DeeDee Halleck: redefining the global village

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by Jonathan Lawson

[note: a version of this piece appears in the Spring 2005 media issue of YES! Magazine.]

Like many young filmmakers and students in New York at the beginning of the 1960s, DeeDee Halleck was intrigued by Marshall McLuhan's idea of a technology-enabled "global village." The media guru had taken some interest in Halleck's first documentary film, Children Make Movies (1961), a celebration not only of youth-created media, but of the process of learning to communicate using new tools. In time, Halleck ultimately became disillusioned with the hegemonic aspects of McLuhan's vision, observing that "McLuhan's villagers were consumers of media - not makers."

For Halleck, electronic media's attraction is its power to invigorate participatory democracy -a power vested in the use of the tools as much as in the programs produced. In four decades as a filmmaker, teacher and activist, she has enthusiastically embraced new technologies, from home video and cable television to the Internet and digital satellite broadcasting, always devising ways to put the newest tools in the hands of progressive activists. Along the way, she has inspired generations of grassroots media makers and policy advocates.

Halleck's long resume is practically coextensive with a history of community broadcasting in the US. She helped found a string of groundbreaking grassroots media initiatives include the long-running public access cable series Paper Tiger TV (, the nation's first grassroots community television network, Deep Dish TV (, and the original Independent Media Center project in Seattle. Her projects have a high success rate in part because Halleck and her many collaborators are principally motivated by social justice values rather than by financial considerations or a need for larger audiences.

For decades, Halleck has also recognized media policy itself as an important social justice issue to rally around. In the late 1970s, as president of the Association of Independent Video and Film Makers she campaigned to allow independent producers and community media makers easier access to what she termed "the so-called 'public' television system." Fruits of that campaign included the institution of accountability "sunshine" rules for public TV and radio stations, and modest funding support for independent productions. Halleck's long-term media policy interests extend to the larger battleground of communication rights and international broadcast regulations - issues of great concern to the economically marginal nations of the global south, but seldom discussed in the US.

Now officially retired from a career professorship at the University of California at San Diego, Halleck is apparently as busy as ever; maintaining connections with media policy activists in the US and abroad, and producing media with Deep Dish, including a new series of programs on the Iraq war titled Shocking and Awful. She continues to inspire others with seemingly inexhaustible creativity and commitment. When she approached the Democracy Now! production team a few years ago with the idea of transforming the radio news program into a daily TV broadcast, the idea might have seemed impossibly daunting. "DeeDee makes us all believe that everything is possible," host Amy Goodman remembers. "There is no NO to DeeDee. Everything is just a creative challenge for her."

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The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey