Editor and publisher, The Bridge newspaper
Interviewer, ICTV cable TV show
Interviewed September 30, 2010
- What was your motivation to publish The Bridge newspaper?
- Why did you want to put out your own paper and not use existing media?
- You also had a CFUV radio program of in-depth interviews with people?
- And you also have a weekly TV slot on Shaw Cable?
- What is the state of the community access on the cable systems?
- What about this $116 million a year community access programming fund?
- Would it be accurate to say that community media is being starved out?
- Which publications do you go to for your stories?
- What is needed in Victoria in terms of developing community media?
- Do you feel a need to network in this city with other people who are producing community or progressive media?
- How important is community media at this time?
What was your motivation to publish The Bridge newspaper?
I think independent media is important. Years ago I put out a small four-page broadsheet called The Bridge about environmental issues. I printed and distributed it somehow, maybe four times in two years, then I stopped. Now, almost 20 years later, the time, energy and the motivation all came together, and a bit of money, to enable me to print one issue of a 16-page newspaper about the things I’m interested in, also called The Bridge.
Amazingly, after I published the first one somebody sent me a cheque for $500, which was exactly the cost of printing the second one. It came out of the blue from nobody I knew. The same thing happened with the next one, another $500 cheque came out of the blue again. A few people contributed smaller amounts for the fourth one, just enough to print it.
By the greatest good luck I met a wonderful layout person who lays out the paper, she’s very professional and also a great distribution person. She added four pages in the last issue that she paid for, and also paid for increasing the run.
Why did you want to put out your own paper and not use existing media?
Primarily, I believe that the corporate media is totally corrupt, although it’s brilliantly done. It’s a propaganda machine, a brilliant propaganda machine, and I wanted to print something to counter that even in a very small way. I’m not attacking the people who work in the media. There are The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in any newsroom, just like anywhere else. Today’s journalists are doing a job. They know what’s expected of them. Some people try to fight against it, I’m sure, while others embrace the corporate ethos, they think it’s great. Some people understand fully how totally corrupt it all is, while others don’t.
So I’m not knocking the people who work there. It’s just that I think that the corporate media has been totally corrupted and the entire news process is totally controlled. By that I mean that nothing gets in there that is not allowed by the corporate owners of the media, and that’s extremely dangerous for all of us, as we can see by what’s happening all around.
I’d been looking into media just as a citizen, thinking about it sometimes, reading the odd thing and keeping an open mind, watching how it operates. And Oh my goodness! The more I delved into it the deeper, and in some ways the uglier it became. News is now manipulated at levels that even five or ten years ago I could never even conceived of, I just didn’t even think that way. But as I looked into it, I saw how deeply everything is now being manipulated.
That was the problem, and my small solution was The Bridge newspaper and the cable TV show, but the cable show stopped about two years ago. I know that there is other community media: you have your greenpolitics.ca blog; Chris Cooke has an Internet site (Pacific Free Press) and also does Gorilla Radio; Peace, Earth, and Justice (pej.org) has a Web site; and there are campus radio stations — all great efforts. But I’m not really a computer-literate person, I wanted to do a ‘real’ newspaper, I wanted print.
You also had a CFUV radio program of in-depth interviews with people?
Yes, I did that show for seven or eight years. I was talking to Rick Habgood one day about how great it would be to do some media, and Rick, who’s very much a let’s-do-something kind of guy, just said: “I’m going to get us a show on CFUV,” which he then proceeded to do. It took several months to make it happen, but he did make it happen, and then we did the show for several years together; then we did it separately then together again; and then we stopped.
We both burned out on having to do a show every week. It’s time-consuming getting the guests and putting in the time to make it happen, and there was no financial support from CFUV. They have a functioning radio station and there’s no cost to doing the show, so we just did it. There’s no cost but there’s no income, just volunteers. No money for me ever came out of the media work. CFUV does function, it has some paid staff so it does get money from somewhere.
And you also have a weekly TV slot on Shaw Cable?
Yes. Shaw functions in its own way and we put out our program through their community channel. About five years ago we formed a non-profit society that we called Independent Community Television (ICTV). We have a show on every week, four hours a week on Shaw. Our mandate is to produce community television on things that you don’t seen anywhere in the corporate media.
ICTV makes enough money to hire a film-maker who does all the work. The work I put in is minimal, the film-maker has to do the production work so he has to get paid. If that was a volunteer job, it wouldn’t happen. And the nice thing is that it’s broadcast into everybody’s house just like real TV, and that’s powerful. Paul Manley is right now starting up that approach in Nanaimo. He’s putting together a functioning society that will start doing similar programming to what we’re doing here through Shaw Cable in Nanaimo, which is great because the Nanaimo region includes Duncan and several other communities.
What is the state of the community access on the cable systems?
What happened was that access still exists, but it gets no support from the cable companies. We have the absolute right to put programming on, but whereas they used to have their staff working with the volunteers, now they don’t offer any studio support. I know people who used to do community programming years ago. They got money for gas, and if they went out to do a show they’d get a bit of money for travel. There was money there to make it happen, as well as support from the training that Shaw used to provide.
That was all mandated by the government, but the rules changed I think because it was too popular, too successful, and the telecom corporations realised that they had a problem. The government changed the rules but somehow they came back, so we still have access to cable. What happened? I really don’t know.
