Indy- or anti- media? Against ANY journalism...
a summary of discussion in Belgrade Monday 25th of July 2004.
This was one of the discussions organised in Athenaeum of anarcho-syndicalists, parallel but not as part of the PGA conference. Some may have seen parallel program organised in Athenaeum as a challenge against PGA, but obviously most of the participators of parallel program were either neutral, or not interested to choose their sides in local rivalries. I publish this in conference website and PGA process list as well, because most of the people who participated came there for the PGA at the first place, and those who missed the event might be curious what was the discussion about.
This turned out to be a succesfull event, perhaps the title was provoking enough to lure curious indymedia activists from PGA conference to hear what were anarchist hardliners planning for their trouble. At some point I counted 27 participators at the discussion, among them were activists from at least Norwegian, UK and Russian indymedia (which has Ukrainian editors as well), and German Kanal - B independent video project. So we had also insider experience from pretty many countries.
Below, I will cite the original (slightly edited) concept of the discussion, it was proposed in Alter-EE e-mail list in prior to Belgrade conference, but propably few of the participators of the discussion had read it:
"Indymedia project spread in last few years all over planet, providing widest ever source of independent information. But what is actually "independent" and what is "information" or "what to do with this what we know" story. All recent hype and popularity of so-called media activism has created inside of leftist, autonomous but also anarchist movement new "workplaces" or specialities for all these confused people, who somehow want to be active but don't know how. Spreading radical emancipatory message or analyse of events from antiauthoritarian point of view should be done ONLY by direct actors and not mediatic representatives. Doing media is often neccessery and important yet clearly infrastructure of the struggle, tool and not goal itself. There are very few positives examples, where people are active politically and are as part of their political expression doing media stuff, yet in most of the cases huge ever growing gap between indymedia and plain activists is being created. These people think, behave and act like fucking journalists. On other hand masses of idiots are swallowing indy stuff without questioning, just as they used to do with any bourgeoise press. Often indymedia become also gutter for all kind of reactionary garbage, from nazis through Stalinist parties till parliamentary left. All this is also turning message inside of our own circle and not widening audience, subculturalizing it and not moving outwards.For many groups it is already more important to send their text on web (so to exist virtually and be seen by others like them), than to print it and to distribute flyers on the street. How anarchist message should be spread, how we see media and if with speak to (any)camera, should we do it smiling or with a hammer."
First people to talk about their practical experience were anarchists from Poland. They commented effect which "franchised" Indymedia has had on Polish activist scene. Other activist newswires, such as Poprostu are in decay because people have run to Indymedia, which actually is of secondary quality in comparaison with older projects. Polish Indymedia is full of outright carbage, such as right wing interventions or even disinformation. In other hand Indymedia indeed succeeded in reaching new people, but still at times there is an impression that anarchists are doing work of liberals for liberals.
An activist from UK reminded about a case, when Undercurrents had sold an action they did at British Chamber of Commerce to Channel 4. Another similar case was a video made from pre-Seattle US Caravan action being sold to CNN. Activist in question had not heard about these plans until he saw his own face at the prime time. Such practices of "alternative media" compromise security of activists, since officials in various countries aim to create as comprehensive video archive about activists as possible. In Germany police is about to get permission to do movement matrix database, where mathematical parametres describing persons individual way of movement would be saved. Armed with enough video footage, police could this way made using masks in demonstrations useless.
In another hand, independent media is under a constant attack. In Brussels, undercover police targeted expecially independent media. In Indonesia, taking a photograph in action landed a person to jail, in FTAA police stopping Indymedia activist consulted other "is it one of ours or not?", in Thessaloniki Indymedia was banned alltogether....
There was a discussion on security policies of different Indymedias, for example in former Soviet Union many people were extremely frustrated when Indyvideo announced that they will refuse from hiding peoples faces in videos. Norwegian Indymedia activist commented, that they always protect peoples identity by hiding faces. Cult of secrecy may also hurt movements, but since there are plenty of things to picture during summit protest, why should one photograph riot?
Indymedia also offers an excellent opportunity of manipulation - for example some authoritarian communists in Warsaw managed to present their action so that picket of 5 person seemed like a massive meeting. During Warsaw WEF protests they were using similar practices widely. In Berlin, sometimes form overrides content so much that in Indymedia one finds only photographs of the action, without a single leaflet or press-release to explain what action was all about. An extreme example was (CIA-financed) Zubra youth opposition movement of Belarus - one anarchist read announcement of their upcoming action in Warsaw from Indymedia, made some leaflets and went there well in time. But NO-ONE was there! And when she came home, she found Zubra reporting in Polish Indymedia about success of the action... After all the criticism, another person gave also credit to Polish Indymedia for good organisation during Warsaw anti-WEF demonstration in April of this year - sometimes distribution of activist labour makes sense as well. It was argued, that much of the complained problems in Indymedia raise because of laziness of people in exploiting this useful resource.
Although Indymedia got plenty of deserved baiting during the debate, there was also a general consensus that many Indymedias are also truly anti-authoritarian and libertarian. Each Indymedia is different, and some of them have no such diseases as right of free speech to rightwing nuts. For example, Russian Indymedia has a policy against promotion of any political parties whatsoever. It was agreed that attempts of right-wingers to exploit naive or moronic liberals in the future would be seen even more often, for example in Romania right-wingers managed to register indymedia.ro domain before real collective was launched. International Indymedia
got credit for busting out right-wingers who set up Russian indymedia, but it was commented that this happened only after one year of angry protests to their address.
As for solutions, proposed anarchist take-over of indymedia got little support in the discussion. It was commented, that such issues as escaping distribution of labour and creating elite of media-activists may be escaped only by continuous critique and introspection of the movements. Getting rid of journo habits is a lenghty and painful process - there is a journalist inside all of us, and it must be killed! And for sure there is a demand for open publishing as well, it should not be substituted but complemented with a focused, qualified but not un-partial media.