Paul Jay, CEO of The Real News Network, is interviewed by Daljit Dhaliwal, host of PBS Foreign Exchange
VOICEOVER: And now Daljit Dhaliwal.
DALJIT DHALIWAL, PBS FOREIGN EXCHANGE: Paul Jay is a Canadian journalist and filmmaker who combined that experience to build an intrepid television network called Independent World Television. The result is an online network called The Real News. It makes a point of steering clear of government and corporate funding. Paul joins us to talk about why and how it started and his ambitious plans to dominate the international news market. Paul, welcome to Foreign Exchange.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Thank you. Dominate? Maybe in 25 years.
DHALIWAL: Okay, well, so long as you’ve got the long-term plan here. So what—.
JAY: Sorry. From the beginning it’s been go big or go home. So we have a few years. But we do want to go big.
DHALIWAL: Right. So what prompted you to start The Real News Network? And I’m kind of curious about the term “real news network.” I mean, what’s wrong with the news that we have?
JAY: Well, the reason I started the network was because I didn’t think we were getting news about actuality and fact-based news. It comes primarily out of my experience of running the main debate show on television, on CBC, in Canada. In the lead-up during the Iraq War, it was rather obvious that most of the television news in the United States, but also in much of the rest of the world, had become kind of a echo chamber for propaganda. And the facts on the ground were pretty clear. Even the day Colin Powell spoke at the UN, one could have done the reporting then that what he said wasn’t true. It led us into a war. And the same thing is happening again now. So I gave up being one of the more successful independent producers in Canada. I’d had a daily television show. I produced 30 long-form documentary films; the last film I shot in Afghanistan. I started the Hot Docs television film festival in Toronto, which is now the largest documentary festival in North America. But from a very personal point of view, I think we’re heading towards kind of a perfect storm. If one looks at the growing tensions with Iran, and the possibility of an attack on Iran, the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, this economic crisis that could be far more severe than what we’re feeling (I think the effects of it are being mitigated until the election), and climate change, I just couldn’t see living a normal life after that. And I’m certainly not living a normal life.
DHALIWAL: Right. So let’s go back to 9/11 and pre-war Iraq coverage. Where do you think the media fell down? I mean, you’ve talked about that time when Colin Powell was at the United Nations and delivering his speech. When did it start to go wrong?
JAY: Well, it’s always been wrong, to start with. If you read Edward R. Murrow’s speech that was played at the beginning of the film Good Night, and Good Luck, his condemnation of American television news 30 years ago was rather vigorous. I don’t think television news has gotten it mostly right almost from its inception, because TV news from its inception was more or less part of a for-profit operation. But the news operation used to be a little protected under CBS, and over the years it’s become more and more of a profit center. So it’s been a gradual transition to a news operation that’s as much about the bottom line of corporate news as the entertainment department is. But more so, since 9/11, the patriotic fervor, which was somewhat reminiscent of McCarthyism, was so profound in American newsrooms that you had someone like Dan Rather say that if you were to criticize the White House during post-9/11, you would have been accused—it would have been like being a traitor in South Africa, a South African township, and the quote is, “and having a flaming tire of patriotism put around your neck.” Now, Rather said that to the BBC. Unfortunately, he didn’t say it very loudly here.
DHALIWAL: Let’s talk about your plans to cover international news in a way that perhaps you feel that it isn’t being covered currently. I mean, I’m assuming that you feel that we’re all doing a bad job of covering [crosstalk]
JAY: Well, I do say corporate news, and I think PBS is a much bigger conversation. The economic model does not lend itself to questioning assumptions. And if you watch television news, there’s a limit with which they will ask questions or pursue a story. And the limit’s primarily defined by the leadership of the two parties. They will critique the Republicans the way the leadership of the Democratic Party critiques, or they’ll go after a story, vice versa, the way the leadership of the Republican Party goes.
DHALIWAL: So you’re saying that the politicians are setting the news agenda, and the newsrooms are following that news agenda without are critiquing anything that they say, that they’re just sort of passively taking this information aboard?
JAY: No, no. I would say they critique it, but within the narrow limits of the debate established by what you could call the official debate. Like, right now, if you take this statement that General Clark made about McCain’s war record and dropping bombs from an airplane doesn’t make him eligible to be president, this is not such a big story at a time when the United States and Iran are playing chicken. Seymour Hersh has an article that comes out that says there are secret operations going on in Iran, and other news, other verifiable sources, about these operations.
DHALIWAL: Well, let’s take that story, for instance, Iran, that speculation, as you say, in the media, that Iran may be attacked either by Israel or by the United States. How would you be covering that story in a way that’s different to how it’s currently being covered, just with speculation in the press?
JAY: Yeah. Well, I would say, to start with, we wouldn’t allow the National Intelligence Estimate to disappear into the annals of amnesia. American intelligence agencies said very clearly that the nuclear weapons program, if there was one, ended in 2003. They didn’t think there was one now. And even if there was some ability of the enrichment-of-uranium process to be weaponized is probably as much as 10 years off. This current administration is pretending like the NIE never happened. The intelligence coming out of Israel has been trying to spin a kind of dismissal of it. But this was the view of the American intelligence community. What’s proceeding in all the dialog about Iran is as if it never happened, the NIE report. So, to start with, we would keep reminding people, hang on here, there is no evidence, as Senator McCain and Joe Lieberman are saying, that Iran is headed towards a nuclear bomb, might give that nuclear bomb to terrorists. The rhetoric that’s coming out of these quarters needs to be defied, questioned, examined. It’s not happening on the corporate network news.
DHALIWAL: Right. And, also, in terms of foreign policy coverage, how would you cover the candidates McCain and Obama, their foreign policy positions?
JAY: Well, to start with, I think we should take seriously what they say. On Obama’s speech, for example, at AIPAC, Obama reversed himself on some very important issues. He had previously said, if he’d been at the Senate that day, he would have voted against the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which was this amendment declaring the Revolutionary Guard as terrorist. But in his speech at the AIPAC conference, he said that the Iranian Guard had been quite correctly damned as terrorist, which essentially is a reversal of his position. He defended the Israeli bombing of the Syrian installation, which the IAEA says there’s no evidence had anything to do with a nuclear program. So what they’re saying needs to be taken seriously. Instead, what we see in the presidential election coverage is a coverage of advertising campaigns. We’re seeing, “This guy’s experienced. This guy’s for change.” We cover ad words as if it’s news. And the real world, which is heading towards very, very serious, serious crises, is like a separate planet—it doesn’t get covered. And I don’t blame the journalists in the news departments; it’s the economic model that restrains people, and that’s what we’re trying to change. We want PBS without the government subsidy and without corporate underwriting. We want viewer-funded news, because then you can, I think, talk about real life.
DHALIWAL: Alright, Paul Jay. Well, good luck with your endeavors, and thank you very much for coming on the program.
JAY: Thank you.
TEXT ON SCREEN: A record-breaking 46 percent of Americans used the Internet, email, or text messaging to get news about the 2008 elections. Thirty-five percent say they have watched online political videos, three times the figure in 2004. So far, 6 percent have made political contributions online, up from 2 percent in 2004. Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Thanks for watching the preview. To get a DVD or transcript of the entire episode visit: www.foreignexchange.tv.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.