SYDNEY — FRANK GOMEZ talked to JILL HICKSON, PATTY BIANCO, MARYANN WYLDER and BOB SHORT, members of the community television access group Actively Radical Television (ARTV), about what it is like being involved in community free-to-air television.
"We are unashamedly lefties", says Hickson. "Our objective is to challenge the orthodoxy of the views in the mainstream media and give access to people who normally wouldn't have a voice on television."
ARTV is part of the Channel 31 Community Television umbrella and is arguably the most alternative and challenging of the member groups. It is based in Leichhardt, in Sydney's inner west.
Bianco believes that ARTV's role is not only to present alternatives to conservative mass media, but also to challenge some of the ideologies of the other groups on Channel 31. "Most of the Channel 31 groups are there to broadcast to their ethnic communities. They don't worry about subtitles. They are speaking straight to their audience. That's fine, but they do promulgate some pretty conservative viewpoints, and their representations of women leave a lot to be desired."
ARTV's answer to some of the Christian groups on the channel is The Atheist Show, a program that explores the more negative aspects of religion, namely the oppression of women, indigenous cultures and homosexuals in the name of enlightenment.
Wylder says that the very existence of the show has drawn a strong response. "I have people come up and tell me how relieved they were to see people talk candidly about their experiences of religion on television. It's as if the fantasy that is religious discourse in the media has finally been broken and it's all right to say 'Religion fucked me up. Religion has nothing for me. Religion puts people down and stops them developing and growing as people.'"
Wylder is eager to point out that the program is not anti-spiritual. "Spirituality is different to religion", she says. "Spirituality is a personal thing. Religion is about the institutionalisation of belief into structures that are invariably patriarchal, misogynist, homophobic and rigid in their theology.
"Many people find religion a negative force. I think this is why so many people are getting into Eastern religions and paganism, sometimes mixing them with aspects of orthodox religions and creating their own belief systems."
The strength of alternative television was highlighted late last year with the production of Bougainville — Australia's Vietnam, a half-hour documentary about the war on Bougainville and the Australian government's barely publicised involvement and hidden agenda in supporting it.
"It shocked me how many Australians believed the conflict up there had stopped", said Hickson. "What had stopped was the mass media's reporting of the conflict, which is now in its seventh year and has led to the death of more than 10,000 Bougainvilleans, as the blockade around the island has prevented medical supplies and humanitarian aid from getting in.
"Australia supplies the helicopter gun ships and patrol boats to the PNG government to enforce the blockade, which is illegal under every international convention and treaty Australia has ever signed."
Hickson is passionate about her politics and about ARTV's role in getting the truth out to people. "If the mass media reported as frankly as we do, Australians would go into a rage and make the government stop the war. It's as if the Australian government has followed the US example during the Gulf War, suppressing information and threatening the ABC if it exposed the truth.
"ARTV is the only television outlet in Australia that can allow this sort of information to get out to people. Because we don't receive government funding or money from advertising, there is nothing anyone can do to stop us telling the truth."
ARTV does have a lighter side, in the form of its drama productions. "It's about yin and yang, you know", says Short, writer of the critically acclaimed show Bad Animals. "You can still deal with serious issues in drama, but you must also entertain and speak to people in a less sermonising way."
Bad Animals broke new ground in community television drama, exploring the seedy world of prostitution, heroin addiction, organised crime and personal redemption, all from the point of view of a failed hit man and the likeable sex worker with whom he falls in love.
"I wanted to make real people, get them to speak like real people and have both bad and good in them, instead of all this Hollywood crap where criminals and hookers are either pathetic trash who deserve their lot, or are glamorised so that the whole thing becomes a stylistic exercise rather than an exploration of what actually goes on", Short said.
Bad Animals, like other ARTV drama productions, cost virtually nothing to make, and all ARTV members and actors give freely of their time. ARTV runs video production course for its members for as little as $20, and all members are encouraged to get hands-on production experience. Bianco summed it up when she said: "Get active. Get radical. Get Actively Radical."
ARTV is holding a fund-raising film showing and curry night at 7.30pm on April 11 at Annandale Neighbourhood Centre, 79 Johnston Street, Annandale. Everyone is welcome. For more information about ARTV, telephone Tracy, Jill or Bob on 9568 2485.