Office of Communications, Inc.

UCC Media Justice Update

Strong Prison Phone Legislation Introduced by Rep. Rush

The United Church of Christ's media justice ministry is very pleased to see long-time champion Representative Bobby Rush's new legislation addressing the predatory costs of communicating with incarcerated people, the Martha Wright Prison Phone Justice Act, H.R. 6389. Mr. Rush has been a leader on this issue since the 2000s. His new legislation immediately sets significantly improved rates for voice calls and clearly establishes federal jurisdiction to limit predatory rates for local, intra-state communications as well as fees of all kinds. It is future-proof, leaving no technological loopholes. It will enable the Federal Communications Commission to pick up where it left off and protect families, clergy, and loved ones from unjust and unreasonable rates. 

 

"Congratulations to Representative Rush. We urge the House Energy & Commerce Committee to quickly hold hearings and move to markup on this critical legislation," said Earl Williams, OC Inc.'s board chair. "This bill, along with Senator Duckworth's bi-partisan bill in the Senate, increases the hope of incarcerated people and their families that they will finally gain the same consumer protections as all people in the U.S."

 

Cheryl A. Leanza, OC Inc.'s policy advisor said, "In this time when so many families, clergy and friends are not permitted to visit their incarcerated loved ones during the COVID-19 epidemic, just and reasonable rates to communicate are more important than ever. Incarcerated people are facing crowded conditions and potentially insufficient health care. Without communication with the outside, it is impossible to monitor their safety."


UCC's media justice ministry is also currently encouraging everyone to join the MediaJustice campaign to ask the Federal Communications Commission to act immediately to secure relief for incarcerated people and their families.


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Categories: prison phone

Affordable Communications for Low-Income People Under Threat -- AGAIN

One of our main advocacy tasks at OC Inc. is working with our allies to protect and enhance the incredible Lifeline program, which offers a subsidy to low-income households who qualify.  In some cases, the $9.25 monthly subsidy is enough to pay for a free mobile phone. 

Unfortunately the current Federal Communications Commission has set forth a series of unhelpful and paternalistic proposals that would harm Lifeline and make it more difficult for eligible families to use it.  We joined with the National Consumer Law Center to file comments last month and yesterday with our allies under the banner of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights to push back against these destructive ideas.  At least we are gratified to know that these proposals received almost no support in the record before the FCC.  The FCC should not be able to adopt these ideas, but the threat of their implementation is destabilizing the program and the previous decisions the FCC adopted are hurting the chances for families to get access to affordable communications.

Learn more and join the coalition's efforts at www.savelifeline.org

Since a 1997 General Synod resolution, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized that we need to ensure we do not become a society divided between "information rich" and "information poor," which leaves struggling people without the tools to succeed in modern society.   

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Martin Luther King, Jr. and UCC Media Justice - 60 Years Later

This weekend we celebrate the leadership and sacrifice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The United Church of Christ has so many proud moments in its legacy working for the U.S. civil rights movement -- including the time a UCC leader met with Dr. King and inspired much of the early media justice movement. The UCC's media justice ministry, called the Office of Communication, Inc., was created after the UCC's original Communications Director, Dr. Everett C. Parker, met with Dr. King. As we get ready to celebrate Dr. King, we're sharing the UCC-made documentary, OC Inc., The Untold Story, as a resource for UCC churches to learn more about this unique UCC connection to MLK's legacy (available in the full 22 minutes or a 6-minute preview.)

Because OC Inc. is celebrating its 60th anniversary, Brian Lapis, one of OC Inc.'s board members, recently took a moment to reflect on his history with OC Inc.  He says:

I remember the moment when my love for the United Church of Christ and my love for the broadcast industry intersected. I was a student at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications when I opened up my communications law and ethics textbook, and there it was: United Church of Christ vs. Federal Communications Commission. The UCC won this case against insurmountable odds, to unseat racist owners from WLBT-TV and to make owners of all broadcast stations accountable to the communities they serve. As Kay Mills describes it in her 2004 book, Changing Channels, this was 'the civil rights case that transformed television.'

