Happy New Year! The first post of 2023 is now online.

Posted by Mitchell - January 2, 2023 (entry 740)

We once again go down memory lane in the midst of an announcement of the "resignation" of the longest serving alderman in Chicago history. Please enjoy Some thoughts on Edward Burke, CAN TV, and Chicago Media Action

Again, if you wish to join the CMA mailing list, please email cma@chicagomediaaction.org. Thank you kindly.

New post on an "old" ruling is up

Posted by Mitchell - December 2, 2022 (entry 738)

Since I "resurrected" the CMA website on the second of last month (marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of what became CMA), I figured I would settle on a cadence of posting new commentaries on the second of the month.

Here is this month's commentary -- about yet another outrage from the Supreme Court, which you probably haven't heard about.

And CMA is back...kind of...

Posted by Mitchell - November 2, 2022 (entry 736)

After nearly a decade of stasis, I'm bringing Chicago Media Action back, in a manner of speaking. You can read more here.

I'm also bringing back the CMA newsletter, albeit in a different format. If you'd like to join, email cma@chicagomediaaction.org, and thank you.

The Vast Wasteland, sixty years on

Posted by Mitchell - May 9, 2021 (entry 734)

It would be the equivalent of the Pope giving a speech in the 1950s before a convention of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and saying: "You have a lot of pedophiles in your midst, and God is dead." Even if a statement like that is largely accurate, that's a bold statement to make to that audience from the position being held, at a high point (perhaps the highest point) of the conference's power and prestige.

Sixty years to the day as I write and share this post, the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, longtime Chicagoan Newton Minow, gave a speech titled "Television and the Public Interest" before the lobby of commercial radio and TV broadcasting, the National Association of Bastards Broadcasters (NAB). Minow became the only FCC chair to earn an entry in Bartlett's Quotations thanks to a quote in that speech:

"When television is good, nothing -- not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better. But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."

The remark is now widely regarded as a dispatch from Planet Obvious, but at the time and in that context and given the history of American broadcasting and the super-dominant position of the NAB at the time it was quite a jarring statement to make. To more fully appreciate the remark and its import, we need to delve into that history.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the NAB and allies in the government and radio engineering sectors had usurped the existing broadcasting setup in the United States to one of a sancrosanct for-profit commercial network model and had defeated a grassroots backlash of educators, nonprofits, labor unions, and civil libertarians. There had been some struggles in the following years and decades, including the FCC efforts to break up NBC to form ABC, and the Blue Book for imposing specific public-service requirements on American broadcasters, but those efforts hadn't really changed the milieu and still left the NAB and the networks in a dominant position. Heck, in the two years before, the broadcasters had successfully fought off a crisis of legitimacy resulting from the quiz-show scandals and the resulting high-profile Congressional hearings.

The FCC (and its predecessor the Federal Radio Commission) had overwhelmingly been a handmaiden the corporate power, and a stepping-stone for aspiring corporate-media attorneys to gain powerful positions within the industry. So for a new FCC chair to make these damning remarks was especially wounding, and the industry's reaction was predictably histrionic.

Ever since these remarks, the dominant position of the radio-later-television commercial broadcast networks has been steadily eroded. The means of the erosion was to expand steadily the number of available options. Minow himself spearheaded the expansion of the UHF television band, which helped expand the number of channels which by the end of the decade crystallized with the Public Broadcasting Act and the establishment (for all its flaws) of national-scale public television in the United States. The expansion continued: cable television, the internet, community radio, video on the internet (read: YouTube), and now a panoply of internet streaming options.

In the course of all this expansion, whenever a new opportunity opens, the corporations don't relinquish what they already have, and no one forced them to give up their extant holdings. Even though the extant radio networks (and the TV networks that faced the brunt of Minow's criticism) were built by the policy-driven bulldozing of existing community and nonprofit radio stations, but never mind.

The wave of cross-media consolidation which accelerated in the 1980s meant that broadcasters themselves have been bought out. ABC was bought by Capital Cities and later Disney; CBS was bought by Westinghouse and later Viacom; NBC was bought by General Electric and later Comcast. They are now pawns in a larger corporate game, and pawns with an apparently diminished social and cultural footprint, as noted by career broadcasters themselves.

But have things improved in the sixty years since Newton Minow made the NAB reach for their smelling salts? Is American television (and by extension American medi) still a vast wasteland? I would posit that yes that things have improved: more outlets and a somewhat greater diversity has meant that there are more opportunities for improvement. (The media ownership uprising of 2003 owes a great deal of credit to those additional media and opportunities.) We are seeing some progress on undoing the sacrosanct status of class-based market-driven capitalism has remained the sacrosanct set-up of our political economy, which has long been a buzzsaw against any progress against a class-based market-drive capitalist media system. The progress needs to continue and deepen, to further the oasification our vast wasteland.

