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2000-04-17

The Independent Media Center

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The IMF announced that it would not grant accreditation to community-based radio and public access stations for this week’s meetings in Washington. Some activists are challenging what they view as the disempowerment of the public that is being created by the corporate media culture. The Independent Media Center grew out of the WTO protests in Seattle last November, when activists wanted to establish a public newsroom that furthers the democratization of the media. The Independent Media Center has since spread to other cities around the country. [includes rush transcript]

Sound Montage:

  • Anti-World Bank/IMF protesters in Washington (3 1/2 minutes). Produced by Maria Carrion and Amy Goodman.

Guests:

  • Sheri Herndon and Jeff Perlstein, co-founders of the Independent Media Center. Their website received 1.5 million hits the week of the WTO protests in November, surpassing CNN.com.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

    BILLIONAIRE FOR BUSH, OR GORE:

    We’re the Billionaires for Bush, or Gore. It doesn’t really matter; we bought them both.

    BILLIONAIRE FOR BUSH, OR GORE:

    We believe that economic inequality is not growing fast enough, and that’s why we say, “More bank, less world! More bank, less world! More bank, less world!”

    PROTESTER:

    World Bank is not too good for the farmers — farmers are the poorest people all over the world — and the land. People borrow to get a little bit of money, and they’re taking it away from them.

    PROTESTER:

    There was a police — a bus of police in riot gear that pulled up to one of the intersections that was barricaded, and police jumped out in full riot gear with their batons raised. They did not say one word to one protester. They did not ask anyone to clear the area. They just charged at people and began swinging their batons and hitting people. They hit one gentlemen in the face, broke his nose. They hit another woman and then pushed her over people. There was not a word said by the police to protesters. No one asked to clear the area, no one under arrest. Nothing. They just started beating people with their batons.

    PROTESTER:

    I’m standing in the middle of an intersection, getting ready to block whoever may come through here. There are many protesters sitting down here. It appears that we’ll be tear-gassed. Who knows? Maybe a possible arrest. Everyone’s staying calm. Everyone’s been instructed to go to the sides for medics. Everyone — unity is very strong, stronger than ever, and there’s no way they’re going to defeat us.

    PROTESTERS:

    Whose street? Our street! Whose street? Our street! Whose street? Our street! Whose street? Our street! Whose street? Our street!

    REPORTER:

    I’m here with Community Television of Santa Cruz County. I’m just covering it for a show called Voices from the Village, as well as just shooting some of my own footage to combine with WTO footage to, you know, document this, to bear witness, to document what’s going on and the injustices that are happening here.

    PROTESTER:

    Singrauli is a city in India where the World Bank has sponsored, paid for a power plant that’s putting toxic ash throughout those neighborhoods. It’s yet another project that the World Bank has funded.

    JOURNALIST:

    I’m interviewing an IMF official. How do you expect me to write a book about the IMF if I don’t interview people who are involved in running the IMF? I have an appointment with him now.

    PROTESTER:

    Sorry.

    JOURNALIST:

    OK. So you consider blocking a legitimate journalist with the Washington Post

    PROTESTER:

    No one goes in, and no one goes out.

    JOURNALIST:

    OK, but just so you understand what you’re doing, I’m going there to write a book about the IMF.

    PROTESTER:

    Someone might just question the legitimacy of the Washington Post press, anyway. It’s corporate-owned.

    JOURNALIST:

    OK, the stupidity of your statement is reflected in the stupidity of what you’re saying.

AMY GOODMAN:

Some of the sounds of the street over the last two days. That last scene taking place at a blockade at I Street and 19th yesterday. No, that wasn’t police stopping the Washington Post reporter. It was the protesters who were saying, “No one in, no one out.” They were not allowing in the corporate media to go to the World Bank and IMF meetings, and they were not allowing in the finance ministers or other representatives who were trying to make it to that meeting. These are the sounds of thousands of people who were out in the street yesterday on the front line and also on the Ellipse between the Washington Monument and the White House, listening to speaker after speaker throughout the day call for either the closing of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund or its radical reform.

We want to thank Maria Carrion, who produced that last audio medley. And also, at the top of the show, the sound we heard was produced by the International Media Center, Craig Haimson, Chris Rottler, Amoshaun Toft and Jade Paget-Seekins.

