Spotlight on... David Barsamian

David Barsamian interviewed by Jacob Galfano, Journalists for Human Rights (UW Chapter)

You’ve worked with the likes of Zinn, Chomsky, Ali, Roy, etc. -- what is your feeling about human rights as a collaborative movement? Are media justice and human rights movements connected?

Human rights should be front and center in any peace and justice movement. One has to be cautious about how it is manipulated by big powers. For example, in Darfur, Afghanistan, and the Balkans, so-called humanitarian interventions are covers for old-fashioned imperialistic aggression. Progressives have to be consistent; they must always stand up for human rights and justice. Where there is no justice, there are no human rights. The struggle is for justice: political, gender, economic, and racial justice.

I would call it the media fairness movement, but yes, they are connected. Without an allegiance to democratic media for the people, it is impossible to advance a human rights agenda.

What do you believe the American public feels regarding mainstream media and its accuracy in reporting on human rights atrocities?

It’s mixed. It is difficult to know at any one time what the American people are feeling. This is very much linked to the level of attention that corporate media gives to particular issues. Since the overwhelming majority of Americans get news and information from corporate media - that dependency militates against citizens being informed. That’s why we need to develop and strengthen alternative, independent media.

In general, when Washington is promoting certain human rights over others, citizens should be wary - not paranoid, but wary. Why is Washington privileging human rights in Darfur and ignoring human rights in the Congo, or in Iraq itself?

Iraq is the site of the greatest refugee crisis, as we speak. There is virtually no mention of this in mainstream media. The refugee crisis in Iraq dwarfs that of Darfur. You see full page ads in the New York Times for Darfur, but you don't see ads for Iraq. 200,000 people have died in Darfur. 1,000,000 Iraqis have died, if not more - which is five times that number. But they get one/fiftieth of the coverage. They get no supplications for support.

As US foreign policy approaches another potential intervention (in Iran), what is the role of media in informing that policy?

The media are the enablers of Washington’s imperial war policy. For example, in Detroit, there was a headline that read Iran: Sanctions or War. Not peace, not negotiations, not discussion, not UN arbitration or mediation. Sanctions or war, that’s what we’re facing. Given the narrow range of choices, people are locked into a ‘pick your poison.’

Mainstream media has never been very good. It’s always been mediocre, at best. But we’ve always had people on the fringes… muckrakers that raise hope.

Mainstream media serves a purpose: elites don’t want the public to be too well informed about an issue. This has been a central focus of people in power. They manipulate the public mind and distract people’s attention to things that are insignificant and inconsequential. Britney Spears - is her career over? Will the Seahawks make the playoffs? Did the Supersonics make a mistake when they let Ray Allen go?

Media is a weapon of mass distraction. We ought to have UN inspectors viewing the media and there should be public health reports. Like with cigarettes: ‘This is dangerous for your health. The UN inspectors have determined that if you watch this program for more than two minutes, you would be susceptible to migraine headaches.’ Something like that will get people to understand the toxicity of what they’re ingesting; it’s very hazardous to ones health.

How do you want your own audience to respond to your work?

I’m trying to be a catalyst for progressive change. When I visit Seattle or other communities, I try to inspire people - particularly young people - to become engaged, to be active in peace and social justice movements.

It reminds me of that famous quote by Margaret Mead: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. It happens one at a time; it happens when you join with others and find kindred spirits and work together in collective action. I want to leave people with the sense of ‘another world is possible,’ which is the theme of the World Social Forum. Nothing is etched in stone. Things can change, things can be diff erent, but you have to imagine that diff erence. You can’t simply whine and complain. You need to come up with positive alternatives, and that gives people hope. That’s one reason I started Alternative Radio out of my house almost thirty years ago. I didn’t like the corporate media. I wanted to do something about it; this is what I’m doing. It’s always good to have a response; saying ‘Bush sucks’ is not a deep analysis. Or meat sucks. Or TV sucks. Whatever. What will you do about it?

article originally published at .

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