An evening with David Barsamian
“Mainstream media is a source of mass distraction”, was how David Barsamian started his talk at The Second Floor in Karachi on Sunday evening. That certainly was enough to grab my attention. I read somewhere that he sometimes follows that up with “We ought to have UN inspectors viewing the media and there should be public health reports. Like with cigarettes: This is dangerous for your health.
David is the award winning founder and director of Alternative Radio, the independent weekly series based in Boulder, Colorado. He is a radio producer, journalist, author and lecturer. He has been working in radio since 1978. His interviews and articles appear regularly in The Progressive and Z Magazine.
His latest books are Targeting Iran with Noam Chomsky, Ervand Abrahamian, Nahid Mozaffari, What We Say Goes and Imperial Ambitions with Noam Chomsky,Speaking of Empire & Resistance with Tariq Ali and Original Zinn with Howard Zinn . His earlier books include Propaganda and the Public Mind: Conversations with Noam Chomsky; Eqbal Ahmad: Confronting Empire and The Decline and Fall of Public Broadcasting.
Friends of Community Media gave him the 2007 Media Education Award for outstanding work as a progressive media voice. The Institute for Alternative Journalism named him one of its “Top Ten Media Heroes.”
When I heard that he was in Karachi and would be speaking at T2F, I just had to overcome my exhaustion from the Singapore trip and drive across town to listen to him. I was glad I did. He spoke for about two hours. His talk was a mixture of wit, analysis and harsh facts. At certain junctures I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. That is the kind of emotion that he aroused in the audience that evening. There was one woman who kept giggling at the saddest of stories because he related them with a mixture of sweet-bitter wit.
David started off by telling us that he was not an educated man – that he dropped out of high school before the education system had been able to “condition” him. Like most people who are self-taught, he has a global view and an open mind. Hence he appears to have a depth of knowledge and an ability to sift through and analyse whatever information is “fed” to him.
Talking about mainstream media in the US, he says that news and programming are heavily self-censored and hence a lot of filtering takes place. He said that most Americans are unaware of the damage and destruction carried out by American Foreign Policy in the Middle East and other developing countries.
There is more airtime dedicated to details regarding the adoption of a child by Madonna and OJ Simpson’s activities and what Brittney Spears is up to than to any serious domestic or foreign issue. Iran is made out to be the evil power that wants to attack and wage war. But history indicates, says David, that Iran has not attacked any other country in 250 years whereas, in the recent past, no two years have passed without the US waging war on one country or the other.
He said people in the US do not know how the attack on Iraq has resulted in more refugees than exist in Darfur. It is just not covered in Amercian mainstream media.
Talking about Alternative Radio, David said that organizations like his actually looked at world isuses “more fairly” and because they were not part of large groups, they were not affiliated to any political groups. Alternative media does not carry advertising and so does not have to be sensitive to issues that may annoy advertisers. They are therefore more “independent” in their views.
How do they survive then? Well, according to David, more and more people want to know the truth and hence people send an annual subscription fee; some send in money for the radio station to be able to carry on their work. There are speaking opportunities for which David is paid. They sell CDs of interviews and program archives – anything that does not compromise the content of the programming.
I find the concept of alternative media to be an amazing one and with technology advancing at the rate it has, it will be easier and cheaper to find avenues of running such media channels.
Community radio is something that needs to flourish so that more discourse takes place, more consensus and understanding can be developed, more sharing of knowledge and experience becomes possible. This one-to-many approach of mainstream media is just not a healthy practice, nor a democratic one.
Listening to David Barsamian was a delight. I wish more media students had been present to listen to him on Sunday at T2F. These are the kind of talks that opens up the minds of people young and old. I hope he will be back amongst us soon. He is headed for Lahore – I hope Lahore education institutions and those interested in media studies will take the opportunity to organize some talks where he can share his thoughts and experiences.
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