Today, Congress begins its August recess while legislative debates continue to heat up that will shape our media for generations. Here's an update on where things stand.
Over the past three months, our SavetheInternet.com campaign has elevated the crucial issue of Net Neutrality from obscurity and thrown a wrench in the phone and cable giants' plan to overhaul our telecommunications laws behind closed doors.
While on its face Net Neutrality - along with most policy issues - are wonky, at the end of the day they are about getting critical, independent journalism into living rooms in every state - red and blue. It's about limiting the undue influence and control of the largest media conglomerates, and creating vibrant and fearless noncommercial media that provide a real alternative to commercial media.
The unprecedented http://www.SavetheInternet.com campaign has brought together more than 750 groups from across the political spectrum. More than a million of you signed petitions and flooded Congress with calls and letters.
Tens of thousands of bloggers and MySpace users have linked to SavetheInternet.com - many of them posting free ads to counteract the multi-million-dollar misinformation campaign launched by astroturf (fake grassroots) groups like Hands Off the Internet. Creative people have submitted their own videos and songs about Net Neutrality -- and no corporation paid them to do it. (http://www.savetheinternet.com/=videos)
A bad telecom bill passed the House in June. But the Senate is split over Net Neutrality - as seen in the 11-11 tie vote in the Senate committee that oversees the Internet. The phone and cable lobbyists don't yet have the votes to move their bill forward - and chatter in Washington says it may not be voted on until after the November elections.
If we can keep the pressure up, it is believed that Net Neutrality could derail the entire bill and force Congress to start from scratch from next year. As always, we'll be tracking this and asking for your help.
On our other fronts...
You couldn't paint a clearer picture of how media policy gets made in Washington than this photo from Details magazine of FCC Chairman Kevin Martin literally in bed with industry lobbyists.
Chairman Martin: Why not get in bed with the public?
Such slumber parties might explain why Martin recently launched his latest attempt to remove the last remaining media ownership limits. Acting under pressure from powerful media corporations, Martin seems determined to let one company swallow up three TV channels, eight radio stations and the daily newspaper all in the same town.
Martin's indifferent to the impact such changes would have on localism and diversity - not to mention the fact that 95 percent of public comments received by the FCC oppose weakening the rules.
The current timeline puts any actual vote at the FCC after the November election. Before then, Martin has pledged to hold "a half dozen" public hearings - but he hasn't yet scheduled a single one.
However, Free Press and our allies continue to organize a series of Town Meetings on the Future of Media. And along with staunch opponents of media consolidation such as FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, we're gearing up for a fight this fall that will require all hands on deck. Check out http://www.StopBigMedia.com for the latest updates.
Public Broadcasting and Noncommercial Media
You probably remember Ken Tomlinson's crusade to counter "liberal advocacy journalism" at PBS and NPR. Public pressure forced him to resign as chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) amid charges that he misused power and injected his personal politics into the agency. But the partisan attack on public broadcasting continues.
Last month, President Bush nominated Warren Bell to the CPB board. He's a television sitcom producer who has described himself as "thoroughly conservative in ways that strike horror into the hearts of my Hollywood colleagues." Brazen partisanship - on either side of the aisle - has no place in the governance of public broadcasting. In fact, the CPB was established specifically to provide a firewall from political interference. We will challenge the confirmation of any brazen partisans nominated to the board.
Meanwhile, the House recently voted for a 23 percent cut in funding for the CPB. The Senate approved full funding, but the two bills will be reconciled in December behind closed doors. We will need to raise the volume and ensure that public broadcasting is protected. At the same time, we are working toward long-term reform that gets public broadcasting away from running the annual funding gauntlet.
The Big Picture
That's where things are in a nutshell. Together we have managed to stop nearly every major threat from Big Media during the last three years. Together, we can not only stop the next attack, but advance a vision: more investigative, critical journalism; smarter entertainment, less commercialism - a media system that supports and nourishes democracy, rather than one that undermines it.
Thanks so much for being part of Free Press and the movement for media reform.
All the best,
P.S. Here are some links for more information, and a few laughs:
-- Check out all the amazing SavetheInternet.com videos - and find links to The Daily Show's hilarious take on the topic -- at http://www.savetheinternet.com/=videos
-- Read this article about the state of the telecom bill in Congress http://www.freepress.net/news/16856
-- You can find information on the upcoming Town Meetings on the Future of Media here: http://www.freepress.net/future/
-- Read about the letter on media ownership to Chairman Martin from 84 members of Congress here: http://www.stopbigmedia.com/blog/
-- See the full story on the nomination of partisan operative Warren Bell to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting here: http://www.freepress.net/news/16512
-- You can keep up on the latest news on media issues and activism by signing up for Media Reform Daily here: http://www.freepress.net/news/subscribe.php