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Bernie Sanders (AP file photo)

Reform speakers take on the big media

SHOWCASE | January 13, 2007

Bernie Sanders says it’s time to turn up the heat on media conglomerates; FCC Commissioner Copps says there is ‘too little news, too much baloney passed off as news.’

By John Branston

MEMPHIS Senator Bernie Sanders called media reform a moral issue in a speech this morning to about 2,000 people at the third national Media Reform Conference.

“Who has decided that abortion and gay rights are the only moral issues we should be discussing,” said Sanders, the newly elected independent, socialist U.S. Senator from Vermont.

Noting that next week is Martin Luther King’s birthday, Sanders predicted that major media coverage will give little if any attention to King’s opposition to the Vietnam war “and fight for economic justice.”

Sanders said it is time for Congress and community groups to turn up the heat on media conglomerates. “Now is the time to take a hard look at what they have been giving back to the American people.” He said he would like to see the fairness doctrine revived and tough hearings on renewal of broadcast licenses. “We’ve got to stop media deregulation big-time,” he said to a standing ovation.

Sanders opened the second day of the conference. What he said pretty much picked up where others left off on Friday, including two Democratic commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission, Michael Copps and Joseph Adelstein, who shared a concert stage Friday night with the Bar-Kays Memphis blues band and the Rev. Al Green’s backup singers.

[Audio feeds of the panel sessions and video of some of the main speakers are put on the Freepress’s conference Web site as they become available. Other Nieman Watchdog stories on the conference can be found here.]

Saying he is “sick of playing defense,” Copps, a scholar and former chief of staff for Senator Ernest Hollings, hit the main themes of the third National Conference for Media Reform: “Too little news, too much baloney passed off as news. Too little quality entertainment, too many people eating bugs on reality TV. Too little local and regional music, too much brain-numbing national play-lists. Too little of America, too much of Wall Street and Madison Avenue.”

Over 1,000 people turned out for the concert and rally, down considerably from the 3,000 or so who are attending, but pretty good for a Friday night following ten hours of panels and presentations. Those attending include activists, journalists, bloggers, and academics – with most falling into two or more of those categories, of course.

The hottest book on sale is “Digital Destiny” by Jeff Chester, which sold out at 60 copies Friday with 100 more on the way. This is a crowd that knows who Michael Powell is – the archrival of Copps and Adelstein when he was at the FCC. At the exhibit booths, you can get a discount subscription to Mother Jones, MS., or In These Times or pick up a “Fire Bush” bumper sticker or a brochure telling “the untold story” of the third building that collapsed on 9/11. Newspaper columnist Juan Gonzalez is getting raves. “I could be a groupie for him,” gushed Memphian Paula Casey.

“I’ve been an activist from Berkeley in the Sixties to New York, and I have never seen as large a gathering as I have seen here,” said D’Army Bailey, a Memphis judge who helped organize the event. “It’s extraordinary. These people have an extraordinary movement here. They know the media is the story and they know how to communicate.”

Not all of those attending were thrilled. Chris Lugo, 36, a Green Party candidate for a U.S. Senate seat from Tennessee in 2006, is attending his third conference.

“My main concern is there should be more interaction,” he said. “The people here already know almost everything that is being presented. I want to talk to other people and there is just not any structured opportunity to do that. And I really wonder if this is accomplishing anything. The message ‘reform the media’ doesn’t mean that much to me.”

Copps and Adelstein, scheduled to speak again Saturday, looked and sounded like political pros. Adelstein touted the diversity of the conference – although conservatives are very scarce and nobody is talking much about, say, sex and violence on TV – and said, “We have the American people on our side and the truth on our side and we’re going to win.”

His wind-up could have come from a stump speech: “From the heart of one patriot to a roomful of patriots, I salute you.” Which he did.

The evening’s main speaker was Dennis Kucinich, recently listed as a 200-1 shot for president. He was introduced, to lusty applause, by actor Danny Glover.


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