The Union for Democratic Communications (UDC) is a conference of media scholars, media activists, and media producers, dedicated to critical study of the media and striving to improve the media and to diversify the media in all sense of the word. The UDC conference takes place in a different city every year. I've had the good fortune to attend previous UDC conferences in Boca Raton, Florida, and in St. Louis. And this year, 2018, Chicago will play host, during the weekend of May 10th through the 12th, in a building across the street from where I produced a radio show for five years.
On a related point, I find it uncanny that this conference bears a number of parallels to a certain other conference in late 2002 that resulted in the founding of what's now Chicago Media Action.
* Both took place in a building connected to Loyola University of Chicago.
* Both had the excellent Sut Jhally as a featured speaker near the end of the conference.
* Both had longtime ally Chris Geovanis as a featured panelist.
But there are clear differences too.
* The 2002 conference was at the Loyola campus in Rogers Park The 2018 conference will be downtown.
* Sut Jhally will receive an award in 2018 and will not, so far as I know, face an opposing speech from a member of AIPAC in the interest of "equal time".
* The panel featuring Chris Geovanis won't be abruptly cancelled in the wake of her arrest. Even better, she won't be arrested at all. ;-)
If you are able to attend the UDC Chicago conference, I strongly encourage you to do so. I have always found UDC conferences worthwhile, and much to its credit the UDC strives to keep its membership affordable, to the extent that no one will be turned away for lack of funds to pay. The schedule of the conference is here, and registration is available online.
Larry Duncan was a longtime media activist, media producer, labor activist and organizer. For more than thirty years, Larry helped produce the Chicago-based television program Labor Beat and was involved in many other media production, media activism and labor solidarity efforts. Our friends at Labor Beat posted word this week that Larry Duncan passed away.
Among the media activism efforts that Larry Duncan contributed to was Chicago Media Action. Larry attended the first meeting of what became Chicago Media Action, attended meetings without fail for years, and lent his advice, perspective, and hard work to CMA efforts and campaigns. Chicago Media Action became a better organization thanks to Larry's insight and counsel, and Chicago Media Action is all the poorer with his loss, as are efforts for a better media and for a stronger working class.
It might be premature to say, but it appears that the fight over net neutrality now marks the high point of media activism in American history. We saw wide-ranging ongoing activism throughout 2017, protests in more than 600 cities (including Chicago). The FCC docket, which already was the most-commented-on issue in the FCC's history, broke yet another order of magnitude.
And yet, the FCC by a three-to-two vote abolished net neutrality outright. No Title-I versus Title-II reclassification debate, no watered-down half measures, nothing. The FCC simply made net neutrality a dead letter.
The coverage and condemnation was swift, to the point where TV shows that normal everyday watch like Colbert and Seth Meyers and Saturday Night Live all prominently discussed the issue, the vote, and its potential aftermath. Certainly folks active on YouTube and on Twitch felt the potential impact
Commentary on the issue made predictions ranging from bad to worse. A sampling: My friend and fellow media activist Jennifer Pozner who wrote that "no words will sum up how depressing and dangerous this is". Another fellow activist, John Anderson at the DIYMedia blog, wrote a pessimistic but all too accurate blog post where the end of net neutrality marks the end of a four-decade-long quest to suppress the gains wrought by the activism of the 1960s and their aftermath. Anderson quoted the commentator Sarah Kendzior who went further, saying "For nearly a year, America has stood at the crossroads of a damaged democracy and a burgeoning autocracy. If net neutrality is destroyed, we will cross firmly into the latter, and our return is unlikely.". The anticipated effects of net neutrality's demise include the establishment of barriers to entry for new players in current markets, the harm to libraries and free speech.
I hate to say it, but these predictions may well come to pass. And yet that hasn't stopped people and groups from fighting back, on multiple fronts, with vigor. In the short term, the most likely avenue to win a reversal of the FCC's vote to abolish net neutrality is the forthcoming lawsuits. A great many parties are piling on, from nonprofit groups to the big tech firms to state attorneys general, including Lisa Madigan. And there's good reason to think that those lawsuits will win, particularly since there's reason to believe the potentially fraudulent basis of the FCC's decision. Even with a victory restoring net neutrality, as could well happen, the FCC, led by the execrable Pai, may just sit on his hands during his tenure as chair and simply refuse to enforce net neutrality once it's restored, leaving the big corporate ISPs to proceed with their plans anyway. It may take another suit (or two) to make Pai ultimately do his job, at which point he may simply abandon ship and return to the corporate sector.
Another front has been at the legislative level. In the days since the FCC's vote, Congressional Democrats have quickly mobilized support to the point that, just yesterday (from the time of this writing), the Democrats have achieved the numbers to force a Resolution of Disapproval vote. This avenue has much less likely chance to succeed in the short term; the Democrats don't have sufficient votes, and even if they were to muster the votes (maybe after the 2018 elections, if the Democrats can reclaim Congress), a presidential veto is likely. And in a breaking development: We're now seeing state legislators enter the fray.
