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Radio, Internet Create Forum For Opinions Outside Mainstream US Media - 2003-05-27


Anti-war protesters and leftist activists complain their voices are not being heard in the mainstream U.S. media. But dissident voices have found a home in other places. The alternative media, including non-commercial radio and the Internet, are creating a forum for opinions outside the mainstream.

The war in Iraq was just the latest issue to spark charges of bias in the media, this time by those on the left. Polls show that most Americans supported the war, but some 25 to 30 percent opposed it, with support for the war building after the fighting started.

Still, peace activists could mobilize tens of thousands of protesters in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, and Washington. They used word of mouth, non-commercial radio, and the Internet to share news and information.

Although the major fighting has ended, Los Angeles radio station KPFK still lists dozens of anti-war gatherings each week. "In West L.A., there's a weekly 'War is not the Answer' vigil every Friday from 5 to 7 PM in front of the federal building," said one broadcast. "And in West L.A. again, there's the Code Pink vigil for peace happening Wednesday nights from 5:30 to 7 PM."

Journalist Greg Palast, a strident critic of the Bush administration and of the role of corporate funding in U.S. politics, has written a book called The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.

The collection of investigative reports is selling well. For 12 weeks, it has been on the New York Times bestseller list. Still, the writer complains he cannot get coverage on the major broadcast networks, which he believes have a conservative, pro-business bias.

"The great irony of America is that we are really the only country in the world with an inalienable right, an unbreakable right to freedom of speech and freedom of press. Yet we have some of the most restrictive press in the world in the terms of corporate censorship. The ownership of the big media outlets in America is restricted to a few big moguls," he said.

Conservative commentators also complain of bias in the media, but they see a liberal bias. Still, the conservative voices of people like Rush Limbaugh reach a vast audience through commercial radio. No leftist commentators can get the same exposure.

"Greetings my friends and welcome. It's the Rush Limbaugh program. This is the EIB [Excellence in Broadcasting] network…" he announces.

Mr. Limbaugh's diatribes against liberals like New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton are popular in the American heartland. His success has spawned a host of conservative commentators on local radio stations. The Fox news network on cable television has also emerged as a perceived conservative rival to CNN.

Writer Greg Palast says his book is selling well, despite limited coverage in the mainstream media. He credits alternative news outlets that flourish around the country. They include Pacifica, a noncommercial radio group with five stations and dozens of affiliates.

The daily Pacifica program Democracy Now presents a skeptical analysis of every U.S. action, and finds a consistent target in the Bush administration. But its national audience is small, and there are no similar programs on commercial stations.

Many on the left see a conspiracy of silence in the commercial media, but analyst Nancy Snow does not. She agrees with Greg Palast that a handful of big companies now control the major networks, but she says an expansion of outlets, for example, on cable television, is helping diversify content.

"I think our American media, as much as there's conglomerization, and there are corporations controlling a lot of our media, we do have a proliferation of news media outlets. So there are a lot of different channels where you can get your point of view across," she said.

She says independent journalists can turn to the Internet, which features the gadfly writer Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report and Andrew Sullivan, an iconoclastic gay conservative of Greg Palast also sells his books on his own web site. The media, says Ms. Snow, are now the multimedia.

"And media could very well mean web logging, starting your own news-zine [with] your own point of view," she said.

Publishing offers another option to get a message out. One Los Angeles activist was impressed by an antiwar book and he raised the funds himself for second and third editions.

Called Addicted to War, the book by cartoonist Joel Andreas presents U.S. history as a history of military aggression. It is endorsed by Hollywood actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon, and is supported by pacifist organizations. They bought enough copies to push the third edition to ninth place for a time on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, says publisher Frank Dorrel.

"At the end of the book, we list 17 national anti-war organizations, which we put in this new edition, the 2003 edition. And most of them are selling the book. And I have peace activists all over the country who buy the book a box at a time and then sell it," he said.

Media analyst Snow says there are many opportunities for people to get out their message. "I often will tell people, instead of getting angry, go out and create your own media. At the same time, if you're upset with this concentration of media ownership, then do what you can, build coalitions, which many grass-roots groups are beginning to do through the alternative and independent press. They are now making media reform in mainstream media one of their core issues," she said.

She urges those on the left to show the same skepticism toward the alternative media that they show toward its corporate counterpart. She says all media outlets select and report the news from a distinctive perspective, and the only way to be sure that you are getting the full story is to rely on a number of sources.