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Phil Donahue, Seymour Hersh among speakers at U. of I. media conference

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Media consolidation and freedom of the press will be the themes for a May 10-11 conference at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, featuring a prominent group of journalists, artists, activists, media executives, policy-makers and scholars.

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, the keynote speaker, will headline a group that includes former talk-show host Phil Donahue, broadcast journalist Amy Goodman, Washington correspondent John Nichols and author Naomi Klein, among others.

The journalists participating are “really a who’s who of prominent independent journalists,” according to Robert McChesney, the director of the Illinois Initiative for Media Policy Research, the sponsor of the event.

Titled “Can Freedom of the Press Survive Media Consolidation?” the conference is the first for IIMPR, which was established last fall in the College of Communications at Illinois, traditionally a leader in the field of media studies.

The intent of the conference is to bring together people “who have a lot to say” on the current state of the U.S. media, says McChesney, who also is a professor in the Institute of Communications Research at Illinois.

“The conference is going to be a chance to really get this issue into play, get it talked about, enlighten a lot of us and have a discussion on not only the effects of media consolidation, but how we as a society want to address it if we accept that it is a legitimate concern,” McChesney said.

The conference is free and open to the public, and the discussion will be framed for a general audience, McChesney said. “It will not presume any set of advance knowledge. We want this to be not just a university event, but a community event,” he said.

Hersh, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New Yorker magazine, broke the story in 2004 of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He will speak at 5 p.m. on May 10 to open the conference. His talk, “The Chain of Command: From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib,” will be in Foellinger Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The talk also is part of the Center for Advanced Study/MillerComm series.

The conference then will formally open later that evening with a panel discussion in Foellinger Auditorium featuring remarks from Goodman, Klein and U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.

The rest of the conference will be a series of four panel discussions on May 11 in the Festival Theater at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, 500 S. Goodwin Ave., Urbana. Each session that day will open with short talks by the participants, speaking on the conference themes, followed by discussion and questions from the audience.

The full list of panel participants, in addition to Hersh:

Roberta Baskin, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, and an investigative journalist who has worked for “20/20” and “Now With Bill Moyers.”

Phil Donahue, host of “The Phil Donahue Show,” a television talk show that ran from 1967 to 1996.

Bill Fletcher Jr., the president and CEO of TransAfrica Forum, and a former executive with the AFL-CIO.

Linda Foley, the president of the Newspaper Guild.

Danny Goldberg, the CEO of Air America Radio, a liberal talk-radio network, and a former chairman and CEO of Artemis Records.

Amy Goodman, the host of Pacifica Network’s “Democracy Now!” news program, and co-author of the book “The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them.”

Len Hill, a veteran movie producer who has become a major figure in the battle to preserve an independent production sector in Hollywood.

Paul Jay, a documentary filmmaker and founder of Independent World Television, a global news network seeking to begin broadcasting in 2007.

Naomi Klein, a columnist for The Nation magazine and the author of “No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies.”

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation and co-author, with McChesney, of “Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media.”

U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, a member of the Progressive Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, and an advocate for media reform.

Orville Schell, the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkley, and a frequent correspondent for “Frontline,” a PBS program.

Ben Scott, policy director for Free Press, an organization founded by McChesney in 2002 to advocate for public awareness and participation in media policy and reform.

Dennis Swanson, CEO of Viacom Television Stations Group, and formerly president of ABC Sports and general manager of WLS-TV in Chicago.

The schedule of panel discussions and the panelists:

Tuesday, May 10
Foellinger Auditorium
7:30-9:30 p.m. – Goodman, Klein and Sanders

Wednesday, May 11
Festival Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
9-10:30 a.m. – Foley, Hersh, Nichols and Schell
10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Donahue, Hill and Klein
1:45-3:15 p.m. – Baskin, Goldberg, Jay and Swanson
3:30-5 p.m. – Fletcher, Goodman and Scott

McChesney said another purpose of the conference is to build linkages not only among the media scholars attending the event, but among scholars, activists, policy-makers and journalists. “We hope we can begin to break down the barrier between the academy and the policy-making realm,” he said.

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