Barsamian shoots down
the United States of Amnesia’s
Weapons of Mass Distraction
Pakistan Daily Times
* Alternative Radio founder talks about independent media and how you can do it too
By Zainab Imam
KARACHI: David Barsamian is an anti-Imperialist dreamboat. And if he were a radio broadcaster in Pakistan, as he is in the US, it is highly likely he wouldn’t have been around to speak at The Second Floor Sunday evening. He would have been picked up a long time ago and his name would have been added to the list of journalists who have disappeared or gone missing.
The slight, grey-haired and bespectacled Barsamian is perhaps every government’s nightmare. He started his own radio from home in 1986 and today Alternative Radio is an internationally syndicated, one-hour, weekly radio programme, featuring interviews with progressive thinkers and activists. The best known of its programmes have been Barsamian’s series of interviews with dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky. It also features Tariq Ali, George Galloway, Seymour Hersh, Bill Moyers, Jello Biafra, Arundhati Roy and Howard Zinn.
The radio host has also written several books, the latest ‘Targeting Iran’, and has taken the time and effort to learn Urdu, which he liberally and idiomatically used for the benefit of his audience at T2F. After his talk, when he was asked about how America looked at Leftist protests and resistance in Pakistan following the State of Emergency, he pointed out that America believes it needs to protect itself from these countries. “All they are looking at is ‘What about our 10 billion dollars’,” he said referring to the US. “They do not care what about the Pakistani people’s money? It’s not America’s country, it’s your country. So America does not need to worry about it, you do. There is oppression in your country but there is some space and you should use it. The change is going to come eventually, you just have to be determined and patient.”
Most of his talk centred on the importance of independent media. The A in USA actually stands for ‘Amnesia’ and not ‘America’, he said, because the American people have forgotten what their country has been doing over the years. “I classify the American media as a Weapon of Mass Distraction and we need the United Nations forces to watch over it. People in America believe what they do because of propaganda,” said Barsamian. As Hitler was advised, with constant repetition, you can make people believe that Heaven is actually Hell and Hell is actually Heaven – that a square is actually a circle and vice versa.
Barsamian decided to form Alternative Radio because he felt the American corporate media did not dig deep enough. “The American media is terrible. They can speak about how Iran is the biggest threat to the US right now but they will never mention how Iran spends only five billion dollars a year in its military budget which is what American military spending in Iraq is per week and three weeks in Afghanistan. They will not mention that every two years, the US has been attacking a state while Iran hasn’t done any such thing in the last 250 years.” They will not mention the lack of healthcare in the US and the absence of a public transport system in a country that is the richest in the world according to most economic indicators.
He felt that the American media talks about incest and Brad Pitt’s divorce with Jennifer Aniston in much more depth than the fact that farmers in India are committing suicide because a handful of companies in the US are selling rice and corn at rates they can’t match. America has only four percent of the world’s population but uses 30 percent of the world’s resources.
Another one of Barsamian’s contentions against the American media was that he believed it was racist. “These people are paid millions of dollars a year for the jobs they do, but they can’t pronounce key words such as Iran, Pakistan, Muslims and Islam, correctly.” He felt it was all the more ironic because they could take the time and effort to properly pronounce Jacques Chirac and Angela Merkel.
Barsamian said that the community radio and cable television served as alternatives for the corporate media, which, he said, was monopolistic in nature as it is controlled by a total of five organizations. “The independent media is commercial free, does not sustain on corporate support and is locally managed. In many cases, it doesn’t have any employees and most of those who work for such radio organizations do so voluntarily.” Such initiatives, he said, are funded by the listeners and since radio is much more economical than funding a television programme, many people are actually interested in helping out. By paying a minimum of $40 a year, for example, Alternative Radio listeners can become members and help support his organization.
Another way that Barsamian funds his project is through lectures and books. He does programmes with international personalities and many of his listeners then order CDs of those programmes. “They can also order CDs from my archives and I serve as a huge audio archive for the US and the international Left. I make enough money to never have to borrow from anyone to travel to all the places I go to while my three employees take care of the work back home.”
For Barsamian, the best calls he receives are those in which people from small American towns say they were surprised to hear on his radio programme facts that the US media never discussed. “The job of the independent media is to look at those people who have been left in the dark. People like me are on a marathon. We can’t run 100 miles of a 25,000-mile track and expect to win the race,” he said.
He was quick to point out at the beginning of his talk that he was not educated at the elite universities of the US and barely managed to finish high school. He declines to accept it when people come up and describe him as “courageous” as for him, the journalists who are murdered, such as Anna Politkovskaya, are the real heroes.
Much to the relief to several members of the crowd, Barsamian cautioned the members of the Left from the pitfall of believing they were superior and more aware than other people just because they had read Marx or Hegel.
Responding to a question, Barsamian said that to create a force of independent media, people in countries such as Pakistan, where the common media was being clamped down on by the government, need to have a dual-pronged strategy. “Occasionally, I get calls from CNN and I oblige. The two-track strategy should be to penetrate the corporate media while side by side developing the independent media.”
David Barsamian’s work is available on the internet at www.alternativeradio.org. He will be speaking at the Arts Council Auditorium on Tuesday (December 4) at 4 p.m. about a book he compiled on Eqbal Ahmed.