Benton Foundation Accepts The Dirk Koning-George Stoney Award

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Prepared Remarks of Adrianne B. Furniss
on Accepting
The Dirk Koning-George Stoney Award
Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference
August 14, 2015

Communication is about the connections between people, how they choose to live together, and how they address common challenges.

Thank you. Thank you, Mike [Wassenaar] for that generous introduction. Personally, as you can imagine, and for all of us at the Benton Foundation, 2015 has been a rough year. But the outpouring of love and support we’ve received from all corners has been amazing. Charles Benton would have been so thrilled to realize how many lives he touched and impacted. And I am so honored to be here with you all to accept The Dirk Koning – George Stoney Award.

Charles was driven by intertwined passions: communications and community. For Charles, communication is so much more than the exchange of information; it is about the connections between people, how they choose to live together, and how they address common challenges.

I am not sure that Charles knew Dirk Koning, but reading Chuck Peterson’s online remembrances, they were birds of a feather. They shared a common Southwest heritage, they embraced bolo ties, they treasured the paradox of loving and hating technology, and they lived comfortably in their own skins, being paid to pretty much be themselves.

But Charles was a longtime friend of George Stoney, the father of public access television. In fact, Charles introduced me to Stoney when I moved to New York City right after college in the late seventies. They shared a vision of film as a tool for voiceless people. They shared a belief that documentary film, teamed with public access TV, would help enable community building.

When Charles died, Milos Stehlik, a Chicago film critic and fellow film distributor, sent my family a note saying, “I think Charles was the last person I know who dared to dream the dream of what film could be: a means of democratizing society, a way of expanding the act of seeing, a catalyst for engagement in social and global issues. Charles was the true believer that film could truly open eyes, overcome prejudice, change attitudes, help find common ground, provide everyone with a level playing field.”

Through the work of the Benton Foundation, Charles sought policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; he wanted to demonstrate the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and he believed in providing information resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates. Enhancing community and democracy have always been our guide stars.

Charles Benton saw the fundamental mission of access TV to be facilitating and encouraging a diversity of speech by a broad range of speakers.

I know Charles was a regular at ACM conferences, trying to place your work in the context of other public interest communication struggles: Digital Literacy and the Digital Divide. The Digital Television transition. Meaningful broadband access for schools and libraries. Municipal broadband. The high cost of Prison phone rates. In fact, my first exposure to ACM was three years ago in Chicago when Charles asked me to attend a panel he was moderating addressing State and Federal Broadband Policy issues.

Today I’m here to say that the key community communications issue of 2015, and for Benton Foundation, is the preservation and expansion of the FCC’s Lifeline program to bring broadband service to low income families. If we are working to include everyone in our democracy, in our debates about where our communities are going, then we need everyone online. We need everyone’s voice or else critical populations will be left out. We must make use of all policymakers’ tools to ensure that modern communications are available and affordable for all.

Charles saw the fundamental mission of access TV to be facilitating and encouraging a diversity of speech by a broad range of speakers. He saw PEG centers as the critical training grounds for people and nonprofits, agencies and institutions, so they could become media creators and control their own message. That role is as crucial as ever. Those voices that access centers enable, those messages need to be available and easily accessible on multiple platforms to reach the intended audience. Via cable or the Internet, this content deserves the broadest possible dissemination.

I accept this award in Charles’ name, but in the foundation’s, too. Our missions remained aligned, our goals the same. I look forward to continuing our work together – and reaching our shared goal of enhancing American democracy.

By Adrianne B. Furniss.