about the problems with illegitimate systems of power such as capitalism, a common response is that we have to concentrate on reforms that are “realistic.” The big system, many argue, simply can’t be changed. These two books offer illustrative lessons on this crucial point. First, history and common sense suggest that no system of unjust power is permanent. Too many such systems have collapsed in the face of popular movements to support such pessimism. Second, most radicals \(at least those not that the route to meaningful social change will be made, at least in the short term, largely through reforms to existing systems. Being radical doesn’t necessarily mean calling for armed revolution. Instead, radical can mean seeing the structural and institutional roots of the problem and being open to sensible strategies for meaningful change, which sometimes will include working for reforms. The best reform proposals will incorporate the more radical analysis and long-term goals. That is crucial not just to insure the reforms actually have some immediate effect, but so they potentially can create conditions leading to more basic structural and institutional change. McChesney’s book not only critiques the current system, but offers exactly those kinds of reform proposals. Grounded in the history of the broadcast reform movement of the thirties that unsuccessfully tried to challenge commercial broadcasting, McChesney is clear about the scope of the problem and not naive about the possibilities. His suggestions will not be immediately implemented by politicians or media owners, but they give activists who want more democratic media tangible and reasonable goals: protect and expand public service broadcasting; develop further decentralized community and public access radio and television; strengthen journalists’ and media workers’ unions, giving them greater control over content; hold commercial broadcasters to stricter public service standards; limit concentration of ownership; reduce the amount of advertising through reg ulation and taxation; subsidize film and cultural production that the market doesn’t; and subsidize multiple newspapers and magazines to provide diversity of opinion. Sparrow also makes recommendations for reforms, a few of which track fairly closely with McChesney’s. But Sparrow’s work is limited by the lack of a bigger structural critique; because he doesn’t tackle the basic causes of the problem, it’s difficult to see his overall vision for change having much meaningful impact. For example, the authors handle the question of “civic” or “public” journalism in sharply different ways. Those terms describe a current movement in mainstream journalism, to shift away from tired old methods of covering politics and public life that keep journalists disconnected from the real concerns of citizens and trap them in an insider game played by politicians and campaign consultants. The public journalism movement has generated much discussion within the industry. But because it addresses neither ernment conce if e there. foru r ms ell :ns e That markets .. Second, :while the European oses domination of the Internet, it does.not oppose its commercial development Otherwise. Its goal is to slow down the self-regulation momentum long enough to permit European firms time to de velop and be major participants. The BU., for example, supported the U.S. campaign in 1998 before the World Trade Organization to keep electronic commerce duty-free. The E.U. and E.C. also oppose the application of national regulation to the In, ternet in Europe -they want a single continental market as that would “crimp electronic commerce before it has a chance to start.” Hence the trajectory of all the dominant business, governmental, and regulatory agencies is toward greasing the wheels for a commercialized global Internet. The E.U. and the United States both work with the global corporate communication sector to encourage the “modernization” of the International Telecommunitates, weer’ thins and sectors to dOmillate einterne se are fouaht out before regulatory agencies outside of the pliblic e ut the’paltry . . public debate that does exist presupposes as legitimate the corporate commercial exploitation of cyberspace’ , and proceeds from there to smaller issues that do not challenge that framework. Perhaps the biggest issue, because it pits the law enforcement establishment against the corporate community, deals with police opposition to the sort of strong encryption providing a harbor for criminal activity. Similarly, the public is allowed to be involved to the extent of being spectators in the row between the Justice Department and Microsoft, which will determine whether Microsoft can have a possible monopoly over certain markets or will have to share them with two or three other massive firms like Oracle or Sun Microsystem. from Rich Media, Poor Democracy by Robert McChesney 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER SEPTEMBER 17, 1999
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