We broadcast from the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver, where some 2,000 people are expected to gather to look at how media, technology and democracy intersect. One of the major topics this year is media consolidation. As newspapers struggle to survive, billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have expressed interest in buying Tribune Company, which includes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is also weighing a bid for the Los Angeles Times in a market where he already owns two television stations. We’re joined by Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, the main organizer of the National Conference for Media Reform. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. We are broadcasting from the National Conference for Media Reform here in Denver, Colorado, from Denver Open Media, known as DOM. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And welcome to all of our listeners and viewers around the country and around the world.
Some 2,000 people are expected to gather here in Denver this weekend at the National Conference for Media Reform. One of the major topics this year is media consolidation. As some newspapers struggle to survive, billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch have expressed interest in buying the Tribune Company, which includes the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. The Koch brothers are known for funneling vast donations into Republican campaigns.
This comes as conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch is also weighing a bid for the Los Angeles Times in a market where he already owns two television stations. To pave the way for the purchase, Murdoch has beefed up his lobbying efforts at the Federal Communications Commission, which would have to make changes to its rules on cross-ownership. A recent letter to the FCC from Murdoch’s News Corp. read, quote, "There can be little debate today that the newspaper industry faces existential threats. We urge the F.C.C. to eliminate the cross-ownership rule as a relic from a bygone era."
This was comedian Jon Stewart’s reaction on The Daily Show.
JON STEWART: We obviously want to say yes to you, but we do need your assurance that you would never use this extraordinary media reach of television stations and newspapers to change the political agenda—throw an election, that sort of thing. That’s not why you’re in this business, is it?
RUPERT MURDOCH: You can stimulate discussion. You can, you know, change the agenda, that sort of thing.
CBS REPORTER: His best-selling paper, The Sun, once even claimed to have won an election single-handed.
JON STEWART: OK, well, thanks for coming by. Here’s the thing. We’re going to have to decline your waiver, unfortunately. You see, the law against media consolidation was really written with people like you in mind—well, actually, you, in particular, because of how you like to do the exact thing the law was created to prevent.
AMY GOODMAN: That was comedian Jon Stewart.
Well, media consolidation and many other issues are the focus of the National Conference for Media Reform as it kicks off today here in Denver, Colorado. Starting at noon Eastern time, you can watch a live stream of many of the panels and keynote addresses on our website at democracynow.org. Both Juan González and I are speaking, and Juan will be screening his film, Harvest of Empire: The Untold History of Latinos in America_, 1145">tonight here in Denver, a new film based on his book of the same title.
But for more, we’re joined by Craig Aaron, president and CEO a Free Press, the main organizer of the NCMR, the National Conference for Media Reform. And we’re broadcasting, very relevantly for this conference, from Denver Open Media, independent media here in Denver.
Welcome, Craig, to Democracy Now!
CRAIG AARON: Thanks for having me, Amy and Juan. Great to be here, as always.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about what this conference—why close to 2,000 people are gathering here today.
CRAIG AARON: Well, this is the nation’s largest conference devoted to media, technology and democracy. People are coming from all over the country—media activists, policy makers, journalists—people who are really committed to involving the public in the future of the media. And I think that’s what you’ll see throughout the weekend, talking about the future of the Internet, the threats of media consolidation, how do we sustain and support public and community media, how is cultural change going to influence political change—all of these issues connecting here—and really bringing together the people who are doing this in local communities to meet with people in other communities who are also getting involved—really share strategy, share tips and get motivated and inspired for the difficult fights ahead.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Craig, we just quoted Rupert Murdoch talking about cross-ownership rules that limit media consolidation being a relic of a bygone era. Your reaction? And this whole issue of increasing media consolidation versus the supposed democratizing influence of the Internet?
CRAIG AARON: Well, I think the thing we’ve seen is we know the results of going the path that Rupert Murdoch wants, and it’s been a complete disaster. Ten thousands of—tens of thousands of journalists have lost their jobs. We see companies getting bigger and bigger and bigger, so big that, like the Tribune Company, they topple over or fall under the weight of their own debt. We know that doesn’t work. So the idea that the FCC would clear the way for somebody like Rupert Murdoch, somebody being investigated for bribing foreign officials, somebody being investigated for all kinds of malfeasance, to clear the way for him to take over one of the biggest newspapers in the country is really an outrage.
