American Coalition for Media Education (ACME)

by Donald Yoon and Josh Sisco

excerpted from the book

Censored 2004

by Peter Phillips and Project Censored

Seven Stories Press, 2003, paper

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 seen.

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' campaigns.

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 <>. 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 much-needed diversity.

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 arduous.

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 <>.

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