Weapons of Mass Persuasion
Anti-war TV challenges the
corporate media "consensus"
by Linda Mamoun
Toward Freedom, Spring 2003
By March 19, the major TV networks , had
done their advance work well. After months of promotion, millions
of US viewers were eagerly anticipating a prime time extravaganza.
Anxious for the catharsis of a neatly crushed Iraqi military,
they watched with "shock and awe" as US and British
forces launched their long-awaited sequel-Gulf War II.
However, there s another US public, one
not so eager or united. Due largely to advances in personal computing
and electronic communications, opposition to the latest US-led
war spread rapidly before it began. Although much has been written
about the impact of the lnternet on anti-war organizing, relatively
little has been said about the advent of anti-war TV. Yet this
recent development has informed, expanded, and mobilized the ranks
of the movement while engaging millions who otherwise would be
forced to rely on the empty, often inaccurate drivel of mainstream
After years of concerted effort, activist
media makers have built independent networks that reflect a commitment
to progressive values, public education, and participatory democracy.
Here is a brief history of the antiwar TV movement since the 1991
National television outlets rarely if
ever offer in-depth analysis of US foreign and domestic policy,
not to mention shows that document organized opposition. Filling
this vacuum as the 1990s began, one of the first anti-war TV campaigns
to air nationally was The Gulf War Crisis TV Project, the first
series designed to mobilize people against US imperialism in Iraq
and the Middle East. Produced by a large-scale collaboration of
filmmakers, peace activists and war resistors, it was 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, this independent network was
forced off the air by TCI, then the world's largest cable system.
TCI was legally obliged to offer the channel a lease renewal.
But the price was astronomical, and the FCC declined to order
a reduction. Instead, 9()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
During this formative period, FSTVs content
included programs acquired from independent film and videomakers.
Americas Defense Monitor, one of the first series to air on FSTV,
is still broadcast today. Produced by the Center for Defense Information,
this show presents critical analyses of US foreign policy, military
expansion, nuclear and conventional weapons, and international
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, 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 inspired the formation of others on every
continent. Today there are over 100, and thousands of new indy
journalists who work with them.
Coinciding with 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 struggle by
media advocates, the FCC began enforcing a requirement that Direct
Broadcast Satellite companies 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 the most provocative shows is Mosaic, a compilation of
daily reports from dozens of TV stations in the Middle East. WorldLink
also airs a media criticism program 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 September 11 and the US
government's war against Afghanistan compelled the independent
media community to further solidify and expand its international
network. 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 an 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 mainstream media.
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 partners
with social justice organizations. Action alerts, along with public
service announcements listing contact information, are broadcast
as part of each Mobile-Eyes campaign.
FSTV's November 2002 campaign, MobileEyes
against Military Intentions, focused on the history of US military
interventions, the US as sole superpower, and the movement against
war in Iraq. Among other programs, the series featured a roundtable
discussion on the "Bush Doctrine" of pre-emptive strikes,
teach-in footage, recently released documentaries on US policy
in the Middle East, and coverage of 15 anti-war demonstrations
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 latest campaign, Mobile-Eyes: Resisting
War ~ Repression, has included live broadcasts (often with radio
simulcasts via Pacifica Radio) from demonstrations in New York
City, San Francisco, and Washington, DC. Partners include the
Institute for Policy Studies, United for Peace & Justice,
Global Exchange, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee
Rights, and other groups opposing military intervention.
Shortly before the US invaded Iraq, WorldLink
TV launched The Active Opposition, a series hosted by actor and
activist Peter Coyote. It features analysis and commentary 011
the Bush administration's war policies, critique of the mainstream
media coverage, and footage from Middle East TV networks.
With the onset of war, both WorldLink
and FSTV pre-empted their regular programming to provide round-the-clock
coverage of the attacks, as well as the opposition and resistance.
Collaborating with WorldLink TV and Pacifica Radio, FSTV produced
two days of live coverage from the streets and studios of San
Francisco, including interviews with movement leaders, and footage
from Middle Eastern TV recording responses 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 anti-war
demonstrations since the Vietnam War. Live satellite uplinks have
shown millions of people around the world that the US is not unified
on the invasion.
Toting camcorders, computers and satellite
uplink equipment, people collaborate in ways 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 US
anti-war mobilizations. In March alone, 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.
FSTV producer Brian Drolet notes, "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."
Drolet argues that providing the world
with the real story-that many people in the US don't support their
government's belligerent policies, just as most Iraqis didn't
support Saddam Hussein-will raise questions and legitimate the
opposition before more lives are lost. The ultimate hope is that
the cycle of violence can finally be stopped.
Linda Mamoun is Communications Manager
for FSTV She can be reached at lindam@freespeech. org.