Robin Hamman on Mon, 12 Apr 1999 17:55:14 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> B-92/Net Activism article from The Independent

An edited version of the following article appears in today's Independent
(UK national daily newspaper). Omited are several paragraphs at the
beginning and also the paragraph about the contributions of Micz Flor in
Austria. The shorter, edited version may appear at later today

During times of war and civil unrest, governments are often keen to
control the flow of information. In occupied Europe during the Second
World War, strict Nazi media policies gave rise to clandestine resistance
newsletters and pirate radio stations. These new channels of information
were used to bypass censorship and provided an independent source of news
about the war for those who were otherwise bombarded with Nazi propaganda.

For nearly a decade, activists working in war zones or areas of civil
unrest have had access to advanced communications technologies, such as
satellite telephones, fax machines and the Internet.  Not only can they
use these technologies to access news from the outside world, but also to
transmit their own information and views. In recent years we have seen a
number of examples of activists spontaneously utilising these new
communications technologies.

In 1989, student protestors were seen running through Tiannemen Square
with e-mail print-outs and faxes of support from around the world. During
the Gulf War, unfiltered news trickled out of Kuwait through e-mail and
IRC chat rooms. During recent political turmoil in Indonesia, the
government heavily censored newspapers, so newspaper vendors began selling
photocopies of news obtained from Western websites. In the age of the
Internet, there is no way for governments to effectively stop such
information being made available across national borders short of cutting
off all telephone services. The ability to route around blockages or
damage to the network was recognised by early pioneers of the ARPAnet, the
precursor of today's internet, who suggested that the Internet could
potentially survive a nuclear attack. Today, a group of online activists
are exploiting the geographically distributed nature of the Internet to
disseminate news and viewpoints about the war in Yugoslavia.

Radio B-92 ( is an independent FM radio station based in
Belgrade which has won a number of international press and media awards,
including the prestigious "Free Your Mind" award presented to them by MTV
Europe in 1998. Their broadcasts of music and uncensored news were, until
the 2nd of April, heard across Serbia through a network of local partner
stations. Their signal was also picked up by the BBC World Service and
retransmitted via satellite around the world. In December 1996, B-92 began
using technology from Real Networks to stream live audio broadcasts and
short video clips over the Internet.

>From its start as a terrestrial broadcaster, B-92 has been a respected
source of independent news in the Balkans. Its coverage of anti-government
protests in Belgrade in 1996 and on recent events in Kosovo, against the
wishes of the Milosevic government, has meant that it has operated under
the constant threat of closure. B-92 offices have been raided on numerous
occasions and members of staff have been repeatedly harassed or arrested.
On 23 March, with NATO bombardment imminent, the transmitter of Radio B-92
was confiscated yet again by the Serbian authorities and editor-in-chief,
Veran Matic, was taken and held in custody at a police station for over
eight hours.

B-92 stood it's ground against the government by continuing to provide
music and news, in both Serbian and English, over the Internet for ten
days following the confiscation of their radio transmitter. This was made
possible through the co-ordinated efforts of B-92 staff based in their
Belgrade studio and media activists across Europe. In early March, many of
these activists met together for the Next Five Minutes Tactical Media
Conference ( in Amsterdam. At this conference, discussions
took place on how to best organise and run campaigns using the media, and
plans were made for using the Internet to develop support networks and
resource sharing among allied groups. At the conference, Radio B-92 staff
gave a presentation about their work and the various partnerships they had
already set up.

According to Geert Lovink, a prominent Dutch media activist and one of the
key organisers of Help B-92 Campaign, talks between B-92 and other groups
throughout Europe started as early as 1992. In 1993, an organisation
called 'Press Now!' was set up to support independent media production in
the former Yugoslavia. This technical and financial support later proved
vital to the success of B-92.

Because of the dangerous political situation and frequent crackdowns
against the Serbian media, B-92 decided early on to allow xs4all, an
Internet service provider started by a group of Dutch media activists, to
host its site from the Netherlands. By doing this, they hoped to keep the
B-92 website out of the reach of Serbian officials. The Dutch ISP also
provided the expertise and backbone needed for B-92 to create it's own ISP
in Serbia which they used to link independent media producers throughout
the country.

