The Fight for Media Democracy

 
September 21, 2001

Speech given at the 27th Convention of the CPUSA

Introduction

At this Convention we need to re-examine our approach
and sharpen our thinking on the role of media: ours, theirs and the ones
in between; communist-left, independent and corporate mainstream media.

The fight to defend democracy is central to our outlook,
to our strategy and tactics today and on the road to socialism. The right
to public education, the fight against racism, for women’s equality, for
the full civil rights of the GLBT community–all these battles are understood
to be part of the battle for democracy.

The struggle against the corporate domination of the media
is a cornerstone of the fight to defend democracy. So that is why we are
discussing mainstream media, communist-left, independent media today.

We haven’t placed an emphasis on this aspect of the battle
to defend democracy for quite some time. I think we have been a little
behind the curve on some new developments both in analyzing the corporate
strategies and in responding to the media megamergers.

The Bush right-wing drive to carry out the corporate media
game plan has begun at the FCC and in Congress. Our Convention needs to
examine the right danger and strategize to sharpen tactics to defend democracy
in this arena of struggle as we discuss the anti-right fight.

We have to make it a priority to organize the fight for
the freedom of expression in the mass media. Our role is specific because
we have our own media: communist media. In some senses we have even more
responsibility to help organize coalition efforts to defend the constitutional
right to a free press and media. We have a whole lot of experience fighting
for First Amendment rights. We are not alone in seeing the corporate attack
on the freedom of the press and media.

Freedom of the press is a concern of a majority of people.
Adding our voice and historical perspective will sharpen our tactics in
the fight for democracy overall and focus the vision of this vital struggle
on today’s stakes and the possibilities of a socialist future.

The Bush Administration

Globally, the majority of TV production, cable ownership,
book and magazine publishing, music and soon the Internet is controlled
by 50 companies with only nine controlling the lion’s share. This tightly-knit
global media power of the top nine is maintained through a vast array
of joint ventures with potential competitors. The Bush administration
is already rolling back the regulations that have been stumbling blocks
to the continued gobbling up of media entities by the top nine media conglomerates.

The current, sharpest, right-wing attack is coming out
of the Federal Communications Commission. The Bush administration appointed
Michael Powell, son of Secretary of State of Colin Powell, as chair. Powell
owns millions of dollars worth of stock in Time Warner, one of the top
nine controlling the media. The commission was originally established
to regulate the telecommunications industry and manage the broadcast spectrum,
but has now taken on a position of defending corporate free speech rights
by removing regulations that have restricted the corporate mergers and
their ability to dominate media markets for decades.

Popular Public and Media Conceptions

The majority of people in our country may not be able
to name the top nine most powerful media corporations but they are well
aware that they exist and exert an ever-growing influence on the news
coverage and on our culture in general. In a recent poll, only 21% of
Americans thought the press "cared about people." The prevailing
mass thinking is that the media is controlled and those who control it
wield their power without concern for right or wrong and only act on their
own self interest.

The people are aware of the tightening corporate domination
of freedom of the media.

The class struggle goes on as corporate control tightens.
A recent study conducted by journalists concluded that there is widespread
disorientation among news media reporters due to the pressure to merge
news reporting with entertainment, or what has been called "infotainment":
a product of the drive for profit. Infotainment is an attempt to strip
the class nature of society and hide the class struggle. And what is emerging
in response is a struggle between left center and right journalists on
how to counter the class-based censorship–even among the syndicated columnists
who are at the top of their professions in the print media.

A New Strategy

We in the left, communist and independent media need a
new strategy that takes into account the class struggle within the corporate
media and the rising class consciousness of the workers in the industry.

The crisis is particularly sharp in broadcast news production
because the ownership is totally in the hands of the mega media corporations
who, in the estimate of this committee, have no interest in journalism
and only have class aims: profit and the generating of stories that reinforce
their class aims.

These journalists acknowledge that journalism is a business
but it should be one with responsibility to the people first and the stockholder
second. These reporters are talking about freedom of information, First
Amendment rights and the freedom of the press. In short, they are advocating
democracy.

