Weapons of Mass Persuasion
By March 19, the major TV networks had done their advance work well. After months of promotion, millions of U.S. viewers were united in eager anticipation of a prime time extravaganza. Perched on their couches, anxious for the catharsis of a neatly crushed Iraqi military, they watched with "shock and awe" as U.S. and British forces launched their long-awaited sequel -- Gulf War II.
However, due largely to advances in personal computing and electronic communications, opposition to the latest U.S.-led war also spread rapidly before it even began. Though much has been written about the impact of the Internet on antiwar organizing, little has been said about the advent of antiwar TV. Yet this relatively recent development has informed, expanded, and mobilized the ranks of the antiwar movement while engaging millions of others who otherwise would be forced to rely on the empty and often inaccurate drivel of mainstream TV. After years of concerted effort, activist media makers have built independent networks that reflect a commitment to progressive values, public education, and participatory democracy.
National television outlets rarely if ever offer in-depth analysis of U.S. foreign and domestic policy, not to mention shows that document organized opposition to war. Filling this vacuum, as the 1990s began, was one of the first antiwar TV campaigns to air nationally: The Gulf War Crisis TV Project was the first series designed to mobilize people against U.S. imperialism in Iraq and the Middle East. Created through a wide collaboration of filmmakers, peace activists and war resisters, it was produced and distributed over public access TV by the Deep Dish collective and broadcast on the 90's Channel, the first full-time progressive network to air independent productions on cable systems around the country.
In 1995, when this independent network was forced off the air by TCI, then the world's largest cable system, 90's Channel co-founder John Schwartz launched a new initiative called Free Speech Television (FSTV). Unable to acquire a full-time cable channel, FSTV began distributing free progressive programming to a network of 50 community access cable stations across the country.
During this formative period, FSTV's content included a broad range of programs acquired from independent film and videomakers. America's Defense Monitor, one of the first series to air on FSTV, is still broadcast today. Produced by the Center for Defense Information, America's Defense Monitor presents critical analyses of U.S. foreign policy, military expansion, nuclear and conventional weapons, and international affairs.
At the edge of the new century, an unprecedented convergence of anti- globalization activists, video collectives, print journalists, and photographers at the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle created the first Independent Media Center (IMC). Enhancing audience access for journalists and videographers, it operated in collaboration with Paper Tiger TV, Deep Dish TV, Whispered Media, and Free Speech TV, and produced a daily televised report on the street protests and police repression surrounding that WTO meeting. The tremendous impact of the first IMC subsequently inspired the formation of others on every continent. Today there are over 100 IMC collectives, and thousands of new indy journalists who work with them to break through the corporate media blockade.
Coinciding with the birth of the IMC movement, another progressive network was born when WorldLink TV acquired a channel on DirecTV and DISH Network, as part of the new federally mandated public interest obligation. In 1998, after years of political and legal struggle by independent media advocates, the FCC began enforcing a requirement of the 1992 Cable Act requiring Direct Broadcast Satellite companies to set aside four to seven percent of their spectrum for non-commercial educational uses.
WorldLink presents alternative perspectives, news from around the world, and international cultural programming. One of its most provocative programs is Mosaic, a compilation of daily reports from dozens of TV stations throughout the Middle East. WorldLink also airs a regular program of media criticism hosted by Globalvision's Danny Schecter. In January 2000, Free Speech TV was awarded a full-time satellite channel on DISH Network, and since then has provided free programming to its community cable affiliates.
Responding to Crisis
The events of Sept. 11 and the U.S. government's war against Afghanistan compelled the independent media community to further solidify and expand its international network of activists, journalists, and filmmakers. Within nine days of the 2001 attacks, Free Speech TV began producing and broadcasting "World in Crisis," a top-of-the-hour news update that evolved into a half-hour weekly current affairs program. It provides a national outlet for people to speak out on peace, tolerance, and civil liberties.
