I work with the Texas Media Empowerment Project; people close to me would say that I’m somewhat obsessed and an overall malcontent when it comes to media. But if you’ve ever complained about any of the following — radio playlists, recycled news, record labels, internet services, phone bills, file-sharing rights, voting machines, marketing to children, or simply the lack of diversity in media — then you’ve bitched about a media-reform issue, too. But complaining isn’t enough.
On January 11, more than 3,000 people met at the third National Conference on Media Reform in Memphis (including the Current’s Keli Dailey — I sat on a Free Press scholarship panel that helped fund her trip). Just like any other industry-specific event where producers, talent, and trend watchers overlap (like South By Southwest), it felt like two conferences were actually taking place, commented Josh Breitbart of Clamor Magazine. The tailored suits from Capitol Hill were “talking policy” with elected officials and social-change celebrities like Danny Glover and Jane Fonda. And under the same roof, the folks and organizations for whom it’s not a philosophical discussion — people actually using media as a tool for change — presented their strategies for media reform.
As a second-generation media reformist, I thought everyone cared about the media, because we all utilize it one way or another. With the ongoing lack of diversity in media, communities losing their rights to shape their own content, and the knowledge gap evolving into the “digital divide,” several reactive media-justice organizations are using media-reform to advocate holistically for equal opportunities and representation.
San Antonio has a history of media activism that extends past the 2-year-old Texas MEP, going back more than 20 years. Listening to local San Antonians is a great way to familiarize yourself with our local media history, and the battles we’ve won and lost. People here miss hearing local music on the radio, and they remember having another daily newspaper’s point of view.
At the same time, as a growing multiethnic, bilingual city we can learn from battles won in other communities similar to ours. In New York City, Kat Aaron, co-director of People’s Production House, encourages diversity in the media by training young adults to be on-air journalists. Their station, Radio Rootz, creates community-produced content and airs its demands for a just media in an effort that combines education and activism.
Grassroots political organizer Malkia Cyril and the Youth Media Council worked with eight different youth groups in the San Francisco Bay area to monitor their local, corporately owned radio station to expose their anti-youth and anti-immigrant agenda.
Both are creative responses to Big Media, and there were stories like these coming from the mouths of organizers, techies, and musicians at the Media Reform Conference.
What would San Antonio produce if we had several public-access channels? Our city had a taste of media consolidation recently after Senate Bill 5 passed, and locally produced channel 20 went off air. Thankfully, more than 180 people from Austin and San Antonio fought to re-establish the channel.
What would local communities do with a high-powered radio station that amplifies local voices and increases the visibility of social-justice issues? How would the media cover local elections and campaigns if civil rights and human rights were equally valued, and candidates were assessed on more than their age, race, gender, and class? And if the “Information Age” was everything it’s hyped up to be, how would democracy look if our knowledge exchange flourished, and everyone had internet access?
Texas MEP has been petitioning for two years to put Amy Goodman and Democracy Now! on air, but our local NPR affiliates are still hesitant to meet the community’s request. Maybe we’ll forego their bandwidth and air the program on our new Texas-MEP supported non-commercial FM radio station.
And who knows? If our local techie activists are victorious, bus riders could be able to cruise the internet while en route to UTSA.