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‘There is a Narrative that’s Missing’ Laura Flanders Tells Grassroots Radio Gathering
Television and radio host Laura Flanders ripped into what she called "the all-about the-money media" and encouraged 150 radio enthusiasts to work harder at storytelling in a keynote address to the Grassroots Radio Conference May 14.
Calling the Obama administration "a veneer of new backed up by the same old same old," Flanders took shots across the political spectrum garnering bursts of applause with her characteristic mix of humor and breaking news.
She stressed that there is a failure in the media to report on important news from the perspective of the public, and insisted that those stories can be told better at the grassroots level. "There is a narrative that's missing," Flanders insisted. "Rupert Murdoch bought the narrative when he paid $5 billion for Wall Street Journal... And we are being played and played and played and played."
Her most recent book Blue Grit looked at an upsurge in grassroots activism during the previous presidential administration. She said Friday night that there was more progressive politics than anything reflected in the Democratic party. On keeping President Obama accountable to those who elected him she said, "We're not doing any better job than the civilians of Afghanistan."
She broke the news of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposing the elimination of $12 billion in California welfare spending, which she said would affect 1.4 million people. She talked about the controversial new climate bill, the 27 drilling licenses approved since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and said sometimes Congressional hearings can make good viewing on CSPAN.
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However, Flanders exclaimed, "It's not Congressional hearings we need into Massey or BP or Goldman Sachs. We need court hearings. We need some of these people taken away in chains."
Clearly, Flanders enjoyed the crowd's reactions to her key points, and she made some statements that are more politically radical than her image, including encouraging one pirate radio advocate that California's budget crisis could limit enforcement. However, her most outrageous statement came up near the end of the speec.
"Why don't you do what Oklahoma wants to do with people who want abortions?" she asked rhetorically. "You can be strapped to a gurney and required to listen to the heartbeat of your fetus, as if this had never occurred to you before, that there was a heartbeat there. What if we strapped some derivatives traders into those stirrups, made them put on that gown, and listen to the high-pitched squeals of people who can't pay their mortgages? What if we strapped the folks who are responsible at British Petroleum and Halliburton and the Interior Secretary and forced them to listen to the pleas of people who have lost their entire livelihoods on the Gulf Coast?"
The crowd of volunteers and staff for commercial-free, independent radio stations around the continent cheered her on, enjoying the mood in the rundown old movie theater in downtown Garberville, CA.
Passion is not proprietary
Hosted by the Southern Humboldt County community radio station KMUD, the fifteenth annual Grassroots Radio Conference brought together hundreds of broadcast enthusiasts for a weekend of workshops and skill-shares. Topics included community journalism, legal compliance, technical wizardry, and social justice.
Maka Munoz of Palabra Radio and Ana Martina of El Otro Lado began their workshop on building a network for immigrant-rights radio content by asking attendees to share stories from home. The group of two dozen heard about inaccurate media portrayals, a controversial gang injunction, widespread profiling, and the separation of families by detention and deportation. Representatives from 15 immigrant radio projects will converge at the upcoming Allied Media Conference (June 17-20 in Detroit).
Pete Tridish and Maggie Avener of Prometheus Radio offered insight into how the airwaves are being reshaped in response to new technologies, and worked with the attendees to strategize about ensuring the grassroots has a place on tomorrow's spectrum. Rip Robbins of KSVR Mt Vernon, WA and Elizabeth Robinson KCSB Santa Barbara, CA supplied information on limits to on-air expression. Low-budget stations have to be careful to avoid sanctions from the FCC, the IRS or the law.
Compliance with radio royalty structures supporting musicians were explained by Clay Leander of KPFA Berkeley and attorney Michael Couzens. SoundExchange collects royalties for labels and artists from webcasters. Congress has been lobbied hard about the Performance Rights Act, which seeks to force broadcasters to pay royalties to performers, not just songwriters and copyright holders.
David Pakman explained his production process, syndication, outreach, marketing and value added content. He is host and producer of Midweek Politics, a political talk show with 40 TV affiliates and 40 radio affiliates. He Dan Roberts has produced The Shortwave Report off-the-grid since 1997. He demonstrated the basic equipment he uses to share international perspectives gleaned from shortwave transmissions. His program airs on dozens of community radio affiliates in North America. Both programs are made available free online.
Govinda Dalton and Christina Aanestad of Mendocino County-based Earthcycles.net showed off their veggie oil-powered remote broadcasting studio. The converted school bus is home to studio equipment, LPFM antenna, satellite dish for web streaming uplink, wind turbine, solar panels, even a wood stove inside the bus. KMUD also tours inside their emergency-response broadcast trailer, which was parked outside conference headquarters all weekend.
Claude Marks of the Freedom Archives demonstrated projects that re-purpose historical archives of community radio and social justice movements. "Healthy programming has to have roots," he said. Community radio reporters were embedded in the movements of the fifties, sixties and seventies, not with the military. "It's a subjugated history," Marks says. "The movements were attacked. So last year we anticipated the repression of Black Panthers by producing our documentary Legacy of Torture and that meant that the press couldn't just run with the cops' story."
Cointelpro 101, the new film by the Freedom Archives, will debut at the US Social Forum (June 22-26 in Detroit). Marks is wary of society's short-term memory, seeking to protect the stories of uprisings and dissidence from misinformed representations. And he also hopes to inspire new generations of community journalists to learn of traditions of resistance and have the courage to risk getting into the line of fire to tell important stories. He says, "The history isn't all made in the studio or over the phone."