AND TURTLES, HACKERS AND TIGERS
Seattle to Davos - and D.C., Prague, Calgary and Windsor - media activists,
environmentalists, tree huggers and labor rank and file have coalesced
into a formidable force that has not only had an impact on the international
money lenders, but has also caused major trouble for corporate giants
such as Monsanto, Gap and Nike. On the lam, Monsanto is changing its name
and trying to spin off agriculture.
the global movement for justice and accountability arose to counter corporate
globalization, there was finally a recognition by progressive groups of
the importance of alternative media and the realization that the information/
entertainment oligarchy is at the forefront of global capital. The anti-globalization
movement sees clearly that corporate media is an integral part of the
problem. For these activists, creating new ways of communicating must
be part of the solution. Media activists have constructed their own public
information spaces by integrating various media formats and technologies:
camcorders, Web radio, streaming video, microradio, digital photography,
community cable access, DBS (direct broadcast satellite) transponders
and laptop journalism. The revolution is not only televised, but digitized
and streamed. This is not an attempt to "get on TV" but a commitment
to create new forms of information sharing using new spaces and technologies
and new ways of collaboration. The movement for an alternative media,
with its flexible and open structure, its democratic rendering of the
use-values of new technologies, and its continual involvement in interconnecting
people in a transnational movement, provides an model of the evolution
of a radical opposition, from the spontaneous appearance of individual
creative practice, to the collective gathering of small co-operatives
with enhancement of practical and technical skill, and to the growth of
national and international collectives.
following is the statement of purpose of the Boston
Independent Media Center, created in less than two weeks in response
to a global bio-engineering conference held in Massachusetts last winter.
This statement has been taken up and tweaked or supplemented by several
of the independent media centers, most recently in Windsor,
Ontario. "The Boston Independent Media Center is a collectively run
media outlet for the creation of radical, objective and passionate tellings
of the truth. We work out of a love and inspiration for people who continue
to work for a better world, despite corporate media's distortions and
unwillingness to cover the efforts to free humanity. Indymedia provides
resources and infrastructure for activists, citizens, communities and
groups to tell their stories."
Behind the strategic blockades by the radical environmentalists and the lively and passionate video tapes, pirate radio shows and Web sites produced by the camcorder-commandos and server jocks, is an authentic revolution: a revolution in the form of public action and its documentation. The most radical aspect of this new movement is its non-hierarchical nature. The decision making is by consensus. All participants are themselves empowered.
The collaborative nature of the Indymedia work is something the mainstream press can't fathom. In covering this media revolution, the corporate press, either unwilling or unable to see the implications of this new form of information sharing, has focused on trying to find evidence of "hacking". Hacking is something the main stream reporters can deal with. The more complex forms of anti-global cyber activism they can't appreciate. They are stuck with the notion of a sort of individual geek working as maverick computer terrorist and they have a hard time "getting" decentralized consensus based media affinity groups.
The Independent Media Centers have emerged as models, not only for new ways of media making, but as practical examples of collective production. Many different streams came together: the video activist community, the micro-radio pirates, the computer hacker/codewriters, the 'zine makers and the punk music world. From the beginning there has been a committment to democratic process on all levels within the IMCs. Decision making procedures are discussed frequently on IMC list serves. Though quite popular and visited by literally millions, the indymedia websites are not about spectacle, but about involvement, engagement and participation. The front page is divided into columns, the first being links to all the IMC websites from the various locations through out the world. The center section is a loosely edited, regularly up-dated, news post. The right hand column is for on-going continual posting open to all.
process of Indymedia is completely open, and completely accountable: there
is no gate keeping, no selection process (except for what is selected
for emphasis on the center news column). Any statement is immediately
available for comment, discussion and/or correction. This open structure
is especially appropriate for the type of movement which has evolved around
globalization. As "J.M.G." pointed out during the demonstrations
in Melbourne at the September 2000 meeting of the World Economic Forum:
"The inabilities of the mainstream media to comprehensively document
the issues and events surrounding S11 are contrasted by the growing number
of community based, independent media outlets and individuals granted
a forum for interactive dialogue through IndyMedia. The IndyMedia site
provides a 'channel' for open discourse, free of editorial, as a simple
click on the 'publish' button enables anyone and everyone to upload their
stories. Rather than challenging or infiltrating the mainstream the objective
of IndyMedia is to create a system outside of the dominant socio-political
culture, empowering citizens by providing greater access and opportunity.
