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“The Media” v media vs. the media
/ by Candace Clement

From the first I heard of it, my favorite thing about The Media was their URL: fvckthemedia. Dot com.

Flawless. I mean, maybe I was just not hip enough to get the vowel replacement thing, but to me it was perfectly symbolic of my own feelings about the Media (and this time I mean the Media in the grander sense and not in the website sense). “Fuck” by itself was too aggressive, or defeated, or direct. “Fvck” was something else all together – sly and playful. An in-joke. Sarcastically earnest.

I spend most of my waking hours with media (this time I mean all media, so lowercase “m,” please). Because I love it and can never get enough.

Give me music and magazines. Give me alt-weeklies and lengthy polemics on Tumblr. Give me low-power radio, zines, and binge-watching TV show marathons. Please don’t ever stop: Rookie, NPR, The Cool TV, WTF with Marc Maron.

So I could never abide a straight up “fuck” the media. But “fvck” the media, yes – this works.

Because for all my love of media, I have an entirely different feeling about The media. The media being that thing that is larger than all of us and encompasses the whole world of radio, television, magazines, newspapers and movies. It’s a tangled mess that’s everywhere, staring at us on billboards stretched over highways and from inside our phones. And taken as a system, it is one that fails us far more than it succeeds.

I’m talking about all the stereotypes and the racist sexist shit talk. The sheer imbalance of power when you look at who is in control. The ongoing push towards corporate control and profits over all the interests of the people. The bland and the safe, as determined by those in power.

Actually, I take it back. Fuck that thing. No “v” necessary.

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You want to control a group of people? Take away their ability to communicate.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

This is why you see governments shutting down the Internet and the cell networks in totalitarian regimes at the first sign of revolt.

There are a lot of problems with the world we inherited from the generations that proceeded us. Thinking about them can be paralyzing. Where do you start? How do you make any dent in these massive issues? It’s enough to drive an empathic person far from political engagement.

But our ability to communicate about these things is what creates change. The revolution may not be televised, but without that ability to connect it would never come at all.

As a young, politically activated person, I believed that everyone should have access to the tools needed to communicate. All people should be able to create art, tell stories, come together, debate problems and work towards solutions. I wanted to stop the WTO and find something beyond the homogenized culture that raised me in the suburbs.

I got involved in media activism in 2005 when I helped build a community radio station in western MA with the support of people from all around the country. While I had showed up to the weekly meetings with the hopes of getting a slot on the schedule for a music program, I was quickly brought into every aspect of the station’s operations. I learned how to solder wires, serve on a board of directors and train others to host shows and produce PSAs. It was here that I was first truly exposed to the history of independent radio in the U.S. and the broader media reform movement. The following year I started working with Free Press – a national, non-profit organization that fights for our rights to connect and communicate. And there are a lot of fights to be had.

With every great technological advancement in the media, a cycle repeats. It comes on the scene and we believe again and again that it will be a tool for the people. But each time, the powerful few work their magic to regain control. It’s a system that creates gatekeepers: one company, one person, one voice has the microphone and broadcast tower.

From radio to television to cable TV, the promise of a democratizing medium quickly slipped into the realm of distant mythology. And while the broadcasters have an exclusive license to use (and profit) off our airwaves, their public interest obligations have shrunk to the point of near irrelevance over the years.

That’s partly why community-owned infrastructure is so powerful. Community radio and television stations didn’t belong to the Disneys and News Corps of the world. They belonged to all of us.

But the greatest communications medium is the one we have today. The Internet isn’t one microphone/one tower to all users; it’s a network of networks. Because it was built on the telephone lines, it was subject to the same non-discrimination rules that the phone companies were. Anything that traveled over those networks had to be treated equally.

The principle of Net Neutrality, the idea that your Internet service provider can’t slow down websites or applications based on their source or destination, is what made the Internet so great in our lifetimes. This website will load at the same speed as NBC’s. But the Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of releasing rules that would destroy Net Neutrality (under the guise of protecting it of course, because that’s how Washington rolls).

What the FCC is proposing is a tiered system. If you have the money to pay companies like Verizon and Comcast to jump the line, your content will be delivered ahead of everyone else’s. Since everyone’s data is already delivered at the same speed, this means they will have to start actively slowing down people who can’t pay up.

What happens to the Internet now is up to us. If we leave these decisions to the politicians and corporations, we can expect the Internet to turn out just like all the mediums that proceeded it.

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Anyone can be part of changing the media for the better. Whether you are a critic, creator, an activist or all of the above, you can join a movement of people all over the world that are fighting for media by and for the people. Here are some ideas about how you can get started.

Critique it: When it’s broken, we need to talk about it. From the serious lack of real journalism to the media's portrayals of women, girls and people of color. From the unequal playing field and lack of access, to the corporate takeover of our means of communication. Getting good at media critique takes building that muscle. There are all kinds of ways to approach it. Start by talking back to television. Pull apart the layers and the motives when you see an advertisement or an image. Get your friends to do it, too. The better you are at calling bullshit when you see it, the stronger your muscle gets. As you get smarter, teach others.

See also: Media Literacy Project, Media Education Foundation

Create it: We have stories to tell that aren't just to sell products. We have important conversations to have with each other. We have protagonists that defy all the normative narratives. Our voices matter. There are so many ways to create things now. Cheaper technology can help you record audio and video. There’s open source software to get you going (like Audacity for audio or LibreOffice if you need a word processor). And there are community media outlets all across the country where you can get your hands dirty and meet people IRL that share your interests. Start a band or a blog or a zine or all of the above. Figure out where there are gaps in your community and create something collaborative to fill them. Stay on top of those in power, because as newspapers disappear there are fewer and fewer reporters watching them and holding them accountable.

See also: Public access television, community radio, Tumblr, Wordpress, Instagram, YouTube.

Change it: We know this battle must be fought on a larger, systemic level. We know that laws which are sympathetic to the needs of corporations are all too often passed and those that serve the needs of the people are all too often dismissed. We need to change that. Policy victories are hard and they can take time, but they definitely happen. The noncommercial end of the dial? That’s the result of organized people fighting in Washington. Same for the entire public radio system. Same for public access television. Organized people stopped further media consolidation. Defeated SOPA in Congress. Right now the biggest threat to our ability to communicate is protecting Net Neutrality. You can join the fight to save it.

See also: Free Press, Save the Internet, EFF, Fight for the Future.

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Candace is Field Director for Free Press and President of the Board for Girls Rock Campaign Boston. She plays guitar and sings in Bunny’s A Swine and likes to make videos. Sometimes she remembers she has a Twitter account: @candacejeanne. All her ramblings above reflect her own personal feelings about all the things.

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