Taking on Murdoch, SOPA and the FCC

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From the digital divide to media consolidation to net neutrality, Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, is on the front lines of media reform. In a discussion with Moyers & Company’s Michael Winship, Aaron says he’s hopeful for the future of the movement. “I think our opponents have very deep pockets. I think they haven’t begun to try all of their dirty tricks. But ultimately, I believe that organized people can still beat organized money, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he says. The conversation* was recorded at the National Conference on Media Reform in Denver, organized by Free Press.

* Winship lost his voice in Denver, so he apologizes in advance for his froggy interview technique!


highlights

Advice for Obama on choosing a new FCC chair

Craig Aaron at the National Conference for Media Reform

Craig Aaron at the National Conference for Media Reform (Credit: Free Press Pics/Flickr)

“I would ask him to put somebody in this job who is going to be that public servant, someone who’s independent of the companies, who isn’t looking for their next job, who actually sees the responsibilities of the job, who’s an effective communicator, and who’s willing to do the heavy lifting and the hard work that’s necessary. Congress is not going to do it, not the way it’s currently constructed. So the FCC is going to have to carry some water here, and that means someone with strong political will.”

On his deep-pocketed opponents’ power

“People forget that the media lobby, the Internet lobby, the phone lobby — it’s one of the biggest lobbies in Washington. They spend more money trying to influence the government than anybody except probably the drug industry — more than oil and gas. These are major, major players. They don’t get the attention of those sort of more controversial industries, but they certainly spend that kind of money. For every person like me, who’s a public interest lobbyist, there are 500 lobbyists on the other side. Every member of Congress has their personal media and telecommunications lobbyist.”

“For every person like me, who’s a public interest lobbyist, there are 500 lobbyists on the other side.”
On becoming involved in media reform

“I come to the work because I was a journalist. I worked as an independent journalist, saw the struggles of getting different kinds of stories out there. Just the general struggles facing journalism got me very interested in media policy and media structures, brought me to the work and then has expanded my interest to talk about Internet issues and all of the things that are shaping the future of the media. I was maybe destined for it. My dad is a local television reporter and has been for going on 40-some years, and my mother actually worked in the cell phone business in the early days, so it was perhaps destiny.”

On public media

“[W]e were really believe at Free Press that the definition of public media needs to be expanded, that it is PBS and NPR and those are incredibly important, but it’s also community radio, it’s public access television, it’s LPFM, low-power FM radio, it’s nonprofit websites, and that looking at the fuller picture, the full community, that there be lots of advantages in collaboration, lots of reasons to increase support. We happen to believe that the answer to the crisis in journalism that we’ve been experiencing is public media, is funding in a bigger way. We spend a tiny fraction of the federal budget on supporting public media. It works out to about $1.50 per capita — $400 million dollars a year total.”

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  • http://www.facebook.com/nj.hill.7 Nj Hill

    There are so many big money interests out to destroy our freedoms I sometimes feel overwhelmed with the fight. However I’ve been in this fight too long to quit. How do you get the truth out there in any wholesale way when our media has been gobbled up big the rich to spread their poisonous agenda? We chastise other countries for their censorship when our censorship is do prevalent. The hypocrisy is sickening. There was a thriving black community of radio stations….not any more. There is very little positive social commentary and our voices have been marginalized or ridiculed. I WANT TO SCREAM BUT I HAVE NO MOUTH!

  • Fritzie Borgwardt

    Dear Mr. Tribune:

    As a woman who toiled 20 years as a journalist, I beg of you. Be the adult in the room. Do not let the bullies beat up the weaklings. Be the wise farmer. Do not sell your chicken coops to foxes. In your case, you are not selling just newspapers. You are selling out the American people.

    Journalism doesn’t pay anything, but I was never in it for the money. It was the love of the thing, and what I was taught about just how much journalists mattered to our way of life here in these United States of America.

    There are too few un-manipulated journalists now. An army of trained journalists with years of unafraid experience is even more critical to defend and maintain our democracy than is the military. Journalists, unlike most politicians must refuse to be steered away from the public good by special interests. Money should not be an issue.

    But the kind of journalist I am talking about is going extinct. 1.) because money is an issue, and 2.) because they are being hunted and targeted into extinction, by those who can overpaint the truth as being far too “liberal.”

    And most Americans nowadays have no clue as to why this matters. It matters because they no longer get what they need to know. They get what they want to know, and what they already agree with. There’s no corner on the truth on the Internet. Little of the information bomb is crafted by the honest trade. Free speech is not the same as a free press. We have too much of the former and very little of the latter. That’s why government can barely function now.

    Sell, and democracy as we know it rots some more. More sound government is flushed by those who want to do whatever they damn well please without anyone looking over their shoulder. Freedom for those in charge, yes. Freedom and justice for all, no. If it weren’t for our fore-parents, government oversight, and unions, we too could be compelled to toil for $38 a month sewing the clothes we pay top dollar for in stores while buildings collapse all around us. Freedom for a few to to make a huge profit? Yes. Freedom for hundreds of dead garment workers? No. But some of us would do it …if we got hungry enough.

    Real journalists are democracy’s doctors. If you were ill, would you abandon yours for an untrained tobacco industry executive? One who stood to make money if his “medical advice” actually made you much sicker? That is the kind of “specialist” we are handing our democracy to. Where is the army that will defend us from that?

    Who will remind us that we can be convinced to feel more outrage about a disability claim paid to an able-bodied depresso, than we feel about a bunch of billionaire bankers bilking the economy out of its riches and our retirees out of pensions in pyramid schemes. Which will go to jail? Who will put things in perspective when folks who make $200k per year believe they are overtaxed while some billionaires pay nothing?

    No, Mr. Tribune, please do not take us there. The regulations that would have stopped you selling us out were likely lobbied away by some industry trade groups. No good journalist on your payroll would have participated.

    But on the other hand, the Koch brothers might have a shot at getting more of their position out there, as if they needed more help with that. The real value to the Koch Brothers, and the Grover Nordquists, and the ALECs, and the dwindling number of Americans scaling their own private piles of cash ever higher above us, is that such ownership moves us one step closer to driving the solid journalist, and in turn freedom and justice for all, one step closer to permanent extinction.

    When you tell me we are safe from that, we can talk about global warming.

    Fritzie Borgwardt

    Going Extinct