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Free Press Blogs the National Conference of Media Reform

With the National Conference of Media Reform happening in Minneapolis this weekend, we’ve invited Timothy Karr, campaign director for media reform organization Free Press, to blog from the event.

The Media Reform Movement Gains Momentum in Minnesota

Issues like Net Neutrality, media consolidation, and the struggling state of journalism will take center stage this weekend as thousands of people gather in Minneapolis for the National Conference for Media Reform.

Interested citizens will join public advocates, legendary journalists, bloggers, legislators and FCC Commissioners to hash out ways we can make America’s media system more diverse, democratic and accountable to the public.

The conference — organized by the nonpartisan, nonprofit group Free Press (my employer) — is the fourth such gathering of its kind. Each successive conference has been a milestone in the evolution of a grassroots movement — from a disparate collection of activists to a unified force whose impact is felt every day in Washington.

In the past five years, the media reform movement secured important wins against large broadcasting, phone and cable companies. In 2003, after former-FCC Chairman Michael Powell decided to lift limits to the number of television licenses a single broadcast company could own, we and many others mobilized millions of people to write protest letters to the FCC and Congress. A federal district court ultimately threw Powell’s decision back to the federal agency for reconsideration.

When current Chairman Kevin Martin attempted to lift the cross-ownership ban late last year, members of the media reform movement organized more than a quarter-million people to call and write Congress, culminating in the May 15 Senate vote to reverse the move.

Also in Minneapolis will be many of the groups that make up the Coalition, which mobilized more that 1.5 million people to beat down a 2006 communications bill that didn’t sufficiently protect Net Neutrality. The coalition has joined groups as diverse as the Gun Owners of America and in defense of a principle they call the "First Amendment of the Internet."

Our various fights for are now unified in Minneapolis under the banner of media reform. We’ll be hearing from luminaries like "Free Culture" guru Larry Lessig, Web visionary Arianna Huffington, media champion Amy Goodman and, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather and the remarkable Bill Moyers. Also in the mix are policymakers including Sen. Byron Dorgan and FCC Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein.

This conference is likely the most important in the five-year history of these gatherings. Congress, the FCC and the coming administration will make a number of critical decisions that will have a profound impact on America’s media landscape. In that time, the millions of people who now consider themselves a part of a growing movement will demand a say in policy matters that were once struck behind closed doors between well-heeled industry lobbyists and Washington policymakers.

The energy and excitement in Minneapolis is a reflection of the heightened passion and involvement of people across the country — a passion for better media that’s beginning to resonate inside the Beltway.

It all starts Friday. And I and a few of my colleagues at Free Press will be reporting regularly for Broadcasting and Cable readers. We know that our call for an overhaul of the media system isn’t shared by all of B&C’s loyal readers.  But we’re grateful, now, to finally have a seat at the table.

Please check back for updates throughout the weekend.

Timothy Karr is campaign director for Free Press. He writes the blogMediaCitizen.