Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Democracy Now: Independent media done well

Watching some of the coverage of the US election, there are some common themes that the Republicans are using to explain to themselves and others why McCain lost. One is that Obama had a lot more money, but you have to ask why - it wasn't just that he rejected public funding, but that he raised a lot through many relatively small donations. A second theme is the supposed 'liberal' bias of the US media.

The New York Times is often singled out as an example, as well as comedy shows like John Stewart's The Daily Show. The reality, however, is that the US left is rather badly served by the mainstream corporate media, reflecting as it does the fight between two overwhelmingly corporate parties. This is the main reason why the Guardian took off in the US once it went fully online, such that it recently launched Guardian America, a US-focussed sub-site with its own high profile editor.

There are also a variety of independent and left-wing media, though much of this represents comment rather than news, or has a specialist appeal only to self-defined activists (among the best in this category in my opinion is Left Turn, unfortunately unavailable in the UK in print form). The only independent television news, however, is Democracy Now! As it streams online, I've caught it ocassionally before, but watching it now for its election coverage, I have to say how good it is. In depth analysis from the likes of Manning Marable, the leftwing black academic, is exactly what I was looking for today.

Broadcasting rules are different in the US - in the UK radio and television has to be politically balanced - and we certainly don't have the network of hundreds of local public TV stations which is where Democracy Now!'s daily news hour is syndicated. But what Democracy Now! does so well, I think, is to present a professionally-produced news programme that through the issues covered and its choice of pundits appeals to a leftist audience, but also potentially to a casual watcher with at least some interest in politics. To do this it manages to neither assume too much prior knowledge without patronising the more specialist section of its audience.

In other words, it fills the rather large gap between the 'liberal' New York Times and activist publications, and seeks to both serve and influence a large group of broadly progressive people. So I just wanted to say, well done to Amy Goodman and the Democracy Now! team. Even taking into account the different media landscape, those seeking to build independent media in the UK could surely learn some lessons here.

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