Interview With Shahram Vahdany

“The Internet is a powerful tool, which unlike any previous form of media has the unique potential to reach a vast number of individuals simultaneously around the globe”

Shahram Vahdany is an Iranian expatriate poet currently living in Canada. He is the founder of the alternative news site MWC News, Media With Conscience.

BH: How was MWC News founded? How did the first members of the network meet? Which role did you play in its creation?

SV: The seed for MWC News was planted in a literary website, which I co-founded for creative writers. During a discussion there, we decided to have a news site which would reflect current events and political opinions that were missing in ModernWriters. The very first members of MWC came from that website. My role was to coordinate the efforts of the new website which later on was registered as. Which is what I'm still doing.

BH: How and why did you choose this very inspiring title: MWC News?

SV: We already had a slogan for ModernWriters which was Creative Consciousness at it's best. We changed the acronym -mwc- to meaning Media with Conscience. Needless to say, news media with conscience is almost non-existent, but our goal was to strive for impossibility and we continue to do so in every aspect of our site.

BH: Which audience does MWC News target?

SV: Our primary target is mostly intellectuals. We believe that if there is a hope for a revival of progressive society, by and large it will rely largely on the ability of it's intellectuals to establish a democratic forum. The Internet currently is a powerful tool, which unlike any previous form of media has the unique potential to reach a vast number of individuals simultaneously around the globe.

BH: MWC News is growing everyday and gathers many well known editors and authors ("Post-Post-Modern Writers", as you call them). How do you recruit them?

SV: We are constantly searching for new voices. Most of our current writers and editors joined MWC either by referral from other writers or by invitation from us. Some we begged to join.

BH: Is MWC News totally independent?

SV: Yes, in the sense that it is not influenced or directed by any political group or organization, governmental or private. However, MWC is not neutral. We see our mandate as encouraging and promoting humanitarian efforts and campaigns against oppression and the abuse of human rights. This puts us at odds with the powers that be. That is the reason we have selected the group of writers and editors most of which are not necessarily career journalists, as many of these have become co-opted by the corporate interests of the mainstream media.

BH: There is a section where readers can create their own Blog on MWC News. Blogging about international politics is a good way of taking part in world affairs. What other advantages do you find in running a Blog?

SV: A blog is a venue for an individual to express their views freely, without concern for external pressures and boundaries. We created blogs on MWC to give members an opportunity to write without the formalities of editorial restraints.

BH: Now a few questions on the digital divide: Although some analysts say they are mainly places for entertainment, do you think that the cybercafés (and the other public centres where a low cost Internet connection is available) are a good weapon against the digital divide in poorer countries?

SV: Yes it is, although there should be far more access, and inevitably there will be. I don't believe that entertainment is the primary purpose or use of the cybercafes.

BH: Don't you think that the Western political rhetoric about the digital divide is a kind of political slogan whose purpose is to force the countries of the Global South to conform their economic system to the Western one, for example, by inciting them to buy the same Western software and hardware?

SV: Not necessarily. With open source share-ware and software, people could easily access most of the Internet programs without the need to purchase these. However, computer technology, like any other medium is subject to the pressure of corporate profit. For example, Microsoft's,Yahoo's, and Google's relationships with China include censorship provisions built into their search engines.

BH: We have recently heard about very cheap « generic » laptops being sold in Africa and in India. Do you think that the individual access to these computers and their potential Internet connection might be better to bridge the gap than collective access in public centres? Wouldn't it be easier for peace activists in poorer countries to work individually with these cheap laptops rather than in public centres where they often sit next to people who have 'no specific militant mood?'

SV: Let's focus on the potential of this medium. The Internet gave birth to alternative media which has been unprecedented in the history of humankind. It is equivalent of the creation of the printing press with much broader and more complex reach. If ever there was a level playing field it is now. Furthermore, readers/audience are no longer passive players but now are enfranchised as equal contributors if they wish to be and can participate interactively. Hence, any form of access allows for full participation.

BH: My last question: How would you define the ideal digital society in a few words?

SV: Ultimately it would ideal if everyone had equal access; this has to be humankind's goal.

--> Interview and portrait by Ben Heine (July 2007)