4 Campaigns Holding Big Media Accountable for How It Treats Us

Colorlines.com spent last weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform hearing about ways community is demanding corporate media do better.

By Jamilah King Apr 11, 2011

It’s been less than a week since Glenn Beck announced an end to his daily news show on Fox. And while progressives are still caught between learning and celebrating, it’s clear that Beck is just one piece of a much larger and far more sinister media puzzle that reformers are working to piece take apart. Colorlines.com spent the weekend at the National Conference on Media Reform hearing from dozens of watchdogs and advocates trying to do that piecing.

For communities of color, the fight for media reform and accountability falls along two equally important lines. 

First, there’s the issue of access. I’ve reported extensively on the net neutrality debate and why it’s crucial to expand broadband access. These are complex policy fights, but the stakes in both are straightforward: Our Democracy is based on participation, and it’s crucial that the people who are most directly impacted by government’s decisions have access to the high-tech tools necessary to stay informed and engaged in the 21st century.

But a second fight is being waged over what people of color see once they get that access. Advocates repeatedly point to the toxic rhetoric in today’s media as part of what creates a climate of hate. One case that stands out is the brutal murder of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero. The white teens who beat Lucero to death did so while hurling racial epithets his way.

"Understanding the role media plays in creating and perpetuating structural racism and class oppression is not a secondary issue," Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice, told the National Conference on Media Reform years ago. "It’s central to building an effective and relevant movement for media reform that fundamentally transforms the U.S. system of communications."

So as we dig deeper into who’s misrepresenting our communities, and who’s fighting back, here’s a quick look at four campaigns to hold media accountable:

Slowing Glenn Beck. The talk show host’s departure from Fox wasn’t exactly surprising, but it also didn’t happen overnight. For nearly two years, ColorofChange.org led an aggressive campaign targeting Beck’s advertisers. And it worked: more than 200,000 people signed up to send Beck walking, and 300 advertisers left the show. But the battle’s far from over. "The problems with Fox and race baiting aren’t limited to Glenn Beck," ColorofChange founder James Rucker told Colorlines shortly after Beck’s announcement.

Basta Dobbs. In November 2009, immigrant rights advocates won a huge victory when longtime talk show host Lou Dobbs announced his departure from CNN. The campaign was led by Presente.org, an online Latino advocacy organization, who consistently called Dobbs out for his anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Philly Students Fight Back. Black and brown youth in Philadelphia have gotten an especially bad wrap in recent years, thanks in part to often sensationalized media coverage of "flash mobs." The mobs, known for being spontaneous and sometimes confusing displays of public dancing, were widely reported as being violent and, sometimes, deadly. Lawmakers in the city have since cracked down on the city’s youngest and most vulnerable residents, imposing city-wide curfews that, if broken, can lead to lefty fines. Philly-based Media Mobilizing Project has helped counter the negative attention. They’ve documented how young people and students with the Campaign for Non-Violent Schools is calling for non-violence, more jobs, and better access to quality education.

"That’s My Womb." The Right’s campaign against abortion has taken center stage in American politics over recent months. Here at Colorlines, both Miriam Perez and Akiba Solomon have looked at the roots and outcomes of well-funded black anti-abortion campaigns. But Trust Black Women, a nationwide partnership, has undeniably done the crucial work of rounding up black reproductive justice groups from across the country to defend the rights of millions of girls and women of color.

We’ll be following these watchdogs’ work all year. If you’ve seen a local campaign working well to hold big media accountable, let us know