The work leading up to those famous court cases came from a meeting in which Dr. King met with Dr. Parker. "Can you do something about the TV stations in the south?" said Dr. King in response Dr. Parker's question about how he could help. And thus, a movement was born. Dr. Parker, whose birthday is January 17th, has been called the "the founder of the citizen movement in broadcasting."

As Brian explained, "while the UCC's work in media justice is not always well known in our churches, it is famous (and at times, relied upon) in the world of media advocacy. The UCC and OC Inc. are household names in the halls of the Federal Communications Commission and justice advocates." 

Take this weekend to learn more about the unique role of the UCC in media justice, watch the 20-minute documentary The Untold Story:

UCC's media justice work continues today -- just last September UCC OC Inc. was a critical part of a court victory case bolstering citizen standing and ownership by women and people of color in broadcasting. We're campaigning to end predatory pricing to communicate with incarcerated people, working to ensure a free and open Internet for all and one that does not spread hate speech. And don't miss the inspirational remarks by the UCC's own Rev. Julian DeShazier from this October's annual Parker Lecture.

Remember that every time you use your TV, radio, phone or internet service, the UCC's media justice work is impacting you!

If you want help support this work, please consider supporting this effective ministry and celebrating of sixty years of this work, with a contribution to our $60 for 60 Campaign

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37th Annual Parker Lecture Honorees Underscore the Importance of “Remembering Our Stories”

Press Contact: Cheryl Leanza
Cell: 202-904-2168
Email: cleanza@alhmail.com

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (OCTOBER 17, 2019)

Three media justice advocates stressed the importance of retelling stories—and telling them accurately—at the 37th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture and Awards Breakfast today in Washington, DC, sponsored by the United Church of Christ’s media justice ministry, the Office of Communication, Inc.

The Rev. Julian DeShazier, senior pastor of University Church in Chicago and the Emmy Award-winning hip-hop artist J.Kwest, brought the full range of his skills to his Parker Lecture address. To underscore his theme, he began with a rap:

“. . . Is Chicago making
A different kind of statement, you looking at me

Like please stop rapping! So I can hear what you’re saying

American way, to reject another language
American angst, try to HEAR what I’m saying

I’m saying THAT DAY won’t come, ‘til we make it . . .” 

DeShazier related a parable of the Akan people of Ghana about “Sankofa,” a bird who struck out from her community until she was bullied by “Big Bird,” and returned home, regretting that she had ever left. But then her village told her, “Don’t forget us this time. Don’t forget who are you are.” With her confidence renewed, she returned to confront Big Bird and found that he was gone.

The lesson, DeShazier said, is “you can’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.” Sankofa, he said, “reminds us that the past and future are tied together, that destiny is not only a matter of will but of knowing where you and your people have been, what that creates in us. Identity formed through the past, which means the story must be told, told well, and told rightly. 

“Sankofa is what reminds embattled people, forgotten people, disinherited people who traverse a sky full of Big Birds – the Big Bird of xenophobia, the Big Bird of poverty, the Big Bird of corporatized education, militarized peacekeeping – Big Bird does not want you to have your story, because with your story comes your identity and with an anchored sense of being no thing and no one can get in your way.

“Sankofa is our reminder that stories carry within them the power to make people and the power to remove them: the power of life and death.”

DeShazier’s message was underscored by the stories told by those who were recognized with awards at this year’s event.

Cayden Mak, executive director of 18 Million Rising, an online organization that builds community in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his work in support of greater public access to affordable and open broadband technologies. Mak described how as a queer youth, “the Internet saved by life.” Growing up feeling “isolated and weird,” the Internet enabled him to “find people like me.”

But, he noted, “the social web has become a lot less social.” Before “the ideology,” he said, it embraced “the search for belonging.” But he asserted that he still believed “we can have an Internet built on care,” and a technology that is “expansive not expensive.”

