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Editorial Reflections

Media reformer led church to advocate for media access

In September, broadcast media reformer, the Rev. Everett Parker, died at the age of 102.  I knew him through communications workshops and national events of the United Church of Christ (UCC).  In his role as director of the UCC Office of Communication from 1954 to 1983, he had an impact on my understandings of journalists’ responsibilities.

He advocated for the public’s rights related to media.  His efforts contributed to coverage of and employment of women and people of color in broadcast media.

He is best known for his challenge to deny the renewal of the license of WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss.  In 1966, the federal circuit court ruled citizen groups have standing—the right to be heard and appeal to courts—before government regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Everett knew that because broadcasters, use public airwaves they are required to serve the “public interest” of all their constituents.

For years, the only blacks on Mississippi TV were in police custody.  In 1962, WLBT cut the broadcast of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, then the legal counsel for the NAACP, on the Today show.

Black leaders approached Everett, who organized a team in Jackson to monitor a week of WLBT programs to see if it complied.  It did not.  The UCC filed a petition for the FCC to deny renewal of the license.  The FCC said neither the UCC nor local citizens had “legal standing” to influence renewal proceedings.  The UCC appealed and won standing.  The FCC renewed WLBT’s license, so the UCC appealed, and the federal appeals court judge revoked the station’s license.

The UCC Office of Communication began to monitor broadcast media employment and coverage practices.  Stations began paying attention to their need to serve their entire constituency, particularly people of color.  With UCC help, groups in hundreds of communities negotiated with stations for better coverage.

In an obituary, the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a former executive director of the UCC Office of Communication (OC), said Everett’s “clarity and insistence that ethics, accessibility, diversity and social justice are central to, not peripheral to, a fair and effective media forever changed the landscape of broadcast journalism,” skewing it “toward fuller inclusion.”

Under Everett, the OC also led a public relations campaign that in 2012 won exoneration of the Wilmington 10, nine young black men and a white woman, falsely accused in 1972 of conspiracy and arson during racial turmoil in that city.

Linda Jaramillo, executive minister of the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries, said he “saw the institutionalization of racism and classism in the communications industry” and disrupted “unequal practices through public policy change.”

Connie Larkman, managing editor and news director for the UCC, said Everett was “a leading force in the struggle to ensure that women, persons of color and low-income persons have equal access to ownership, production, employment and decision-making in media.”

These comments remind me that efforts for media reform must continue.

For example, we need new The Black Lens, because perspectives it covers are not in the mainstream media, but should be.

In all media, voices are limited by the definition of “news” by editors, publishers, directors and producers.  Women and people of color may work in media, but voices they share still tend to be those of the corporate mindsets of what sells, entertains and is the most profitable.

Media have an obligation to be bearers of truth, not purveyors of polls, polarities, popularism and propaganda.

As was evident in the work of Everett’s leadership in the United Church of Christ, the community of faith has an obligation to monitor media and call it to be accountable to all the people.

May people of faith continue the legacy of Everett Parker.

Mary Stamp - Editor


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