Three Media Issues We Can't Ignore in 2013

This post previously appeared on PBS' Media Shift site.

We’ve accomplished a lot in 2012, but when it comes to the fight for better media there is always more to do. Here are three critical issues we must tackle in the coming year.

Address Media Diversity

As 2012 comes to a close, the Federal Communications Commission is poised to gut the longstanding newspaper/broadcast cross-ownership ban. To make matters worse, the agency’s proposal will disproportionately impact media ownership by women and people of color.

Although fostering media diversity is part of the FCC's congressional mandate, it has taken the agency 13 years to get around to issuing a comprehensive report on who owns the media in America. The results, released this fall, were depressing. Women make up more than half the population but own less than 7 percent of all full-power broadcast outlets. People of color comprise one-third of the nation but own just 5 percent of all broadcast TV stations and just 8 percent of all radio stations. Rather than taking steps to address this, the FCC is about to make the situation worse.

But media diversity isn't just an issue of media ownership. In April, the American Society of News Editors reported that the "percentage of minorities in newspaper newsrooms continues to decline.” The numbers have never been good —minority representation peaked at just 13 percent in 2006, a figure that dropped to 12 percent in 2012. In addition, the media analysis group 4th Estate found that women were widely underrepresented in major media outlets’ coverage of the election, even when stories centered on key policy issues facing women.

In 2013, we need to halt the FCC’s rush toward more media consolidation, foster greater diversity in media ownership and demand that our local and national media outlets represent the nation’s diversity in their coverage and their hiring practices.

Strengthen the First Amendment

Much was made of the journalist arrests in the early months of the Occupy movement in 2011.The fact is that almost the same number of reporters were harassed and arrested in 2012 as in 2011. The difference is that these arrests spread well beyond Occupy protests. Journalists have been detained and abused while covering Keystone XL pipeline actions, political conventions and NATO protests — and even just while going about their normal jobs.

As the year drew to a close, both the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders declared 2012 one of the most deadly and dangerous years for journalists on record. Both around the globe and here in the U.S., we’ve seen a troubling spike in attacks on independent digital journalists. These attacks come in the form of both physical threats and the slow and dangerous creep of surveillance and secrecy. This comes at a time, of course, when more and more media outlets rely on independent journalists and citizen journalists to cover critical events around the world.

I’m hopeful that court cases in 2013 will continue to reinforce what the Department of Justice has already made clear: that citizens have a First Amendment right to record. However, as the tools of media making are put into the hands of more and more people, we all must accept responsibility for defending the First Amendment. In 2013, we need to mobilize more people to join the fight for our digital rights.

Expand Public Media

In local communities around the United States and on the national stage we are seeing more and more collaboration between new nonprofit journalism organizations and longstanding public broadcasters. As we turn the corner into 2013, we need to take a hard look at the barriers that still exist between the various sectors of noncommercial media in America and begin to imagine a more unified whole.

This means we need to come together to change the debate about nonprofit and public media in the U.S. No longer are nonprofits and public media organizations a marginal “alternative” to mainstream media in the U.S. More and more journalists are investing in nonprofit journalism and more and more Americans are turning to public media online for their news and information. Even commercial media is relying on partnerships with nonprofits to do much of the investigative and accountability journalism that has disappeared from the TV networks and even some newspapers.

Funding for public broadcasting took center stage in the presidential election this fall, sparking a huge public outcry and reminding policymakers that the vast majority of Americans value NPR and PBS. And over the last year we have begun to see a small thaw in the glacial pace of IRS approval for nonprofit journalism outlets. Finally, 2013 is the year the FCC will hand out hundreds — possibly even thousands — of new Low Power FM radio licenses. It is critical that we build on this momentum to expand and diversify noncommercial media on and offline.

What connects ownership, the First Amendment and public media is the need for us all to take the future of media into our own hands. In 2013, we can’t afford to treat our media system as something that just happens to us. There’s way too much at stake.

Original photo by Flickr user P. Weiskel

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good