Media and Democracy 1997 — Preview

In any event, at the recent
LAAMN meeting there was apparently a lively and productive
discussion of the upcoming Congress and how it might be most
effective. To start, LAAMN proposes panels on the labor
movement, environment, racism and multiculturalism, youth,
campuses, etc. In each instance these panels would address
how alternative media have been covering the areas of
concern, and most particularly what failings there have been
and how we might do better in the future. A critical thing to
assess, we might add, is whether there is anything about
alternative media’s structure and process, agendas, and
make-up, that causes us to do a better or worse job on these
areas of focus.

Next, LAAMN proposes that
there should be panels "focusing on the type of
alternative media we are creating and how it is being
done." They seem to have in mind addressing both
existing and potential alternative media to improve what we
have. They give as examples focusing on micro radio and its
establishment and proliferation, creating a "national
progressive radio movement," creating a "national
network of print media," creating "on-line
alternative wire services," and "creating
progressive video and TV options." We agree that these
would be very useful focuses. We think also, however, that it
wouldn’t hurt to investigate the question of what makes
a media institution or project alternative? What do we need
to achieve, structurally and in our content, to merit this
label and fulfill its promise?

Then, in big bold letters
their memorandum says that "We need a panel called
‘building a national federation of alternative
media’ with speakers from media coalitions and networks
around the U.S. This group would draft a proposal for the
formation of a national federation and present it to the
closing plenary session of the Media and Democracy Congress
for discussion and vote. Representatives from each city would
serve on a national steering committee which would further
develop the structure, goals, objectives, etc., of this new
federation." LAAMN has in mind here, it seems, something
quite like what we proposed last year (Federation for
Alternative Media Activists and Supporters) and, of course,
we too would be very eager to see the Congress move in such a

LAAMN hammers home its central point… "Finally,
several members of LAAMN attended the first Media and
Democracy Congress in San Francisco in 1996 and urge the
Coordinating Committee of the upcoming Congress to place more
emphasis on panels and workshops focusing on media activism,
what media makers are currently creating and what we can do
together in the future, and less emphasis on rehashing how
bad the media oligarchy is. We already know that! We need to
create an alternative media movement where the public will
begin to look to us for their news and information."

We agree with one caveat.
Bemoaning how the mainstream media doesn’t cover this or
that topic at a conference of alternative media activists
conveys nothing new. But there is something to be said for
understanding why mainstream media is so limited so that we
don’t replicate any of the causes in our own efforts. So
the one panel on mainstream media that makes sense to us
would be "Why does mainstream media distort
reality" addressing such issues as its ownership
relations, corporate class-based structure, gender and racial
make-up, and funding mechanisms, particularly advertising,
with an eye to understanding how all these affect mainstream
media’s content and agenda.

Finally, there is a panel
possibility that is notably absent from the LAAMN message we
received. Right now almost every issue of consequence to
alternative media people – funding, relations to
audience, relations among alternative media institutions,
content/product, internal structure and decision-making,
relations to broader mainstream economic and political forces
– is in dispute in an alternative media crisis plaguing
arguably our largest member institution, Pacifica Radio.
Ideally a Media and Democracy Congress would try to
intercede, we think, to bring this crisis to a desirable
conclusion, perhaps along the outside mediator/investigatory
commission lines we proposed some months back. Short of that,
however, it would be strange indeed if a Congress dealing
with Democracy in the media and alternative media prospects
didn’t find some constructive and ample way to address
the problems now plaguing Pacifica.