There are moments in every decade when monumental struggles for social change finally tip in favor of the public interest. We've seen the relief of a 40-hour work week, the long-awaited arrival of women's right to vote, and the even longer fight to end segregation.
This decade -- now -- we're facing another tipping point. Our fight is to reform our broken media system, and to stop heavy-handed corporate control of what Americans read, watch and hear.
Ensuring that our press act as watchdogs for the American people is at the heart of a thriving democracy.
In late May, in an historic victory, the Senate overwhelmingly voted to overturn rules that would allow one company to own both a major daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same community. The Senate rejected a Federal Communications Commission decision that would have had disastrous effects on local news.
Media consolidation has already contributed to the demise of investigative journalism, gutted newsrooms, and put the private interests' of media owners over the public's right to know. Allowing big media companies to become the dominant mouthpiece for local news and information would drown out the homegrown voices and diversity that are the lifeblood of communities.
The "Resolution of Disapproval" now moves to the House, where there is strong bipartisan incentive to follow the Senate's lead. If passed by both branches and approved by the president, the resolution would nullify the FCC's rules. And although the Bush Administration has promised a veto, there appears to be enough legislative support to override Bush's attempts to give favors to media conglomerates like Rupert Murdoch's News Corp..
What's happening is truly groundbreaking -- only in recent years has the public realized it could have an impact on complex communications policy. The powerful broadcast lobby got used to dictating policy without public involvement or consent.
What changed? The public is refusing to back down. The Senate victory wasn't just won by inside lobby groups in Washington. It was won by more than a quarter-million citizens who told their representatives time and again that runaway media consolidation is unacceptable. And it was won by the thousands who in hearings held around the country told the FCC that Big Media hurts our communities, our country, and our democracy.
The opportunity to alter the U.S. media system and create profound social change is immense. There's never been more public and political support behind this issue. And the National Conference on Media Reform -- a gathering this weekend in Minneapolis of thousands of folks who want to change the media -- has never come at a more opportune time.
More than 3,000 people converged in Minneapolis to strategize on how to take back the media, and capitalize on the momentum of the Senate victory. Media luminaries Bill Moyers, Dan Rather and Amy Goodman joined forces with students, community members, journalists, bloggers, and activists -- everyone who's fed up with Big Media.
There's been a lot of talk lately about hope. Americans want to see social change. But we have more than hope on our side in the battle for a more diverse and divested press -- we have the power of a growing people's movement and the burgeoning political will of our leaders.
This fight isn't in the bag -- in fact, it's far from over. But the scales are tipping in our favor, and before long, there will be an avalanche to reform the media and transform our democracy.
Megan Tady is a campaign coordinator with Free Press (www.freepress.net), the national, nonpartisan media reform group.