Pursue justice?

A propose of not much, I finally put my finger on why the “media justice” meme strikes me as going in the wrong direction. In political vocabulary, “justice” is a a buzzword and a code word. It implies a strategy of pursuiing redress of grievances, speaking truth to power, protest.
The lightbulb came on when I was reading an article in the Nation about the need for environmental and progressive groups to rebuild a grass roots base, that quoted Peggy Shepard of West Harlem Environmental Action. That group was born out of street protests to call attention to a sewage plant that had been making people sick for years. The group organized a demonstration that held up traffic at 7 a.m. on the West Side Highway in front of the North River plant on Martin Luther King Day, eventually filed a lawsuit, and catalyzed a $55 million repair operation by the city.
When pollution is making people sick, protest politics make sense. Polluters can get away with it as long as the harm is kept quiet and it’s easier for the polluter to continue than to stop. Protest politics raise awareness and make it less convenient for the polluter.
The “justice” metaphor and strategy makes a lot less sense to me when applied to media. When there’s a polluting sewage treatment plant or chemical plant in your neighborhood, you don’t have a lot of power on your own. You can’t shut it down or move it. You rely on recalcitrant business people and politicians to help you. In classic form, you need to organize and and petition those that have the power for redress of greivances.
With media, though, a community group or an individual can easily get a voice and become part of the media. By easy I don’t mean trivial, it takes work and information-gathering and networking. But it is within the power of an individual or group of people, unlike, say, shutting down a polluting chemical plant. So, a large part of the focus to get “justice” in media coverage is DIY and entrepreneurial. Don’t ask somebody to do it for you, just do it, and then reach out to get the story amplified. There are tremendous opportunities for business and civic entrepreneurship here. Don’t ask, do.
There are some aspects of media where political activism is needed, where the rules are overly influenced by folks with concentrated power. In order to get open spectrum, organizers need to wrest it back from the claws of the incumbent oligopoly. In order to get net neutrality, organizers need to win the battle with the incumbent oligopoly – or, harder but better, break the oligopoly. Even then, the rhetoric of petition isn’t nearly enough to win the war, since this speaks to a fraction of the supporters. Allies in that battle include the tech entrepreneurs who want to ensure space for a competitive market. They don’t see themselves as the powerless asking from help from the powerful — they want market forces to work, and concentrated oligopoly works against the competitive market.
So, environmental justice is a powerful strategy for a set of problems. “Media justice” plays a much narrower role, motivating a particular constituency on a particular subset of a set of issues where other strategies are a larger part of the solution.

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