Case in Point

The coverage of our Convention makes this point: we and
the labor and people’s movements must fight for every inch of democracy.
We have had press coverage on the AP wire, PBS, National Public Radio
and locally on Black, Latino and community radio outlets. The fight for
our right to be seen and heard and is a part of the fight for democracy
and against the right-wing corporate control of the media. This weekend
we fought and we won. Mainstream Milwaukeeans know a bit more about our
ideas … and some are saying, "Oh my, they seem to make a lot of
sense!"

Independent Media

Independent media is as old as dirt. It has existed since
the class struggle began. Marx and Lenin spoke about it, participated
in it. In every stage of class struggle and the fight for democracy, there’s
emerged a fight for independent news coverage of the class and peoples’
struggles. The movements have always needed their own voice.

The history of the struggle for independent media by,
for and about the struggles for justice were dramatically outlined at
last night’s People’s Weekly World event!

The independent media movement of today is a wide network:
labor, Latino, Black, Asian and American Indian press and broadcast media;
publications of the peace; women’s, GLBT, and youth movements. Local community
newspapers, community cable TV, community radio programming. There are
diverse political trends in this independent media, but the main trend
is the battle for coverage of the aims, ideas and the life in these communities
who have limited access in the corporate-controlled arena. Their fight
is the democratic right to be heard. The media of these communities become
the main vehicle to bust through the racist, male supremacist and anti-working
class media exclusion.

The Response

Along side of these multi class forms of independent media
is the Communist and left media. A media has a sharp focus on the class
struggle with political commentaries. Our coalition relations, our approaches
and ability to influence the broad left developments have suffered in
the last decade from not being familiar with the left and independent
media and their personalities.

The passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act fostered
a slew of megamedia mergers. The response has been the creation of an
incredible array of media analysis research organizations, such as Fairness
and Accuracy in the Media and the Media Channel, as well departments in
many universities.

Their role is to spur on public awareness of the raising
anti-democratic tide of concentrated corporate power. And to teach how
this power and drive for profit censors the stories and shapes the content
to maintain the ruling class ideological hegemony. They research the facts
of how the corporate message is being streamed into the consciousness
of the people to stunt the fight for decent lives. Are most of these groups
anti-capitalist? No, they mainly fall into the category of pro-democracy,
pro-First Amendment rights, but there is a strong broad left trend among
the people who work for these organizations, whose main concerns are the
lack of coverage of oppressed peoples’ struggles, issues, independent
political action and to counter the corporate political and economic agenda.
We share their basic framework.

The Communist-Left Media and Us

The communist-left media have always been a very direct
reflection of the state of the people’s movements. Why? Because the communist-left
media is generating struggle, philosophy, strategy and tactics devoted
to getting rid of capitalism, expanding democracy and, for some, advocating
socialism. Unfortunately, we have had a sense of competition and ownership
of ideas that isolated us from the new developments in the left independent
media and theoretical work in the last decade. Our ideas developed out
of the objective conditions, struggling for a Marxist interpretation of
reality, as do theirs. We are coming to similar conclusions about the
corporate media and the threat to democracy that it presents. We need
closer working ties with the other left media.

Our relationship to the left media will have a big affect
on the content and circulation of our own media: the communist media.
Many on the left at times have begrudgingly acknowledged our continued
existence-against tremendous odds. But the onus is on us to build the
bridges and the coalition with the broader left media to exchange and
refresh our thinking and theirs. Coalition work by the communist media
is natural and necessary to be effective in the battle against the rightwing
corporate control of the mainstream media.

Independent Media Movements: Then and Now

The struggle against globalization gave rise to a new
trend of the independent, anti-corporate media. What is qualitatively
new today that has given rise to this trend in the media movement? It
is the access to new technology while at the same time a raising of the
anti-corporate, anti-capitalist consciousness. This new independent media
movement exploded onto the scene most dramatically in Seattle, where the
Independent Media Centers (IMC) were born. Desktop publishing, the Web,
low-cost audio and video equipment have given grassroots activists a relatively
low-cost way to duplicate the quality of corporate media and to challenge
the corporate media in real time as actions and struggles are unfolding–not
a week or a month later. The new technology also allows for an explosion
of collaboration, exchange of information and distribution. The IMC Web
site got almost one million hits on the weekend of the FTAA demos in Quebec,
and has gotten the attention of the corporate media and right wing.

