If you're frustrated with the mainstream media's failure to provide critical journalism that informs democracy and holds government accountable, then you need pay attention to what happened in Memphis last weekend. Opening the National Conference for Media Reform, legendary journalist Bill Moyers proclaimed:
As we saw in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, the plantation mentality that governs Washington turned the press corps into sitting ducks for the war party, for government, and neoconservative propaganda and manipulation. There were notable exceptions ... but on the whole, all high-ranking officials had to do was say it, and the press repeated it until it became gospel. The height of myopia came with the admission (or was it bragging?) by one of the Beltway's most prominent anchors that his responsibility is to provide officials a forum to be heard, that what they say is more newsworthy than what they do.
Thousands came to Memphis because they understand that we must create an alternative to the dysfunction that Moyers describes. His words resonated at an event that was part conference and part rallying cry. An event in which the disparate players were more unified than ever before; coming together in one of the fastest-growing movements in a generation. Moyers continued:
[Media reform] means helping protect news-gathering from predatory forces. It means fighting for more participatory media, hospitable to a full range of expression. ...It means bringing broadband service to those many millions of Americans too poor to participate so far in the digital revolution. It means ownership and participation for people of color and women. And let me tell you, it means reclaiming public broadcasting and restoring it to its original feisty, robust, fearless mission as an alternative to the dominant media, offering journalism you can afford and can trust, public affairs of which you are a part, and a wide range of civic and cultural discourse that leaves no one out.
Who else was there? Independent media makers like Amy Goodman and Robert Greenwald; watchdogs David Brock and Janine Jackson; politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ed Markey; activists Van Jones and Deepa Fernandes; luminaries like Geena Davis, Danny Glover, Jane Fonda and Jesse Jackson. (click here for audio & video of their speeches)
They - and millions of other people who have joined the movement in recent years - understand that the American experiment itself will fail if media continue to consolidate; if independent media fail to reach more living rooms in states red and blue; if government propaganda continues to pass as news; and if the Internet becomes a private fiefdom for cable and phone companies.
Van Jones, the founder of Oakland's Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, closed the conference with these words:
We have dreams, beautiful dreams, hopeful dreams, helpful dreams. Dreams about a country coming back together to put its arms around our toughest problems. Every race, every class, every religion is here, so we have the opportunity to test pilot the solutions to our biggest problems. And the reason we want this pro-democracy movement is because we believe this country can lead the world. But not in war; not in pollution rates; not in incarceration rates. We believe we can lead the world in clean and green technology. ... we believe we can be that kind of country, and we need to have a movement that stands for that.
Media reform isn't just about winning better policies in Washington - though that's a key part of it. It's not just about holding the mainstream accountable. And it's not just about creating our own better media, though we need that, too. Media reform is about all of these goals and a diversity tactics that ultimately will advance every issue we care about: civil rights, education, the environment, the economy, health care, fair elections.
Our dreams of a better country start with better media. And after spending a weekend with more than 3,000 amazing people from all across the country, those dreams seem just a little closer to reality.