What about this $116 million a year community access programming fund?
My understanding is this, and I’m not sure that I’m right, that when you pay your cable bill, two or 2 1/2 percent of your bill has nothing to do with Shaw, that is a charge for community TV. It’s supposed to go into running community TV in basically every community across the country. What happened is that the big cable companies like Shaw, Rogers, and Quebecor stepped in and said: “Look, we’ll do that for you, we’ll run the community TV station,” and the government said “OK!” and nobody even hears anything more about it. The cable companies are given the license and they run the community programming for themselves.
Unfortunately, it’s the same old top-down journalism, different in some ways, but people like us never have our points of view presented on their shows, which have become as controlled and pro-corporate as anywhere else. We offer something different: we give other points of view a chance to be heard, which is part of the definition of community media.
Would it be accurate to say that community media is being starved out?
Yes, I think you can say that community media everywhere has little or no money, although I shouldn’t say that is entirely true because the bigger unions are supporting some publications that give a slightly different perspective, such as The Tyee Web site and The Columbia newspaper, which is published on the Lower Mainland. I’ve seen it once over the years and it’s quite good, although I don’t know if it still exists. And there are some other publications like that: Lower Island News, for example. Focus magazine is good, and The Epoch Times has stories that nobody else carries. It’s Falun Gong-related and carries a lot of stories to do with China, it’s very anti- the Chinese government.
Which publications do you go to for your stories?
I read The Globe maybe twice a week. I read the Victoria Times Colonist every day at work but I refuse to buy it, I hate it so much. Two or three times a year I will buy it because it has a story that I like. I read Common Ground; I get sent a lot of very interesting emails via different routes; and I go to a few Web sites, globalresearch.ca and cbc.ca. But really, a lot comes to me. A friend sends me stuff via email and I’m also on an email list called Envirowatch. Interesting stuff comes to me through that — email lists are powerful.
What is needed in Victoria in terms of developing community media?
Money. Support. It would be very good to have a radio station, or even a radio network. CFUV is good for what it does, but in terms of current affairs, which is what I’m into, they only really have a few hours a week of it.It would be good to have a radio station that’s more focussed on community news and views. It could even be run partly volunteer, partly paid, but you need some money to make it happen and that money’s not there.
Victoria could use a weekly newspaper — Monday is good, but I mean a weekly newspaper focussing on really important issues. If Monday was filled with issues instead of arts and movies and stuff like that, it would be great. Where I’m coming from is a stronger point of view. I’m going after the Big Boys, which Monday will do a little, but they can only go so far.
ICTV needs just a little bit of money to keep going and make it bigger. The Bridge needs money and maybe a wider distribution. If I could make a little bit of money out of The Bridge, enough to devote half time to it, I don’t see why it couldn’t become a weekly that could be easily distributed in Vancouver as well. But The Bridge isn’t the kind of newspaper that is going to attract advertising because it’s too controversial. We would also need an advertising person to take that on.
I’ve never approached anybody for business development advice as I don’t think The Bridge needs that kind of advice. I wouldn’t even know whom to approach or how to approach them. I did approach somebody I knew about fundraising, but they weren’t interested. We have approached people for money; what we really need is direct financial help.
Do you feel a need to network in this city with other people who are producing community or progressive media?
A need, no, but if somebody set up an evening where we could meet over a coffee and something, maybe a speaker or two and a chance to sit around and talk — who knows what would happen? But it would have to be kind of fun, I don’t want to go there and listen to somebody talk about something I’m not interested in. Make it dinner in a Chinese restaurant, or in the Grad students’ lounge at the University, they have a room they sometimes rent out. For some people the University is easily accessible.
I think there’s a real opportunity to do something great. It needs a kick-start; it needs some people with vision and energy, because there’s community media right across the country, it’s happening here and everywhere, but its fragmented and it’s not powerful enough. The Big Boys have so much power, we’ve just got to get bigger and better, and get out to the public. We need distribution and better promotion. I list some of the independent media in the city in The Bridge, but I could list more.
How important is community media at this time?
If by community media you mean a media that is independent of corporate control and is putting out a message about the important issues of the day, we are at life or death and it’s already too late. We’re going down Big Time. We are in a nightmare scenario already, all we can do is make it less bad, and I’m talking environmentally, economically, socially, politically, and everything else. We are already on the down slope, already over the cliff, all we can do is try to make the disaster not as bad as it’s otherwise going to be.
So media — I don’t even want to call it community media, because when you say that it raises in my mind the idea of the community newspaper that are out there, which also are corporate. I prefer to use the term ‘independent media’ or ‘non-corporate media’ or ‘a free press’ — terms like that.
I read years ago in a book about media, I don’t remember by whom, that proposed that the way to fund independent media is for the government of BC to create a fund of one to five million dollars per year, a buck-and-a-quarter for each of us, as an Independent Media Fund, and anybody who wanted to of the people of BC could vote as to where they wanted their share of that fund to go, and where their votes went the money would follow. The benefit of this is that there would be a pool of money over which the government had no control. it actually would be the people who would choose to vote who could say where the money is going. That’s the best idea I’ve ever heard.
Good luck with this, Stuart. We need something earth-shattering and ground-breaking to make it happen. Getting together people in Victoria who are concerned about media might start it off.