National Conference for Media Reform Reclaims the Airwaves

June 7, 2008 at 4:42 pm 1 comment

The National Conference for Media Reform 2008 kicks off this weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with over 3,000 activists, journalists, scholars, and community organizers gathering to make media democracy a key issue in public discourse and the upcoming elections. The conference features many well-known names in American grassroots movements, including Ella Baker Center for Human Rights executive director Van Jones, Ruckus Society executive director Adrienne Maree Brown, and Democracy Now! executive producer Amy Goodman. Videos of the addresses delivered at the conference are available on the website of the Free Press and the Free Press Action Fund, presenters of the conference.

US Media Reform & Mineral Colonialism: Links and Lapses

While the urgency of media reform in United States politics should be self-evident to any organizer, a recurring theme in the discussions is that we are at the perfect moment for a truly profound revolution in communication and information in this country’s history, with the advent of broadband spectrum media and the war over privatization or public-interest communications looming on the horizon. The media-industrial complex of Comcast, AT&T, Bill O’Reilly, and Rupert Murdoch is closing ranks in the ongoing battle for media justice, a framework for this transformation first developed at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee.

Information technology in the service of social change is a divisive issue among many environmental activists, not only because of the destruction of the natural environment implicit in the development of communications infrastructure, but also because of the perceived isolation and invasion of privacy with which computers, cellphones, and television have become associated. All sides are agreed that the methods of communication employed by a society have a profound impact on the nature of relationships, community, and social change in that society. While the image of a communications infrastructure powered by renewable energy is appealing to ecobloggers like your correspondent, the primitivist strain within our movement brings a valid and justified critique to any high technology system with a negative ecological footprint.

Like public transportation, general hospitals, and sewage systems, mass communications represents a grey area between revolution and reform, between radical change and renewed simple society. Anarcho-primitivists advocating the collapse of industrial civilization see the use of such technologies as a classic example of “anthropocentric” (human-based) organizing that neglects the fundamental habits of society that brought us to the present brink of collapse in the first place. Activists working within a strictly social justice frame see the conservation of the natural environment as an incidental (and therefore expendable) consequence of the change that “really matters” to human beings. Notice that this National Conference on Media Reform features no representation from indigenous communities engaged in resistance to neocolonialism, a struggle that is traditionally aligned with the fights against nuclear imperialism and mineral capitalism more familiar to biocentric activists.

While the opening remarks delivered by Free Press executive director Josh Silver obliquely reference the history of oppression in Peru, the narrative he presents unwittingly reduces the culture to an unqualified stereotype of ethnic violence and gruesome absurdity, while the rainforest and the indigenous community serve as a backdrop to the “transformative moment” of a white, male, middle-class college student. Although “transformative moments” are perhaps necessary for young people raised in the floating castle of white privilege, the politics of representation implicit in the narratives that come out of these moments only reproduce the patterns of injustice and oppression from which they have supposedly been “liberated” if the historical agency and dignity of exploited communities is not adequately addressed. Perhaps more than any other type of organizer, media activists must pay special attention to the identities they portray in the stories they tell, particularly in narratives of personal transformation.

These gaps in the imaginations of organizers from across the contemporary political spectrum are perhaps inevitable, but if we want to build a truly comprehensive movement for a planet comprising deeply sustainable communities, we have to articulate and negotiate these competing interests and focus points. We are dealing with conflicting visions of what sustainability is: do we draw the line at electronic trains, at “smart energy” digital power grids, at surplus agriculture, at basic tool use? At present, there aren’t many First Nations activists fighting media consolidation, and there aren’t many media activists fighting uranium mining. We may all call ourselves allies, seeing the hint of a common thread in anyone who’s ever picked up a picket sign in public space or locked down on private property, but do we really understand how to be allies in ways that cultivate substantial progress across all of our campaigns? A comprehensive vision of all the struggles against exploitation and domination, and an inclusive movement for democracy and sustainability, will require such an unbound breadth of discourse, a pluralistic community of thought and action.

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Entry filed under: southern energy network.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. View from the Hill » Highlander and Media Justice  |  June 18, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    […] Highlander’s role in the origin of the term “media justice” is also mentioned in the Southern Energy Network’s blog entry about the National Conference for Media Reform, available here. […]

    Reply

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