A Different Kind of High Definition TV
Last January UCLA International and its Burkle Center for International Relations teamed up with Adelphia Communications to launch a new series of world affairs television programs. Geoffrey Garrett, vice provost of International Studies, talks about how 'World in Focus' came about and where it is heading.
Published: Wednesday, April 03, 2002
JR: What was the intellectual impetus behind the project?
GG: World In Focus came about for two reasons. The first was a lingering feeling that, despite the westward tilt in so many facets of American life, analysis of international affairs remains dominated by a few elite institutions and news organizations in the Northeast. There is just as much talent on the West Coast, our perspective is different, and we believe that it should be heard.
But September 11 was the catalyst that really brought World in Focus to life. Our immediate reaction was anger, horror and shock at the tragedies that unfolded in front of our eyes. But these visceral emotions were quickly supplemented by the intellectual recognition that our understanding of the world – and America's place in it – is limited. We had lapsed into a complacent confidence about the end of the Cold War, believing the rhetoric of the struggle against communism that its demise would lead to peace, prosperity and freedom around the world.
Now we must confront head on issues to which we haven't given nearly enough thought – questions of security and vulnerability, why there is so much antipathy towards the United States from other parts of the world, and of course the "how" and "why" of international terrorism.
JR: Who has been involved in the creation of World in Focus?
GG: World in Focus was largely the brainchild of Mike Medavoy (chairman and co-founder of Phoenix Pictures and co-chair of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations' advisory board). Mike felt that after the events of September 11, Americans more than ever needed to focus new attention on the global issues that affect us all, every day, in so many ways. And Mike was convinced that a television program was the perfect vehicle for making a difference, both in terms of reaching members of the community and with respect to influencing policy debates.
But the execution of Mike's vision took the creative and tireless efforts of many people from all over campus, in the community, and at Adelphia, where Bill Rosendahl fuels the lively pace of the programs as moderator. We are particularly fortunate to benefit from the many talents of Amy Sandler, the associate producer for the program, who is coordinating UCLA's efforts. This has truly been a team effort and it has been a real pleasure for me to be part of the team.
JR: What is the structure of the program?
GG: World in Focus brings together government and law enforcement officials, political analysts, UCLA faculty, journalists and members of the business community to discuss and exchange points of view.
The first four programs focused on themes specifically prompted by the 9/11 attacks – homeland security, the war on terrorism, the global economy, and the global media and entertainment industries. We featured leaders from all walks of life – from Governor of California Gray Davis and the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Avraham Burg, to media moguls Marc Nathanson and Norm Pattiz, to philanthropists such as Michael Milken, and to syndicated columnists such as Arianna Huffington – and engaged them in vigorous and open debates with some of the brightest lights on the UCLA campus, including Chancellor Albert Carnesale, and Deans Linda Rosenstock (School of Public Health) and Bob Rosen (School of Theater, Film and Television).
JR: There are other current affairs programs on television. What would you say is unique about World in Focus?
GG: Control of most television news programming remains centered in New York, Washington, DC and Boston. These programs tend to disregard the West Coast viewpoint, despite the fact that California has one of the largest economies in the world, is home to industries as diverse as agriculture, aerospace, entertainment and information technology, and boasts several of the world’s preeminent universities and policy think tanks. Los Angeles is, after all, truly a "global city." We are highlighting the best and brightest California has to offer.
Several things are distinctive about the kinds of voices we are featuring from the West Coast. First, we do not suffer from "inside the beltway" fever, where a focus on the next political machination often comes at the expense of a broader and more analytic perspective.
Second, because Southern California is globalized on so many dimensions, in terms of its demography, economy and culture, we are forced to think directly about interconnections that may be less pressing in other parts of the country. For example, I think people in Los Angeles are particularly sensitive to the political and social consequences of the media and the entertainment industry. Finally, west coasters are naturally more concerned with developments to our west (in Asia) and south (in Latin America) than is the case for people in the rest of the country.
But World in Focus is not only distinctive because it is produced in Los Angeles rather than New York. We also try to bring a clearly academic perspective to current affairs, rather than chasing the headlines of the day. World in Focus aims to give viewers the historical background and analytic insights that enable them to dig beneath what is in the news, to understand this incredibly complex and ever-changing world.
Finally, most current affairs programs provide a decidedly "US-centric perspective" on the events of the day. It is our hope to provide a bias-free program that focuses on all of the world, not just the US and our often somewhat narrow viewpoints.
JR: What next? Are there future plans for World in Focus?
GG: As the series develops further, it will move on to other issues such as the emergence of China as a global power, European integration and the birth of the euro, relations between Israel and the Palestinians, and political and economic integration in the Americas. We anticipate that programs on these and other topics will be shot and aired in the spring.
JR: Some might say that a television series is a far cry from the academic mission of teaching and research. How would you say the series supports the objectives of the university?
GG: As a public university committed to reaching out to the community, UCLA has an obligation to use our resources to educate the public about the world we live in, as well as to contribute to sound public policy by facilitating dialogue with policymakers. Although World in Focus is different from some of our more traditional methods of engaging and serving the community, such as the educational and public health programs of the UCLA in LA initiative, it does accomplish this part of our mission in a very innovative way.
Universities must take the lead in helping the country and its citizens find their way in the world again, and through World in Focus, UCLA is contributing to that objective.