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July 1, 2010

We need independent media to protect us, says Amy Goodman

Scott Stockdale

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We need a media that's the fourth estate, not the state, according to American author and political activist Amy Goodman.

In Toronto for the G20, Ms. Goodman was speaking at a CIUT 89.5 (University of Toronto Community Radio) fundraiser, at Trinity Church, on Bloor Street, the evening of June 26.

After the audience was seated, following a standing ovation, Ms. Goodman began her presentation by explaining the significance of independent media.

“I think independent media is the most powerful force on earth. The corporate media is deployed by the Pentagon. Independent media is dangerous because it allows people to think for themselves.”

She said that as she watched the images of burning police cars being played over and over on TV, she realized that these images were being used to justify the billion dollar security costs.

“When you see violence, it has an effect. If we (independent media) show the effects of war, it will have an effect ... It's our job as journalists to show the effects of war. Image if every newspaper showed women with no legs, dead babies and pictures of soldiers dead and dying. Within one week, compassionate people would be saying, 'No more war.  War is not the solution in the 21st century.' ”

Indeed, the Pentagon and its U.S. government leadership are also fully aware of this phenomenon.

They learned this lesson from the effects of television coverage of the Vietnam War – America's first televised war.

When the American people saw the blood and guts and gore on their television screens every night, they said: “Bring our soldiers home. We don't want any more of this.”

Consequently, ever since, the corporate media is careful not to show dead bodies and severely injured people on TV.

The Pentagon severely restricted where media could go during the first Persian Gulf war, and used embedded journalists to buy their loyalty to the government cause.

  1. Ms. Goodman said independent media is one of the few sources of   pictures of people suffering and, personal stories, that break down the barriers between people, as we all share a common humanity.

Stalin showed he understood this when he said: “When one person dies it's a tragedy. When many people die it's a statistic.”

American's founding fathers demonstrated that they recognized the important role media has. That's why they made journalism the only profession protected by the U.S. Constitution, Ms. Goodman said.

“It (media) was intended to act as a check and balance (to government power). It's essential to the functioning of democracy.”

But the mainstream corporate media is not only embedded with the soldiers, it's embedded with corporations and government officials.

Ms. Goodman said this has resulted in the U.S. Government's slow response to the British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and the relatively benign media coverage this disaster has received.

She said the U.S. Government is allowing BP to spray copious amounts of a chemical banned in Britain, on the Gulf oil slick, in order to disperse the oil and allow it to sink from the surface of the water, so it can no longer be seen.

Meanwhile, the oil and chemical combination go deep down in the ocean where they get embedded in the food chain.

“Obama has taken millions of dollars from BP over the years and many other politicians have also taken money from BP and other companies. If not for this money, we'd have very different politics in the United States.  We need independent media to protect us. College and community radio are examples of independent media. They're our hope for the future.”

She then proceeded to give an example of the effects of independent media on government conduct.

Ms. Goodman was among the 40 reporters arrested at the 2008 Republican National Convention, in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the night John McCain was speaking. She said they were put in cages in a police garage, but somewhere along the chain of events, someone made a video of their arrest.

“The video of our arrest went viral. Within two days it was the most watched video on the internet. Within hours we were released. That's the power of grassroots media.”

With a pending lawsuit hanging over their heads, Ms. Goodman said police officials suggested that the solution to the problem was to have reporters embed with mobile police units.

“Embedding brought media to an all time low. You're on the front lines with the troops. You eat and sleep with them and you life is in their hands. You're reporting from the trigger end. How can you understand the full repercussions of war? This is supposed to be a model for how we cover U.S. cities!”

She explained that we need a media that will allow people to speak for themselves, to let the country and the world know what's going on in America's communities.

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