The fight for net neutrality has given a surprising, and very welcome, shot in the arm to local broadband initiatives. You can consider net neutrality a rearguard action; it forces the cable and telephone monopolies rampant across America from abusing their privileged position to profit at the expense of free expression and innvoation. But if you have competition, the privilege is lost. That competition won't come from the markets, which are horribly concentrated, but from a constellation of local, affordable, government-run, broadband initiatives. It's no surprise then to see that the opposition are strangling these networks before they have a chance to be built and spending considerable funds to that end.
The fact that's there's such widespread activism and involvement on so many avenues, and why we were able to win repeatedly in the past, and why I'm hopeful in the long term even if the short term is a mix of good news and discouraging bad news. Critically, we have a rare opportunity which we have to seize to move the window of possibility beyond. And that's what I think the next front, at least conceptually, needs to be. Not just challenging monopolies and the policies they advocate, but challenging the very economic basis of competition. Competition breeds monopolies; you don't see competitors at sports events stick around for the whole duration of tournaments. They're winnowed down and steadily eliminated, and if we can understand that clearly in sports, why are we stupid to it in economics? But, I hasten to say, that's not a call for state control of the economy. It's a call for some alternative beyond command planning and beyond markets (which devolve into command planning). It's a call some kind of democratic planning of our economy, and there are well-worked-out models of same demonstrating how it can work. Even discussing this topic might be the biggest taboo we now face, but taboos have been broken before, and they can be broken here. It is the understandable next direction to follow, the next front to work on; discuss it we must, act on it we must, for the sake of net neutrality and much else besides.
On the day of this post, July 12, 2017, more than 70,000 websites from across the internet join a day of action to preserve the principle of a neutral internet (a necessity given the oligopoly that American telecom has become). This day of action echoes another coordinated day of action â€” the National Day of Outrage on May 26, 2004 â€” that Chicago Media Action started (it was our idea). We are glad that the fight for a neutral internet has continued and grown and had a resounding impact.
And wow, has it. In the 13 years since that National Day of Outrage, the fight has grown to become the most popular docket in the eighty-plus-year history of the FCC. What's more, the policy of Net Neutrality has been placed back on a strong Title II footing (the legal framework ensuring that ISPs can't overturn the policy in court), which has won in the courts (twice). In the court of public opinion, it's no contest: Even the companies that have led the charge against net neutrality for the past decade and change are now espousing rhetorical support for net neutrality (despite fighting for policies that do the opposite).
The fight and these wins were a long time coming, slogging for more than a decade to build awareness and an inside/outside game that ultimately succeeded in changing policy. But can we keep it? Sad to say, maybe not. With Donald Trump's election in 2017, the majority of FCC commissioners switches to Republicans, as does the FCC chair â€” a former Verizon attorney who got his law degree from the University of Chicago (my alma mater as well, by the way).
They are hell-bent to remove the internet from Title II protection, just two years after the reclassification was passed. Applying such anti-popular policies despite public outcry is nothing new for the FCC. The courts blocked them before in such cases, citing the public outcry as a key reason why. It's quite possible that an attempt to remove net neutrality from Title II protection is going the same path in the short term: the FCC will open a docket, see it flooded with comments asking/demanding/pleading not to remove net neutrality from Title II protection, and proceed to ignore them all and vote to do it anyway. We can then expect a filing to block, that they're applying a rule that's "arbitrary and capricious".
While all of that is happening, the ISP market is, as mentioned above, increasingly concentrated. Likewise, the internet itself is increasingly marketized and increasingly concentrated. Net neutrality doesn't address any of that; in fact, there's barely a whisper of commentary to that end. Not to say that net neutrality isn't important; it certainly is and I myself devoted more than a decade of work to help in that fight. It's just that the fix is just a bandage to some deeper issues that we'll need to address, and quickly.
Some people remain stubbornly reality-based and may want to read, watch and listen to informational materials in order to better understand something. So for these troublemakers, here are some links to information that shows clearly, in the aggregate, why weâ€™d better expand and more broadly define community media in an age of broadband, runaway media ownership consolidation, and shrinking newspaper ad revenue.
