Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Dec 8 11:37:13 MST 1999

Sol Dollinger:
>His role was to describe media preparations. I sent you
>an Email from a Los Angeles list that gives it to you in  detail.

Actually, it got sent to me rather than the list. Here it is now:

Friday, December 3, 1999

Independent Media Makes Its Mark at Seattle's WTO Confrontation
By Don Hazen <dhazen at alternet.org

The WTO confrontation in Seattle was by any measure a huge media event
worldwide, focusing attention on human rights, environmental destruction
and child labor as major byproducts of unfettered world trade. But Seattle
was also a watershed for the non-corporate independent media.

Comprehensive, powerful and immediate coverage of the dizzying array of
activities and clashes on the Seattle streets showcased, really for the
first time, the independent media's capacity to provide multifaceted,
in-depth coverage of a world-shaping news event.

It's always been a fantasy of the community-based and alternative media to
break through the stranglehold of corporate media gatekeepers who shape
much of the news people see and hear. Media critics have long argued that
business interests and political realities ensure that most events are
reported from the perspectives of political figures, corporate leaders and
their spin doctors and PR agents, who have a vested interest in how events
are presented and perceived. Now, due to technological advances that enable
more direct access to media consumers, the alternative press is much closer
to imagining parity with large media organizations.

Taking advantage of the World Wide Web as the prime distribution system and
other new technologies that make news gathering cheaper and more mobile,
hundreds of street-savvy journalists provided a global audience with a
bird's-eye view of the rapidly breaking Seattle events. There were almost
instant video clips available of a protester hit in the face by rubber
bullets fired by Seattle police officers and of police firing tear gas into
crowds of nonviolent protesters, as well as on-the-spot audio and digital
photographs posted on the Web in rapid-fire fashion.

Much of the in-your-face nature of the media coverage was produced by a
coalition of activists and journalists operating out of the Independent
Media Center (IMC) in Seattle (www.indymedia.org). These activists and
journalists, armed with cell phones, lap top computers, video cameras and
web cams, were always at the center of the action, weaving their passion
for the issues with their desire for unmediated journalism. The result was
raw and often compelling coverage for media consumers and journalistic
outlets across the globe.

Jeff Pearlstein, one of the founders of IMC, said: "It's all about getting
the people's voices heard. We're about providing an alternative to the
mainstream press that's without censorship, editing or corporate bias,
allowing people to tell their own stories."

As events heated up, the ad hoc Independent Media Center became a kind of
ground zero for supporting coverage, as dozens of independent media
journalists, working for video, audio and print desks, reported breaking
news all around Seattle from the Center. Stories were published instantly
on the Web, using a system developed by Free Speech TV (www.freespeech.org)
to support grassroots media efforts.

Indeed Web activism emerged as one of the victors of Seattle's WTO
confrontation, becoming a rallying tool that allowed people to launch civil
disobedience protests from afar. ABC's Michael J. Martinez reported that
online dissent took on new force last week, with people logging on to sites
created to organize virtual protests and parody official WTO Web pages. One
site was even designed to bring down the real WTO site by flooding it with
hits. Given that activism surrounding the WTO talks would have been much
weaker without the Internet, it seems reasonable to say that a new age of
cyber civil disobedience has officially been born.

Along with the Web, daily video feeds, pooled and edited by a consortium of
grassroots TV organizations, were transmitted to satellite from IMC, adding
to technology-driven activism. Greg Ruggiero, an IMC spokesperson, said:
"People of all races, of all ages, from all over the world are working
together to get the word out, telling their stories, breaking down the
dominant media structure. This is democratic media, not alternative media,
because 'alternative' maintains the centrality of the corporate press.
We're not alternative media, we're sovereign media. We bring information
directly to the people from the people."

Cooperation was in fact the hallmark of the operations at IMC. Jim
Hightower's producer, who was doing a daily show at a nearby Methodist
church called IMC and said he was with former French Prime Minister
Francois Mitterand's widow -- Did they want to interview her? Amy Goodman,
host of Pacifica's "Democracy Now," needed her Web site changed; an IMC
volunteer staff did that overnight.

Of course, things weren't perfect and seemed chaotic at times. Ruggiero
reported that so many people were going to their Web site, it was crashing
despite mirror servers set up around the world to help provide more
bandwidth. For Ruggiero, this was an indication that people are hungry for
information straight from the source.

