In 2001, media activists in Toronto and Vancouver organized the first Media Democracy Day with protests, panels and exhibits of alternative media. Since then, the campaign has grown and become international. This year, forums, protests, conferences, culture jamming, video screenings, bike tours and media trick-or-treating are being planned from Chicago to Barcelona to Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Why are people fighting back against the media giants? Because during the past decade, national and international media systems have been commercializing and concentrating at a lightning speed, threatening to destroy participatory, public-oriented media. At the top, AOL Time Warner, Disney, News Corporation, Viacom, Bertelsmann and a handful of other companies now control the majority of media content in North America. You can switch from CNN to HBO to the Cartoon network, or read from Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated, or watch a movie starring Mel Gibson or Wesley Snipes, or even attend a baseball game -- and never leave the domain of AOL Time Warner.
The effects of this media concentration have been overwhelmingly negative. Editorial diversity suffers, commercial interests suppress news, local-interest content is cut back, cross-promotional advertising is integrated into news content, and public-interest is ignored as governments cut public radio and television funding. Powerful commercial lobby groups are drawing up international media laws and regulations, creating a new system that is even more exclusive and self-serving.
These changes to our media system have far-reaching implications. They fuel pro-war rhetoric, bring advertising into schools and other public domains, encourage excessive consumption, increase cable and Internet user fees, censor or filter out non-mainstream views, support neoliberal, pro-business government policies and further racist, sexist, ethnic and other stereotypes. In many developing countries the media's role as a tool of government and elite interests directly inhibits democracy.
Media Democracy Day promotes alternatives to this elite-controlled commercial system. From public funding, to community radio co-ops, to Internet content sharing systems, to personal publications, to local bulletin boards and street posters -- media democracy is at the heart of modern culture.
Thousands of organizations around the world are working to guarantee the public's ability to participate in media. Charters are being drafted, policy suggestions are being written, software is being coded, technology is being developed, students are being trained and protests are being held. Community and grassroots groups are taking matters into their own hands, creating diverse media that represents marginalized elements of society. Civic groups are using donated cameras and computers, commercial software is being hacked and art is being made in support of a more democratic media system that better informs and empowers all members of society
The media democracy movement calls on individuals to educate themselves and others about the media, be discriminating and responsible media consumers, support and participate in noncommercial and community media, and pressure politicians to support public and community media, regulate corporate media, and maintain public access to diverse media content.
This Friday, October 18th, learn more, get involved and celebrate the growing international media democracy movement.