Written by Anthony Moujaes
Inspiring media justice advocates were honored Oct. 1 as a breakfast audience of media executives, faith leaders and advocates gathered at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington for the 31st Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Lecture.
The United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc., the media justice ministry of the Protestant denomination of nearly 5,100 local congregations, established the Parker Lectureship in 1983 to recognize Parker’s pioneering work as an advocate for the public’s rights in broadcasting.
Hilary O. Shelton, head of the Washington office of the NAACP and this year’s Parker Lecturer, noted that this was the 50th anniversary of key events such as the March on Washington that occurred in 1963, "a year in which, thanks to the media, which was really beginning to really cover our struggles, we were able to take our cause to a much bigger audience." But, he cautioned, "Although much has changed, much has also stayed the same." Shelton cited several examples were continued vigilance is needed.
"When Everett Parker began his now-famous successful challenge to WLBT’s license (in Jackson, Miss.) in 1964," he said, "television was a new medium and it was one of the few means of mass communication. Today the broadcast television stations are joined by cable and satellite television, and computers, the Internet, and social media, just for starters."
But today, he added, because of media consolidation, "90 percent of what see, hear or read" comes from a handful of privately owned corporations. "This is dangerous," he said, "and counter to what Everett Parker and so many others fought for in the 1960s. In short, it is contrary to media diversity."
Besides recognizing Shelton’s advocacy for diversity in the media and his instrumental role in the passage of key pieces of federal legislation, the Oct. 1 event also honored two other advocates for the public interest in telecommunications.
Albert H. Kramer received the Everett C. Parker Award, recognizing an individual whose work embodies the principals and values of the public interest in telecommunications. Among other achievements, he founded the Citizens’ Communication Center and spent 20 years on the board of directors of the Media Access Project and the Communications Consortium Media Center.
Malkia Amala Cyril, founder of the Center for Media Justice and co-founder of the Media Action Grassoots Network (MAGNet), received the Donald H. McGannon Award, given in recognition of special contributions in advancing the roles of women and persons of color in the media, and in Cyril’s case, the media reform movement.
Speakers at the event also celebrated the leadership of Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in pushing the Federal Communications Commission to vote in August to end the exorbitant telephone rates that families and friends of prisoners were often forced to pay to stay in touch with their loved ones. The issue had been highlighted at the Parker Lecture in 2012.
W. Evan Golder is a board member for the Office of Communications, Inc., and the editor emeritus of United Church News.