Media Policy Resources on the Web

Helen Brunner

Media is pervasive and influences the culture in myriad ways. Technological advances and structural transformations are profoundly changing the way we receive and distribute information, as well as the quality of that information and whether or not we are able to interact with it. Legislative, legal, and regulatory policies that favor corporate interests over the public interest have created an environment where a dwindling number of corporations which control both the content and the means of distribution dominate the market. Increasing commercialism is eroding the public sphere and contributing to a decrease in civic participation. It is critical for the health of the culture, and indeed for democracy, that the public become more aware of what's at stake and better educated about the opportunities and threats they face. What follows is a brief survey of Web sites dedicated to some of these pressing concerns.

The Eroding Public Domain: Intellectual Property Rights in the Digital Age
The framers of the U.S. Constitution strove to provide a balance between duly compensating creators for their work and allowing knowledge and creative works to become a cultural asset of the people, to be used freely to stimulate innovation and encourage the creation of new work. Unfortunately, the balance has tipped toward increasing private control over knowledge, resulting in a greatly reduced public domain, or "information commons." (For example, you may not have realized that the last time you sang "Happy Birthday" to a loved one you were violating current copyright law.)

The reinvigoration of the public domain is a priority for people in many fields and is certainly of central importance to creators and cultural organizations. Here are only a few of the many organizations that have been working in this area:

The Center for the Public Domain is a venture philanthropic enterprise that contributed to the founding of several organizations that study, nurture, and secure the health of the public domain. The Center is closing, but continues to maintain a comprehensive Web site, with reliable links to other resources.

Public Knowledge is a new public interest advocacy organization, dedicated to working with a wide spectrum of individuals and organizations on research and advocacy that supports restoring balance in the intellectual property arena.

Of particular note to creators of new work, "Creative Commons is a new organization dedicated to cultivating a "creative commons" by helping people share their creative works (and the power to copy, modify, and distribute their works) instead of exercising all of the restrictions of copyright law.

Duke University Law School has become a highly respected center for intellectual property law. This Web site contains the papers and Webcasts of key lectures presented during a comprehensive international conference held there in November 2001.

Of interest to arts grantmakers is the work being undertaken by the American Assembly on art, technology, and intellectual property; and the copyright as cultural policy issue paper produced by the Center for Arts and Culture (scroll to the bottom for the PDF).

For anyone interested in pursuing the subject of the "commons," I highly recommend David Bollier's new book, Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth.

Civil Liberties, Free Expression, Filtering, and Privacy
It has been a difficult time for freedom of expression, privacy, and other civil liberties. The media environment presents many challenges in this arena. The following organizations and coalitions have been vigilant and imaginative in their search for solutions that address public concerns without eroding constitutional rights.

American Civil Liberties Union

American Library Association — Office for Intellectual Freedom

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Free Expression Network

The Free Expression Policy Project

National Coalition Against Censorship

The Converged Environment: Media Concentration, Open Access, and Civil Rights
We live in an era of unprecedented consolidation among media companies. Coupled with that is a restructuring of the Internet that threatens open access. How can we ensure that a diversity of voices can be found in this environment? Will the Internet become a “walled garden” where only those who pay for advertising will be visible? Will news programs and magazines continue to deteriorate, focussing solely on entertainment and promotion of movies produced by the same company that owns them? Will the public grow to understand access to information as a civil right? Will anti-trust law be reformed to protect us from duopolies and the type of vertical and horizontal integration found in the large media empires? The groups listed below work on these and many of the other troubling questions raised by corporate consolidation and control over content.

Center for Digital Democracy

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers Union

Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting

Media Access Project

Columbia Journalism Reviews, Who Owns What (map of media ownership)

National Indian Telecommunications Institute

Spectrum Policy: Giving Away Our Assets or Establishing a Digital Trust?

One of the public's largest and most valuable assets is the airwaves, the New America Foundation is a nonpartisan public policy institute. NAF's Public Assets Program closely tracks and evaluates spectrum policy.

Current policies sacrifice significant revenues that could be used for the public. While proposals to auction the airwaves are controversial within the public interest community, Digital Promise proposes the establishment of a trust to fund educational endeavors. The Digital Opportunity Investment Trust would be financed by investment revenues earned from spectrum auctions. Should this come to pass, the Trust will be a potential source of funding for arts and culture among many other educational endeavors.

Digital Divide, Education, and Children
The term “digital divide” refers to the gap between those who have access to the tools and training necessary to effectively use information technology, and those who do not. The enormous task of creating equity and the related task of advocating for the needs of children in the growing electronic media culture involves many organizations and collaborations. The following have been leaders in this work:

The Benton Foundation

Center for Media Education

Digital Divide Network

Alternative Media
The mainstream press is becoming increasingly homogenized, often more committed to attracting numbers and increase advertising revenue than the quality of their news coverage. Funds for investigative reporting are dwindling and local news bureaus are being eliminated as the parent corporations focus more on the bottom line than serving their communities. In this environment, it is critical to maintain venues for independent voices. While there are still struggling but vibrant independent print journals, there are an increasing number of independent online news sources attracting larger and larger audiences. The ones listed here also actively cover media policy from other than a strictly business orientation.


The Institute for Public Accuracy