Jeff Chester throws down a gauntlet

Posted by Mitchell - April 3, 2003 (entry 22)

This shout out goes to everyone who attended yesterday's excellent public forum at Northwestern University's law school on media ownership. Reports about it are no doubt being written, and I myself will probably write something about it in the coming days when time permits.

In the meantime, there's an extraordinary prospect underway in politicizing broadband broadcasting, as reported in an article from Alternet, written by Jeff Chester:

A broadband system possesses the capacity to offer progressives and other groups the opportunity to create new channels and programming services by using a variety of business models. Imagine, for example, that 500,000 progressives agreed to pay $5 a month to support a news service. With a $30 million a year programming budget, that channel could be made available for free and seriously challenge the timidity of both commercial and public TV. A whole range of news and cultural services could be created, including ensuring that independent producers have access to the servers, PVRs, and electronic programming guides that will be at the heart of the new interactive TV landscape. But first we have to secure access to the treasure trove of channel capacity held by cable and satellite companies.

What can be done? First, progressives will have to craft a legislative strategy that breaks the cable and satellite stranglehold over channel capacity. They will have to mount efforts at the local level as well, challenging the ways in which cable, for example, intends to serve the public with its new technology. Finally, they will have to develop plans that will lead to the creation of real programming alternatives. While we should continue to pressure the networks through demonstrations and other efforts, we must also strive for more long-term fundamental changes.

The history of U.S. communications in the twentieth century was marked by a striking common theme. During each major transition to a new medium radio, broadcasting, or cable the media industry assured the public that they would use their new capacity to serve the public interest. But once they were able to lobby away any policy safeguards, the networks served only their narrow commercial goals.

Unless progressives embrace a strategy to intervene in the emerging digital TV marketplace, they may find themselves locked into a future commercial media system that once again marginalizes critical analysis and dissent. Let's avoid that rerun.

I think we can find 500,000 people willing to pony-up $5 a month for this Audience Network. Heck, we've been able to get that many protesters in New York alone on February 15. I think we should pursue development of this Audience Network in concert with others who are also working on it. Anyone interested should email CMA.

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