American Coalition for Media
by Donald Yoon and Josh Sisco
excerpted from the book
by Peter Phillips and Project
Seven Stories Press, 2003,
For our current business-friendly administration,
deregulation is the number one priority. Loosening the rules for
virtually every industry is restricting the power of the electorate
in making the decisions that affect our lives on a daily basis.
The mass media and telecommunications industries are one area
in which our government's deregulatory policies can be clearly
Print, radio, television, and the Internet
have brought a vast diversity of information into our homes and
workplaces. As the technological potential expands, however, the
media that shapes our culture is largely controlled by a just
a few corporate players. Even when one may have 100 channels on
digital cable, the majority of them are owned by the same oligopoly
of corporations. The current media system is dominated by advertising
revenue and entertainment values. In such a system, important
news may get trivialized while the superficial is at the forefront
of the media. This is how issues like privatization largely get
ignored in comparison to stories that saturate the media such
as the disappearance of Chandra Levy, to cite one example. In
the interest of preserving the integrity and diversity of the
major media outlets, the Action Coalition for Media Education
(ACME) is taking a three-step approach to create a more democratic
media by expanding the range of perspectives in our media environment:
by promoting media literacy, supporting independent media, and
supporting legislative reform. Rob Williams, president of ACME,
says that, "ACME seeks to change democracy and media that
buy the people to a democracy and media by the people."
ACME seeks to develop, distribute, and
promote media literacy curricula that encourage critical thinking
and free expression, examine the corporate media system, and inspire
active participation in society. This translates to media education
that gives people better skills to access, analyze, interpret,
and create media; in other words, to become "media literate."
The goal is for people to think critically about what they see,
hear, and read. Media education is often associated only with
the classroom environment, but should be used in a broader context
to encompass the community, political, and outreach education
spheres as well. This applies to newspapers as well as radio,
television, film, Internet, and any other way information source.
ACME, which is free of corporate media
funding, is a strategic network that links media educators, health
advocates, media reformers, independent media makers, community
organizers, and others. It connects members to crucial resources.
The Media Education Foundation (MEF), largely known for putting
out the Killing Us Softly series with Jeane Kilbourne, gives 20
percent discounts on all 24 of their videos exclusively to ACME
members. There are plans to start production on a video that teaches
people how to watch television news critically. Teachers involved
in ACME tend to teach media literacy in their courses. The idea
is that when we are more critical media consumers, we will be
more active in our communities with regard to media and other
important social issues.
There is a nine-standard set of criteria
that has been formed to be utilized by the coalition to endorse
independent media. Media Literacy Curricula that receive ACME's
stamp of approval from the evaluating committee will then be promoted
via Web and monthly e-bulletins to all members. Williams informed
us, "Currently, large media corporations are rubber-stamping
Media Literacy curricula with their own pro-corporate agenda in
mind; as a non-profit media organization that takes no big media
money, ACME is in a unique position to evaluate and promote truly
independent media and literacy curricula."
The coalition involves and will serve
the interests of educators, youth leaders, community organizers,
parents, researchers, students, children, teens, schools/school
districts, community and non-profit organizations, and anyone
else who feels it's time to advocate for media literacy education
that inspires citizens to action about important issues. This
is where educators and media reformers come together. ACME is
the organization that links people to the cause of media democracy
and education. The second approach ACME supports is the advocacy
of independent media. Independent media is a critical part of
a democratic society. ACME supports the diversity of as many different
opinions and perspectives as possible. Parallel to Project Censored's
media guide is ACME's Essential Resources Guide, which covers
more than just Web sites. It also encompasses books, film, zines,
and anything else that ACME find to be essential to understanding
our media culture. ACME has made donations to a number of independent
media organizations like Prometheus Radio and the Schmio Awards.
The Web site is always expanding for the promotion of indymedia.
ACME's Indy Media Action Group is currently building a list of
indy producers who have media they wish to make available. Williams
stated that ACME is also exploring the possibility of producing
its own line of films.
The third approach is to support local,
state, and national media reform efforts. ACME has already played
a major role in promoting grassroots media reform by encouraging
members and all concerned citizens to write, call, and fax both
elected officials in Congress and appointed FCC members in current
debates about media deregulation. ACME has also worked together
with like-minded organizations (The Future of Music Coalition,
Free Press, Media Tank, Consumer's Union, etc.) to build political
support for media reform. Williams said that they are currently
exploring ways to work with supportive policymakers to endorse
media reform as part of a larger political platform.
The more educated a population, the greater
the potential for social action. Progressive education and education
reform agendas should incorporate media education and have it
firmly in place as curriculum.
The critical consciousness, however, incorporates
more than production of independent media. It is understanding
the policies and decision-making processed that have led to the
current state of media homogeneity.
The Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) is the government organization that oversees the regulation
of the media. However, instead of ensuring the general public's
access to a diversity of ideas, which is a foundation of the democratic
process, they have gone in the opposite direction. Michael Powell,
the son of Colin Powell and the head of the FCC, has made it a
priority to stay in the background and allow the media conglomerates
to police themselves. Williams spoke out strongly against the
FCC's penchant for deregulation: "The FCC exists in part
to stimulate debate. Powell has shown little interest in such
debate." This debate can only occur if there is a diversity
of ideas in the marketplace.
While the antitrust legislation that has
been in effect for roughly 100 years still directly opposes monopolies
and there is no single company that owns all mass media, the current
state of affairs places control in the hands of a few. In Censored
2003, there are a number of diagrams that illustrate the 10 major
companies that control virtually every idea that Americans are
exposed to. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the working
of the "invisible hand" that supposedly controls the
marketplace. Williams states that elected officials are there
to make laws that prevent the negative effects of deregulation.
However, campaign contributions prevent this from happening. The
National Association of Broadcasters and the telecommunications
industry are two of the main lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The telecommunications
industry is among the top five organizations that finance politicians'
FCC regulations used to prohibited one
company from owning television stations that serve more than 35
percent of an audience in a single market. There were also regulations
that prohibited ownership of both television stations and newspapers
in a single market. Powell and the FCC recently changed that.
On June 2, 2003, the FCC announced new regulations on the ownership
of media in individual markets. Among these is an increase from
the 35 percent audience limit to 45 percent. For a complete list
of all the new deregulations as well as comments from Chairman
Powell and the five commissioners, including dissenting opinions
from Democrats Michael J. Copps and Jonathan S. Adelstein, go
to <www.fcc.gov>. According to Williams, when television
was in its infancy, there was spectrum scarcity, or limited channels,
and "the regulation of the spectrum was absolutely necessary."
Now with the digital spectrum providing literally thousands of
channels Powell maintains that there will always be avenues for
different ideas. However the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed
media companies to carve up the digital spectrum as they desired
and provided for cross-ownership in multiple markets. As a result
a majority of the programming is the same across the nation, sacrificing
We asked Williams if he feels that media
companies are consciously promoting an agenda with homogenous
programming or if it is merely the result of the profit motive.
He feels that the two cannot be discussed separately. Using the
same program in all markets makes it much easier to turn a profit.
The companies rely on "tried and true" formulas that
have worked in the past. If diversity is lost, then so be it.
When Powell stated, "It's hard to see how a complete ban
on newspapers owning TV stations serves the public interest,"
the battle for media literacy and diversity looks to be long an
The most fundamental starting point for
media literacy will be in the classroom. ACME will provide resources
for teachers that give students an understanding of the importance
of media diversity. They will explain the current corporate hold
on mass media and how it affects every person in this country.
These resources will include examples of independent media used
for both informative and entertainment purposes. Students will
also be provided with tools necessary to create their own media.
Posted on the ACME Web site is information regarding their stance
on media literacy education: "Ideally, ACME will promote
synergy in the media reform movement and will help to prevent
media education from becoming watered down by profit-driven or
appreciationist agendas. Progressive education and education reform
agendas must incorporate media education as a fundamental literacy
for the twenty-first century; we believe ACME can help make this
connection." Children, our nations largest group of consumers,
must be taught from an early age to reject the corporate consumer
attitude that is so rampant in our society. Media literacy is
a vital part of critical thinking skills that must be ingrained
from the beginning.
One idea that Rob Williams says must be
stressed in the classroom is that "truth is not completely
objective. There is not one magic source that will provide the
complete truth. One must synthesize a variety of sources and determine
truth for one's self." In the first years of journalism,
there were large numbers of newspapers. While each one was openly
biased in promoting its own ideas as the truth, there were enough
sources for an individual to use in developing his or her own
ideas. Now with just a few companies owning numerous radio and
television stations, as well as newspapers in markets around the
country, the same information is disseminated everywhere with
the same handful of viewpoints. The result is individuals not
having the necessary variety of information to make informed decisions.
All of these issues fit into ACME's three
main goals: developing a progressive media literacy curricula
free from corporate and political influence; helping individuals
to create their own independent media; and supporting local, state,
and national political reform efforts. The most important catalyst
for a true democracy is access to a diverse and free-flowing range
of ideas and information. In order to have a government by the
people, we must be accurately informed of the issues that are
affecting our daily lives. If the information is not there to
make informed decisions, that responsibility falls into the hands
of a small powerful and wealthy group of people. Contrary to the
belief of those in power, the American public is capable of controlling
their own lives. We are not here to consume what someone 3,000
miles away says is good for us. Once we lose the belief that we
are intelligent and willing to make our own decisions, there is
no hope for democracy. For more information on ACME and related
organizations, please visit <www.acmecoalition.org>.
Media Reform page