On April 16 and 17, concerned citizens gathered in Columbus to assess the state of media and learn skills for media activism and the creation of community media.

Columbus hosted “The Medium and the Message: A Community Hearing on Local Broadcasting and the Public Interest” on April 16. The panel discussion featured Johanna Shelton, Media Advisor to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. Adelstein cast a dissenting vote in recent FCC rulemaking that permits greater concentration of media ownership and has been outspoken on the need to establish substantive localism requirement for broadcasters.

Joining Ms. Shelton on the panel were several community leaders and broadcasters including: Percy Squire, WVKO AM; Ed Clay, Station Manager, WOSU; Dan Mishalko, WCBE-FM Noel Williams, President, Columbus chapter NAACP, Duncan H. Brown, Ph.D., Professor of Telecommunications, Ohio University; Peg Rosenfield, League of Women Voters of Central Ohio; and Brandi Whetstone, Campaign Finance Researcher, Ohio Citizen Action. The major local commercial TV and radio stations were invited but either declined or ignored the invitations.

Each panelist shared their views on the performance of broadcast media and commented on how the erosion of public interest regulations has led to media concentration and a decline in diverse local programming. Ms. Shelton told of how the unprecedented public opposition to the FCC relaxation of ownership rules is opening the door for media reform. As broadcasters transition to digital transmission, the public interest requirements for digital broadcasting remain to be defined.

Other panelists commented on the poor coverage of political races, the loss of local music and personalities, and the omission or stereotyping of racial minorities. Dr. Brown suggested that it may be impossible to legislate good behavior on the part of broadcasters and that an alternative would be allow broadcasters to pay to forego their public interest requirements and use the fees to subsidize non-commercial media. Mr. Clay bluntly stated that much responsibility for the crisis of media concentration and media manipulation rests with the public for failing to pay attention and demand more from media.

Demanding more and building alternative media were the subjects of the next day’s activity at the “Whose Media? Rescuing The Public Interest,” conference. The day began with media scholar and activist Jerry Starr framing painting the big picture of our media landscape by reviewing politics behind recent changes in media regulation and the efforts of activists to respond. Jeff Smith, a Founder of the Grand Rapids Institute for Information Democracy (GRIID), addressed the group during lunch and showed examples of how media monitoring can support local education and organizing work by community groups.

Throughout the day, participants met in workshops on Simply Living’s low power FM radio initiative, The Neighborhood Network’s effort to restore public access television, investigative reporting, media monitoring, and regulatory trends and initiatives. The day concluded with discussion about how participants can continue to work for media reform. Some action items:

Public Access Television

One action step that everyone agreed on is to call The Mayors Action Line (645-2489) and Councilman Kevin Boyce (645-0852) and say “I want the City to fund public access television so local citizens can have a voice in media.” Councilman Boyce oversees the Committee that would introduce legislation to fund public access television. In the meantime, The Neighborhood Network (TNN), the group selected by the Cable Commission to manage public access, has received a grant from the Columbus Foundation to provide video training to Area Commissions and non-profit organizations. TNN also hosted “make a PSA day” for non-profit organizations on June 14. TNN continues to seek alternative means to give the public the skills and access to tell their stories. See http://theneighborhoodnetwork.org

Low Power FM

In early June, Senators John McCain and Patrick Leahy proposed legislation that will expand Low Power FM service to thousands more communities across the United States. The legislation rights a Congressional mistake that occurred when Congress succumbed to industry pressure and placed restrictions on the number of available low power frequencies. Subsequent independent engineering studies have proven that LPFM broadcasts will not interfere with established broadcasters. Removing the restrictions could qualify Columbus for up to a dozen more LPFM frequencies. Call Sentors Mike Dewine (202-224-3121) and George Voinovich (202-224-3121) today and urge them to support the McCain Leahy Bill to create more community radio stations.

Simply Living has formed an action committee to develop its LPFM projects and is seeking input and volunteers. Simply Living is seeking help with fundraising, advertsising and programming. Simply Living wants to produce programming consistent with its themes of “simplifying our lives, greening the earth and healing toward wholeness.” To get involved contact the Simply Living office 447-0296 or email: simplylivingradio@yahoo.com.

Media Monitoring

Many expressed an interest in creating a media monitoring group similar to GRIID. The recent actions by Sinclair to preempt a Nightline broadcast honoring fallen US troops gave many the resolve to challenge the broadcast licenses of those who take more direction from corporate headquarters in other pars of the country than the local constituency they are licensed to serve. Activists are continuing the discussion on line at: www.groups.yahoo.com/group/ourmedia.