Yes, the International Media Center. I went there last night, as we spent time there in Seattle, as well. What is this remarkable phenomenon that has grown up? We’re joined right now by two of its founders, Jeff Perlstein and Sheri Herndon. We welcome you to Democracy Now!

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Thank you, Amy.

SHERI HERNDON:

Great to be here.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, let’s start from the beginning. Last night was a press conference at 8:00 in the evening, bringing us footage that we don’t see in mainstream media of what was happening. Some of it was the cracking of heads with police batons, that kind of brutality, as opposed to what we usually see in the media, though I do think the message is still getting out of the protesters, and that is broken glass, certainly in Seattle, not as much here, as people question, well, which is the violence that the world cares about more. But, Jeff Perlstein, tell how this got started.

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yeah, Amy. Back in last year in Seattle, as we saw the organizing for the protests and — against the WTO, the World Trade Organization, their ministerial talks late November, there was lots of organizing on the ground for months and months in preparation. And as we began to attend these sessions, recognizing that thousands, tens of thousands of people, bright, articulate, passionate folks, are coming from all over the world to speak truth to power, to confront the destructive policies of globalization, of capital, we began to recognize that we were, in no way, willing to trust those voices to the corporate media, to CNN, CBS. We recognized that their interests are in making a profit and not ensuring the communities are communicating and building a movement for justice.

So with that recognition, we set about to provide a people’s newsroom for these voices to get heard and to amplify the voices outward so that these stories could be heard all over, to connect up these communities of resistance and struggle, and to be part and parcel of the movement for justice, recognizing that these movements, these struggles have been going on for years and years and years. And this is a new step forward in making sure there’s infrastructure in place for these folks to communicate with each other powerfully.

AMY GOODMAN:

You started, though, before even Seattle.

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yes, I was involved in a project in ’96 with a bunch of other folks at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. It was a collective that formed called Counter Media, with a similar objective related specifically to the Democratic National Convention, but with broader goals of breaking the corporate media blockade, of really empowering and democratizing media and empowering citizens to make sure that they were determining how they were represented, how their stories are getting out, how they’re communicating these messages, and how we’re really reclaiming parts of ourselves. Earlier, we heard the chant, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and that’s really about folks finding their voice, reclaiming their voice, reclaiming public space. The airwaves are our public space, and increasingly it’s being encroached upon by for-profit media outlets and organizations.

AMY GOODMAN:

You mean, it’s “Whose media? Our Media!”?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Exactly, exactly. And as we heard in the piece that led in, the folks who are out on the streets today are very savvy about their analysis of the destructive policies of the IMF and World Bank and are very clear that the corporate media is part and parcel of that problem. So they’re unwilling to let corporate media go and do the reporting on these meetings. Interestingly, one of the very first pieces we played today that was from the Independent Media Center was one of our reporters who showed up on the scene, that demonstrators were chanting, “This is what democracy looks like!” When they saw him with the microphone, they changed to, “This is what democracy sounds like!” So there’s a very broad recognition that the Independent Media Center and independent media, in general, is absolutely vital and necessary.

AMY GOODMAN:

Something remarkable happened in Seattle. That is, the Independent Media Center has a website. Part and parcel of the media center is its use of the web, indymedia.org. Can you talk about the number of hits that the Indy Media Center website got in Seattle and how it compared to, say, the mainstream media, like CNN and their use of the web, Jeff?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yes. In Seattle, the website, indymedia.org, which is actually up and running right now — folks can check it out. It’s an up-to-the-minute newswire with late-breaking stories gathered from more over 400 volunteers that are out in the streets, stories that you’re not going to see anywhere else, even other independent media outlets, due to the sheer number of folks we have out there.

We received over one-and-a-half million hits during the week of the WTO ministerial talks. That, by far, surpassed even CNN’s website. Now, the great irony of this all is that even though we were actually accessed by more people around the world than CNN during that week, the IMF’s offering of press credentials still chose to deny us any sort of access to the meetings, but of course welcomed CNN and other corporate mega giants into the meetings.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I just want to reiterate that point, because the IMF and World Bank have made it official. They put out the following message to some reporters, saying, “We do not provide press accreditation to public access TV, community radio nor student or academic publications to attend our meetings,” the IMF barring community journalists from D.C. meetings, and so we did not get press credentials. It really isn’t surprising. Actually, it’s a tribute to community media, because it says that the voices that they would bring in, the kind of questions that they would ask of these financial, international financial giants, I suppose, are threatening, are too threatening.