Under this method of communication the traditional concept of the 'audience'
is refuted - challenging the reader/writer to come to their own conclusions
by wading through the diverse range of stories relating to s11 and other
events. The sheer enormity and breadth of information available has lead
to a greater level of engagement with both the issues and the other reader/writers.
Creating this space for audience control has harnessed the inherent qualities
of hypertext - unlike the majority of on-line news services, which remain
overwhelmingly one-way in their transmission."
where is public television in all of this? Public television's participation
in these global discussions is pretty much limited to promotional advertisements
for Archer-Daniels-Midland, Miracle Gro, Amgen and other agro-businesses.
As it's presently constituted, public television is incapable of almost
any kind of reporting on the sort of systemic critique that this global
movement represents. We have a nominally public communication apparatus
that is structurally imbedded in the corporate system. Any sustained critique
of that system cannot take place within that apparatus.
terms of video production, PBS stations have set themselves up as fortresses
against not only independent producers but community groups of any stripe,
except perhaps the Junior League or the chambers of commerce. What a contrast
there is between the icy gloom of most publicly funded PBS station offices
and the bustle and excitement of the many successful cable access centers.
There community organizations feel welcome; there independent producers
can utilize resources and channel space. Shouldn't public television also
be a space in which the community participates?
the late 1970's the second Carnegie Commission sparked an occasion for
activity in the critique and reform of public television. I was involved
in the movement as a representative of the independent media community,
as President of the Association
of Independent Video and Filmmakers (AIVF). There was an impressive
coalition of media producers, labor, women's organizations, civil rights
activists, progressive religious organizations and others who came together
to appeal first to the commission and then directly to Congress to take
the need for an authentic public television seriously. And gains were
made; there was an acknowledgement of the work of independent producers
and legislation for affirmative action at stations and in programming.
On some level, perhaps we can thank this movement for the few courageous
series that PBS has created: "Matters of Life and Death," "POV"
(Marc Weiss, founder of POV,
was a veteran of that '70s struggle) and, indirectly, but certainly part
of the picture, "Eyes on the Prize." And wasn't it right after
this activism that Charlayne Hunter Gault joined Jim and Robert?
most far-reaching result of this organizing effort perhaps has been the
implementation of "Sunshine Laws" on a national scale. These
right-to-know laws have been won in California thanks to the efforts of
Larry Hall, Henry Kroll and other Bay Area activists. The laws mandate
that organizations which receive funds from the Corporation
for Public Broadcasting (CPB) must hold open board meetings (and committee
meetings, except for those portions of the meetings which deal with personnel
issues). This law is one that the Pacifica
Foundation has consistently violated (though CPB itself has to enforce
the regulation and, in the case of Pacifica, has been reluctant to do
so), and it is routinely ignored by many stations around the country.
However, as far as I know it is still a law, and if citizens get organized,
this is quite an important tool for community groups to have at their
is no Carnegie Commission at this time to focus a critique. Public television
as it is now constituted would be too vulnerable, too open to criticism.
Labor is too militant. As Seattle has demonstrated, progressive forces
are too organized. So there has been no national forum for that sort of
discussion. However, there is a deep need for a new assessment, and I
hope that the recent "Public
Broadcasting and the Public Interest" conference, as far as I
know the first of its kind, is the beginning of a new movement to assess
public broadcasting and to reinsert the public-interest mandate that was
the impetus for its beginning
A new reform movement
reform movement for this new millennium has resources which were not present
in the 1970's. Things are different now. The enthusiasm which coalesced
around the Media and Democracy Congresses in New York (1996) and San Francisco
(1997) are an indication of the potential for progress. There is potential
for a broad movement for communication reform. Aside from the impressive
and enthusiastic Independent
Media Centers (IMCs), I will enumerate a few of the other assets now
in place for reinvigorated media activism:
1. Academic Study
serious, sustained research that is being done on the public sphere and
in cultural studies at many universities. By framing the discussion of
public television in terms of the privatization of public space and the
need for an authentic public sphere, critical theory has given the reform
movement a wider perspective. By showing the historic consequences of
colonialism, slavery and academic elitism, the cultural studies movement
has made diversity not only a required college class, but a requirement
for cultural administration at any level.
on-going work of Fairness
and Accuracy in Reporting, whose publications and archives provide
potential reformers with ammunition and examples. Their crucial
studies of the commercialization
of children's programming, of the recurring bias on "NewsHour"
and the lack of working-class representation on PBS and NPR are landmark
studies which give substance to public broadcasting critiques.
