In light of the fact that five corporations determine the content of most broadcast and print media, Karen Bond of the National Black Coalition for Media Justice and Chicago Media Action along with Salim Muwakki of In These Times conducted a workshop at the Midwest Social Forum in Milwaukee last Sunday focusing on the issue of media justice and ways in which it can be worked towards. The workshop offered an overview of how white progressives and the “media reform” movements often fail to understand the need for media justice, with Karen Bond explaining that it is difficult for white people to understand how institutions such as the media work against the aspirations of people of color. Media justice was framed as an issue that cuts across all issues and the two panelists urged people to incorporate media justice work into their organizing.
Salim Muwakki began the workshop by explaining how the number one issue of media justice is the question of addressing slavery’s racial legacy. He explained how people of color have been systematically excluded from the media and that they remain the most oppressed sector of United States’ society and as such, the status of people of color can be seen as an indicator of how democratic media is in the United States. Poverty, education, and incarceration—all issues which have tremendous effects on people of color and how they are portrayed in the media—are never examined by the corporate media as part of a racist system, with many in the corporate media having “race fatigue” that sees racism as “old news.” While some media outlets have report on prisons and how high incarceration rates threaten the viability of the African-American community, the coverage has been inadequate compared to the scope of the problem due to the exclusion of African-Americans from the media. Muwakki reminded the audience that the movement for media reform, which has grown over the past few years and gained considerable support in white progressive circles, has often not incorporated justice and has often viewed white supremacy as the status quo and has not offered much opportunity for people of color. As such, Muwakki expressed the opinion that media justice has to have a distinct part separated from the movement for media democracy and explained that media activists need to reach out and facilitate a dialog with people of color. Muwakki advocated for a two-tiered approach for achieving media justice that not only seeks better coverage and representation in the corporate media but also includes building racially just independent media outlets.
Karen Bond expanded this discussion by describing how recent media policy has continued to exclude people of color from the media and encouraged racist beliefs through the media’s negative portrayals of people of color. She explained that with only five corporations owning the majority of the media that it is easy for such racist portrayals to be seen as the status quo and that it is essential for folks to continue to challenge this. She cited the 1996 Telecommunications Act as being partially responsible for these portrayals, describing it as “a major media power grab” that has since limited the diversity of voices in the media. She explained to the audience how many corporations spread stories written by one reporter across a variety of media outlets, thereby limiting voices and perspectives that the public hears. As an example, she cited Clear Channel and their massive radio that which includes the ownership of many stations in communities of color and the effect that Clear Channel’s ownership has had on limiting free speech. The audience was encouraged to consider the fact that journalism is protected in the United States constitution as a government watchdog and explained that people need to realize that once journalism is no longer protected that freedom and democracy will essentially be gone as well. In this vein, she urged people to work against media monopolies and to monitor media ownership by people of color and to work to ensure more ownership of media outlets by people of color in order to prevent the limiting of voices.
Karen Bond offered a variety of suggestions on how to incorporate media justice work into the everyday organizing work being done by progressive groups. She encouraged the audience to incorporate media justice work into their organizing as a key component of organizing and urged every group to dedicate people to working on this issue, as she argued that it is impossible to succeed without accurate media coverage. She also encouraged organizers to develop better relationships with the media as a means of generating better coverage. As a means of securing better coverage, she asked the audience to get involved in the fight to save public access and to get involved in advocacy work dealing with media policy. The importance of “localism” was stressed and expanded to not just encompass local content but also local ownership, with Bond arguing that local ownership is key if people are going to have success in holding the media accountable. She also urged the audience to exploit the mainstream media whenever given the chance as its reach is unmatched by the independent media.