Yesterday I attended the most recent of a lunch series organized by the Public Policy Communicators of NYC (PPC-NYC). The luncheon was focused on 'Navigating the Shifting Media Landscape' and its aim was to discuss several major recent developments that are contributing to the fractured media landscape and how media policy affects these issues. The group of approximately 30 or so experts discussed several topics including the importance of preserving network neutrality, how major media corporations are attempting to dominate public discourse, and how to best focus the efforts of all our organizations in light of current and future media policy.
The discussion started off with Knight Foundation consultant Vince Stehle highlighting some of the key elements from the Knight Commission report 'Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age.' He talked briefly about the specific recommendations to maximize the availability of relevant and credible information to all Americans and their communities, the importance of strengthening the capacity of individuals to engage with information, and the necessity to promote individual engagement with information and the public life of the community.
Because PPC-NYC's members consist primarily of foundation communication professionals and leaders from progressive non-profit organizations, there is an inherent understanding about the importance of having free and open information in a society. And as Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibarügen remarked earlier this week to a group at the 2010 Free Press Summit in Washington DC, "Information is at the heart of democracy."
Because of that inherent understanding, it was hardly surprising that the recommendations of the Knight Commission seemed to strongly resonate with the goals and efforts of this group. In fact, the group proved to be natural audience for this kind of thinking. Furthermore, there was also understanding and appreciation that without sound media policies that speak to the need for a clear and open flow of information, the basic tenets of not just the Internet are at risk, but so are the tenets of a democracy.
What I found most encouraging is that there seemed to be an agreement that no matter what area foundations and non-profit organizations are engaged in, whether it is health, environment, or other social justice issues, that the importance of sound media policy resonates with everyone. Without access to a free and open Internet, there are invariable restrictions on the capacity of individuals to engage with information. Without an open Internet, the ability to promote individual engagement with information becomes limited, threatening the work that is the heart of all of what we do. The need for an open Internet and access to technology is an issue that people can engage with, coalesce around and begin to integrate it into their everyday thinking and work. The importance of having information and strengthening the capacity of people to engage with information cuts across sectors.
We know the challenges we face, the digital divide, a lack of media literacy in certain communities, and an uphill battle against corporate interests. But more importantly we know what is as stake. Together we can figure out how to best implement the recommendations of the Knight Commission. It is up to each of us to do what we can in our own ways to make these tenets a reality.
-- Elizabeth Miller is a Senior Program Associate with The Overbrook Foundation.