Normally I use the 'Media Clown' column to dump on New Zealand's dizzying array of right wing media clowns.
But today I am throwing bouquets rather than bricks. I am tossing chocolates rather than rotten eggs. But not for anything that is locally made since most of it is crap.
A few weeks ago I was surfing the channels late one night and I stumbled across a news channel I'd never seen before.
With its slick and colourful graphics and state of the art television studios I immediately assumed this was a US news network.
But it wasn't. I was watching RT (Russia Today) and, if you have Sky, you can find it on channel 96.
I checked on the web and discovered that RT, seemingly without much fanfare, was launched in New Zealand on November 10.
The channel itself has only been in existence since 2005 and New Zealand now joins the hundred or so other countries that RT broadcasts to.
The news channel has studios in Moscow and Washington and what is especially startling is the kind of material coming out of its Washington base. It genuinely is providing a progressive alternative to the corporate-controlled news that we are fed on most of the other news channels.
'RT's target viewer is a person capable of critical thinking, one who realises that one or two sources of information are not enough to get a full picture,' says editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. "It is someone who wants to know the truth, rather than who passively accepts stereotypes.'
Ms Simonyan says RT gives viewers access to 'stories they're not going to see on the networks they're used to".
A night or so ago I watched a great interview - which ran for some twenty minutes or so - with progressive journalist Laura Flanders. Flanders actually talked about the American working class being screwed by Barack Obama and that Obama was in the pocket of the corporations - the same corporations that funded his election campaign.
After unwisely enduring the inanities of Mark Sainsbury and Close Up and the disappointing John Campbell, listening to an interview that intelligently discussed corporate power and class politics was a breath of fresh air.
And here was an interview which allowed the interviewee to elaborate her views rather then being reduced to a supplying a series of bullet points forced into a five minute interview, squeezed in between commercials.
Said Flanders: 'The reason I work in the independent media is that you won't get the real story on a news channel owed by General Electric or Disney.'
And in the last fortnight I've seen two fine independent documentaries , both the work of American directors . One was about the domination of the American media by handful of corporates and how activists and communities are organising to not only fight the corporations but also establish their own independent media.
The other documentary I saw was on the rise of the American religious right. and its influence on American politics.
This is the kind of stuff you just don't see on see on either TVNZ or TV3, preoccupied as it is with gory murders, natural disasters, the Royal Family, sport and whatever Brad or Angelina are up to this week.
Can you imagine TVNZ's new hosts of Breakfast, neoliberal cheerleader Corin Dann and conservative Christian Petra Bagust, discussing the failure of capitalism? Hell, little Corin is still waiting for the economic recovery he predicted was 'just around the corner' about three months ago. Petra Bagust's background is in...music and home improvement shows.
But I digress.
I have also quickly become a regular viewer of two of RT's pivotal shows , although tracking them down can sometimes be problematic because Sky's schedules are often wrong.
The Alyona Show. hosted by 24 year old Alyona Minkovski, is an hour-long daily news and current affairs show that isn't beholden to either politicians or business.
'The Alyona Show is what you wish you could see on mainstream television'. says its publicity. It works for me. Having wandered in the desert of TVNZ and TV3's dismal programming schedules I have arrived at an oasis where my intelligence isn't continually insulted.
Alyona Minkovski talks with left wing academics and activists - people normally kept off American - and our- television screens.
The other show I try not to miss is The Keiser Report.
if you are fed up with the sycophancy that masquerades as business journalism on New Zealand television, then Max Keiser is for you.
While New Zealand business reporters dutifully and uncritically report the utterances of the business suits, Keiser treats them as charlatans and crooks who have totally screwed the American and global economies. . While TVNZ's Corin Dann is, yet again, bowing to the 'wisdom' of some neoliberal nut, Max Keiser is putting the boot in. He knows what he's talking about as he's a former stockbroker himself.
Interestingly RT has provoked a reaction from the US establishment media.
The lousy Bill O'Reilly on the right wing Fox News rubbished an RT interview with the radical American activist and academic Bill Ayers.
RT shot back with a report asking the question . 'The American mainstream media, crusaders of truth, pathological liars, or just scary clowns?'