J.M.G on 29 Oct 2000 07:35:31 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] Indymedia - 'Become the Media'

Originally published in Arena Magazine (Australia) this artcile discusses
and documents the importance of Indymedia during the S11 portests in

'Become the Media'
by Alex Kelly and Jason Gibson

Two blockades were erected around Melbourne's Crown Casino on the 11, 12
and 13 September. There was firstly the blockade of peaceful protesters
surrounding the Crown Casino and partially 'shutting down'the World
Economic Forum, and secondly what activists in Prague (hosting their own
protest on 26 September against the International Monetary Fund) have
dubbed the corporate media blockade. The perceived misrepresentation of
events within the mainstream press, radio and television led protesters to
adorn walls with slogans such as 'the media tells lies' and 'don't hate the
media - become the media'. The message was clear - the kind of
participatory, democratic and sustainable social system the various groups
involved in S11 stood for had to include a space for effective public
communication. In response to the perceived need for independent media
coverage of S11, a coalition of individuals and people from different
community media organisations formed Melbourne IndyMedia - an on-line media
channel which allowed and encouraged everyone to be a journalist. 

The idea of the corporate media being a barrier to democratic discourse is
not new. However, with the emergence of the Internet, debate has been
renewed in recognition of the need for a public sphere separate from the
corporate and public sectors. The ability of on-line media to network and
enhance the organisational activities of groups and individuals has
suggested the possibility of a greater degree agency from civil society and
its citizens. Creative applications of the Internet technology during the
S11 protests demonstrated the ability of the Net to not only function as an
organisational tool but also as a form of civil disobedience in cyberspace.
The tongue-in-cheek link to John Farnham's 'You're the Voice' - chosen as
the S11 song - and the clever 'hactivism' which redirected users from
www.nike.com to www.S11.org, generated considerable discussion within the
press, radio and television media. This publicity alerted new audiences to
the existence of the site incrementally increasing the number of hits the
site received. The old media was important in publicising and drawing
attention to the new, highlighting the fact that, although the Net is an
important new tool, activists still largely rely on coverage in the
traditional media and cannot rely solely upon the emerging communications

Initially developed out of a synergy of public, civil and private
co-operation, the Internet has enabled this reformulation of political
dynamics. However it is quickly becoming more and more privately driven.
IndyMedia, an initiative of shared technologies, ideas and knowledge, has
carried on the tradition from which the Internet emerged. As Rhonda and
Michael Hauben note in their history of Usenet and the Internet 'the
development of the Net was the result of the work of many computer pioneers
from the academic, government and research sectors working cooperatively to
produce a significant public resource." The researchers had no proprietary
products to support and no commercial deadlines to meet. They did not
develop products that
commercial sector could (and would) develop. Interestingly most news media,
during the S11 protests, highlighted what they saw as an apparent
contradiction in the use of 'corporate' technology by an 'anti-corporate'
movement. Both the IndyMedia and S11 sites provide useful examples of
creative and effective uses of a technology when in the hands of citizens.
This new movement of technological application, radicalism and creativity -
dating back to the urgent postings of the Zapatistas (EZLN) of Chiapas,
Mexico in 1994 and the international campaign against the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment (MAI) - has gained momentum in the wake of the
protests against the World Trade Organisations in Seattle of last year. 

Seattle saw the inception of the first IndyMedia 'channel' aimed at
providing up to the minute independent coverage of the anti-WTOprotests.
IndyMedia centres have now sprung up all over the globe using a common html
code and format created by Sydney's Catalyst computer geek collective.
Within minutes photographs, text, video and audio material can be uploaded
for all to see, reply to and add to within the one website. Unlike radio,
television or newspapers, where feedback is slow or non-existent,
electronic forums such as this ensure quick interaction among all
participants. IndyMedia has been successful in empowering citizens by
generating spaces for interaction at the local, national and global level
rather than being constrained to
the specific representations offered by large media institutions. Such an
initiative proceeds from a logic of engagement founded upon notions of
production and involvement rather than consumption and spectacle.
Witnessing the rapid postings of breaking news and first-
hand accounts uploaded every few minutes during N30 in Seattle, A16 in
Washington and S11 in Melbourne may suggest directions for a more
participatory media environment. The world has never witnessed the ease
with which news and information is transferred at amazing speed and with
excellent results. 