"One of the hottest offerings on the site is an interview via cell phone
with a protester who was arrested and was talking to us from jail,"
Ruggiero said. "While all this was happening, we made sure that the reason
why we were here -- the critique of corporate dominance, the importance of
issues like genetic engineering, worker rights and the environment were not
getting overshadowed by the confrontations in the street. Our work, our
content is all designed to provide a critique of the global corporate world."

Another journalistic force in the Seattle media effort was Norman Solomon,
a hardworking author and syndicated AlterNet media columnist. Solomon
co-hosted with Julie Light of Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org) a daily
radio show produced by The National Radio Project, and also wrote a daily
column for the World Trade Observer (www.worldtradeobserver.org), a daily
anti-WTO newspaper and Web site put out by Earth Justice Legal Center and
led by Tom Turner.

"It's exciting to be here," Solomon said. "And it's been an enormous
challenge. We have a dozen people operating with very little sleep and the
logistics are difficult because events are spread out. There's also chaos
in the street and curfews. One of our reporters was roughed up, jabbed in
the back with a billy club and deliberately sprayed in the eyes with pepper
spray after she showed the police her official press credentials."

Solomon and others gave high marks to the World Trade Observer, which
distributed 10,000-15,000 copies of its paper a day. "It's the only daily
activist take on everything that's happening," said Judith Barish, one of
its editors. "Our Web site is being overwhelmed too," she explained, "and
interestingly many of the hits are coming from Geneva, so we figure that's
how all the WTO bureaucrats are tracking the opposition here."

It is somewhat ironic that the "new" global independent press had its debut
during the unmasking of one of the least publicly understood international
developments of the last decade. The WTO, the world trade apparatus, that
is the successor to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT)
threatens to undermine local, democratically developed issues, such as
protection for dolphins and sea turtles, elimination of pesticides in food
and labor rights.

For years the WTO has been accustomed to operating with little media
scrutiny and coverage was relegated to the business pages of newspapers and
magazines. But, thanks to activists and progressive journalists, this is no
longer the case. As Tom Hayden told The Nation's Marc Cooper on the streets
of Seattle: "A week ago no one even knew what the WTO was. Now these
protests have made WTO a household name. And not a pretty word."

The ability to transform the world's perception of global trade, of course,
didn't happen overnight. Months and months of preparation by organizers,
activists, trade unions and highly trained direct-action experts all
culminated in the crowning moment when tens of thousands of concerned
people sat down in the streets and prevented, for a day, the WTO meeting
from taking place.

Key to the success of the protests were Direct Action Network, Public
Citizen, People for Fair Trade and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade
Policy (IATP). Most of these groups operated out of a public space in the
Seattle Town Hall set aside for nonprofits. IATP had a sophisticated media
streaming operation (www.wtowatch.org), aimed at international journalists
and developed by RealImpact, a subsidiary of RealNetworks, the pioneer in
streaming audio and video technology. The IATP site also includes
insightful daily radio commentaries by trade expert and columnist David
Morris, who is particularly pointed in his hammering of Pat Buchanan's
divisive anti-free trade rhetoric.

The print side of the independent media equation was equally on top of
things. The local Seattle Weekly (www.seattleweekly.com), led by editor
Skip Berger and crack reporter Geov Parrish, provided superior coverage
leading up to the WTO meeting week. It also had a special issue on the
streets on December 1 and kept its Web site cooking daily with new
material. Harold Myerson, one of the country's top political reporters,
filed an excellent report on Tuesday night for the December 1 edition of
the LA Weekly (www.laweekly.com).

On the daily Web front the international aspect of the WTO gathering was
covered daily by Sebastian Naidoo from www.oneworld.net, while Salon
magazine (www.salon.com) featured on-site coverage by veteran economics
reporter David Moberg and journalist L.A. Kaufman. Tom Paine
(www.TomPaine.com) also contributed, in particular with an excellent piece
by Bill McKibben.

All this material, and much more, is featured on a special WTO site,
developed by Tate Hausman at AlterNet (www.alternet.org/wto.html), which
over the past six weeks has cataloged some of the best written material on
global trade. The collection includes dozens of articles and links to
valuable content such as the "WTO Primer" and the "Citizens Guide to World


AlterNet is a project of Independent Media Institute

Copyright (c) 1999 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.

Louis Proyect

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