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The Future of Media Doesn't Belong to Murdoch; It Belongs to Us

Josh Silver

The following are my opening remarks from the National Conference for Media Reform in Minneapolis, which I delivered this morning.

Good morning. My name is Josh Silver. On behalf of the Free Press staff and board of directors, I'm honored and proud to welcome all of you to the fourth National Conference for Media Reform.

I can't tell you how exciting it is to look out at so many faces, and know that this conference and this movement for better media is growing to a level we never could have imagined.

Look around you! Here in Minneapolis and across the country, we have created a national movement for media reform!

You know, I never thought I'd open the conference with a quote from Scott McClellan.

The man who spoke for the Bush White House during the Iraq war now admits that, quote "[T]he national press corps was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation.... the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq."

That's putting it mildly. Later, McClellen said that the news media were quote "complicit enablers" in the White House's "carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval."

More and more reporters, including major tv correspondents like Jessica Yellin and Chris Matthews have recently admitted that their bosses were pro-war and that it slanted their coverage.

These Johnny-come-lately confessions confirm what's been obvious to everyone in this room for years: The corporate media is not a watchdog protecting us from the powerful, it is a lapdog begging for scraps.

But for us here today, being right is no consolation in the face of the damage done by the media's love affair with the White House.

Government and corporate propaganda have laid waste to journalistic integrity.

We now know that the Bush Pentagon poured millions of dollars into a secret propaganda campaign to sell the Iraq war to the American people who sacrificed their blood and the goodwill of other nations.

And the media handed over the megaphone. Allowing the Pentagon to invade our airwaves and newspaper stands with an army of retired generals. These so-called "message force multipliers" appeared or were cited more than four thousand five hundred times on major television news outlets, and even NPR.

We now know that the media rolled over for the Bush administration - not just about the war, but about nearly every major decision facing this country. From message multipliers, to pre-packaged and undisclosed propaganda on our local nightly news, to pundits-for-hire like Armstrong Williams.

We now know that our leaders preyed on our fears with a cynical pr campaign that raised the Homeland Security warning to Orwellian orange or red to distract from the administration's latest embarrassing or illegal act.

We now know that each time, the corporate media - the source of news for over 90 percent of Americans -- acted as their willing mouthpiece.

For too long, the American people have been made afraid. We have been left in the dark -- not just by our government, but by the media that is supposed to keep us informed.

Eighty-eight years ago, journalist Walter Lippmann said quote:

All that the sharpest critics of democracy have alleged is true, if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news. Incompetence and aimlessness, corruption and disloyalty, panic and ultimate disaster, must come to any people which is denied an assured access to the facts.

Without the facts, we followed the flag into a disastrous war in Iraq.

Without the facts, our economy crumbles and 37 million Americans live in poverty.

Without the facts, our nation's infrastructure is in tatters, and victims of Hurricane Katrina have been abandoned.

Without the facts, our climate crisis may have moved beyond repair.

Without the facts. Without a critical, accountable, fearless media system, we've arrived at one of the darkest moments in our nation's history.

But this media problem isn't really about the journalists. It's not about the TV show bookers, or even the Scott McClellans -- although many of them are complicit.

This is about the people at the top. This is about the Big Media owners who decided it's in their best interests to join hands with the Bush administration and global corporations at the expense of all Americans and democracy itself.

Our consolidated, broken media system gives moguls like Rupert Murdoch the omnipotent power to decide what's news and what isn't; which lives are important and which aren't. Which myth the American people will see, and which reality they won't. Friends, we are living in the Matrix, and Big Media is writing the script.

For these owners, it's good business to deliver bad media. After all, big-dollar-advertisers don't want gruesome images from Iraq to follow ads for Happy Meals and Humvees. Hard-hitting journalism is expensive and jeopardizes Big Media's closed-door clout with politicians.

We must ask ourselves,

What kind of country has a media system that helps military leaders trick the public into fighting an unnecessary war?

What kind of country has a media system more concerned about Paris Hilton than genocide in Africa?

What kind of country has a media system that covers elections by scandal-mongering, ignoring any pretense of exploring real issues?

What has happened to our democracy?

I'll tell you exactly what happened. Big Media forced it off the road, into a ditch, let it burn, and cried alligator tears all the way to the bank.

And our corrupt, money-driven political system let it happen.

When you have an entire media-industrial complex against you, it's easy to feel defeated and even hopeless.

Sometimes, it takes a transformative moment to realize that you can actually do something about it.


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I had that moment thirteen years ago traveling in the Peruvian rain-forest with my friend Patchen Miller. At 26-years old, we were longtime travel companions and fellow adventurers. By the time we decided to float the headwaters of the Amazon, Patchen had already spent most of his short life doing community service. I had dabbled in public service, but had yet to figure out my own path.

