Owning Our Own Media Infrastructure
- Moderator: Joshua Breitbart, The Ethos Group
- Hannah Sassaman, Prometheus Radio Project
- Anthony Riddle, Alliance for Community Media
- Steven Mansour, Strict Machine Foundation
- Wally Bowen, Mountain Area Information Network
- Becca Vargo Daggett, Institute for Local Self-reliance
We set out to make the case that ownership is leverage. We this with the fight over net neutrality, where the telcos aim to use their ownership of infrastructure to control content, as cable companies already do.
It was also our goal to extend the debates over media ownership to include our ownership, instead of just talking about restricting corporate ownership. Because we are just as capable of owning our own infrastructure as we are of limiting theirs.
So that was the final goal of the session: to say that yes, you can do this at home.
Here are the different kinds of ownership (and examples or notes) we discussed that could be “our own” –
- community ownership (LPFM)
- public access (PEG cable channels)
- common ownership / no ownership (open source software, unlicensed spectrum)
- personal ownership (your content)
- cooperative ownership (some rural electric utilities)
- non-profit (unlike a small business, it can’t be bought or sold)
- municipal ownership (some utilities, most roads, and now some wireless and fiber optic broadband networks)
In addition to discussing different kinds of ownership and their application to different media, we discussed some of the benefits of ownership, including
- Enhanced distribution / Aggregating audience
- Accountability (if you have proper governance)
- Leverage (having an alternative makes corporations more responsive)
- Economic engine / Source of sustainability
Sydney Levy from Media Alliance brought up the issue of redlining, saying that one of the best arguments for municipal or other non-corporate ownership was that it could be an antidote to the discriminatory practices of those corporate owners. I agree to some extent, but anyone who travels from a wealthy neighborhood of any major city to a poor neighborhood knows that municipal ownership does not necessarily mean equal levels of service. Thus the importance of governance and accountability, whoever the owner.
Related to that, Hannah raised what I thought was one of the strongest points in the discussion. She said that when you expose young people to an environment like a community radio station or Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel (which Tony Riddle described), one in which they control their own media, they figure it should always be like that. And of course that has political ramifications that go beyond communications and media.
On a personal note, I came to these ideas from my work in independent media, thinking about the importance of distribution and the weak point of relying on corporate infrastructure to send our independent media around the world. When I saw the work of the Champaign-Urbana Community Wireless Network, I realized that we could build alternative infrastructure that could put the telcos out of business.
You can listen to the mp3 of the panel here.
I really appreciate the care and attention all of the panelists paid to their presentation. I think we delivered one of the stronger panels at the conference, one of the few that challenged its audience to expand their frame of thinking about all of the issues on the table at the conference. I also want to thank Free Press for accepting this proposal from me and Becca.