PhillyCam's WPPM at 106.5FM
Multimedia community media centers are proliferating
I recently spoke with Mike Wassenaar, the head of the peg access advocacy group Alliance for Community Media, and he pointed out that there are about fifty community television centers in the U.S. that also have a low power fm community radio license. Here are links to a few of them: PhillyCam's WPPM at 106.5FM (pictured above), a short overview of Grand Rapids Community Media Center (which has a full power radio station) and a link to its homepage, info about Davis Media Access in Davis CA, Dakota Media Access, Rochester Community Media Center, Arlington Independent Media, Boston Neighborhood Network, and Tucson CMC. For an excellent discussion of multimedia community media facilities, check out the event description of this 2011 panel discussion "Community Media: A Full Spectrum Future"; for really depressing statistics about the gutting of newsrooms, go to Steven Waldman at 6:40 to 14:30. Here is a link courtesy of the ACM to a 2016 panel discussion featuring spokespersons for community media facilities offering both community tv and lpfm.
Communities need information but independent investigative journalists need to eat
Research studies: The 2002 study by the Future of Music Coalition "Radio Deregulation: Has it Served Musicians and Citizens?" illuminates the extremely negative effects released by the radical deregulation of the Clinton Telecommunications Act of 1996 upon ownership concentration, format and program diversity, news, ad clutter, and the ability of artists to get on the radio. This study helped lead to the signing of the Local Community Radio Act in 2011 which created hundreds of new low power fm stations. The groundbreaking 2011 FCC study "The Information Needs of Communities" highlights the key (but underfunded) role community media must play in filling in the major gaps caused by the staff cuts and bankruptcies at our daily newspapers as internet advertising dimes replace print advertising dollars. Via reports like "State of the News Media Report 2016", the Pew Research Center breaks things down for each news medium annually. The 2007 Benton Foundation study "What's Going On in Community Media?" expertly details models of facilities evolving to adapt to the new media landscape in order to better help solve community problems.
(added 11/17/2016) More links examining the generally miserable state of sustainable funding for investigative and accountability journalism
More info has been brought to my attention by a squad of communications and journalism educators I am friends with: Steve Macek, Professor at North Central College reminds us of McChesney and Nichols' book "The Death and Life of Great American Newspapers" (2009) which covers a lot of facts about the loss of local journalism jobs. Andrew Kennis, Assistant Professor of Journalism at The University of Texas at El Paso provides the following -- Local Journalism: The Decline of Newspapers and the Rise of Digital Media (2015) published by the Reuters Institute at Oxford University; Less of the Same: The Lack of Local News on the Internet by Matthew Hindman, GWU; Less of Less FCC-commissioned report finds a "surprisingly small audience for local news traffic" Nieman Lab, 2011; Low Power to the People: Pirates, Protest, and Politics in FM Radio Activism MIT Press, 2014 - a book review by its author.
Media Justice, OWS, and Access: Who Gets to Speak?
James Owens at UMass Amherst provided some identity and activist oriented links that are also part of this discussion: Media Justice: Out of the Margins Cyril, M., Schmeider, K. - Extra!, 2009 "Access to media is difficult when â€śyouâ€™re poor, a person of color, a woman or queer: itâ€™s harder when youâ€™re living in an isolated rural community or a segregated and policed urban neighborhood"; Media Justice and the 99 Percent Movement by Betty Yu - Extra!, 2011 As the OWS Declaration in New York City put it, the 1 percent â€śpurposefully keep people misinformed and fearful through their control of the media.â€ťBut grassroots, independent media outlets like Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio, the Indypendent newspapers and public access TV channels, with a combined audience of millions, covered the Occupation from the perspective of the peopleâ€”the 99 percent. Grassroots Perspectives on Media Justice Organizing Davies, L. Radical History Review, 2013 Building a National Media Justice Movement:â€¨ An Interview with Betty Yu, Membership Organizer, Media Action Grassroots Network, the Center for Media Justice; The Black Voice is in Jeopardy by Malkia Cyril - Extra!, 2014 While Malkia recognizes the power of Twitter, she fails to accept that this power on its own would change societyâ€™s perspective on Blackâ€™s peopleâ€™s anger against police brutality; Occupyâ€™s Precarious Pluralism: A study of the purposes, identities, and politics enabled by the NYC Occupy movement by James Owens, 2012 â€śProjects seeking to create spaces of communication and wage issue campaigns for healthcare and financial reform tended to emerge from alliances of wealthier, whiter, professional identified partners while non-professional partners from communities of color and low-income allied together to wage struggles for human rights, subsistence, and against foreclosures. . . . Rather than creating spaces to overcome differing interests, communication projects themselves appear to be expressions of particular interests; FAIR & Media Justice Goldstein, H., & Jackson, J. - Extra!, 2009 Who gets to speak? More inclusive and democratic media is â€śpart of the bigger, longer fight for real social and economic justiceâ€ť.
This entry was posted by Scott Sanders, a co-founder to date of seven Chicago area media and democracy activist groups.
Sanders has worked for long stretches in social science research, in the creation of video documentaries, as a librarian, and also in movie theater management.
You can link to Scott's combined curriculum vitae, timeline, and resume here.