The Murdochs still control a great deal of U.S. media real estate, most of which includes TV and movie studios, and they will undoubtedly scramble to protect it. But things now must change. For all of the harm News Corp. has caused, something good must come out of it. For one, society must prevent the circumstances that allow a future News Corp. to weld such power, unregulated and unaccountable, and unduly influence the affairs of government.
Democracy is stifled when a single player controls too much of the airwaves for its own good, and dresses up partisan hackery, unsubstantiated opinions and outright fabrications as the truth. However, a disinterested, uninformed public—disengaged from public life, perhaps due to the bad economy and daily stressors and hardships, among other reasons—facilitates democratic rot as well.
The American Psychological Association defines civic engagement as “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” The New York Times defines civic engagement as “working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”
Morally and civically responsible people see themselves as part of a larger social fabric. They take ownership of society’s problems, and may even take action when necessary. One organization that hopes to foster civic engagement and leadership in local communities is the Philadelphia-based Media Mobilizing Project. In partnership with several other community organizations – Philadelphia Student Union, SEIU Healthcare PA, Casa Monarca, Unified Taxi Workers Alliance, and Logan CDC – MMP just opened five Public Computer Centers throughout the city to train people in computer skills and community journalism. The centers were made possible with $18.2 million in federal stimulus funds.
MMP is a member of the Freedom Rings Partnership, which is led by the City of Philadelphia Division of Technology and the Urban Affairs Coalition, and is designed to provide computers, computer training and internet access to low-income communities. A total of 77 centers in community centers and social service organizations throughout the city will train 15,000 people in digital literacy.
“MMP and the groups we are partnering with have led the way in improving education, working conditions, healthcare and quality of life for Philadelphians,” said Desi Burnette, Strategic Coordinator with Media Mobilizing Project. “This program will strengthen our ability to build community-driven solutions to the current economic crisis.”
And as Bryan Mercer, MMP Program Organizer noted, they will use twenty-first century technology to bring low-income communities together to solve their problems. “In a time of budget cuts and unemployment, these Public Computer Centers offer a way to connect people – not just to the Internet, but to each other,” he said.
So, at a time when the policies of large corporations, disconnected from the community, are tearing the fabric of those very communities, it is good to see efforts to build them up. And when media empires crumble, we must prepare others to fill the void.
David A. Love