together in dialogue, sometimes in diatribe. As is
often the case, for every ten participants, there are
twenty opinions and the ever-present festering
cleavages of race, gender, and age.

Our system does a great job of angering so many of
us-legitimately. But righteousness and resentment are
easier to express than building effective unity and a
strategy for follow-up and ongoing action. We don't all
agree on everything, but we know we need each other to
make the kinds of changes that are needed. We don't
need to do more than ventilate. We need build a plan
for victory,


I will be there representing and
premiering a new personal film, 'A WORK IN PROGRESS:
Putting the ME back in Media' chronicling my own media
experiences over all these decades, as a dissector,
producer, network media maker and indie trouble maker.
Yes it has all the รข€˜thrills of victory' and the bitters
agonies of defeat. I made it in hopes that some of its
lessons and our achievements will inspire or at least
inform a new generation of the media active. (I show it
next Saturday at 11 AM, and then hopefully later on at
colleges and universities nationwide. Join me.)

Our time is now. The mainstream media system is
crumbling in front of us and not for just the lack of a
'revenue model.' The public is sick of its dishonesty,
cynical commercialization and obvious defense of the
status quo. Can we do better? You bet! We already are,
on the web, with so many vital indie media projects,
radio shows, films, books and blogs.

So now, it's back to the South where the civil rights
movement gained strength in the early days of my own
immersion in politics. Back to Memphis-where Dr King
moved the movement onto the economic terrain (and paid
for his courage with his life.)

Memphis the a mecca of our music, the home of soul, the
land of Otis and Elvis, and yes, also, Sam & Dave,
Rufus & Carla Thomas, Booker T & the MGs, not to
mention many who used their talent to wake up America
including the Staple Singers, Luther Ingram, Wilson
Pickett, Albert King, Jesse Jackson, Bill Cosby,
Richard Pryor, Al Green, and I can't forget Moms
Mabley. (Yes, we need a sense of humor, not just
hubris. John Stewart has shown us that.)

Let the Democrats have the pretense of Washington.
Let's make Memphis our symbolic citadel, for a weekend
at least, for a rebirth of the media and democracy

News Dissector Danny Schechter edits
His new film is IN DEBT WE TRUST (
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