Attending the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston this weekend, I overheard more than a few attendees joke about how everyone here is a radical lefty. In the exhibition hall and a few of the presentations I attended, the tone was decidedly anti-corporate and colored by socially liberal ideology. In one session, I mentioned that I had Fox News on for part of the morning, and was met with a gasp. “I think it’s important to understand what the other side is saying,” I explained. But it pointed to a larger issue: Does media reform have to be an inherently liberal endeavor? Everyone needs to be media literate, but where are the social conservatives at this conference?
In that moment, I realized my own bias, having referred to Fox News as “the other side.” And it is that bias which limits the dialogue around issues like net neutrality, minority representation, media justice and so much more. The idea that mass media are necessarily the enemy of media reform oversimplifies the issue. Americans held their breath in anticipation of a government shutdown over the weekend, and while there were people who hoped for that outcome, I believe most people in the Republican and Democratic parties sincerely hoped for a compromise that would keep hundreds of thousands of federal workers in their jobs. We expected our leaders to reach a compromise, and they did.
Similarly, how can we expect a free press, media transparency and accountability if we’re not all working together? One of the most basic tenets of responsible journalism is that it should be fair and balanced, but we can’t have that if the conversation is not also fair and balanced. Media reform will only happen when the American public demands it, but the diverse voices that constitute the public all deserve to have their say. There are no reform measures that will please everyone, but democracy has never been about serving just one perspective.
At the Saturday night keynote, emcee Elon James White asked the crowd, “Where are my conservatives?” The audience laughed, while the house band struck up the Darth Vader theme from Star Wars. I don’t expect that we will be singing Kumbaya and roasting S’mores with Rush Limbaugh any time soon, but surely we can find a way to gather around the campfire in the interest of lasting media reform. Everyone needs to be media literate, regardless of their politics, and the truly progressive act is to welcome people with whom we do not always agree.
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