Josephine Bosma on Fri, 19 Feb 1999 11:27:31 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> legitimate illegality

[written for n5m3,  JB]

       Think: Possibility.. not: Licence.

          The Legitimacy of Illegality

Webcasting often is seen as an alternative for experiments which
would not be able to get a licence for ethertransmissions. The
difficulty projects and broadcasting initiatives encounter when
trying to get legal airspace has caused a limited view of the
possibilities of working within the ether as such. It is already
clear that connections between networks like the internet and
the ether can be most interesting, but this is of course not the
only reason to have a look at the possibilities of broadcasting more
closely. The ether is still the easiest way to reach large numbers
of people fast. We should always be aware it is there when we need it.

Illegal broadcasting is not approached the same by police everywhere.
When you listen to the FM-band in Berlin you witness the remains of
a strict military regime of this particular area. In Amsterdam or
London free -or pirate- radiostations are all over the waveband, be it
that each station individually is not always there for a longer period
of time. To control the ether, one needs a vast controlling apparatus,
like the military with all its technology and disciplinary working
methods, plus one needs the desire to do so. This desire can come from
habit, like in Berlin, or it can come from a dictatorship, like in

Not everywhere both necesities for controlling the ether can be found,
and these are the places where illegal stations live longest. A long
life on the air is not the most important reason to start transmitting
though. The basis of every medium is the need to communicate. A steady
position as a broadcastingstation, or of any medium if you like, only
adds a sideproduct: More Power. Addictive as this might be, one
should not underestimate the power and beauty of short and single
transmissions (and the relative ease with which they can be realised).

I would like to talk about the content of transmissions, the real
reason to be on the air. The ether is a very wide concept. All
wireless 'communications' happen in 'the ether': FM-, AM-, SW-radio,
HighFrequency transmissions like portophone, mobile phone and satelite,
but also infrared, radar and sonar. None of these are impossible to
'use' without a licence, some are even quite easy to use. It depends
on the kind of project whether transmitting, receiving, or both are
applied. It is wrong to think in terms of what is and what is not
allowed when contemplating the possibilities of a medium. This happens
too often when people discuss mass media like radio.

Though of course radio transmissions were military technology in the
very early beginnings, traditionally frequencies have been allocated
to representatives of powerful groups within society. In the twentieth
century we have witnessed a change as to what is the basic drive or
reason to communicate. The basis of influence on media has moved from
the realm of church (religion) and nobility (family) to the realm of
money (which is without direct connection to any traditional values).
This shift did not start this century, but it certainly was very
influential. This meant for the allocation of etherspace: an increasing
number of radio and televisionstations whose existence is mostly
legitimized by the money they generate. In other words: there are more
and more purely commercial stations, transmitting towards a specific
audience, with 'low risk content' to reduce loss of listeners and

What is an interesting broadcast and does culture need to be protected?
All I can say now is that the policy to sell frequencies and airspace
to the highest bidder (and on the basis of marketing research like here
in Holland) is damaging not just variety in representation of cultures,
but it damages the very basis of development of variety. It harms
diversity in cultural practice, thus leading us towards monocultures,
with all their disadvantages: cultural inbreeds, mainstream thinking,
consumerism, fascism, policies against differences. We should demand a
stop of the sale of the ether. Until that is realised, there is no
reason to obey broadcasting laws when we need airspace. The inflexibility
of governements and bureaucracy will probably always ask for creativity
on our part.

Soon digital broadcasting will make more space in the ether to sell.
Politics are already prepared for this. We need to step in now and
make sure our ether does not end up as one big muzak hall. Showing the
need for variety with illegal broadcasting is one way to achieve this.

Illegal transmissions could also help in the case of a project like
Insular Technologies, to test the possibilities of an alternative
computer network which depends on packet radio. Occasional rings of
transmissions could be made on different wavebands and frequencies.

To close of this plea for illegality: in Kroatia a piratestation
was active that used a metal garden fence as its antenna. It would
also drive around with a small transmitter and use the car antenna
to broadcast. Small and un-effective in the sense of spanning large
area's, but so much fun. A great display of knowledge too.

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