Steve Macek of Project Censored (and of Chicago Media Action) along with Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof (& Guests) Discuss Censored 2020 at Quimby’s Bookstore, October 17th

Posted by Mitchell - October 12, 2019 (entry 733)

Project Censored's yearbook Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass (Seven Stories Press) examines the most important but underreported news stories of 2018-2019. These stories expose the corporate news media's systemic blind spots while underscoring the crucial role played by independent journalists in providing the kind of news and information necessary for a vibrant democracy. The book also examines this year's lowlights in "junk food news" and "news abuse"-- revealing how corporate media often functions as propaganda by entertaining rather than informing—and highlights the work of exemplary organizations that champion "Media Democracy in Action." Additional chapters address the importance of constructive journalism, the untold story of Kashmir, news coverage of LGBTQ issues in the Trump era, "fake news" as a Trojan horse for censorship, and online memes as a form of political communication.

Professor Steve Macek of North Central College, who edited Censored 2020’s Media Democracy in Action chapter, will be joined by journalist Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof and students who researched some of the underreported stories included in the book to talk about Project Censored, the book and the political implications of Project Censored’s analysis of contemporary news media.

A PDF copy of this announcement is available for download here.

Thursday, October 17, 2019 , 7pm – Free Event

Quimby’s Bookstore
1854 West North Avenue
Chicago IL 60622
773/342-0910
www.quimbys.com

Presentation of Sinclair and Tribune now online

Posted by Mitchell - October 14, 2018 (entry 732)

Both the newsfeed and the podcast have been updated with audio and a transcript of a 2018 presentation at Third Unitarian Church, Chicago. The presentation is about Sinclair Broadcast Group (America's largest owner of TV stations) and Tribune Media.

The presentation delves into the histories of both companies, the attempt by Sinclair to buy out Tribune Media, the collapse of that attempt, and the role of popular activism in shaping the trajectories of both companies. Please enjoy.

Chicago plays host to UDC 2018

Posted by Mitchell - May 6, 2018 (entry 730)

The Union for Democratic Communications (UDC) is a conference of media scholars, media activists, and media producers, dedicated to critical study of the media and striving to improve the media and to diversify the media in all sense of the word. The UDC conference takes place in a different city every year. I've had the good fortune to attend previous UDC conferences in Boca Raton, Florida, and in St. Louis. And this year, 2018, Chicago will play host, during the weekend of May 10th through the 12th, in a building across the street from where I produced a radio show for five years.

On a related point, I find it uncanny that this conference bears a number of parallels to a certain other conference in late 2002 that resulted in the founding of what's now Chicago Media Action.

* Both took place in a building connected to Loyola University of Chicago.
* Both had the excellent Sut Jhally as a featured speaker near the end of the conference.
* Both had longtime ally Chris Geovanis as a featured panelist.

But there are clear differences too.

* The 2002 conference was at the Loyola campus in Rogers Park The 2018 conference will be downtown.
* Sut Jhally will receive an award in 2018 and will not, so far as I know, face an opposing speech from a member of AIPAC in the interest of "equal time".
* The panel featuring Chris Geovanis won't be abruptly cancelled in the wake of her arrest. Even better, she won't be arrested at all. ;-)

If you are able to attend the UDC Chicago conference, I strongly encourage you to do so. I have always found UDC conferences worthwhile, and much to its credit the UDC strives to keep its membership affordable, to the extent that no one will be turned away for lack of funds to pay. The schedule of the conference is here, and registration is available online.

In Memoriam: Larry Duncan

Posted by Mitchell - April 18, 2018 (entry 729)

Larry Duncan was a longtime media activist, media producer, labor activist and organizer. For more than thirty years, Larry helped produce the Chicago-based television program Labor Beat and was involved in many other media production, media activism and labor solidarity efforts. Our friends at Labor Beat posted word this week that Larry Duncan passed away.

Among the media activism efforts that Larry Duncan contributed to was Chicago Media Action. Larry attended the first meeting of what became Chicago Media Action, attended meetings without fail for years, and lent his advice, perspective, and hard work to CMA efforts and campaigns. Chicago Media Action became a better organization thanks to Larry's insight and counsel, and Chicago Media Action is all the poorer with his loss, as are efforts for a better media and for a stronger working class.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed on this website are those of the individual members of Chicago Media Action who authored them, and not necessarily those of the entire membership of Chicago Media Action, nor of Chicago Media Action as an organization.