Strategies for Stopping Big Media

Amanda Ballentine, Free Press: FCC town hall meetings: 3 years ago, FCC tried to let big media buy more local media. 3 M demanded that the FCC not loosen the rules, but they passed them anyway. We took them to court (Prometheus Radio Project) and won. Two years ago, they began to rewrite them. Chairman Martin has agreed to six public hearings, so far in L.A. and Nashville. Many of us have been holding unofficial hearings with [FCC Commissioners] Copps and Adelstein; they've done eight or nine. The media is our way of being successful and educating the public. This tactic can extend to other activism, not just media:


  • Coalition building. I start 2 months ahead and just start calling people in the progressive movement, churches, nonprofits, public officials, and I talk with them about their concerns about media. Over the two months, we come up with a program of expert speakers who can accurately portray different aspects. Activists, elected officials, media experts, people of faith, and we have a panel. We also allow public testimony.
  • Creating a public record. You can capture and transcribe a large volume of comments. The reason we won the court case three years ago was that there was a public record of opposition.
  • Public education. An ownership is a large event, 200-500 people to talk about a wonky policy issue. Offers an incredible opportunity to engage people who are not that keyed in to politics, and they come together, they learn, and they see a lot of other people concerned. They learn about the ownership history. As one of these hearings coalesces, you end up with 10 or 20 groups who have studied for two or three months the impact of media consolidation on their community. In many communities, this coalition has continued to be active, hold events.
  • Press and publicity. You can get most of the media outlets in a community to cover it. (positively or not)
  • We've found this very successful to educate people quickly and efficiently, get people motivated. And national groups like Free Press can get back in touch.

    Whether you're on the left or the right, you care about the media, and you'll find you can build very interesting coalitions: left-right, big biz/small biz. I call all the general managers at Clear Channel, Gannett, and tell them this is your chance to address the public. And their presence benefits our message and or work. And most of the activists have more compelling stories [than the corporados].

    How to engage overextended social change groups? There are a lot of ways to help. Before I approach, I research what issues they work on, their staff, and I lay out a broad spectrum of different ways to help, from endorsement to ID panelists to hitting their listservs to telling me who the good reporters are.

    Jennie Toomey, Executive Director, Future of Music (former record label owner, performer. I'm standing on the chair because it's as odd as punk rockers doing statistical analysis. I know no one will read our study, but we do a great 10-page executive summary. We know a lot of the work we do goes unnoticed. Org: 6 years. As indy musicians, we thought the emerging digital technology was great, no more bottlenecks, payola, signing away our rights. But those things don't just happen. You have to get the folks with the most to lose or gain engaged in the fight. So we've explained complicated legal/technical issues to musicians and reflected artists' needs to those fights. Not to work on media is like "I'm only working o fish, I don't care about the water." We can point to the study and show how consolidation throws off localism. We all have favorite bands that can't get on radio.

    When you bring Billy Bragg and Steve Earle to stand along with the workers in Chicago or Asheville, we managed to do press conferences every day. Both because of the incongruousness and the compelling issues. When Tiff (Merritt?)___ says I just toured with Willie Nelson and I got a Grammy and my station won't play me. This is a gateway to build bigger movements.

    A couple of things happening now in radio: low-power, digital transmission. In April or May, the FCC is opening a window to apply for full-power non-commercial radio licenses, anywhere ton the spectrum where there's enough bandwidth. Working on this: Prometheus.

    The other thing is Net Neutrality. We know what it's like to be locked off the public airwaves, we get it in our guts. We're organizing the entire American music community to support the principle of Net Neutrality. Any musician can sign up on the website, and we're working with high profile musicians to amplify the issue, and to help artists do the next thing. We can have people signing the save the Internet petition at their shows.

    NYC alone collected $35M in fines from major record labels regarding payola. Copps and Adelstein have been working hard to find a penalty for the radio stations, but they are a minority on the commission. But they've held up a tremendous number of mergers and sales, and the radio companies are negotiating what their fine will be. But it will take worse to organize this as a national case. This is a really strong ground to fight against further consolidtation.

