Friday :: Jun 3, 2005

It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Media World

by pessimist

Ever since the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, Mo. a couple of weeks back, I've been noticing some unusual things going on with the media, not the least of which has been a more open willingness by major media outlets to challenge Bu$hCo assertions of positivism all across the issue spectrum in their coverage. I welcome these changes in what had been a completely compliant media, but I certainly have to wonder if we are ready for THIS sort of change:

Limbaugh of the Left

Matrix Media announced a deal for Al Sharpton to host a "Limbaugh of the Left"-type talk radio show. Yesterday, Sharpton contacted [Lloyd Grove of the New York Post] to say he's eager to accept the sort-of offer to (as Limbaugh put it on his own show Friday) "let [Sharpton] guest-host the program for, like, 30 minutes at a time while I am sitting here critiquing him." Sharpton told me: "I was a little surprised, but I'm willing to take him up on his speculative offer.
"I think it would be interesting. It would be something that both of us can learn from. He can learn some of the thoughts of the left, and I can learn some of the techniques of the right. Let's see if he's serious."
Yesterday Limbaugh's producer, Kit Carson, assured me that he's in earnest. "At this point, Rush is still undecided," Carson said. "He's very flattered that Rev. Sharpton is interested in doing this. Rush is still considering giving him some pointers, some tutoring. Rush also believes that Rev. Sharpton has the best shot of anyone to be the Limbaugh of the Left. He is also very impressed that he has the humility to admit he has something to learn. ... So we'll see."

If anyone can out-shout Rush it's Reverend Al. I got to see his give-as-good-as-you-get style when Sharpton was on Meet The Press with Jerry Falwell. But that wasn't the craziest thing come out of the post-St. Louis media fog:

Idealist's grail: Network TV beholden only to the public

"No corporate ownership. No corporate underwriting. No government funding. No commercial advertising."
Paul Jay intends to "change the economics of journalism." The Toronto producer is a man on a very big mission. He's "running to meetings, raising dough, making allies" all to build Independent World Television (IWT), "the world's first global independent news network," to beam it out to the English-speaking world and to base it right here in the GTA. [Greater Toronto Area - ed]

Two weeks ago, he unveiled it at the National Conference for Media Reform in St. Louis, Mo., where he was hailed as a 'visionary' for devising a way to counter a celebrity and trivia-obsessed corporate media structure focused more on the bottom line than the public interest. "We think that, as long as you're dependent on commercials, or if you're corporately owned and you have to be concerned about shareholders and the broader corporate interest, or if you have to take money from a government that appoints your president and your chair and can cut your budget at any time, you can't really have independent journalism," he insists.

He intends to "harness the economic power of the Internet," the way and the Howard Dean and John Kerry presidential campaigns did in the U.S., raising tens and tens of millions of dollars in small donations. Already Jay's got half a million in seed money from charitable trusts, foundations, wealthy individuals and unions. He has access to their email lists and to their memberships. And he has a business plan he's been labouring over for two years. Jay's next move is to find half a million contributors with $50 each, plus a desire for "independent news and real debate" untainted by any corporate or government spin.

Jay says he got the idea for Independent World Television on Feb. 15, 2003, when as many as 20 million people around the world got out to protest the impending attack on Iraq. It was a turnout that was grossly underplayed in the then-overtly flag-waving U.S. media. "I don't think in human history there has been a political event on such a scale," he observes. "So I said to myself, if we could harness the economic power of all this: There's enough people who feel a sense of urgency and consciousness, who have the sense that so much news reporting is just spin being reported as if it were news."

Jay maintains that there's a demand for independent television news coverage, free of spin, sensationalism and Michael Jackson trials. He learned that from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. "Stewart is popular because he says the emperor has no clothes," says Jay. "He says audacious things that you don't normally hear on TV. Well, we're going to have a whole network that's willing to say audacious things, that doesn't have to worry about how the advertisers will respond.

You can be sure that Jay has developed many contacts, on both sides of the political scale, during his time as executive producer of CBC Newsworld's nightly debate show, counterSpin. And, judging from his award-winning films, both for Canadian and American networks, including Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows and Return to Kandahar, he knows how to draw audiences.

"I'm not saying we are going beat Desperate Housewives," he adds. "But if we can get a significant portion of the 20-24 per cent of the population that's already quite politicized, that's a good base. We'd be doing equal numbers with most of the cable channels."

Now the challenge is to find distribution, on satellite and cable. Jay says he has had encouraging preliminary talks with both Canadian and U.S. cable operators. He has also hooked up with the public interest group Link TV in the U.S. where satellite operators must set aside bandwidth for publicly mandated channels. "So we have a big foot in the door in the U.S."

As for Canada, his hope is that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) licenses Independent World Television as a 'must-carry' digital channel.

"From a business point of view, we can't be critiqued," says Jay, explaining that distributors will get the programming for free. "If anybody tries to stop us, it will clearly be for political reasons." And nowadays, politics have everything to do with the economics of journalism. "We don't think it's only television," he says.

Not Your Daddy's FAUX News

Jay believes the time to strike could not be better, as millions are turning to alternative sources on the Internet. But IWT is not going to a 'liberal' channel. "We're going to have lots of debate and we're going to be very fair about the debate," he hastens to say. "We think the times are very very dangerous and that people aren't going to be passive about them. We think people have connected the issue of information, of knowledge, of having the right to know with deciding how to act.

"We'll see if we're right."

Ona technical level, there is no reason why he couldn't match CNN for the ability to cover the world. On an economic level, Pacifica radio stations all across America - including one in Red State Texas - have been kept operational largely through the donations of its listeners.

But television is a very expensive proposition compared to radio. Even using industrial-grade equipment where possible, it still takes millions of dollars to do what Jay proposes to do. I think he's on the right track, and I'm hoping that he seeks additional outlets for his programming distribution - and not only through cable television companies, for these - just like the newspapers and telelvision networks he's attempting to circumvent - are subject to being purchased for the express purpose of taking him down. He should look to the Air America story for information on that possibility.

But all-in-all, I wish him luck and success. The world needs an American alternative to Bu$hCo News - even if it has to be based in Toronto to protect itself from Bu$hCo's politicized FCC.

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