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Framing Media Activism

Recent efforts to make media reform a first issue and to mobilize media activism into a viable social movement have had limited success in the United States.24 The use of the Internet as an organizing and mobilizing tool is transforming how social movements are constituted and defined. Online organizing by groups like Free Press in the United States has, for example, been successful in mobilizing the support of millions to petition Congress and the FCC in opposition to policies that would have allowed further concentrations of media ownership. Activism on behalf of net neutrality has attracted support on a similar scale.

In Remaking Media (2006), Robert Hackett and William Carroll identify a number of framing devices that have been used in attempts to capture the diverse energies, priorities, issues, and commitments of media activists, including (1) free press and freedom of expression, a frame that implicitly draws on the values of the First Amendment and emphasizes the values of mainstream political liberalism; (2) media democratization, a frame that highlights democracy’s deficits and emphasizes participatory democracy, the role of informed citizens, and the responsibility of the press to serve the public interest; (3) the right to communication frame, which emphasizes the importance of communication in relation to other human rights and is most often invoked by activists working in international contexts; (4) the cultural environmental frame, which borrows its trope from the environmental movement and targets toxic cultural fare by opposing the global homogenization of commercial media and market censorship and by advocating for fairness, gender equity, diversity, and democratic decision making in media ownership, employment, and representation; and, finally (5) media justice, which is relatively new and has special resonance in the United States and among minorities. According to Hackett and Carroll, “This frame re-positions the project as one of social justice in a world organized around global capitalism, racism and patriarchy, and directly connotes the need for alliances, even integration, with other social movements.”25 The justice frame is synthetic and inclusive, not only broadly encompassing the concerns of the other frames, but also very intentionally linking to and drawing on historical struggles for social justice and civil rights, including struggles for racial, class, gender, and sexual justice.26

In an comprehensive 2007 review of the literature on media activism, Philip Napoli points out that the multiplicity of frames reflect not only the broad range of issues that motivate participants as well as the movement’s international reach but also the lack of consensus within the movement.27 Frames matter. They create collective identities, mobilize, and focus the energies of participants in social movements. Criticism within various factions of the movement voiced dissatisfaction with early framing efforts, claiming they fostered parochialism and misunderstanding. For example, in developing countries, some international media activists view democracy as a loaded word: it can be “a Trojan Horse for capitalist imperialism,” according to Aliza Dichter of the Center for International Media Action.28 Moreover, Hackett points out that within media- policy discourse, market liberals interpret media “democratization” as deregulation and privatization of media.29 Napoli contends that the media justice frame has developed in response to a general dissatisfaction with more established frames and that the term “justice” is deliberately chosen to link media advocacy to wider struggles for justice and social inclusion.30

Our emphasis on the qualifier social in social justice is intended to signal solidarity with primary struggles for the creation of social institutions that promote human equality, dignity, and fairness. That is, we see media transformation as a necessary, but far from sufficient, condition for creating a just society.

 
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