The mainstream press may not be telling the whole story
// Leah Scheitel

“It’s about the connection, the urgent connection between media and democracy,” explains David Barsamian, the founder and director of Alternative Radio, a well-known self-funded weekly radio program. “If the citizenry is not informed or does not have a broad range of perspectives and views to choose from or to be exposed to, then it is not in a position to be really an effective participant in democracy.”

Barsamian is an award-winning journalist who has worked closely with many activists, including noted writer and linguist Noam Chomsky. A part of the mandate of Alternative Radio is to provide “information, analyses, and views that are frequently ignored or distorted in other media.” Barsamian is coming to speak in Vancouver on Apr. 15 about media within a democracy, and the issues surrounding it.

“There is a growing audience all over the US and Canada for alternative media,” says Barsamian. He believes people are starting to notice flaws with the mainstream media, and a now looking for independent news sources.

“More and more the problems with the corporate controlled media have become all too obvious to many people. So, there has been a keen interest into independent media.”

Isaac Oommon, co-founder of the Vancouver Media Co-op, a reader-funded “grassroots media” network, echoes this sentiment, and credits recent social issues as the reason for the rise of alternative media in Canada.

“Alternative media has become more prominent, because in 2010 we had the Olympics and the G20 summit in Toronto … where alternative media really got to cut its teeth and show what it could do,” Oommon explains. “People wanted to get involved and get more people involved, and now I think more than the past decade there are avenues to which people can engage with alternative media.”

Oommon became personally involved with alternative media in 2009 in protest of the Olympics, and believes that they demonstrated why alternative media is important. “[The Olympics showed] why alternative media needs to exist. There was this overwhelming mainstream media emphasis on the games, and sportsmanship, and things like that. They covered less issues in Vancouver, specifically on the Downtown Eastside, poverty and homelessness.”

“It’s just a matter of going beyond the mainstream media to where the voices who are most disenfranchised can get heard outside the loudest ones, which are usually the ones that are on top of the power structure,” he concludes.

There are various independent media on the national and local levels. The VMC is a member of The Media Co-op, a network which connects local independent media. They are also active in Halifax, Toronto, and Montreal, and they produce The Dominion, a grassroots newspaper featuring alternate angles to news stories.

Alternative Radio has a strong connection to Vancouver as well.

“Co-op Radio in Vancouver was one of the very first radio stations anywhere to broadcast alternative radio, so I have that connection to Vancouver,” he explains.

“I have no training and I have no formal academic credentials. I was a volunteer at the local community radio station in Boulder called KGNU. That is where I learnt a lot about radio: how to produce, how to edit, how to narrate, how to write; all of the skills that are required. In 1986 I decided to take whatever skills I had learnt and start this one hour program.” Barsamian’s show can now be heard from coast to coast, and is aired on about 150 radio stations all over North America.

Barsamian has worked closely on issues that are often overlooked by other media sources. Most recently he has been banned from India for his work on the human rights violations in the state of Kashmir.

“Over 70,000 Kashmiris have been killed by Indian security forces, and over 10,000 have gone missing, and this is not reported on by the Western press. I was going to go back to Kashmir, but on Sept. 23, 2011, I was denied entry at the New Delhi airport, even though I had a valid visa in my passport. To this date, I have been given no explanation as to why I was banned.”

Despite his long roots in the media, Barsamian has never stopped to rest on his laurels, and is always engaging with people in whatever way he can. “I have a book coming out shortly on the economic collapse called Occupy the Economy, and I have a new book with Noam Chomsky called How the World Works.”

Before his forum in Vancouver, he is speaking in Nelson BC, at the Kootenay Co-op Radio benefit, and after he is headed to Eugene, Oregon to conduct speeches on uprising movements. “This is a constant part of my work. The outreach, to talk to community groups, to colleges, universities, churches, and others.”

David Barsamian is speaking at the SFU Harbour Centre on Hastings Street on Apr. 15 at 2pm. For more information on him or to hear podcasts of his radio program, visit

//Leah Scheitel, writer
//Photograph by Jason Jeon

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