Memphis — As the media reform movement, now about five years old, picks up speed, its scope is tightly focused on what the Rev. Martin Luther King called "the madness of militarism."
At its core, the movement calls for inclusive, truthful coverage, a democratic press that refuses to be President Bush's lapdog and new legislation to break up media monopolies. It's been galvanized by the Iraq War, but stopping that war isn't at the forefront of the movement anymore.
Last weekend the National Conference for Media Reform was buzzing with the question, "How do we stop the American invasion of Iran?"
One possible answer is impeachment. In the next couple of months the New Mexico State Legislature will likely ask Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against President Bush and Vice President Cheney, according to David Swanson, director of Democrats.com. He said that it's imperative this happen lest future presidents operate as mavericks using the Bush precedent.
Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and journalist Larry Everest discussed concerns that Bush might be planning to attack Iran. Goodman said Bush is acting in the interests of preserving a 21st century American empire.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Cleveland) worried that the start of impeachment proceedings could accelerate a war but said, "If Bush attacks Iran, all bets are off."
Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said the current wars stand out in American history as ones that are sanitized by the media.
"This is really a war of disconnect," he said. "You really don't see the depth of sacrifice. You never see a dead American soldier on the news. You never see it."
Rieckhoff said mainstream coverage ignores the stories of the Iraqi people. He condemned the use of embedded journalists. Embedding endangers other journalists because insurgents see reporters as just an arm of the military, he said. Embedded reporters are too close to U.S. troops to be effective, he said.
"You can't criticize me if I'm covering covering your ass," Rieckhoff said.
A large number of the 3,500 journalists and activists at the conference here were women and people of color. A handful from other countries attended, too. Media reform as a civil rights issue was a recurring theme.
The discussion of free speech and indecency is upside down, according to Lisa Fager, an activist from Washington, D.C. Corporate interests have dumbed down radio for black audiences, she said. Dialogue or even music that criticizes the government is missing, replaced by gossip, she said. When the First Amendment is cited, it's to defend lyrics that talk about "bitches, pimps and hoes."
"Nobody wants to fight for my freedom of speech when I actually want to talk about something," Fager said.
Likewise, indecency fines are levied against people like Howard Stern, who plays to an audience of thirtysomething white men. A fight against indecency is supposed to be protecting children, yet urban stations that cater to teens play music rife with sexual themes and the degradation of women, Fager said.
"There's a right wing agenda behind indecency, and there's also a progressive use," she said.
Several sessions dealt with the marginalization of whole populations. The consensus was, if you're a person of color, a woman, poor or not American, you just aren't being heard.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed the conference. If you're concerned about health care, global warming, the war or almost any other major issue, he said, "You are kidding yourself if you are not concerned with corporate control of the media."
Sanders decried the press coverage of opposition to the Iraq invasion in 2003.
"Day after day those of us who opposed the war were holding press conferences that you never saw," Sanders said. "In terms of the war in Iraq, the American media failed and failed grotesquely. They are as responsible as President Bush for the disaster that now befalls us."
Sanders said it's no accident that we don't hear stories about common people, the labor movement or the nation's health care crisis.
"Somebody is supplying us with a mirror, and we want that mirror to reflect the lives of ordinary people," he said.
Sanders said it's the time to reopen discussion about the Fairness Doctrine, which required equal time for issues debated on broadcast channels. Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) said revision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act is being discussed in Congress.
Hinchey said the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s caused the rise of right-wing radio.
"The question is: Is it going to move back now that we're in charge?" Hinchey said. "The country today is at one of the most critical moments in its history." ©