2008 NCMR: Establishing links between Internet Governance and Media Reform

[Editor's note: IGP graduate intern Mark Costa, a doctoral student at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies, joins us today as a guest blogger. Mark recently returned from the 2008 National Conference on Media Reform, one of the largest annual gatherings of domestic media advocates in the United States.]

I just got back from the National Conference for Media Reform, where the mood was vibrant and optimistic, yet filled with a deep sense of concern about the current state of the U.S. media industry and the administration in Washington. The general consensus among the conference goers was that the major media corporations trivialize issues of national concern and frequently disseminate incorrect information to their audiences. Bill Moyers spoke Saturday morning and summed up well what people were feeling when he said: “media consolidation is a corrosive force that trivializes democracy.” In order to counter those trends, many people have taken the entrepreneurial route and begun providing alternative news services. While several of the entrepreneurs are using traditional media outlets (television and radio), a majority of them have opted to use the Internet to spread their message.

Because of the increasing importance of the Internet in this movement, there is an increasing interest in concepts such as network neutrality. There was at least one session specifically about NN, with Susan Crawford and Tim Wu presenting. Additionally, Bill Moyers mentioned NN, referring to Comcast’s attempts to pack the FCC meeting this past year as an excellent example of corporate America's attempts to suppress alternative voices. Despite the attention given to NN debate by the presenters, very few of the conference attendees that I spoke to demonstrated much interest in the debate. I didn’t attend the sessions, so it is difficult to gauge the responses of all of the attendees, but based on the discussions I had at the booth, not many people consider the debate to be immediately relevant.

I was able to generate some interest in the IGP's work by discussing the increased role of governments and corporations in Internet governance. I had the opportunity to discuss with several people how policies set in international forums could impact domestic policies and agendas and why that impact is important. This involved explaining basics of political economy (i.e., who is interested in the Internet as a manageable resource, what their objectives are, and how they plan on achieving them), as well as some additional concepts such as policy laundering. Once again this met with only moderate success, which I believe is primarily due to the fact that many of the attendees were more interested in addressing the content of the messages being disseminated by the large media corporations versus being interested in the political, economic, and institutional factors that impact communication infrastructures. That was somewhat disappointing because, as the IGP members and other scholars have demonstrated, regulatory frameworks can have a significant impact on what information does get published.

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