On the third night, we were ambushed. Patchen was shot and killed at close range.

I was shot in the leg, and narrowly escaped. It took a week to make it back to Lima, where they removed seven pieces of birdshot from my leg.

At the hospital the surgeon kept shaking his head, looking at how close the lead had come to the artery. He kept saying, "mucho suerte hombre....mucho suerte..." You are very lucky, young man, very, very lucky.

I came back from that trip a changed person. At the age of 26, I was suddenly aware of my own mortality-- several years before most people realize that their time on earth is short.

From that day forward, I felt that I was living life for both Patchen and for myself. That my experiences and successes were both of ours.

And I knew -- in my bones -- that this short life -- that luck or fate had granted me would be committed to making the world a better place.

Now I'm not suggesting that you have to get shot in the leg to focus your life on changing the world.

But I am suggesting that every one of us has the potential to be a powerful agent for change. You, me, the person sitting next to you.

There are extraordinary people in this room. Look around. People who have fought this fight for years. People who are new to the issues of media reform and ready to get to work. People with the talent, the passion and the will to win a better life for this country. People who have brought this media reform movement to a level previously unimagined.

Who could imagine the victories we've had since this conference last gathered in Memphis?

Just last month, together, we got the United States Senate to overwhelmingly reject the FCC's latest outrageous attempt to let Big Media get even bigger.

Together, we stopped the White House and Congress from abolishing Net Neutrality and turning the Internet into a private fiefdom for the largest cable and phone companies.

Together, we are pushing Congress to award thousands of new low power FM radio station licenses to cities and towns that sorely need more independent voices.

Together we are challenging unfair postal rate hikes that threaten to shut down independent publications that are the lifeblood of our democracy.

Together, we have created a movement made of thousands of people who are committed to creating the media system we so desperately need.

And for the first time ever, we have presidential candidates debating an open Internet and media consolidation.

Right now, we are at a crossroads. Right now, we stand at the brink of the greatest opportunity in generations to break the corporate media's stranglehold on our democracy.

In a few years, nearly all of our media - television, radio, newspapers, phones, movies -- will all be delivered through a high speed Internet connection. At this critical juncture, we cannot ignore history....we must learn from it.

In the past, each time a new technology emerged with the power to give a voice to the voiceless, there was a great moment of hope. We saw it when radio was invented in the 1920s. With television in the 1950s. With cable in the 1970s.

Each time, media moguls sent their hired guns to Washington to co-opt and monetize these technologies before they even got off the ground.

Each time, the best and greatest chance for everyday people to reclaim the media was sacrificed to corporate power. Each time, the public had no idea laws were being passed in their name that were killing the dream.

The ruinous state of media we see today is the result of those disastrous policies.

But this time is different. This time, we stand at a moment of opportunity with the Internet. This time, we have a tool that not only speaks truth to power, it can organize truth against power. This time, we can use the Internet to save the Internet.

We know that the future of the Internet will go down one of two paths. The first is the righteous path of openness. A new media world that treats all content equally. No slow lanes for us, and fast lanes for them. An Internet where anyone with a good idea can make it big and make a difference. An Internet that is fast, affordable and accessible to everyone; rich and poor; urban and rural.

The second path is the closed Internet. An Internet that looks like radio, TV and cable. An Internet where giant phone and cable companies decide what's on, how much it costs and how fast it downloads. An Internet that is no longer a vibrant town square for all, but a cash cow for a few. Where free speech is censored and status quo is king.

In this high-stakes debate over the future of the Internet -- the future of virtually all media -- it's either open or closed. It's all or nothing. It is a clash between democracy and plutocracy that will be fought on every street corner from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the eve of his 1936 re-election, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt -- the architect of the New Deal -- spoke words as true today as they were 72 years ago.

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace - business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

FDR passed the new deal because he took the fight to his opposition and never backed down. And neither will we.

We dedicate ourselves here today to the proposition that our fight for a democratic, open Internet will end the historic pattern of monopoly that suffocates freedom, dissent and creativity.

Because the future of our media does not belong to Rupert Murdoch. It does not belong to Comcast or AT&T.

The future of our media does not belong to Clear Channel, Verizon or the Tribune Company.

The future of our media belongs to us. All of us in this room and every person across this country.

We are here in Minneapolis this weekend to fight for it. And mark my words, we will not stop until we win.

Thank you, and welcome.

Josh Silver is the Executive Director of Free Press a national, nonpartisan organization that he co-founded with Robert McChesney and John Nichols in 2002 to engage citizens in media policy debates and create a more democratic and diverse media system.

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