If you’ve only been paying attention to the mainstream media you might have missed it. But if you’ve been keeping up with independent media–especially Indymedia Centers–you’ve probably heard about the Summit of Americas being held in Quebec City this weekend to negotiate, behind closed doors, the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which aims to bring NAFTA-like trade to the entirety of the Western Hemisphere (except Cuba). Despite the enormous impact such trade agreements can have on nations, communities and citizens, little has been heard about the FTAA in the mainstream media. What little is leaking through the mainstream right now primarily deals with the fact that the center of Quebec City, where the Summit takes place, has been walled off and that thousands of people are expected to attend protests against the FTAA.
Because of this, it stands to question — if it weren’t for the protestors, how much press coverage would the Summit and the FTAA get? In all likelihood, not too much. The WTO ministerial on Nov. 30 1999 would probably only been reported as just another trade negotiation if it had not been for the 10,000+ protestors who showed up to voice their discontent.
Arguably, the same pattern is being repeated here, except for the fact that now Canadian police authorities and the mainstream press are bracing themselves for the protests. But to really find out the whole story — what is the FTAA and why people oppose it — you’ve had to be checking out the indpendent media. Independent news websites like Infoshop.org and ZNet, the online companion to Z Magazine, have extensive collections of information and news about the FTAA and other trade issues. There are also scores of websites specifically centered on the FTAA, like a20.org. While these sites clearly take an oppositional stance towards the FTAA, you have to compare that with the marked absence of any real information about the FTAA available anywhere else, from any other source. One of the major reasons citizens are protesting is because of the very fact that the negotiation of this treaty is closed off from the public, and because our governments and media treat it not as if it were something open for deliberation and debate, but as if it is ultimately inevitable.
Yet, because the mainstream media is largely mute about what the FTAA is really about and why “free trade” might not really be all that “free” for you and me, the average person is still quite unaware and has to go digging to learn more, if one even has been clued in enough to wonder about it in the first place. Luckily, the independent media is far more organized and interconnected than it was even just two years ago, so that information and news is far easier to find, especially if you can access the Internet. Clicking on any of the sites I mention above also will link you to a whole variety of other independent media sources. And the relative success of indymedia in the virtual world has given these citizen-journalists the confidence to push out into the “old media.” The Twin Cities IMC and the New York City IMC have broken out of the “silicon tower” to publish print newspapers, the Free Press and the Indypendent, repectively. A national IMC-based paper project has also been started, coinciding with the FTAA, that is distributed electronically for other IMCs or anyone to download, print and distribute.
Also off-line, community and unlicensed micro-power radio stations have banded together to form a loose network broadcasting live news and information about the FTAA and about what’s going on in the streets of Quebec City. Microradio.net is using the ‘net to reach listeners on-line and to distribute the programming to stations the world over.
Nevertheless, you do have to look. And if this is the first you’ve heard of the FTAA (and I hope it isn’t), I hope I’ve given some direction to help you look. I also want to stress that these independents aren’t doing this for profit, and in most cases aren’t being paid and are probably picking up the tab to keep things going themselves. The larger, more organized groups may have developed funding sources, but in any case they all can use more financial support. Coca-cola, GM and Microsoft just aren’t willing to pick up the tab for media that challenges the very system they thrive on. If you have local independent media, like an Independent Media Center or a community radio station, give a donation or become a supporting member. If you have to rely on non-local print or Internet sources, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or making a donation to the sites and publications you rely on the most. One could spend $30 a month just on cable TV–that same $30 would be much more vital put to the cause of indepenent media.