Media, Leaders Criticized by Independent Radio Journalists

El Vaquero Editor in Chief

Two prominent women in broadcast journalism addressed political concerns for the country, its responsibilities toward oppressed women in places like Afghanistan and the the state of the media at the Campus Center on April 22.

The event, featuring Amy Goodman and Sonali Kolhatkar, was organized by the college’s Justice Coalition and attended by about 100 people.

No Love for Big Media

For independent radio journalist Amy Goodman, working for big media was never a good thing — and it certainly was never an aspiration. “We need a media that does not show our image projected through a corporate lens,” she said.

Goodman, 48, is co-host of the award-winning program “Democracy Now!” on Pacifica Radio Network which broadcasts out of New York, where she lives. The show airs on more
than 200 radio and TV
stations across the country. The program broadcasts in
Los Angeles at 6 a.m.
and 9 a.m. on weekdays
on KPFK, 90.7-FM.

“Democracy Now!” is also featured on World Link TV, a network that broadcasts various news reports from all across the Middle East.

Goodman graduated from Harvard University in 1984. She co-founded the program in 1996.

She is unhappy with what she considers corporate media and their coverage of today’s issues, including the war in Iraq. “We need a media that reflects the truth,” she said. “I really think if we saw these images, the American people are compassionate people [and] they would say ‘no’ to war.”

Goodman refers to war images that American media have largely avoided broadcasting and printing. President George Bush issued an executive order prohibiting media from broadcasting images of soldiers brought home in caskets from the war due to the respect and “right to privacy” of their families. “The Bush administration understands [the implications the images can make] very well [and] what it means to get them out,” she said.

Goodman said the images of soldiers in caskets being brought home would give the American public a sense of finality of their deaths. “Maybe it’s that the Bush administration doesn’t want that finality reinforced,” she said. She recently published her first book, co-written with her brother David Goodman, “The Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers, and the Media That Love Them.”

She described an incident in early April where an independent journalist was shot and killed by American soldiers just outside of Al-Jazeera, which claims to be the only politically independent television station in the Middle East, as he was setting up camera equipment. Goodman said Al-Jazeera claimed to have given the Pentagon the exact coordinates of their office repeatedly to avoid such an incident. Maybe that was their first mistake, Goodman said.

“You don’t shoot the messenger,” she said. “You have to ask, if we lived in a just society, who would be behind bars and who would be free?”

The media should feel free to cover issues of “life and death, war and peace, and anything less than that is a disservice to a democratic society,” she said.

She believes that independent media is the only way the public can get the real truth about what is going on politically and socio-economically in the world today. “That’s the power of independent media — it links us in powerful ways,” she said. “It bridges communities.”

She also told the audience about the problematic distinction between the image the Iraqis and Americans have of the war. Goodman feels Americans symbolize the war with the bringing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue, whereas Iraqi’s think of the deaths of their families and the destruction of their cities. “That disparity is a very large problem,” she said.

“This is trickle-up journalism,” said Goodman. “We can break the sound barrier…What matters is not the number of channels, but who owns those channels.”

As a journalist, she also shared her experiences with the audience. Goodman said that elected officials are the ones journalists should most press for information. “I’ve learned in my years as a reporter that when a government official says ‘that’s ridiculous,’ you’re probably on the right track,” she said, drawing some laughter from audience members.

Goodman believes that journalism has a fundamental role to play in correcting today’s injustices. “There is a reason why our profession is the only profession that’s explicitly protected by the Constitution. It’s because we’re supposed to check and balance [the government]…especially in a time of war.”

Tales from Afghanistan

Sonali Kolhatkar is an Afghani woman living in the United States; the co-director of Afghan Women’s Mission shares a gender and ethnic history with Afghani women living in Afghanistan today; fortunately for her, she doesn’t share much else.

“Afghani people want justice,” she said. “They need to heal from the decades of war that they’ve experienced. If we’re interested in democracy, we’d be interested in what the Afghani people want.”
Kolhatkar, a Caltech graduate, is the host and producer of KPFK’s morning program “Uprising,” which broadcasts in Los Angeles from 8 to 9 a.m. on weekdays on KPFK. She recently made a trip to Afghanistan in cooperation with Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) in a join-effort to better conditions and further opportunities of Afghani women.

She spoke with many of the women there who Kolhatkar said have close to nothing in their lives. She quoted one of the women she met there having said, “I think no one has a life as bad as I do.” Kolhatkar showed the audience a slide-show of pictures, including one which resembled nothing more than a large box, in which this woman lives.
This woman is not an isolated case. Afghanistan has a history of poverty and violence and has been for centuries a crossroad for empires and armies because of its geographical location, said Kolhatkar.

But today, Kolhatkar said that Afghanistan has disappeared from the news largely because President Bush has falsely led Americans to believe that everything is O.K. in the country following the fall of the Taliban, the militant Islamic movement which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. “Afghanistan’s fallen off the face of the map — again,” she said.

“They [the United States] have not followed up on women’s liberation following the fall of Taliban,” she said. “…Because the media has convinced us that everything in Afghanistan is O.K.”

Kolhatkar said they didn’t meet anyone on their trip who didn’t have a mother, father, brother, sister or relative who wasn’t dead because of the violence and war in the country. What’s worse is that the women can do nothing, she said. “Political organization is a life-risking act for women in Afghanistan.”

According to her, today 80 percent of women in the country must still wear the burqa, a veil that is worn by women in Afghanistan that covers their entire head, face and body as one way of following “hijab” which is what guides Muslims in terms of their dress code as stated in the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

To Kolhatkar, the important thing is to give women a means of survival. RAWA has begun projects like a knitting class, where women can learn to knit clothes so that they are able to sell their products for a living. Kolhatkar quoted one of the women in this class saying, “We don’t know what’s going to happen to us once this class is over,” because she didn’t know where she would go or what she would do.

Kolhatkar said that Bush’s lies about women’s supposed job opportunities following the Taliban removal are not helping their cause. She said that only 2 to 3 percent of women have gone to work after the United States dismantled the militant group in 2001, following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“All they need is money,” she said. “They don’t need some fancy degree from Yale.”

She ended the slide-show lecture with a picture of an Afghani woman next to words on the wall that read: “If I arise, then you will arise: we will all arise.”