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[whitespace] Breaking with Convention

Alternative Media Goes Live and Global for Republican Convention

By Don Hazen

While the mega-media giants blanket Philadelphia with a blitzkrieg of coverage, dutifully reporting on the coronation of George W. Bush as the Republican presidential candidate, hundreds of independent media operatives--distrustful of the corporate media's spin--are also present and plugged in.

For the tens of thousands of protesters and critics who have converged on Philadelphia, it is tricky business to depend on the corporate media to help tell their tale. When viewed through the corporate media prism, protest tends to fall into tired stereotypes of cardboard characters and predictable plots. But here in Philadelphia, if the corporate media isn't cooperating, the Independent Media Center is there to make sure the events in the street are clearly covered.

The Philly Indy Media operation is similar (though more technologically advanced) to its predecessor, the infamous Seattle Indy Media Center, whose web site received more than one million visitors during November's WTO protests. In a significant departure, however, the Philly IMC will also be providing live television coverage of the conventions, events and protests--a first for this genre of independent journalism.

The live reporting, commentary and analysis will be available to millions of Americans under the auspices of Free Speech TV, a Boulder, Colorado-based organization with a new satellite channel. A truck parked outside the Indy Media headquarters (located in a sprawling, seedy, downtown ex-ballroom that's now bristling with energy and, incidentally, Secret Service types, since Pennsylvania's Governor is staying at a hotel next door) receives a live feed from the show inside and beams it up to a satellite. From there it flows to more than 40 public access stations in cities across the country, including Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Sacramento, and Portland (go to satellite.indymedia.org for a complete list). Simultaneously, Echo Star Dish Network takes the signal and makes it available to its millions of subscribers on channel 9415, the Free Speech TV channel. Finally, a sophisticated web operation streams the live coverage to viewers around the globe.

In addition to the live TV operation, perhaps the most impressive accomplishment of the IMC operation is its unique synergy between so many different forms of media. The TV feeds are supplemented by live audio shows (on the radio and streamed on the web), a daily printed newspaper called the "Unconvention" and a web site constantly updated with text, audio and video coverage of what's happening all over the city. The weaving together of these four technologies--out of nothing, overnight, with volunteer labor--was no small feat.

The IMC's first big story of the week was the Unity 2000 march and rally, billed as the largest protest ever at a national political convention. Unity 2000 is a broad cross section of 200 groups, focusing not specifically on the Republicans but on both parties' continued neglect of issues like poverty, environmental degradation, racism and many more. Their message centers around the charge that the two main political parties have become the left and right wing of a single corporate party.

Perhaps 12,000 people pounded the pavement at Sunday's Unity march and then listened to a long list of speakers, including former Presidential candidate John Anderson and feminist leader Patricia Ireland. Some of the theatrics of the march were provide by Billionaires for Bush (or Gore), a group satirically celebrating the upcoming victory of the wealthy elite, who will triumph if either Bush or Gore win the election, since they own them both. (According to advocates, at least 66 major corporations have already donated more than $50,000 to both Bush and Gore.)

Simultaneously on Sunday morning the Shadow Convention--a group of more mainstream critics chiding the Republicrats for not addressing the wealth gap, campaign finance reform and the drug war--opened its doors at the Annenberg Media Center. Columnist and media celebrity Arianna Huffington MCed the event and Republican insurgent John McCain was the featured speaker. McCain was greeted warmly, but when he mentioned that he was throwing his support behind Bush, hecklers in the crowd vigorously booed him--to the point where Huffington had to ask the crowd for silence.

From Monday through Thursday, Free Speech TV will air Amy Goodman's "Democracy Now" show, developed by the Pacifica Radio network, from 8-10 EST on Echo Star's channel 9415. It will also carry an evening show, "IMC Prime Time," from 9-10:30 p.m. EST, which will feature various critics and left wing luminaries as hosts and guests.

The whole operation will be repeated at the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, beginning August 14th.

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From the July 27-August 2, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. MetroActive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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