Media Reform Now About Internet, Not Broadcast Ownership

The Internet has opened up so many possibilities for communication that the most important concern about the media isn’t broadcasters, but cable and Bell companies, said Free Press.

MINNEAPOLIS, June 6 – The Internet has opened up so many possibilities for communication that the most important concern about the media isn’t broadcast television ownership, but about threats from cable and Bell companies, said Free Press Executive Director Josh Silver.

“The conferences of yesterday [dealt with] blocking consolidation of media ownership, and trying to reform the media,” said Silver, speaking at a press conference at the National Conference for Media Reform at the opening of the conference here on Friday.

Today, by contrast, the non-profit advocacy group Free Press finds that “we have to embrace the reality that every Web site can be a TV network, or a radio network, and that we have an opportunity to fundamentally break the bottleneck” of the media, said Silver.

Silver said that liberating possibility of the Internet offered “the most profound opportunity in a generation” for fundamentally reshaping the media landscape.

Instead, the animating issue for the conference was Net Neutrality, or ensuring that the cable and Bell companies don’t block or discriminate in their treatment of Internet traffic, he said.

“The traditional media is so bankrupt, especially commercial TV, that there is a smart understanding that while we try to bird dog it, watch it, and increase the criteria for [broadcast] license renewals,” the reality is that broadcasting is yesterday’s issue, he said.

Silver was joined at the press conference by Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia University who last month was selected as Chair of the Board of Free Press. “I do see the theme [of the conference] as a feeling of handoff between old media and new,” said Wu, who is credited with coining the term “Net Neutrality,” and advocating for preserving it.

“All this things that you teach in media law, is becoming Internet law and policy,” said Wu. “Bit by bit by bit, the Internet is taking over.”

About 3,000 people have gathered here for the conference, the fourth such grass-roots gathering since 2003. Much of the animating force propelling Free Press into existence, in late 2002, was concern over impending efforts by then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell to liberalize media ownership rules.

A popular uprising against the moves stoked congressial opposition. Some aspects of the rule changes, enacted on a 3-2 vote by the FCC in June 2003, were subsequently overturned by Congress. A federal appeals court voided the rest of the changes.

Currently, the issue is back before Congress. The legislative body may attempt to block the more modest changes instituted in December 2007 by current FCC Chairman Kevin Martin.

In the opening plenary session here in Minneapolis, according to the Free Press web site, Silver was joined by Adrienne Mare Brown of the Ruckus Society, who said, “We need to be as comprehensive a movement as possible and realize that media is the fundamental tissue that all issues are built on.”

Larry Lessig, the Stanford University law professor and author of The Future of Ideas, also gave a speech, and said, according to the Web site, “This conference is an extraordinary celebration. I don’t think there’s been a social movement that’s grown as fast as this one has in the last 7 years.”

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