Communication | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Sociology


This report examines the academic literature focused on public interest media and communications activism and advocacy within the U.S. and abroad (labeled, in the name of brevity, the “media reform” movement throughout this report). This report first seeks to outline the parameters of the movement under consideration, in terms of the primary conceptual frames employed, outcomes pursued, and strategic approaches. As this section illustrates, the media reform movement is characterized by a diverse array of conceptual frames (ranging from “media reform” to “media justice” to “communication rights” to “media democracy”), and a hesitancy at this point to coalesce around a single unifying frame. The movement is similarly diverse in terms of its outcome priorities and in terms of the strategic approaches employed by its various member organizations. The second section of the report charts the origins and evolution of the research in this field. As this section illustrates, over time the analytical approach that scholars have brought to the topic increasingly has adopted a social movement theory perspective. The third section considers the media reform movement as a social movement, identifying key recurring themes in the literature related to the interaction between media reform and other social movements, to the relationship between social movements and the media, and to the organization and performance of the organizations driving the media reform movement. As this section illustrates, media reform is unique in the extent to which its goals can facilitate the success of other social movements, but also is uniquely hampered by the extent to which traditional mainstream media are motivated to deny press coverage to media reform. This section also highlights some of the most common critiques leveled at the media reform movement, ranging from a lack of coordination and collaboration between groups, to a lack of a strong nation-wide constituency, to a primarily reactive orientation toward policy issues. The concluding section summarizes the key findings of the report and offers a series of recommendations related to strategic approaches for the movement and to avenues for future research.