Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Alternative Television in America

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Alternative Television in America

Article excerpt

With the help of satellite and cable transmission, small independent programme-makers are making their voices heard

IN August 1990, American video enthusiasts who had been discontented with the media's position at the time of the armed interventions on the island of Grenada and in Panama got together to find a way of putting their point of view across in case war broke out in the Gulf. As the months went by, and conflict became inevitable, they managed to find the necessary resources to produce and broadcast a series of four half-hour programmes. The Gulf Crisis TV project was born.

As their means were limited to about $25,000, they appealed to anyone who had visual material relating to the circumstances surrounding the crisis to help them. By mid-December, they had collected some 200 videos from which they took the material for four educational programmes. Reflecting diverse points of view, the programmes sketched the historical background of the United States engagement in the Middle East and analysed the links between the oil and arms industries. They also covered the activities of pacifist groups.

The individuals in charge of the project then set their imaginations to work to find ways to getting the programmes shown. They staged mobile screenings from the back of a truck in city squares and supermarket parking lots, and copied the material onto thousands of videos that were shown in art galleries, museums and colleges, and were also passed on from hand to hand.

Finally, thanks to the backing of anti-war groups, Gulf Crisis TV's programmes were shown on the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) network, which beamed them by satellite to the nation's major cities. In the first two weeks of January they attracted an audience the programme-makers could hardly have expected on such a cheap budget, coming second in the Los Angeles audience ratings. Later they were broadcast by Channel Four in the United Kingdom, and then in some fifteen other countries.


Gulf Crisis TV did not start from scratch. It built on the ten-year experience of Paper Tiger TV, which puts out a weekly analysis of a media event such as an exhibition, a television series or an item from the written press. Starting in 1981 with an in-depth analysis of The New York Times, Paper Tiger has since put together more than 400 broadcasts on subjects as diverse as the passionate reactions to the TV series Dynasty, and media treatment of the Baby M case, in which a surrogate mother refused to hand over her child to the prospective parents. …

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