Equalizing First Amendment Megaphones

Cross-posted from IP Democracy:

A post by Cynthia sent me over to The Nation's web site to check out some of the articles in the publication's July 3 National Entertainment State issue.  One of the first I saw, by filmmaker and political activist Robert Greenwald, struck me as important.  While the piece was aimed at left-leaning readers of The Nation, its message seems to apply more broadly.

Greenwald said that, while his production company, Brave New Films "spent relative pennies on [a] satirical ad promoting its new film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," the ad became "a viral hit" and "the number-two trailer on iFilm."

We used our online expertise (developed in short order over the past four films) and our amazing 150 organizational partners (recruited by our in-house organizer in advance) to solicit and publicize screenings of the DVD in schools, churches, homes, union halls, pizza parlors--any place there was a TV set and a DVD player. We reached 700,000 people in one week with the Wal-Mart film. Likewise, through similar methods, our film Outfoxed hit number one on Amazon with zero money spent on traditional ads.

Greenwald also noted that his Brave New Films associate Jim Gilliam has developed a software program "that anyone can use to host a screening--a political or indie filmmaker, a politician wanting to show a film--anyone who wants to recruit participants for a screening. And it is free!"

But Greenwald, an experienced producer, also understands the importance of high-quality content and storytelling, as well as the differences in media:

We also need to put time, energy and resources into how we tell stories. The form, the length, the size of the image, will affect whether or not our stories are heard. We all need to begin experimenting and figuring out how to tell a story for the cellphone. One thing I know: It's not the same as telling a story for a full-length DVD or theatrical screening.

With our next film, Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, we will use all the latest techniques to reach different audiences, to tell the story in film, in viral pieces, for iPods and for cellphones. It's a new-media era, for sure. And those who are quickest, smartest and most creative--not those who have the most money or own the most media outlets--are the ones who are going to get their messages out.

Greenwald's piece reminded me what I love about the Internet and why I think it's a vital element of 21st century economic and political infrastructure--one that would bring a smile to the face of both Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson.  

By enabling relatively friction-free information flows, the Internet's basic architecture supports the "invisible hand" that makes for healthy and vibrant capitalism, as well as the entrepreneurial-driven "creative destruction" described by Schumpeter.  

At the same time, combined with low-cost media production tools, a neutral Internet greatly lowers the financial costs of a First Amendment megaphone to rival those wielded by corporate giants (as Greenwald's experience suggests).  This, in turn, promises to help move our political democracy out of the one-dollar/one-vote mode back in the direction of one-person/one-vote.

As I've said here before, I think an appreciation of this value is what fuels support for net neutrality and municipal broadband.  And, to some extent, it may be fear of too much "creative destruction" impacting our current economic and political structures that fuels opposition to these two related movements. These different views of "creative destruction" also help fuel the antagonism between mainstream media and much of the blogging community, as well as the pitched battle over copyright protection.  Personally, I'm hoping for a peaceful (r)evolution in our economic and political systems built around a neutral Internet.  And I'd like to believe that both Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson, if they were alive today, would be as well.

Tags: capitalism, democracy, First Amendment, Internet, net neutrality (all tags)

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