We’re joined, in addition to Jeff Perlstein, by Sheri Herndon. Now, she previously was news director at KCMU-FM in Seattle, Washington, but then went on to found the International Media Center. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Sheri.

SHERI HERNDON:

Thanks very much.

AMY GOODMAN:

Why the change?

SHERI HERNDON:

Well, interestingly enough, I was the news director there for four years, and we were doing the kind of news that the Independent Media Center is doing now and a lot of alternative journalists and independent journalists across the country and the world are doing. But we were doing our job too well and — at KCMU, and the University of Washington, the Board of Regents, who are very closely aligned — this is a public institution, mind you — closely aligned with very strong, corporate powers in Washington State. And this isn’t all, you know, on the books, but a lot of people feel that there was a pretty direct line between the fact that if we continued the reporting that we were doing, we would not be able to get the kind of corporate support that KCMU was getting through KUOW, which is the NPR partner. So, they took off the news hour, and there was a campaign to save the news hour that was in Seattle for quite some time, and so on KCMU there is no news hour or program.

So, Jeff and I have been involved with a media democracy movement for quite some time, a number of years, and we’re working with community-powered radio, and that was for the legalization of low-powered FM, and also working with the microradio movement. And the dream of having a public interest media center, a people’s newsroom, has been something that we’ve been thinking about and wanting, because it is an open space that we can actually create, that people can be — those voices that we aren’t hearing anywhere else will have a place to be heard.

AMY GOODMAN:

Sheri Herndon, one of the founders of the International Media Center.

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! In the next segment of the program, we are going to be joined by two musicians from Britain who are more than musicians; they are major anti-biotechnology activists, and they sang yesterday at the rally of more than 10,000 people on the Ellipse in Washington. Among the people who emceed was Michael Moore, the filmmaker and activist.

Today, by the way, at noon, in the same place behind the White House, Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon will be there, along with activists like Nigeria anti-corporate globalization activist, Oronto Douglas, who has let us know what’s going on in the Niger Delta with corporations like Shell and Chevron and Exxon. In fact, he’s going back to Nigeria to bury Ken Saro-Wiwa, though the government won’t give his bones back, the activist who fought against Shell and was killed by the military. They are going to bury his — in protest, the things that he was identified with, like his pipe and other personal items, in protest that his bones will not be returned.

But now, we’re talking about the International Media Center, the places where people like Oronto Douglas are broadcast and not just at an event like this, when even the corporate media discovers these voices.

The International Media Center, being there last night, it was buzzing, to say the least, and there were young people and old people who were training with video and audio, who were working with digital editing, who were putting things up on the web.

Explain this new notion of — well, media means mediation, and usually we see the world mediated by a corporate lens. But how you’re putting this all together and what you’re putting up on this website at breakneck speed every day.

SHERI HERNDON:

I think that some people refer to it as civic journalism. I think we are taking media to a new level of participation, so it’s not just a one-way conversation, but it’s a two-way conversation, where — and building capacity in communities, so people can tell their stories, because I think that our corporate culture has really disempowered us, and I think that part of the movement, part of the larger global movement, is about empowerment and awakening people to their own dreams and visions and ideas and a culture that has been telling us what to think and what to buy and how to not analyze the system.

Now that’s shifting, and with media and the media democracy movement, people — enabling people to get on the website and to write up their own stories and to go into their own communities and to share the stories that they normally would maybe just share around the dinner table, and realizing who their audience is and that that can expand, that is one of the most empowering things that people can experience.

AMY GOODMAN:

Jeff Perlstein, the media on the web that you’re doing, anyone can put anything on?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yeah, that’s one of the innovative aspects of the site is that there is open posting from offsite. Anyone with an internet connection from around the world can contribute stories, as well, to the site, so that people who are accessing it can check it out simultaneously. And so, as Sheri said, we are having even more than a two-way dialogue; we’re having an infinite-way dialogue, so that this is really a full-on dialogue.

