Josh Stearns speaks on the role of media in the community: Associate Program Director of Free Press expresses the importance of maintaining media relationships

Posted by Andy Shi

Josh Stearns visited campus to share his views on the world's changing relations to media, addressing this topic in his lecture titled "Media, Civil Engagement and Sustainability" at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 in Davis Auditorium.

Stearns is the associate program director of Free Press, which, according to its website, "is a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media," and manages its journalism, public media and media consolidation campaigns.

"Media's been this sort of undercurrent to what I've done," Stearns said. "I'm excited to do what I do."

Stearns said he first became interested in the media in his work as the literary magazine editor at St. Lawrence University, which is also the university he graduated from in 2000. He received his master's degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and joined Save the News, a project of Free Press, in 2009.

Stearns said Free Press contends with issues dealing with the First Amendment, specifically those involving violations of freedom of the press. Stearns pointed to one example that detailed Comcast's policy of blocking sites to customers and ending file sharing to monitor Internet traffic. After citizens discovered this, they publicly protested against Comcast, which forced the company to revise its policies.

This situation underlines Free Press's support of network neutrality, which Stearns defined as a policy that states "Internet service providers may not discriminate between different kinds of content and applications online." Large, powerful corporations often ignore this policy and frequently lobby for Congress to support their stances, Stearns said.

In 2006, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, at the urging of service company lobbyists, advocated for a bill that would curtail network neutrality. One observer videotaped Stevens's argument, which included an analogy of the Internet to "a series of tubes." The comparison revealed Stevens's ignorance of the Internet and the lack of knowledge that the politicians had concerning the bill. The video went viral and the Republicans dropped the bill.

Stearns said citizens can stand up to big corporations and political pressure by publicizing their injustices. He referenced Reel Grrls, an organization devoted to empowering women, which tweeted about the January 2011 merger that was approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) between one of its sponsors, Comcast, and NBC. The tweet expressed concern that FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker left her job for one as a Comcast head lobbyist following the merger.

Comcast pulled its sponsorship for Reel Grrls, which then turned to the public for support, and, receiving an overwhelming response, raised more than $24,000 in funds.

Comcast attempted to reconcile with Reel Grrls later on, but Reel Grrls rejected its advances.

Stearns said that media is a life and death situation, and that people must keep the government and large media corporations from violating their rights.

"In a participating culture, no one is fully literate unless we are creating, not just consuming," Stearns said.

Stearns spoke about local radio and television broadcasting and its ever-growing importance, adding that local broadcasters provide the local news that large corporation news broadcasters do not address.

He shared a story of local broadcasters in Florida who warned citizens to seek shelter during a hurricane in multiple languages, which the larger broadcasters failed to do, saving hundreds of lives.

Stearns passed around a petition that he hopes will be sent to Congress, demanding that local broadcasters, net neutrality and the prevention of corporation consolidation be upheld to protect the rights of the American citizens.

"We must put our money where our mouth is," Stearns said. "To protect democracy we must defend the media."

Riley Neugebauer, campus sustainability coordinator, who sponsored the lecture, shared her vision of connecting the College to Saratoga Springs to promote the general welfare of the community.

"If sustainability, the environment and justice is No. 1, then media is No. 2. We have to tell our story," Neugebauer said.

For further information on Josh Stearns and Free Press, visit Freepress.net and Savethenews.org

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