Investigative journalist and outspoken activist David Barsamian delivered a lecture on May 14 at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, titled “Media and the Middle East.”
Barsamian has hosted a weekly radio show called Alternative Radio for the past 29 years, which has featured intellectuals like Noam Chomsky, Edward Said, and Howard Zinn, and is also the author of 25 books. The Peak sat down with Barsamian to discuss the problems of media bias, particularly around issues of foreign policy.
The Peak: Speaking in general, how do you think corporate media fails the average news consumer?
Barsamian: They fail the average news consumer in multiple ways: by distorting reality, by being a conduit, [and] an electronic umbilical cord for state propaganda. This is particularly the case in the US where the media are cheerleaders for war and empire. [. . .] The only discussion that goes on is about tactics. Should we use this bomber in attacking Iraq or should we use that bomber? But no one unpacks the embedded idea that the US has the right to intervene anywhere in the world.
They also fail in not providing any context or background or history. [. . .] You’ll notice that particularly in the US corporate media the Islamic identity of these groups that are opposed to the US empire is highly accented, whereas the political motivation is totally ignored.
P: I had the chance to speak to Chris Hedges earlier this year. He was talking about how the media pigeonholes people who are critical into soundbites and they are never really given a full kind of stage or platform.
B: That’s another mechanism of control. [. . .] When you are arguing counter-hegemonic points and perspectives that aren’t in the mainstream, you need time to explain [and give historical background]. If you just say, “The US is the greatest country in the world,” you don’t need to defend that in any way. But if you say, “The US is the major source of international terrorism in the world today,” that is an argument from the other side of the moon. So you need time to explain why you say that and we’re not given time in the corporate media.
P: You were deported from India. Tell us more about that and how you used it to further your own activism.
B: Well, I was very hurt. I’ve been going to India since 1966. [. . .] I was prevented from entering the country even though I had a valid visa on September 23rd, 2011. [. . .] It’s clearly because of my work on Kashmir which, for Hindu nationalists, is equivalent to what Israel represents for Zionists.
Huge human rights violations are going on in Kashmir, [committed] by the Indian state, but the Indian state has very successfully promoted a certain image of India around the world of Ashrams; people doing yoga, sitar players, vegetarian food, Ghandi, and Buddha.
P: You’ve talked about corporate media so I want to know, if I or anyone wants to be more conscious about the media they consume what things should they be critical of?
B: Be skeptical. Go to independent sources of information. Read a lot. Always ask questions [. . .] Let’s say in Canada right now the C-51 bill is being talked about. If it passes, who will it benefit? [. . .] And why are people in power saying certain things? I think that we have to hold their feet to the fire. The onus is on them not on us. When Harper says, “[This] is in Canada’s national interest,” when another pipeline is opened, [can] it be backed up by facts or do corporations benefit from these policies? That’s the question.