I have joined with more than 1,500 individuals and dozens of organizations to call on Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ to reverse its decision to end the long-running global affairs program Worldview, hosted by Jerome McDonnell.
This may appear to be a local issue, but I believe that this misguided decision is emblematic of so much that is wrong with the current media landscape.
It would be a huge loss for people everywhere who care about informed discussion of global affairs, especially exploration of Middle East issues from many perspectives and experiences.
Here’s why I hope that WBEZ CEO Goli Sheikholeslami and other managers will listen to the people who have signed the petition at Change.org and a second one at saveworldview.org – as well as the dozens of groups including the American Friends Service Committee, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Chicago Fair Trade, Chicago Religious Leadership Network, Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants, Kovler Center for torture survivors and Oxfam America.
I wholeheartedly agree that “Worldview has never been more vital, especially at a time when the very survival of our planet requires us to be deeply engaged in the world.”
It’s not that I agree with every guest Jerome has brought on in the more than 20 years I’ve been listening to the show. There have been more occasions than I recall when I’ve sat in my car infuriated by what I was hearing from, say, an Israeli government spokesperson or a US official.
But I know that I can rely on Worldview to provide in-depth discussion you simply won’t get regularly on any other local program.
I’ve been a guest on the show many times, and Worldview’s rich coverage of Palestinians and Israelis has recently included interviews with Ahmed Abu Artema, the Palestinian writer who inspired the nonviolent Great March of Return protests in Gaza, and veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, a daughter of Holocaust survivors.
What’s particularly valuable about Worldview is its power not just to inform, but to inspire positive action.
Recently, Whitney Young High School was designated as Chicago’s first Fair Trade School – a recognition of how it educates students about fair trade, a movement to ensure that goods worldwide are produced ethically and sustainably.
This started with Worldview, when Whitney Young teacher Anne-Michele Boyle Quinlan heard Jerome’s interview with Nasreen Sheikh, the founder of the Local Women’s Handicrafts sewing collective in Nepal.
“I was immediately captivated,” Boyle Quinlan recalled. “I searched and found WBEZ Worldview’s host Jerome McDonnell on the Internet, emailed him requesting his help connecting me with Nasreen so that she could share her story with my students.”
From that connection, Sheikh came to the school.
“After hearing Nasreen’s story, my consumption habits have been forever changed, as have many of my students’,” Boyle said.
But more important, the students are educating themselves and mobilizing their communities around fair trade, positively influencing our city and planet.
WBEZ has announced that from the fall, Worldview will be replaced by a new general purpose local talk show, and that it will air the BBC World Service program Newshour.
Amid the growing backlash over the decision to cancel Worldview, WBEZ Vice-President Steve Edwards told The Chicago Tribune that “Our new program seeks to connect Chicagoans to each other and the wider world.”
“Many of the elements people have come to rely on are things we will feature in our new program, from global cultures and immigration to the impact of events outside Chicago on Chicago.”
But such talking points do not disguise that the occasional segment cannot replace the type of in-depth exploration and conversation we get from Worldview.
And you won’t even get it from the BBC. In a searing article for the London Review of Books in December, veteran World Service journalist Owen Bennett-Jones admits how beholden the BBC is to those in power.
“The vast bulk of its output merely turns around sanctioned news from officials, corporations and NGOs, or curates stories generated by other news organizations,” Bennett-Jones writes. “Most BBC journalists neither break stories nor see it as their job to do so.”
But even if this were not the case, what is the point of WBEZ playing BBC programs that I can easily stream online? Why should I contribute to my local public radio station to give me something I can get anywhere else?
What I want – what I consider worth paying for – is unique, valuable, vibrant and thoughtful local programs, specifically Worldview.
“I have always understood that one of the singular values of NPR and WBEZ is that they are freed from the constraints of Nielsen ratings and are able to narrowcast on issues of public importance,” Doug Cassel, emeritus professor at Notre Dame law school and long-time human rights commentator for Worldview, says.
“It would be a great loss if an invaluable program like Worldview were to be sacrificed on the altar of numbers maximization.”
I could not agree more, and I hope that WBEZ will see what a great asset Worldview is to the Chicago community and to the world.