Free Press Calls for Media Reparations
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Free Press released a 100-page essay, “Media 2070: An Invitation to Dream Up Media Reparations,” calling for a national reckoning on the history of systemic racism in U.S. media.
The essay, created by Free Press staffers Alicia Bell, Joseph Torres, Collette Watson, Tauhid Chappell, Diamond Hardiman and Christina Pierce, reveals the critical role that trafficking of enslaved Africans played in making our nation’s earliest media financially viable. The piece traces this history to the present day, when deregulation has resulted in very few Black owners of traditional media, and racist algorithms amplify the voices of white supremacists across online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
Read Media 2070.
The essay’s release coincides with the launch of Free Press’ Media 2070 project, which calls for the policies needed to make media reparations a reality, falling within the historical lineage of calls for repair of anti-Black harm. In the coming year, Free Press will gather in coalition with Black journalists, media-makers, artists, activists, technologists, organizations, scholars and community story-keepers to organize a series of events and actions that incorporate media into larger movements for racial and economic justice.
“Modern-day crises have brought into sharp relief the urgent need for a serious and renewed discussion of media reparations,” reads the essay. ”Consolidated media power has curtailed Black people’s ability to create and control the distribution of our own narratives. Instead, our stories are too often told by other people who get it wrong.”
The essay critiques corporate media’s ongoing lack of accountability or commitment to fundamental change while inviting readers to join Media 2070’s national conversation to help reconcile the history of media racism with the need to imagine and create the changes necessary to right these wrongs.
With the nation witnessing 2020 newsroom revolts at the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and beyond, the question is as urgent as ever: What has been the media’s role in racial oppression, and how can news outlets make amends and repair the harms they’ve inflicted? Media 2070 offers a meaningful path forward.
Co-creator and Free Press Organizing Manager Alicia Bell made the following statement:
“The dehumanization of Black people in the media has long fueled violence against the Black community and those who fight for racial justice. This violence has also directly impacted members of the Black press, who have played an indispensable and dissident role in keeping our community informed about the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights.
“The history is now clear but the question remains: How can newsrooms reconcile and repair the harms they have caused? Do our leaders have the courage to reimagine the economics of white-controlled exploitation media to right these wrongs, and finally reflect the fullness and dignity of Black lives, communities and journalistic brilliance from the center of society?
“In 2020, we can no longer tolerate the status quo of a media system that reinforces the myth of Black inferiority. We have to advocate for new laws and regulations that will uproot structural racism in the news industry instead of relying on performative corporate solutions or race-neutral laws that fail to confront our racial-caste system. We need new economic models, new organizational structures and new cultures that make space —literally and figuratively — for Black visions. Only then will we be able to control the telling of our own stories that need to be told and the sharing of our own dreams for our communities that need to be heard.”
Co-creator and Free Press Senior Director of Strategy and Engagement Joseph Torres made the following statement:
“We have a de-facto media-apartheid system where the vast majority of radio, TV and cable networks are white-owned and -controlled companies. We need to set the record straight so we can reconcile this disturbing and divisive media history and help inform the policies and shifts in power that are needed to dismantle institutional and structural racism.
“There have been plenty of discussions within the journalism field about the profession’s future and the need for new economic models to save and sustain local news. These discussions are wholly incomplete without a centering of the news industry’s original sin: direct participation with the enslavement and brutalization of Black people, including the media’s role in lynching and the enforcement of a racial-caste system.
“Media 2070 will sow the seeds for new media models that dismantle the dominant media’s role in supporting a white-racial hierarchy while perpetuating the myth of Black inferiority. A federal intervention is needed to undo policies that have played a pivotal role in creating these inequities. It must reconcile the history of racism in our media industry, including the role of federal policies and oversight. And as calls grow for federal funding to support local journalism, we should not simply prop up an unjust commercial media system that is more accountable to its shareholders than to the people it is supposed to serve.
“It is a debt that is long overdue. Media reparations are essential to ensuring our government repairs the harms it caused by adopting media policies that have materially, physically and spiritually subjugated Black people in the United States. Reparations are also necessary to address a broad history of structural racism in the media industry — an industry that has defended and upheld our nation’s white-racial hierarchy.”
Co-creator and Free Press Vice President of Cultural Strategy Collette Watson made the following statement:
“Fifty years from now, in 2070, we envision a world where reparations are real, where Black people live and fully exercise our fundamental human rights that are actually enshrined and protected by law. For this world to be born and to exist, we must dismantle the myth of Black inferiority and the role media companies and our racist media system have played in its execution.
“We must ask what would a new economy look like that fosters Black-community ownership of media outlets, platforms and networks that are noncommercial and accountable to serving our communities’ news-and-information needs.
“We’ll need to gather testimony and bear witness to the many deep and wrenching harms that have taken place. We’ll need to gather people and organizations that are committed to creating a future where all people thrive because Black people are thriving. In gathering, we’ll need to build relationships and figure out strategy and policies for making media reparations real, creating new media structures and building the future we know is possible.”
Read Media 2070.