Rights and Wrongs

By Cole, Lewis | The Nation, July 12, 1993 | Go to article overview

Rights and Wrongs


Cole, Lewis, The Nation


Rights and Wrongs, a half-hour "viewsmagazine" broadcast on public television, doesn't pretend to objectivity, so neither will I: The show's co-executive producer, Danny Schechter, is an old movement buddy, and I'm happy to give him a plug. That bit of sharing over, let me say that the shamefully underbudgeted weekly show--the producers have put together thirteen episodes on $750,000 raised from three foundations--is energetic, inventive, intelligent, the most refreshing and informative news program I've seen in a long time.

Using "video diaries"--dispatches taped on camcorders by local correspondents-interviews, stock footage and music videos, Rights and Wrongs reports on haman rights abuses throughout the world. And I mean the world. One show included a long cover story about the Somalian relief effort; shorts (what the show calls its "RightsReel") on conflicts in Tajikistan, southern Iraq and Zaire; and coverage, at the end, of the assassination of African National Congress leader Chris Ham. Another focused on the plights of a Chinese student leader, prisoners in a New York state jail, Brazilian street kids (it's estimated that death squads reputedly manned by cops kill four of these urban orphans a day), 1,619 missing Greek Cypriot P.O.W.s and a Chinese rock video. Rights and Wrongs suggests by example the failings of mainstream news shows; one lesson it teaches is that the camera can convey a mind-boggling amount of information when not required to cut to commercials and reaction shots of reporters.

Presiding over the heated pace is the coolly self-possessed Charlayne Hunter-Gault. She could give a crash course to the network anchors. Sitting on a plain stool in a bare studio, without the usual imposing desk and banks of monitors, she guides us through the show without dominating it, asserting her authority solely through her poise, intelligence and preparation. Unlike those of her peers, her interviews--always with activists, not opinion makers--are framed by journalistic rather than dramatic considerations; instead of being geared to provide a moment's excitement on the screen, they serve to clarify and give both factual and analytical depth to the issue at hand. She even manages to express her own personality and shed some light on the character of her subjects without being either fawning or argumentative, the only styles television journalists now seem to practice. ("You seem to be the most honest man I know, is that right or wrong?" Charlie Rose wondered, pitching a meatball at Richard Dreyfus. Never modest, Dreyfus swung. "I think that's right." Meanwhile, Koppel was calling his foul ball fair: "How much time does Clinton have?" he asked David Gergen, then still a free agent. "I know it's absurd to say that, because we've only gone three and a half months, but still an impression is made that gets hard to fight. So, how much time does he have?")

Hunter-Gault's command comes partly from her honesty; she's not hobbled by false claims of objectivity. Rights and Wrongs presents both sides of the story; we see a spokesman for the United States-China Business Council explain the rationale for most favored nation status with the present regime, and we hear Serbian politicians and a general defend their aggression. But the show's video reports make no claim to evenhandedness; the truths they present are unabashedly partisan. A video diary reporting the rise of Hungarian fascism is meant to frighten. Why shouldn't it? The thugs we watch waving death's heads and Confederate flags at a soccer game don't come from central casting; these are pictures from the front. And when, in a follow-up interview, billionaire financier George Soros disagrees with the film's conclusion, the difference in points of view is interesting rather than controversial--a contrast in what two people see that illuminates rather than obscures the story. …

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