AMY GOODMAN:

Who is using the information?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yeah, we’re actually getting hits from all over the world. We can check that out —

AMY GOODMAN:

But I mean, are journalists in other countries, are newspapers printing what’s being written?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yes, actually, we’ve gotten confirmation that there are community-based organizations and also media outlets all over the world who have picked up the story. For example, we’ve done a lot of advanced work with broad email lists, that we blast fax and email to all sorts of community-based media outlets around the world. Just one example — let me give two quickly. I mean, this also highlights the way that we are linking the different media and linking high and low technology. It’s a really innovative use of the site in this way.

So, for example, we’re recognizing that the internet has inherent problems, as far as who has access to it, and it plays, in some ways, into the technology-haves, -have-nots-type divide. So, for example, what we’ve done is post print, which is an old media, right, low technology, to the website, so that community-based organizations in Brussels, in Harare, Lagos, Sao Paulo, Mexico City can download, if they have a connection in their office, the print version and then make copies, hard copies to pass out, say, 6,000 in the streets to people who don’t need to have internet access. We’re rippling outward the impact of the internet.

Similarly in — during the WTO, we were in contact with Radio Havana. They have an internet connection in their office, which they were able to pull down audio clips and then re-broadcast them to nine million people on the island. most of them who have never seen a computer or have an internet connection. So it’s really amplifying the impact of the different medias by linking them together.

AMY GOODMAN:

And for us at these areas where the site is established, where the Independent Media Center is in Seattle now, in Washington, D.C., then it will be in Los Angeles and in Philadelphia for the conventions, you’ve got a hard copy called “The Blind Spot,” a daily bulletin of underreported anti-IMF, -World Bank activism, and that “Blind Spot” was also in Seattle, as well, on the WTO?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yeah, it was. And actually we’re expanding and refining the work that we’re doing, because Seattle was our first experiment. We’re continuing that in D.C. and innovating, as well. So with the “Blind Spot,” now we’re translating it into five different languages. So that’s a big step forward to make sure there’s truly broad access internationally.

AMY GOODMAN:

What about these images that we rarely see in the media of police really going after people? You see the broken glass, but what about the other images that I was really surprised to see yesterday at the Independent Media Center, that you showed at your news conference? CNN was there, Washington Post was there, a lot of big reporters were there from the corporate media, and I think they might have been surprised as well, because this is not what flashes on the TV screen very much.

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

It’s truly not. I actually — I was able to be moderating discussions, so I was looking at the faces of folks from CNN, New York Times, and they were clearly affected by the images that they were seeing. So I do think it has to do with the perspective, as you mentioned earlier. It’s not just the technology; it’s who is making the media, what perspectives they’re bringing and whose stories are getting out. I think it’s very vital that we have citizen-based media and these perspectives.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, I have to say I saw the power of the media yesterday with all of the grassroots video people, as well as the corporate media, when they showed up at a site, when the police were about to attack. They donned their gas masks. They had their tear gas canisters and pepper spray. They had their police batons. They were about to move in, but there were scores of video cameras between the people and the police, and that made them pause for a minute, enough time where the police chief then came in, and they said, “Take off the gas masks,” and that ended that confrontation.

For just a minute before we go to our break, we’re going to Zack Wolfe, who’s on the street, legal observer. Zack, what are you looking at right now?

ZACK WOLFE:

I’m at the corner of 17th and [inaudible]. Can you hear me OK?

AMY GOODMAN:

Yes, we can.

ZACK WOLFE:

OK, there’s a lot of noise here. Some folks again were penned in by police on a corner, including one of our legal observers, and they’re being arrested right now. It’s again one of those things where they don’t allow people to [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re having trouble hearing you. You’re breaking up. I understand there have been, what, several hundred arrests?

ZACK WOLFE:

I think there’s been, yeah, a couple hundred so far today, and we’ve had — one of our legal observers is being arrested right now.

AMY GOODMAN:

We’re going to go back to the site at the end of the program, we thank you for being with us again. The protests continue for a second day to try to close down, or at least have an effect on, the meetings of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

There’s no question an effect has been had, because Washington, D.C. is pretty much closed down. Even today, federal workers were given the day off, and I know people at the World Bank and the IMF, though they aren’t officially given the day off, they don’t have to come in.

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! I want to thank Jeff Perlstein and Sheri Herndon for joining us, co-founders of the Independent Media Center. If people want to go to the web and see what you have to offer?

JEFF PERLSTEIN:

Yes, they should check out www.indymedia.org, and that’s indymedia.org.

AMY GOODMAN:

Thank you very much.

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