And what we need to remember is, when it comes to local news and information, media ownership still matters very much. And the reason Rupert Murdoch wants the L.A. Times is because it is by far the dominant outlet in Los Angeles when it comes to news and information. It’s perhaps the dominant publication when it comes to Hollywood. And Rupert Murdoch, of course, has vast Hollywood interests. And it has a lot of political power in, you know, the nation’s most populous state. So the idea that these rules are relics simply because the Internet exists is just not true. The same kind of media power that we see in the traditional media, people like Rupert Murdoch are trying to bring into the new media, and that’s why the FCC’s supposedly old rules still matter.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this conference does not just focus, obviously, on the—what’s going on in the commercial media; there’s going to be huge representation from community media, from independent, alternative forms of the press. What’s your sense of the state of the community alternative press in America right now? And the most important aspects that you think are going to be highlighted at this conference?
CRAIG AARON: Well, I think what we hopefully have done is brought a lot of the great innovators and experimenters from community media all across the country. You know, it’s not easy to do community media ever. There’s—resources are always an issue. But I think that people, people like Denver Open Media, are coming up with new ways to do things, creative things, using the Internet, involving the community, training people. As the cost of technology comes down, it opens up all kinds of possibilities.
So, honestly, I really believe we’re about to be in a golden age of community media. Hundreds of new low-power FM radio stations being created this year, licenses being distributed in October. We’re seeing great innovation in community media centers. We’re seeing people really take the power of media into their own hands in new ways, and I think that’s going to be a major theme running throughout this conference. And we’ve brought together some of the brightest lights from across—across the country and around the world really devoted to community media.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the examples of the topics, the different—
CRAIG AARON: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —workshops that will be happening.
CRAIG AARON: Well, it’s a range. I mean, we have hands-on workshops. If you want to learn how to build your own radio transmitter, you can do that. Lots of discussion about the future of the Internet. I think the themes that are new and will be running throughout the event have a lot to do with culture and the connection between culture and political change. So we have artists and musicians and others who are using their art to talk about the problems of the media, to talk about how to make change.
I think the other thing you’re going to see is a lot of international participation. This is the National Conference for Media Reform, but increasingly it’s becoming the International Conference for Media Reform, because we’re finding that if you’re going to challenge AT&T, Comcast, Rupert Murdoch, you can’t just do it within borders. That’s not where our opponents are operating, and so, from the activist community, that’s not how we can operate, either.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Craig, this conference is coming at the time of the—the second Obama administration is underway. His FCC commissioner, Julius Genachowski, has announced he’s stepping down. He’s going to have to name—
CRAIG AARON: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —a new chairman of the FCC, an important decision in terms of media policy in America today. How do you see the track record of the Obama administration in terms of helping to democratize media in America? And what are you hoping of some of the efforts coming out of this conference in terms of pressure on government policy?
CRAIG AARON: Well, I think the record of the Obama administration has been one that’s been incredibly disappointing. I think that when President Obama ran for office in 2008, he talked about net neutrality and not taking a back seat to anyone. He talked about the incredible importance of media diversity. And yet, the actions of Chairman Julius Genachowski have not lived up to the promises that the Obama administration made. I think that Chairman Genachowski unfortunately really failed to be a public servant at the FCC.
And that’s absolutely what we need. We need someone who is not—doesn’t see themselves as just a referee between big corporations. We need someone who doesn’t see themselves as simply, you know, looking for that next job that’s out there. We really need someone who’s going to represent the public, because this position is so important. The decisions made at the FCC in the next few years are going to shape the future of the media. They’re going to shape the future of the Internet for a generation. There are going to be major, difficult decisions. Genachowski has left a mess, in some ways, in terms of the FCC’s ability to protect consumers and advance the public interest. Whoever has this job is going to be really key to whether we can achieve the things that we’re going to be talking about at the National Conference for Media Reform.
AMY GOODMAN: Craig Aaron, we want to thank you for being with us, president and CEO of Free Press, which is the organizer of this conference taking place in Denver, the National Conference for Media Reform. We’re broadcasting from Denver Open Media here in Denver.
When we come back, one of the founders of Free Press will join us, Bob McChesney, scholar of media reform, has written a new book called Digital Disconnect, and we’ll find out just what that’s all about. Stay with us.