    Jonathan Lawson, Reclaim the Media

    I met a group of organizers in Venezuela a year ago at the World Social Forum. One of the groups was Venezuelan National Association of Free and Independent Media (ANCLA), mostly radio producers. They saw themselves as part of a social justice/political movement and saw the purpose of media as changing he world. They saw themselves as part of a revolutionary social process. Meeting with them, we were renewed in our fervor to link a network of community stations in the Northwest, to

  • Help grow and sustain alt media
  • Advance community justice goals.
  • Media democracy as part of a broader movement for social justice and favors the public interest, not a media elite. We cannot entrust our history, culture, and democracy to consolidated media. We think it's important to do all these things at once. Community radio stations are a wild and diverse group. For us, we provisionally set up a definition as noncommercial, non-NPR, non-religious-based community, college, and web-only stations. What links them together?

    Lack of resources that NPR or commercial stations have

  • Direct accountability relationship
  • Diversity of staffing
  • Incubators for talent for public affairs and journalism, that's fun, cheap, available, and very open to the community
  • For the stations that do public affairs programming (who are not a majority), there's a sense of mission, and staff/listening audiences form a natural constituency for thinking and organizing. They're also under-resourced, often clinging. All of these stations were hampered by the lack of resources and by survival. These were natural allies that were not seeing each other as allies or neighbors. We discovered there wasn't even a directory of stations. Many of these had never been contacted by another radio station. We surveyed their interest in having a network, and we came up with a list of common needs.

  • Share content, e.g., show on regional or environmental issues
  • Platform for collaboration
  • Share PSAs
  • Be more effective on station ownership, DRM, etc.
  • First conf, Seattle, 150 people who focused on creating a network, got help form Prometheus, Pacifica (allowed use of their AudioPort online collaboration platform). We're still in the early stages. We've created a pot of money to hire an organizer. Work with existing media networks in your own areas. Not just radio but freelance videographers, political bloggers, print community media, etc. Find the one or two stations that are already doing political work and organize with them on media reform.

    John Bartholemew, Common Cause Maine: involving the community, passing city council resolutions

    Organizing is about bringing people together to make change. You have to consider what is your capacity what can you do. Case study: City Council resolutions in support of media bill of rights. I sat down with one of my City Council members in Portland and said why don't we pass a city council resolution? After we got it passed in Portland, coalition partners got it passed in six other towns in Maine. Now Seattle, Philadelphia, others have passed.

  • Congress and FCC give it more weight. Members of Congress often know these people personally, and often they're donors.
  • CC members are ambitious and looking for bigger platform.
  • Informs Congress that organizing is going on around these issues.
  • Provides a platform to recruit new volunteers/activists, and get these issues into the public record.
  • Action steps:

  • Revise the sample for each town
  • ID sympathetic councilors
  • Create coalition partner
  • (audience: he got the governor to issue a proclamation). Yes, this works with university campuses, etc.

    Beth McConnell: PennPIRG: coalition building

    No successful issues or political campaign lives or dies with one group or one individual. We need to build a strong alliance.

  • Coalition building is ongoing, not tied to just one event
  • About relationships, understanding why the issue will motivate them and how they will get involved
  • Look for those who bring different perspectives/resources to the table
  • Every action, press release, op-ed, rally/event is a way to bring new groups into the fold
  • Make the effort to stay in touch: potlucks, attend their events, conference calls and meetings
  • Media Tank, education; Prometheus, low-power FM; PennPirg, community organizingówe couldn't be more different. Combined, we've been able to pull off some very impressive events.

    Formed 2003 when Philadelphia-based Comcast made a bid for Disney and Disney held its shareholder meeting in Philadelphia. Proposed merger was national news, but nowhere was the discussion about corporate media consolidation. So we got together with these and other groups to insert the debate about consolidation. We held a news conference in the same hotel as the shareholder meeting, National/ International coverage of the message that consolidation is bad for workers, community, culture, etc.

    The relationships we developed from that event, and getting to know each other, was valuable in future fights over wi-fi network preemption, challenging Comcast for bad behavior, got John Sweeney from AFL-CO, other unions to say we're going to hold Comcast accountable.

    A few months later, we wrote a code of conduct that we wanted Comcast to adopt, and had a press conference outside their HQ. We distributed monopoly money with pictures of Comcast executives, bullet points on the back. Consumer's Union joined us, Mid-Atlantic Community Papers Association, regional multi-state coordinated events on same day, including City Council resolution aimed at FCC and congressional delegation. That means we have a member of City Council very interested in getting involved on this issue. And we have this network we can plug in on related issues.

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