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Jackson Pushes Media Ownership Activism

Framing media ownership as a civil rights issue and saying it was time to mobilize against further media consolidation, Rainbow PUSH founder the Reverend Jesse Jackson told a Washington policy luncheon audience Monday that his group planned to hold meetings across the country to popularize mass media issues and engage fully in a struggle for the airwaves.

Jackson was part of the pushback against the rules in 2003, but he suggested it was time to turn up the heat. That includes a full-time staff to monitor telecommunications issues, but more importantly a push for volunteers to "get in some faces," as Rep. Maxine Waters put it.

“Struggles around media ownership have never been mass struggles," Jackson said Monday, though "the impact has been mass". He conceded it would be a tough fight, pointing out that 10,000 people could be enlisted in a protest at HHS or the Department of Labor, but 50 couldn't be collected for an FCC rally.

But you don't get what you deserve because you are right, he said, but because you fight. He said the dearth of powerful minority media voices does not just hurt blacks, but "sets the agenda for the rest of the U.S."

The flashpoint for the new activist mode is the FCC's current media ownership review, which Rainbow PUSH says is not sufficiently reviewing key issues relating to minority, women and small business media ownership.

Jackson was joined Monday at the policy forum by California Democratic Representatives Waters and Diane Watson, as well as by FCC Democrats Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, all ready to take the fight to the living rooms and street corners. Jackson told B&C he had invited all the commissioners, but the Republican majority was not in attendance.

Saying there was currently neither equality nor justice in the media at present, with the pendulum swinging in the wrong direction, Copps called the fight a "new civil rights battleground for America," and Adelstein concurred, saying that if the FCC produces a similar "monstrosity" with its current media ownership rule review as it did in 2003--when both he and Copps voted against the rules--he hoped protesters would fill the streets and block traffic in front of the FCC.

Their activism, they indicated, was prompted by a number of consolidation-related factors including a decrease in the number of black-owned owned outlets and minority staffers and Waters assertion that the work of the Congressional Black Caucus was all but ignored by the major media.

She suggested they weren't even solicited as "tokens" on the shows anymore, saying the shows now even favor some white men over others. "If you don't have John McCain, you don't have a show," she said.

Watson, who said "we absolutely have to be seen in numbers," said she had contacted FCC Chairman Kevin Martin about moving the FCC's Oct. 3 L.A. ownership public hearing from an El Segundo venue near the airport to one where traffic might not keep the masses from massing to show their displeasure. She said they were hoping for 600-800 people to attend.

Nobody was mincing any words, Watson least of any, saying it was a nation of sheep that had been subject to media-enforced brainwashing.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.