National Conference For Media Reform Panel on Independent Journalism

This year’s National Conference for Media Reform, hosted by Free Press in Denver, Colorado kicked off yesterday April 5. Today’s panel on Independent journalism on Conflict and Human Rights featured several notable independent media voices:

Jeff Cohen, founder of Ithaca College’s Park Center for Independent Media, Sonali Kolhatkar, host of KPFK Pacifica’s Uprising program, Marjorie Cohn professor of criminal law and procedure at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, and Norman Solomon, the founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

11:10 am MDT

After a brief introduction by Jeff Cohen, Sonali Kolhatkar spoke about her experience covering the conflict in Afghanistan. She highlighted the poor attention paid to cultural and gender aspects of foreign media coverage abroad, specifically how major press outlets were missing key parts of the war like night raids, drone strikes, and women’s rights.

11:20 am

Marjorie Cohn’s remarks focused on the centralization and corporatization of media over the last half-century. Both phenomena, she argued, feeds into the partisan polarization of political discourse, ultimately hurting our democracy.

“Journalism suffers because it’s not as dramatic as taking extreme positions on policy matters. Now a reporter covering the war has harder time creating consensus because the society is so polarized… Political polarization prevents a national consensus on war and peace.”

Cohn continued by examining how all of the cable news channels combined are only watched by 1% of viewers and contrasted that landscape with the media of the 1960’s and 70’s.

11:28 am

Amy Goodman discussed the distinct lack of critical media surrounding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Her concerns centered on the parallels between the media’s attitudes towards invading Iraq in the early 2000’s and the present debate regarding Iran. Citing a Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting study which looked at Media coverage six weeks before the invasion of Iraq, noting that only three of 393 interviews were with anti-war leaders.

11:39 am

Norman Solomon’s address criticized the ‘Orwellian’ nature of what he described as the ‘main-line’ media. He went on to describe how the lack of diversity in the sphere of media choices has severely limited the scope of criticism for war.

“The near-virtual consensus that crosses the aisle on Capitol Hill for the so-called ‘War on Terror’ mirrors, is mirrored by, the mass media… has become the wall paper of the echo-chamber, now for almost a dozen years.”

11:51 am

Cohen opens up questions to the panel -‘What is your perspective of journalists putting partisanship ahead of principle?’

Kolhatkar responds by noting how even well known Democrats were hesitant to criticize the president on issues like escalating the Afghanistan war.

Highlights from the Q & A

Q: What do we encourage people to do to build independent media? What are specific things we call on active people, bloggers, and journalists to do?

Goodman – “Let people speak for themselves. Provide a forum for them to debate and discuss the most important issues of the day.”

Solomon – “We need to build and sustain our independent media outlets. TV, radio, online websites, independent producers of documentaries.”

Q: How do we get more balanced coverage of Israel-Palestine issues?

Kolhatkar – “I think the tide is turning I mean we may not see it in our media, but public opinion has actually probably shifted pretty significantly… [That] issue is seeing some slow change in a way that hasn’t really happened in a long time. Especially after Israel’s recent incursions and various invasions in the past few years in both Lebanon and Palestinian territories.”

Q: How has the media reacted to Bradley Manning as a whistle-blower compared to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers?

Kolhatkar – “Every single one of you in the room is capable of spreading a story of sparking the light under a media outlet to get that story heard.”

Cohen – “Now look today at how they’ve reacted to the military whistle-blower with documents named Bradley Manning… It’s  like night and day the reaction of U.S. media to these whistle-blowers.”