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Building a Left Wing CNN

Canadian Paul Jay's drive to create Independent World Television.

Donald Gutstein 13 Jun

Donald Gutstein, a former professor in the School of Communication at SFU, is the author of The Big Stall, Harperism, and three other books on links between corporations, politics and media.

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Independent World Television will go public on June 15. The goal, as bold as it is big, is to create an alternative news and current affairs network that is, as its name implies, global in reach and free from corporate or government pressures.

The network’s success depends on changing the economics of media, with an audacious plan to raise $25 million a year made up of $50 donations from half a million people around the world. Money from business, advertisers and government will be prohibited.

Independent World Television is the brain child of Paul Jay, a Toronto-based award-winning documentary film-maker who made the film Return to Kandahar. Jay is also former executive producer of CBC Newsworld’s debate program Counterspin and the founder of Hot Docs.

If successful, IWTnews will have its own digital TV channels in Canada, the U.S. and other countries, and programming will be offered on its web site. Jay and his associates are negotiating with public and non-profit channels in North America, Europe and elsewhere to carry IWT programs. Link TV will carry IWT programming, ensuring that 25 million U.S. home will have access to IWT shows.

Progressive braintrust

On February 15, 2003, 15 million people around the world protested the illegal American invasion of Iraq. That impressive organizing effort convinced Jay and others that independent world television, supported by its viewers, was possible. They would use the Internet -- which allows millions of people to band together – to raise the money. Jay has brought on board key strategists from the Howard Dean presidential campaign who were astonishingly successful in raising millions of dollars in small amounts over the Internet.

The 98-member IWT advisory committee reads like a who’s who of progressive left activism and journalism, especially from the US. The list includes Lewis Lapham of Harper’s Magazine, Gore Vidal, Jeff Cohen, Laura Flanders and Janine Jackson from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, and Janeane Garofalo of Air America.

Among the 35 Canadians on the committee are familiar names like Patrick Watson, Bill Roberts of Vision TV, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis, Stephen Lewis and filmmaker Alan King. From other countries the advisory board contains people like investigative journalist Greg Palast, anti-nuclear armaments activist Helen Calidicott, and former U.K. Labour Minister Tony Benn.

IWT’s prospectus is available on its preliminary web site. Sample programming consists of six hours of programs five days a week. These include one hour of citizen journalism from around the world, the evening news, an issue-focused debate show, a show in which journalists and experts analyze the day’s major stories, an investigative program, feature-length documentaries, a show on the global political economy, political satire, issues from the south, environmental issues and a show profiling how people have organized their campaigns.

Dead, and buried

What difference might it make to have IWT up and beaming around the world?

Consider the story of Cherif Bassiouni, an Egyptian law professor and 1999 nominee for the Nobel peace prize.

Bassiouni was the top United Nations human rights investigator in Afghanistan until he was fired by the U.N. at the insistence of the United States.

Bassiouni’s crime, evidently, was that he wrote a report in April 2005 accusing U.S. and coalition forces of refusing to allow him to interview alleged al-Quaeda prisoners at the Kandahar and Bagram bases. There was much worse. He charged the military with breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents, detaining prisoners without trial, and torturing detainees. He also claimed that U.S.-led forces committed ”sexual abuse, beatings, torture and the use of force resulting in death.”

The story was sent out over the Inter-Press Service, a non-profit news service based in the South and posted on several alternative web sites. Bassiouni was interviewed by Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman.

Bassiouni’s charges should be of great concern to us in Canada since coalition forces include 2,000 Canadian troops. Did our boys and girls participate in these heinous crimes? Canadians who read their daily newspapers or watched television news heard nothing about Bassiouni’s report or his firing, except for readers of the Edmonton Journal, who found a small story in the paper’s front section.

Narrow sources

The same day the report was released, the National Post ran another predictable front-page Stewart Bell to-the-ramparts-Islamic-terrorists-are-infiltrating-the-country story, and the Toronto Star ran a piece about an Afghan businesswoman who opened a boutique in Kabul, proving that women were gaining the right to pursue careers in that conservative country.

These may be important stories but they are not the whole story.

The view we get of events in Afghanistan and the 95 percent of the world outside our borders is filtered through the lens of Western-based global media giants. Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few entertainment conglomerates, whose interests determine the quantity and quality of news coverage. They favour infotainment over investigation. And when they do provide information, it is usually through Western eyes.

World news in the Vancouver Sun comes from a narrow range of sources – The Daily Telegraph and Associated Press. The National Post uses Reuters, Agence France Presse and The Telegraph while Global TV often uses CNN and other unnamed sources. The Globe and Mail, to its credit, relies on its own correspondents who are spread around the world. But they are still Western correspondents looking at the world through Western eyes.

Chance for change

At the same time, public broadcasters like the CBC – which also has its own world-wide correspondents -- are experiencing drastic budget cuts, severely impeding their ability to tell us stories from a non-corporate perspective.

So, while we’re usually inundated with stories about how bad the media are, it’s a refreshing change to have good media news to report. On Tuesday, June 14 there will be two presentations of a video about IWT at the Vancouver Film School’s main theatre at 420 Homer Street. Showings are 7:00 and 8:30. Paul Jay will be present to answer your questions.

Come to the showing and listen to one proposal to bring sanity and balance back into a media system that has moved far away from its function as a mainstay of democracy.

Donald Gutstein, a senior lecturer in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University, writes regularly for the Tyee on media.  [Tyee]

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