Thursday, June 2, 2011

Press Releases: Resurgam

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Two years after ceasing production for lack of funding, Portland-based LibertyNewsTV is back in action, and just released a June episode of the progressive news-commentary series, which is distributed on CTN Channel 5 in Portland and on public-access cable channels nationwide.

The money that evaporated in the wake of Obama's election (see "Freedom Isn't Free," by Jeff Inglis, September 25, 2009) hasn't returned, says Matt Power, the series mastermind, producer, and editor. Rather, he plans to make the show "with whatever budget we have." A few donations have come in since the announcement of the show's revival, and Power is hoping for more as viewers rediscover the program.

The new incarnation (available online at libertynewstv.org) focuses primarily on the threats of nuclear power, with new host (and local actor) Tess Van Horn noting that the amount of spent fuel stored at the Fukushima reactor in Japan is one-fourth the amount stored at Vermont Yankee, in the far southeastern corner of that state, right next to the New Hampshire and Massachusetts borders.

A dance performance follows, offering a non-narrative new exploration of themes of death and ruination, soundtracked with ominous music and the "I found radiation" warning crackle of a Geiger counter.

The show closes with a segment of commentary from local thespian Daniel Noel. He moves from a Bill Keller-esque assertion that social networking is making people dumber, to a last-decade warning that corporations are collecting data on millions of individuals, and concludes with an exhortation to "unplug," backed with "O Fortuna," the clich├ęd threatening symphonic ode from Carmina Burana.

The contrasts between this new generation of the show and its first run are perhaps starkest in Noel's piece. His comments in previous shows were hilarious, incisive, and ironic — calls to action based on deeply held views and thoughtfully considered facts. In this installment they come across as the ill-informed rantings of an old white guy afraid of a changing world and too smug to bother solidifying his arguments.

Those problems exist in other segments of the new show too: nuclear and other threats are implied or assumed, despite the ready availability of great supporting details that would both focus the points and differentiate the arguments from the breezy dialogue that today passes for political conversation.

Power used to have great research and excellent assemblages of clips — from politicians and activists alike — bolstering the show's own commentary, and urging repetition by activists out in the streets. Some segments could have doubled as well-researched talking points to add to an ongoing social debate.

But this time, I didn't understand the underlying point about the nuclear segment until talking with Power: An electrical failure at Vermont Yankee could bring about an even bigger Chernobyl-like incident right here in New England, he told me.

That concise, solid observation would have made it into an earlier episode in a much clearer way. The same is true of Power's observation that while Germany has promised to be nuke-free by 2022, "Obama has said nothing of the kind" and continued to push for nuclear plants as part of domestic energy efforts.

"Now that Obama has shifted into election mode, it's the only time he's going to listen," Power told me. In past programs, that powerful call to action would be made verbatim. Here, it's simply, and less effectively, a behind-the-scenes guiding principle.

Which is not to say there isn't hope. Power told me about ideas for future episodes that may return to the focus of old, addressing issues of cultural violence and social psychology, while reviving the show's underlying purpose of empowering and informing real-world activism. LibertyNewsTV is back, and while its relaunch has a few hiccoughs, the show has done better, and can once again. Stay tuned.

(Disclosure: I delivered a commentary on a 2009 episode of LibertyNewsTV, and a clip from a Matt Power short film featuring Phoenix staff writer Deirdre Fulton is included in the title sequence of the reborn series.)