Sunday, May 11, 2008

Flashback: Memphis--January, 2007

The reason I am bringing up the National Conference on Media Reform, which I attended last year in Memphis, is the annual event will take place in Minneapolis, this year, the first weekend in June. That's only four weeks away, beginning on Friday, June 6. Since last year's conference was such an eye-opener for me, I want to recommend the event to anyone interested in media.

Six corporations now control the vast majority of news outlets, in this country, and the truth now takes a back seat to corporate profits. Once upon a time, long ago, news was a public service offered to inform the citizens of this republic. Now, it serves the interests of the rich and powerful. It was embarrassing the way the fourth estate promulgated the falsehoods of 'W' and his neo-con cronies, during the run up to the Iraq invasion. Few asked the important questions, and those few became my heroes. I met some of them last year.

Amy Goodman hosts Democracy Now! Her integrity won't let her kowtow to those in power, and her honesty is refreshing in today's culture. She will return to this year's conference. Bill Moyers said, "She goes where there is silence, and she breaks the sound barrier."

Amy told me a story, which made me weep and made plain she has more balls than I will ever have. After our president at the time gave Indonesia approval to invade East Timor, Amy went in to cover the story. The Indonesian army murdered numbers of civilians. During one incident Amy and her camera man placed themselves between a group of civilians, attending a funeral for a previous victim, and soldiers preparing to kill more. Acting as if they were broadcasting live, they hoped to prevent another slaughter, but the ploy didn't work. Some soldiers bypassed them and shot another 200 innocents, while others beat Amy and her partner into the ground with their rifle butts. Years later, when independence was regained, she returned to East Timor for the celebration. She recounted how, by the light of the fireworks in the night sky, she saw tears glistening on the cheeks of people around her.

Democracy Now! can be seen in Missoula on Mcat, cable channel 7, M-F.

Amy, and her brother David, have written three books. The latest is Standing Up to the Madness.
Susan Stephens, on the left, asked to have her picture taken with Helen Thomas, a hero to both of us. Susan is news director of Illinois Public Radio, and Helen is the doyenne of the White House Press Corp.

When 'W' swaggered into the white house, and corporate media began to lick his cowboy boots, Helen Thomas was one of the few who continued to ask tough questions. The white house tried to kick her out of the press conferences, but seniority and respect won that battle. Since then, the conference room has been remodeled, Fox News and CNN representatives seated front and center, and Helen's seat moved back a row.

I consider the media reform movement the most important of all causes, because all other movements are dependent on getting their messages out and can do little when big media ignores them. Greens are fighting a losing battle to keep our national parks from being sold to the highest bidder, because the corporations making profits from our public lands buy more advertising from the media. Pharmaceutical companies have increased their profits by buying huge amounts of advertising touting the benefits of products, which have not been properly tested, which actually cause more problems than they solve and which can cause death. Now they are claiming immunity from any liability and our courts may give it to them, while the media downplays the problems. Common cleaners, found in most homes, include ingredients which cause health risks, but, again, advertising dollars trump truth. The list goes on and on. Do I need to even mention all the Bushit about the war in Iraq?

Yes, I must mention one more story from the war. Jane Fonda was at last year's media conference, and she explained why she had to speak out. For years, she had not taken any public stand on any issue, for fear of provoking the opposition, due to her unpopular anti-war rhetoric and actions during the Vietnam mess. She could no longer stay silent she said and proceeded to tell the story of Abeer al-Janabi.

Abeer was 14 years old, when a group of American soldiers took turns raping her, before killing her, her parents and her sister. The soldiers attempted to hide their actions by burning the house and bodies. Then they went back to their barracks for more booze and BBQ.

That story didn't get as much coverage as Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction."
"We need a media that strengthens democracy, not a media that strengthens the government. We need a media that enriches the public discourse, not one that enriches corporations." --Jane Fonda.

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