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4 February 2001 Issue
Lights, Camera, Activism!

by Christine A. Dorchak
From The Animals' Agenda - Volume 20 * No. 6

Television's commercial environment depicts nonhuman animals as products for consumption, but community television offers a platform for advocating change. Such was my motivation for creating the Boston-based program, Animal Agenda (not affiliated with this magazine).

In 1995, Animal Agenda debuted in the city of Cambridge as a live talk show. Today it is produced as a monthly documentary that broadcasts throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As the researcher and host, I examine the roles of nonhuman beings in today's anthropocentric society. I expose the industrialized cruelty of factory farms, biomedical labs, fur farms, puppy mills, circuses, zoos, and racetracks. With each program, I try to inform viewers about humane living, and show them ways they can help animals in their daily lives.

The mission of community television in general is to give voice to alternative perspectives, and although controversial subjects are welcomed, certain discussions can still be censored. Earlier this year, Gail Eisnitz of the Humane Farming Association was interviewed about the conditions found inside slaughterhouses. Shock waves crossed Massachusetts as viewers from Newton to Cape Cod demanded that the show, which contained some graphic footage, be pulled. It seems that we had hit a nerve! Despite the fervor, my producer Diana Cartier of NewTV mustered the advocacy of the
Cablecasters Association and Animal Agenda remained on the air.

Evolution through education is the goal of our show, and you can do it too! By giving your audience the opportunity to explore and learn about animals, you can directly affect the way people view animal rights. Effectively presenting complex subjects such as in vitro vs. in vivo research will require preparation; however, such issues are rarely covered elsewhere.

You can start your broadcasting career by checking out the program currently carried by your local cable access channel. Then make an appointment with the station manager to discuss proposed concepts and goals. You will be given a tour of the studios, asked to become a member of the station, and then to submit the proper application forms. Remember, as an area resident, you have the right to use the facilities; a basic orientation and an introduction to specific broadcast requirements should be the only conditions for placement on the schedule. It doesn't take a college degree or previous experience, just a willingness to learn the basics of cable television, an understanding of the issues, and the courage to make a few mistakes.

While generating an initial roster of guests, it is advisable to find a partner who can help with camera work, editing, and production. You should each register for some short courses on cable broadcasting, production, and delivery. Knowing how to use the local cable studio's equipment correctly is a must! Many of these classes are conducted by other station members, so there is often a great deal of flexibility and personal interaction with instructors. Digital equipment is used in many localities, but you should be prepared to deal with video and audio tape as well.

Documentary roll-ins, available from groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Farm Sanctuary, or In Defense of Animals, can provide good background material for interviews. These are usually provided without charge to broadcasters, so don't be afraid to ask.

Discussions with animal-friendly business owners or area shelter managers make interesting first shows. Inviting ordinary folks to visit your stage with their dogs or cats is an excellent way to establish community ties and build a solid viewership as well. Once your program is established, it may be
possible to ask well-known advocates to appear. I have had the good fortune to interview Peter Singer, Jim Mason, Karen Davis, Howard Lyman, Steven Wise, and Neal Barnard.

Cable access provides us a golden opportunity to introduce new thoughts and new ideas into the minds of the general public. So be informed, be professional, and give your audience the power to participate in change!

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566; www.animalsagenda.org.”
Email: office@animalsagenda.org 

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