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Media Is Not the Issue. Justice Is the Issue

Nina Gregg

When media activist Malkia Cyril told a roomful of attendees at the 2007 Southeast Media Justice Conference in Knoxville, Tennessee, that “media is not the issue . . . justice is the issue,”[1] she was relaying a message that had been partly born in Tennessee five years earlier. Cyril, director of the Youth Media Council (now the Center for Media Justice) in Oakland, California, participated in an invitation-only gathering on media justice at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee in August 2002. That meeting, funded by the Ford Foundation and organized by community media consultant Nan Rubin, set in motion several initiatives, among them Ford’s support of a new Media Justice Fund (MJF) at the Funding Exchange (FEX)[2] and the participation of FEX member funds around the country in media justice grant making. The MJF, which closed down in 2009, was “grounded in the belief that social and economic justice will not be realized without the equitable redistribution and control of media and communication technologies. The MJF supports leadership of people of color, low-income families, LBGT and youth, working within marginalized communities to organize around media and communication technologies to affect media accountability, infrastructure and policy change.”

FEX had been making grants for film, video, and radio projects through the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media for more than 20 years.6 The new MJF emphasized influencing federal communication policy and promoted community media collaboration and capacity building rather than production—reflecting the composition of the 2002 Highlander meeting and Ford’s commitment to media policy reform.7 The group assembled at Highlander was concerned about changes in federal communication policy and wanted to support the emergence of organizations prepared to challenge


deregulation of the media sector. Participants were “asked to look at the current issues in media policy and the needs for strategic organizing.”8 The group agreed on two very basic political principles:

  • 1. Technology and Media should serve all people—Each of us has an individual commitment based on the core values of social justice and equality, and the institutions that control and shape our media must be transformed in order to realize this goal.
  • 2. Local communities, especially those that are marginalized, should have some ability to decide how media resources are created, used and allocated—As the major target of mass media and technology, the public has a strong interest in both the structure and content of its media. There must be accessible mechanisms to promote public voices, participation and involvement in how media is used and governed.9

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