Our Party has also helped initiate broad left independent
media movements in the past. In the 30’s and 40’s the movement we helped
to initiate was called the Film and Photo League, which saw itself as
the current IMC movement does: a media that is rooted in the people’s
struggles, which have been shut out of the corporate media, media made
by the activists of the movements for social change, media production
as activism and a movement itself.

Changing America

The main breakthrough of today’s independent media movement
is the spontaneous participation of tens of thousands of media activists
in organizing media coverage of the anti-globalization struggles. Out
of those experiences, live satellite daily coverage was organized for
the Democratic and Republican Party conventions, which brought many smaller
media groups together in coalition along with grassroots videographers,
an initiative which we, the communist media, Changing America (CA), an
helped to lead.

Our two years of experience with CA is just the tip of
what is possible through collaboration. CA has become a part of the media
activist community. CA, like PWW and PA in the print media, has presented
a devoutly pro-working class, communist analysis in a community of video
activists fighting the corporate domination of TV. CA has been quite an
achievement for our Party.

We won awards from the steel workers union for helping
to win a strike with our investigative reporting. We won awards at two
film festivals for the documentary "Texas Trail: Firsthand in Bushland."
It was a popular pro-working class, pro-democracy voter mobilization video,
widely used by labor and community groups in the battleground states in
the presidential elections.

What Our Media Offers

The doors for the communist media are opened wide because
we are strongly connected to the class and people’s struggles, and yes,
we are gutsy and have proved that to ourselves and others over decades.
Just take a look at the reporting on the 2000 elections from Florida,
the Charleston Five coverage, and the Weekly Rant, which is quite a favorite
from Texas to the Bronx.

Renewing efforts at coalition building and initiating
joint collaborations can help influence the politics of the new independent
media movement that will exist with or without us. It will also greatly
enrich our thinking as well.

Too often we have taken a "go it alone" attitude
because it is easier. This approach does not take into account the new,
broader movement and infrastructure existing in the independent media
movement. We should subscribe to, read and exchange our media with others
in the left media. Shouldn’t we be submitting articles to The Progressive,
Z Magazine, Common Dreams and The Nation?

So in effect we need to readjust our attitude towards
coalition building with other media entities. Not only will we be welcomed
but it also refreshes and enriches the theory and practice of the anti-corporate
movement for democracy as well as our own. Coalition work is as natural
approach in this area of work as it is in others. That’s one adjustment
to our work we should make coming out of this Convention.

"Diversity of Views"

The second and just as critical adjustment is to give
renewed attention to the fight to be covered by the corporate media for
what media democracy advocates call "diversity of views." The
Party needs a public relations collective to nationally publicize our
ideas and initiatives. We need a collective that develops relations with
the journalists who work inside the belly of the corporate media beast
and want to fight for democracy, for coverage of the labor people and
left movements.

We need a national collective that gets the Party on the
air to fight CNN Crossfire-style to defend democracy and for the Party
to fight for our right to be to be heard. Tim Wheeler’s recent appearance
on Fox’s O’Reilly Factor and Terrie Albano’s repeat appearances on the
Allan Colmes Show prove that a challenge to right-wing arguments must
be made and we come out none the worse for wear. Feedback from viewers
says we gave the right a run for its money!

The Communists, the other voices on the left from the
labor and people’s movements are systematically locked out of debates
by the corporate media. A renewed push for political pluralism should
be at the heart of our tactics in the fight against the right-wing domination
of the media.

We, Communists, and the left need to fight for coverage
of strikes, community struggles, independent political action and third
party initiatives so they can reach mainstream America. Unfortunately,
we, and many in the independent media movement, see the enemy more as
the media itself rather than the corporate control. The fight for democracy
necessitates that we push the envelope and demand coverage of the labor,
people’s and left’s right to be seen and heard. It’s about democracy.

Conclusion

Clearly the struggle to expose the system and the role
of the media cannot be disconnected from the political and economic struggles
of the working class and oppressed communities. So our tactics have to
be multileveled, working with the independent media movement, strengthening
coalition efforts to curb the power of the media global corporations,
defend democracy and First Amendment rights to freedom of the press and
media.

From the 27th National Convention onward, let’s fight
for the right for the revolution to be publicized and televised.

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