MEDIAlternative by Kevin Howley
The summer heat isn't the only thing that has Americans looking for relief. Across the country, people are mobilizing against Big Media and all that it represents: an anemic public culture punctuated by crass commercialism and shoddy journalism.
In recent weeks, thousands of so-called "ordinary people" have organized to slow, if not stop, an industry-led, lobbyist-financed juggernaut that threatens to decimate public access television and turn the Internet into an "information toll road."
Grassroots campaigns, like Save The Internet, put both the Congress and the Federal Communication Commission on notice: people from across the political spectrum want the public interest upheld in matters of communication policy.
The summer of 2006 is shaping up to be a decisive moment in the history of U.S. communications policy. Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are considering measures that would radically transform the way American's access the Internet.
Apart from the prospect of tiered Internet access, the proposed legislation fails to ensure universal access to broadband networks, which amounts to "virtual red-lining" of low-income and rural areas.
These same measures would reduce or eliminate the authority local communities have in negotiating cable television franchise fees. This legislation threatens the funding and future viability of public, education and government (PEG) channels.
Recent polls indicating a precipitous decline in popular support for the Iraq war reveal a mounting distrust in the Bush administration's motivation for launching the invasion of Iraq in the first place, and growing unease with character and the conduct of the occupation.
Two distinct, but related factors help to explain these changing public attitudes.
First, the administration's case for war has been undermined by a spate of reports that challenge the credibility of the White House's rationale for war. Failure to find tangible evidence of an Iraqi WMD capability tops the list of reasons to question the Bush Administration's trustworthiness.
Ongoing reports of ill-equipped troops, systemic prison abuse, and the politicization of pre-war intelligence, manifest by the Downing Street Memo, likewise challenge the administration's claims. And in the midst of ongoing violence across the country, the prospects of democracy taking root in the bloodstained soil of Iraq grows more remote with each passing day.
Just when it looked as if the crisis in American journalism couldn't get much worse, the White House press corps is showing signs of intelligent life. In the aftermath of New York Times reporter Judith Miller's incarceration for non-cooperation with the special prosecutor's investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson leak, journalists inside the Beltway have apparently developed a backbone.
It's been exhilarating to see reporters dispense with their usual subservience to Bush Administration officials and ask tough questions of the president and his staff. And while it's premature to suggest that the Fourth Estate is alive and well, at least there is a pulse.
Indeed, a few short weeks ago, the prospect of U.S. journalism doggedly pursuing such a damning story as President Bush's senior advisor Karl Rove's possible involvement in leaking the identity of a CIA officer would have been unthinkable.
WFHB Community Radio's history is a lesson in the political economy of U.S. broadcasting, a case study in media activism.
A handful of community radio enthusiasts spent the better part of two decades dealing with lawyers, engineers, and a less than cooperative Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to acquire a broadcast license. It's a long and complex story, one that is testament to collective action, community organizing, and one town's profound desire for an alternative to the commercial and public broadcasters serving Bloomington and south-central Indiana.
A listener-supported station, WFHB relies on money raised by twice-yearly fund drives, local business underwriting, and special events for its operating capital. What keeps the station on the air, however, are the concerted efforts of a small paid staff and a legion of volunteer programmers, engineers, producers, and community journalists.
It is altogether fitting that The Ryder made its debut on April 1, 1979. The Ryder publishes with puck and pluck. It's a smart little magazine of arts and letters that never takes itself too seriously; and therefore rarely let it's readers down.
Instead, writers and readers both are encouraged to take some time with a thoughtful bit of cultural criticism, an informed and accessible theater review, or a tentative personal narrative—the sort that makes us laugh that embarrassed laugh that comes from a disturbing note of self-recognition.
From its humble beginnings, The Ryder has become a Bloomington institution. Known by locals and visitors alike for the city's comprehensive monthly arts & entertainment guide, The Ryder doesn't concern itself with outmoded notions of cultural elitism or ersatz populism for that matter. (Like our so-called "public service" broadcasters do). Instead The Ryder takes it all in, the campus production of Puccini's La Boheme as well as the Marx Brothers double-bill playing down at the Cinemat.
As Democrats in Indiana and North Carolina head to the polls on Tuesday, more than a few of them will be shaking their heads in disbelief. Over the past week, they have seen the Obama campaign struggle to limit the damage from the ongoing controversy surrounding the senator's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright's recent remarks on the black church, the consequences of U.S. foreign policy and institutional racism in America have put pundits, pollsters and politicians into hysterics.
In coming issues of The Bloomington Alternative, DePauw University Assistant Professor of Media Studies Kevin Howley will examine local, independent media in and around the Bloomington. His book, Community Media: People, Places, and Communication Technologies, published by Cambridge University Press, is scheduled for North American release later this month. A media producer and activist, Howley's most recent documentary, Victory at Sea? Culture Jamming Dubya has been broadcast by Free Speech TV and was previewed in The Alternative last summer.
Longtime residents know better, but for visitors and newcomers alike, Bloomington conjures up images of Bobby Knight throwing fits and folding chairs up and down the basketball court. Likewise for the uninitiated, Bloomington is home of the "Little 500" bicycle race — the Indiana University tradition immortalized in Breaking Away. That's about all I knew about this remarkable town when I first came out to here for my doctoral studies in the mid-1990s.
Well, I got my degree and my sheepskin from the Department of Telecommunications and before you could say, "tenure-track" I was heading back east for my first university teaching position, but not before I learned a thing or two about Hoosier art, culture, and politics. Significantly, much of what I know about Bloomington's storied past and a great deal of what I have come to appreciate about this town's considerable charms comes from my what I have heard on the local airwaves, seen on cable television, and read in the pages of weekly newspapers and magazines.
In the bargain, I gained a deep and abiding respect for Bloomington's robust, but sometimes overlooked independent media sector.