Immediately after 9/11, journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez of the nationally syndicated radio program Democracy Now! also launched telecasts on Free Speech TV. Presenting news and critical analysis, Democracy Now! is a vital forum for many of those excluded from the mainstream media. Today, in the midst of yet another U.S. war, the show continues to serve as a lifeline for viewers who are angry at the government's policies at home and abroad.
In July 2002, World in Crisis evolved into FSTV's partner-driven Mobile-Eyes campaigns. For these national "teach-ins," FSTV focuses on a single issue and forms partnerships with social justice organizations seeking national press coverage. Action alerts created in cooperation with partner groups, along with public service announcements listing contact information, are broadcast as part of each Mobile-Eyes campaign.
FSTV's November 2002 campaign, Mobile-Eyes against Military Interventions, focused on the history of U.S. military interventions, the current U.S. role as sole superpower, and the movement to stop the war in Iraq. Among other programs, the series featured a roundtable discussion on the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive strikes, footage from a CUNY teach-in, several recently released documentaries on U.S. policy in the Middle East, and coverage of 15 antiwar demonstrations from around the world. Partners included the American Friends Service Committee, International ANSWER, National Network to End the War in Iraq, and the Not In Our Name Project.
FSTV's current campaign, Mobile-Eyes: Resisting War & Repression, has included live broadcasts (often with national radio simulcasts via Pacifica Radio) from the major antiwar demonstrations in New York City, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. Current partners include the Institute for Policy Studies, United for Peace & Justice, Global Exchange, and the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, along with partners from the military interventions campaign.
Shortly before the U.S. invaded Iraq, WorldLink TV launched The Active Opposition, a series hosted by actor and activist Peter Coyote. It features analysis and commentary on the Bush administration's war policies, critique of the mainstream media coverage, and recent footage from Middle East TV networks.
With the onset of war, both WorldLink and FSTV preempted their regular programming to provide round-the-clock coverage of the U.S.-led attacks as well as antiwar actions. FSTV collaborated with WorldLink TV and Pacifica Radio to produce two days of live coverage from the streets and studios of San Francisco, including interviews with leaders of the antiwar movement, and footage from Middle Eastern television networks on responses to the war abroad.
Since September 2002, Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio, WorldLink TV, FSTV, Multimedia Group, and the INN Report, an alternative news magazine produced in collaboration with New York indymedia activists, have mounted what can only be described as a historic initiative to provide the international community with a front-row seat to some of the largest antiwar demonstrations since the Vietnam War. Live satellite uplink collaborations have shown millions of people in the U.S. and around the world that the country is not unified on the need for an invasion.
Toting camcorders, computers and satellite uplink equipment, people from independent media organizations are collaborating in ways that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Not only are networks like Free Speech TV and WorldLink airing footage of peace rallies around the world, they're also offering the international community free coverage of U.S. antiwar mobilizations. In March alone, the coverage produced by Pacifica, FSTV and WorldLink was downlinked by the European Broadcast Union, a network of about 80 community radio and public television stations, and the Arab Radio and Television Network, which operates a dozen channels throughout the Middle East.
Expressing the hope that antiwar TV will continue to combat the distortions of the mainstream media, FSTV producer Brian Drolet says, "Most people around the world recognize that this war on Iraq, and the 12 years of bombings and sanctions that preceded it, has been orchestrated by a small number of ruling elites. But to the extent that it seems that all Americans are united behind this war, which is the image the US government tries to portray, Americans themselves -- innocent civilians -- become targets for people who are filled with anger for what the US government and corporations are doing."
Drolet argues that providing the world with the real story -- that many people in the U.S. don't support their government's belligerent policies, just as most people in Iraq didn't support the policies of Saddam Hussein -- will raise questions and legitimate the opposition before the lives of more innocent civilians in other countries are lost. The ultimate hope is that the cycle of violence can finally be stopped.
Linda Mamoun is the communications manager of Free Speech TV.