WTO media flashback: Seattle TV: Official Media?

RTM note: This article originally appeared in the Blind Spot, as part of the Independent Media Center's grassroots coverage of the Seattle WTO on Nov. 29, 1999. We are reprinting it in celebration of 10 years of Indymedia, and to note how yesterday's media problems stop being today's media problems only as a result of community organizing and activism.

KOMO News has announced a policy of covering only those events carrying an official seal of approval from the city government. Responsible reporting, or Pravda on Puget Sound?

On the Saturday evening news, the news director of Seattle ABC affiliate KOMO announced that his station was going to take part in the city's attempt to control activism around the upcoming WTO ministerial conference.

In an announcement that is now posted on the Web, he told viewers that the station was "taking a stand on not giving some protest groups the publicity they want."

The station, he said, "will not devote coverage to irresponsible or illegal activities of disruptive groups."

One person whose action will likely lose coverage due to this policy is Mario Santos, of the Karapatan Filipino Center for Human Rights. Santos traveled here to take part in the International People's Assembly, which will be assembling at Fourth and Jackson on Tuesday morning.

"It's significant that the corporate mass communications won't cover our activity," says Santos. "They're losing out on what organized groups, communities of color, and international delegations have come for."

The International People's Assembly was denied a permit last week despite extensive negotiations between organizers and the Seattle Police Department, and organizers' willingness to cut the length of their march by 80 percent. The march includes delegations from countries ranging from Holland to Honduras. It has been intentionally routed to begin south of downtown, in the city's most ethnically diverse neighborhoods.

An unpermitted street theater demonstration took place Sunday afternoon in the Capitol Hill neighborhood; no KOMO news trucks were on the scene.

There are exceptions to the TV station's policy. “If you see us doing a story on a disruption,” said Barnes, but we don't name the group or the cause, you'll know why.” Barnes was unavailable for comment Sunday afternoon, so it is not clear how this policy will play out as, for example, hundreds of people get arrested in the course of permitted, legal demonstrations.

“It's easy to cover screaming people,” Barnes continued, in a rather ungenerous characterization of celebratory street theater performances. “But we don't think any debate should be settled by the people with the loudest voice.” Apparently, the artificially loud voice of the brass at the Seattle Police Department is not included in this policy.

The Seattle Police Department was not available for comment on KOMO's policy.

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