Sarah Macharia, global coordinator of the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP), traveled from Kenya to accept the Donald H. McGannon Award on behalf of her organization. The McGannon award recognizes special contributions in advancing the role of women and persons of color in the media; the GMMP is the longest and largest longitudinal study of women in the media—both their presence and how they are covered—in the world. The project’s next study, conducted at five-year intervals, will take place in 2020 and is expected to involve volunteers in 130 companies.

Macharia described how the project began in 1995, monitoring the media in 70 countries. The idea “was not an idle curiosity but came out of frustration over the media’s seeming lack of respect for the integrity and dignity of women the world over.”

“Think of the stream that becomes a river as tributaries merge into it, bringing life to the land through which it crosses,” she said.  “So it is with the GMMP, as more countries and tens of thousands of volunteers have joined in.” The project is “three things in one: It is a research project, it is an action network and it is an activist movement.”

Macharia noted that the project had determined that “out of every four people seen, heard or read about in the mainstream news media globally, only one is a woman. Based on the trends, we forecast it will take at least three quarters of a century to reach parity.”  The problem, she said, was “more or less identical the world over, whether in the USA, in Uruguay or in Uganda.”

The event celebrated the 60th anniversary of OC Inc. Participants recalled how media monitoring was important to the early work of the Rev. Parker, who founded OC Inc. in 1959. Parker organized volunteers to monitor television stations in the Deep South to demonstrate that they were failing to cover the local African-American community. In 1963, he filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission that ultimately stripped WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., of its broadcast license.The court case also established the principle that the public could participate in matters before the agency, a principle that OC Inc. helped successfully defend, with other advocacy partners, in a federal appeals court case this past year.

OC Inc. created the Parker Lecture in 1983 to recognize its founder’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.

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About the United Church of Christ: The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant denomination comprised of nearly 900,000 members and 5,000 congregations nationwide. Headquartered in Cleveland, the UCC is a church of many firsts, including the first mainline denomination to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man and the first predominantly white denomination to ordain an African American. The UCC and its members are tireless advocates for such social issues as immigration reform, racial equality, LGBT rights, marriage equality, environmental protection and economic justice. The Parker Lecture is the only lecture in the country to examine telecommunications in the digital age from an ethical perspective. More information is available at

www.uccmediajustice.org.

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Categories: ParkerLecture

Court Victory for Equity in Communications!

The UCC's media justice ministry, OC Inc., won a great victory for racial and gender equity in communications because U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned a decision of the Federal Communications Commission's decision permitting radically increased media consolidation for the fourth time.

The court found the FCC ignores impact of the consolidation on ownership by women and people of color.   The UCC's media justice ministry (OC Inc.) was part of a coalition challenging the rules.  The ruling also affirmed that the challengers had "standing" or the legal right to sue the FCC. The standing decision is of particular meaning to the United Church of Christ because ordinary citizens' right to sue the FCC was first established by the UCC in the 1960s.

Cheryl A. Leanza, who is the ministry's policy advisor and also lead counsel on the case said, "The Federal Communications Commission has not learned its lesson, even after almost 20 years of litigation. The law says the FCC must consider how its rules impact ownership by women and people of color. The FCC treated its obligation as less-important than high school math homework and it got caught turning in work that, according to the court, 'would receive a failing grade in any introductory statistics class.'"

Leanza continued, "Not only did the FCC ignore its obligation to diversity, but the Third Circuit opinion upholds the right of public interest organizations and ordinary individuals to sue the FCC. The UCC's legacy in this regard is critically important. And reasoned federal decision-making should not fear court review."  Members of the UCC assisted in this work by writing declarations showing the harm of consolidation.

As a result of this decision, fewer mergers in local TV and radio will occur and the FCC must return to the drawing board on its most recent proposals for even greater consolidation in local media.

For more background on this case, read our previous blog posts:

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