One of the greatest achievements of the IndyMedia initiative has been in
its ability to challenge the ideas of who is and who is not an
authoritative journalist. Notions of legitimacy and credibility that go
hand in hand with the tradition of journalism are disregarded in preference
for a free dissemination of information. The Catalyst system allows anyone
- with access - to publish to a global audience under the banner of
IndyMedia regardless of political affiliation or persuasion. A high level
of participation and the high quality of content, despite a lack of
editorial control, has shown the open-publishing model to be
enormously successful and useful to journalists and citizens alike when
searching for information. Such independent coverage has been extremely
important given the mainstream's misunderstandings and misrepresentations
of the S11 protests. The most notable examples
were a number of print and television reports written using PR company,
Hill and Knowlton's 'S11 background brief.' The brief contained incorrect
claims regarding the S11 and related movements. For example, both the Age
and the Herald Sun reported that the Seattle protests had mobilised around
a meeting of the World Economic Forum, as the Hill and Knowlton brief
suggested, when in fact it was the World Trade Organisation. A degree of
public confusion
was to be expected after such passive journalism. 

Both corporate and public media seemed to have difficulty grasping
theconcepts of affinity groups involving fragmented and decentralised ways
of organising. S11 saw the emergence of pragmatic and creative groups -
such as the S11 bicycle courier network (i)Xpress, Food not
Bombs and IndyMedia - not easily confined to a system of rhetoric or
totalising logic. The anarchic structure of organising which emerged was
perhaps difficult for the mainstream media to document due to the common
formula governing the construction of news items. The time limitations of
the news format, demanding concision and the production of neat binary
oppositions, does not lend itself well to a comprehensive coverage of
something as diverse and complex as the S11 protests. Whereas there are
clear difficulties in the format of mainstream news, oversimplification of
the issues was inappropriate as both the political issues and the
protesters themselves were multifaceted and resistant to basic
explanations. The Internet technology, as applied by the IndyMedia news
service, was much more conducive to permitting a
proliferation of heterogenous voices. 

In addition to this a perhaps basic yet important point was echoed by
protesters throughout the three days - the bulk of Australian media is
owned by members 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. 

Despite the advent of such innovative modes of news delivery and more than
30,000 visits to Melbourne IndyMedia to date, the fact remains that the
majority of news is gained from traditional television, print and radio
media. With only half of the Australian population having domestic access
to the Internet those involved in IndyMedia have always been well aware of
the limitations of an on-line news channel. In light of these important
shortcomings, a print version drawing on content from the site, Indy
Bulletin, was produced daily throughout S11 to S13 and a SKA TV
documentary, Melbourne Rising, was also produced drawing on footage from a
number of independent film-makers. A screening of the documentary has
already been
scheduled to occur in Prague before the mobilisation against the
International Monetary Fund who plan to meet there on S26. 

The workings of the group were inhibited by a lack of permanent physical
working space, economic constraints, and difficulty with securing publicity
in the mainstream media. The Seattle IndyMedia Centre had a budget of over
$70,000 (US) to cover the actions against
the WTO in November last year - IndyMedia Melbourne worked unfunded. The
positive response to IndyMedia in its short life span has demonstrated the
need for more interactive, independent media with a view to enlivening the
public sphere. IndyMedia will continue to fill this
role as long as the public continue to produce and publish content. 


Jason Gibson teaches at Swinburne University of Technology in
Media and Communications and Sociology.

Alex Kelly is a Swinburne Media student who was actively involved in
the co-ordination of Melbourne IndyMedia.
Originally Published in Arena Magazine
Jason Matthew Gibson
Media and Communications
Swinburne University of Technology
"there are just others; and we ourselves are an 'other' among others." 

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