The Moment for Independent Media: Bridging Cultural Understanding, Providing Fresh Perspectives

By Caty Borum Chattoo, producer and communication strategist for Link TV, assistant professor in the School of Communication at American University in Washington, D.C., and media fellow with the AU Center for Social Media
Posted on February 17, 2012


Back in September of last year – around the 18th, to be exact – a student in a media class I teach blogged about something she was picking up on Twitter and in the blogosphere. Although she was pretty sure that “something” was happening, she wondered why she wasn’t reading or hearing more about it in media coverage. I recall tweeting back to her, “you can find stories on indie and public media, like Link TV, Democracy Now!, NPR…”

And that’s where the early Occupy Wall Street coverage could be found, even before a rapidly-spreading series of protests became a branded phenomenon and agenda-setting fodder for all kinds of media attention around the world. This is the moment for independent media.  As digital audiences become, well, more digital, finding their news via social media, blogs, and a mix of transmedia storytelling that moves fluidly from broadcast to mobile and social, the ability to share and take in “untold stories” and different perspectives has never been greater. 

In an era of hyper-globalization and global challenges, the opportunity to bridge cultural understanding across borders has never been more present – or vital. Enter Iran. If you read and watch entertainment news, you know that an Iranian filmmaker, Asghar Farhadiis, is racking up the Hollywood awards for “A Separation” even in a climate of U.S.-imposed sanctions. If you’re paying attention to most media coverage, you’re well aware of the nuclear issue. But other than that, do we have a lens into the lives and stories of Iranians?  Does this kind of cultural lens matter as we settle into our perspectives about Iran? Yes. Without showing the lives, struggles, and culture of everyday people living and working in Iran, we in the West have a potentially skewed image of Iranians. 

In 2006, indie global broadcaster Link TV developed a documentary TV series, Bridge to Iran, to provide a window into the lives and struggle of everyday Iranians – to respond to the cultural and political tensions that have developed between Iran and the U.S. since the Iranian Revolution. Over the years, Bridge to Iran has covered a wide range of social and political issues in modern Iran, including the experiences of young girls facing womanhood and uncertain futures, religious pilgrims who risk their lives to visit a holy site in war-torn Iraq, rural life and political awareness, an exploration of Tehran as an urban metropolis, and Iranian women's participation in the election process. 

The new series premieres on February 14. In each of the four episodes of Bridge to Iran, in-depth discussions with top Iranian filmmakers provide a unique lens into some of the challenges and realities facing Iranians during a time of increased instability – including censorship, sanctions and safety concerns. It’s a diverse perspective on a country on the receiving end of a torrent of media attention – and it’s a lens that’s inclusive of the people and the art found within Iranian borders.


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