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UCC Media Justice Update

boyd, Torres and Bowen Honored at 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture

boyd, Torres and Bowen Honored at 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Lecture

Leading media reform advocates were honored today as a media executives, faith leaders and media justice advocates gathered at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington for the 33rd Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture.


danah boyd, founder of the Data & Society Research Institute, delivered the 2015 Parker Lecture, asserting that “one of the things that I’ve learned is that, unchecked, new [technology] tools are almost always empowering to the privileged at the expense of those who are not.”


    Also honored at the event were Joseph Torres, senior external affairs director of Free Press, who received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his work embodying the principles and values of the public interest in telecommunications, and Wally Bowen, co-founder and executive director of the Mountain Area Information Network (MAIN), who received the Donald H. McGannon Award for his dedication to bringing modern telecommunications to low-income people in rural areas.


    In her address, boyd described how “digital white flight” from certain technology platforms had mirrored the problem in the traditional world, and how predictive data technologies, if not used thoughtfully, had the potential to exacerbate stereotyping. “More and more,” she concluded, “technology is going to play a central role in every sector, every community, and every interaction. It’s easy to screech in fear or dream of a world in which every problem magically gets solved.  But to actually make the world a better place, we need to start paying attention to the different tools that are emerging and learn to ask hard questions about how they should be put into use to improve the lives of everyday people. Now, more than ever, we need those who are thinking about social justice to understand technology and those who understand technology to have a theory of fairness.”


    The United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc. (OC Inc.), the media justice ministry of the Protestant denomination of 5,700 local congregations, established the Parker Lectureship in 1983 to recognize Rev. Dr. Everett C. Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.  In 1963, Parker filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission that ultimately stripped WLBT-TV in Jackson, Mississippi, of its broadcast license and established the principle that the public could participate in matters before the agency. This year’s event included special remembrances of Parker, who died on September 17, 2015, at the age of 102.


    In her remarks, boyd said, “We are here today because Dr. Parker spent much of his life fighting for the rights of others--notably the poor and people of color, recognizing that the ability to get access to new technologies to communicate and learn weren’t simply privileges, but rights.  He challenged people to ask hard questions and ignore the seemingly insurmountable nature of complex problems. In the process, he paved a road that enables a whole new generation of activists to rally for media rights.” Click here for the full text of boyd’s remarks.


    In his acceptance speech, Torres, co-author of News for All the People: The Epic Story of Race and the American Media, said: “The struggle for racial justice is very much dependent on access to the media so we can tell our own stories. But this is hard to do when you’re dependent on corporate gatekeepers to tell your story, when people of color own few broadcast stations and cable outlets, when our nation’s media policies are shaped by structural racism.


    “This is why the fight over the future of the open Internet, over Net Neutrality, is so central to this struggle for racial justice.  It’s provided the digital oxygen that has helped breathe life into the movement that cries out ‘Black Lives Matter,’ ‘Not One More’ and ‘Say Her Name’.”  Click here for the full text of Torres’s remarks.


    Bowen was recognized for his leadership in building the Mountain Area Information Network in western North Carolina, and then working to bring a low-power FM station, local cable access channels and broadband access to his community. Monroe Gilmour, coordinator of Western North Carolina Citizens Ending Institutional Bigotry, accepted the award on behalf of Bowen, who suffers from ALS.  In a statement that Gilmour read on his behalf. Bowen noted that his work had been inspired and supported by his own faith community, Jubilee, in Asheville, NC, and quoted the words of theologian Frederick Buechner: “Your true vocation is found in that place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger.”  Click here for the full text of Bowen’s remarks.


    The Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ, recalled the legacy of Everett Parker in his remarks: “Unlike others for whom strong rhetoric was enough, Everett always looked for action that mattered. He was one who got things done--and his commitment to  ensuring that every marginal voice would have access to the airwaves not only mattered . . . not only matters still . . . but was something almost every other justice advocate missed. He didn't.”


    The Rev. Truman Parker, son of Everett Parker, detailed his father’s long list of accomplishments beyond the WLBT case, including creating educational shows for children and preparing reports on the early days of religious broadcasting. Parker recalled a childhood home that was filled with props for the shows his father produced and boxes of filings on the hiring practices of television and radio stations to which his father had demanded access.


    In a review of OC Inc’s successes of the past year, Board Chairman Earl Williams Jr. praised the FCC’s plans to move forward this week on further capping predatory prison telephone rates. He also commended the agency for its Open Internet Order and for moving forward on making broadband Internet access more affordable for low-income households.


    Since its founding in 1959, the United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc., has worked to create just and equitable media structures that give a meaningful voice to diverse peoples, cultures and ideas. 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/parker.

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