3. Activists Using Media
wide use of television and computer media as activist tools within the
environmental, labor and social-justice movements. Years ago it was hard
to convince a rank-and-file union group that they needed a video about
their cause. Now it is an accepted necessity. The United
Farm Workers were pioneers in this endeavor with their emotional look
at pesticides in the short tape, "The Wrath of Grapes." That
tape has been reproduced more than a million times and continues to inform
struggles around pesticides. "Lock
Down USA," produced by Deep
Dish TV, is virtually a part of the Schools
Not Jails movement and is being shown in literally thousands of high
schools and colleges. These examples are not films about the movement
or films about a subject which the movement also addresses, they are part
of the movement.
4. Media Literacy
expanding base of media education and the media literacy movement which
has adherents in almost every public elementary, junior and high school
in this country. Teachers are realizing that they need to make the media
a subject for discussion, even as early as kindergarten. And not only
discussion, but also practice. With the demise of art-education funds,
teachers often must bring their own personal camcorders to school, but
for many of them, filmmaking has become a useful catalyst for creative
work by groups of students. For some the video camera becomes a tool for
educational research within their communities. One example is Fred Isseks
of Middletown, New York, whose students have documented
the corruption and dangers of the town dump - to such a degree that the
landfill mafia has made threats on the teacher's life. But their work
resulted in a major investigation of the problem and has (at least for
now) put an end to a long-standing practice of allowing the dump to be
used for extremely toxic waste. The teachers and students of these classes
know the potential for educational television.
5. Coalitions and Web Sites
Citizens for Independent
Public Broadcasting, the Center
for Media Education and People
for Better TV form a useful band of infrastructure support for future
reform initiatives. There are useful and informative Web sites such as
which regularly discuss communication policy issues. And the Media
Access Project, a veteran center of public-interest advocacy, is still
6. Public Access TV
access television is one of the most exciting and controversial U.S. media
developments within the past two decades. In 1972 the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) mandated that cable systems be required to provide channels
for public access. Many regularly scheduled television programs have been
made for local networks, some of which have been running for over ten
years. The subjects can range from astrology, call-in shows to discussions
of spousal abuse. In the United States, the numbers of public channels
and extent of equipment and facilities available are negotiated by the
cable corporation and the local governments in the process of franchising.
This process can be quite complex and can take several years to finalise.
The structures resulting from the negotiations, known as 'access' or 'PEG'
(public, educational and governmental) channels have created an informal
network of non-commercial makers and viewers in several thousand cities
and towns in the United States who have had to inform themselves about
the political economy of corporate media in very concrete ways as they
battle for just cable franchises. They have created new forms of public
communication participation. In both the form of their governing bodies
and the formats of their interactive programming, many of the community
television centers are models of what an authentic television space for
and by the public might be.
7. FreeSpeech TV
TV is a publicly-supported, independent, non-profit TV founded in
1995. In 2000, FSTV realized its goal of launching the first national
progressive, non-commercial television network when it was awarded a full-time
satellite channel on DISH Network as a result of an FCC policy to set
aside 4%-7% of satellite channels for public interest channels. This set-aside,
which has become part of the direct broadcast rules, was itself proposed,
lobbied and fought for by Freespeech TV. It is now available nationally,
24/7, on DISH Satellite Network. Deep Dish is a model of how satellite
technology can create networks of interest. By organising the programming
around issues from many different geographical sources, the network re-connects
often scattered and isolated movements. By identifying producers and groups
from around the country, Deep Dish uses video to create community, to
bring people together who might not know about each other. Freespeech
will be working with Deep Dish, the IMCs and hundreds of independent producers
to provide an authentic alternative to public television as it is now
constituted. The success of this effort may very well impact PBS.
8. International Reform
And, finally, there is the international community. Back in the 1970's the movement to reform public broadcasting was informed and supported by an international movement for a "new world information order." The MacBride Commission was in full swing, and there were research papers and symposia addressing issues of media democracy. That commission is one of the principle reasons the United States still has not paid its share of United Nations dues (in the billions). At this point, although there is no international organized movement for information parity, there is a growing realization that the rapid privatization of public space - such as we've seen in Eastern Europe - was a mistake. There is growing outrage against the violence and exploitative nature of commercial media and global consumer capitalism. The global movement for empowerment and accountability, which has been made manifest in the struggle against the WTO and the IMF, sees culture as absolutely imbedded in the domination and exploitation it is fighting. It will ultimately have an impact on broadcasting structures not just in the world, but here in the States - the belly of the beast - and certainly, eventually, at PBS itself.