During December 1996, B-92 supported political demonstrations against the
Milosevic regime, in the process becoming the most listened to station in
Belgrade, before Serbian officials banned B-92's broadcasts. In response,
B-92 began streaming audio and video from its website, which the
government was unable to stop since the server was based outside of
Yugoslavian territory.

The Help B-92 Campaign is a well co-ordinated continuation of the support
network started with 'Press Now!' In addition to providing technical
support for B-92 and other independent news providers in the former
Yugoslavia, campaign organisers have set up a bank account for donations,
have been publicising the plight of B-92 and are providing a contact point
for journalists and others interested in the war.

This web savvy support group was able to help B-92 continue to provide
Real Audio streams of music and news for ten days following the
government's ban on their terrestrial broadcasts. The campaign secured a
pledge from Real Networks to provide an unlimited amount of audio and
video stream connections to B-92. Anonymous e-mail lists were developed to
protect the identity of those wishing to express their views about the
war, and messageboards linking to the campaign site buzzed with
information (see ). Encrypted e-mail services
were provided for journalists and others in the former Yugoslavia who
found themselves under threat. The campaign created a website banner in
support of B-92, which is now displayed on hundreds of websites around the
world, and over 15 million visitors are reported to have visited the B-92
site since the beginning of NATO bombardment.

The Help B-92 Campaign website itself has had around 15,000 visitors per
day since it opened two weeks ago and messages of support and donations
have poured in from around the world. The campaign office continues
working with a team of translators all over Europe who, over the Internet,
translate news from the former Yugoslavia into English, Dutch and half a
dozen other languages including Chinese. Other campaign members then use
e-mail and fax machines to distribute these translations of news and press
releases while HTML coders place them on the campaign website.

Although their official headquarters is an attic space above De Balie, a
cultural centre in central Amsterdam, the Help B-92 Campaign has people
and organisations working for it throughout Europe. Micz Flor, a former
University of Salford lecturer now based at Public Netbase t0 Vienna
(, worked with a team on one of many radio relays, recording
and editing B-92's Real Audio broadcasts before rebroadcasting them on the
Austrian public broadcasting network, ORF. This programme was broadcast
for Austrian listeners, but according to Flor, could be received anywhere
within a 1000km radius of Vienna.

On the 02 April, ten days after they confiscated the transmitter of B-92,
Serbian police entered and sealed their offices. All members of staff were
sent home and a new General Manager was appointed by Serbian officials.
The former director of B-92, Sasa Mirkovic, issued a statement through the
website vowing that B-92 will "find a solution how to continue
broadcasting our signal and to inform all our audience all over the world.
At the end, I would like to say that we all have to keep the faith."

Although the B-92 website remains online, visitors are no longer able to
access live news and music streams. Drazen Pantic, a Serbian mathematics
professor who was awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation's 1999
Pioneer Award ( for his work developing
OpenNet and other B-92 networking initiatives, confirms that "for now
there is no jeopardy of B-92 page being hijacked by regime." Pantic
concedes that it appears unlikely that B-92 will be able to continue to
provide live content online under present circumstances following the
closure of their studios.

The Help B-92 Campaign, however, continues to raise funds for the legal
challenges which B-92 plans to lodge against the Serbian government. More
importantly, some members of 'Press Now!' and the Help B-92 Campaign have
started a project called Open Channels for Kosovo
( According to Richard de Boer, who has worked as
a translator with both Press Now! and the Help B-92 Campaign, Open
Channels is more of an information service rather just a support group.
They are working to translate and post the emails, messages, audio reports
and other information coming from independent news sources inside
Yugoslavia. Thus far these sources have included over a dozen journalists
in Yugoslavia and outlying countries as well as several individuals about
which little is known other than their stories and views about the war.
Other Serbian voices are being heard on the internet, such as that of
Orthodox monk Jeromonah Sava from the Visoki Decani monastery near Pec
( who has started an email list and created a web
page, both dedicated to the distribution of news from and about Kosovo.

By closing B-92, the Serbian regime may have succeeded in softening the
voice of one independent news source in Serbia. However, because of the
distributed nature of the Internet, and the well organised support
networks of activists using it, the regime has little chance of silencing
the entire flood of independent news coming out of Yugoslavia. NATO, Geert
Lovink of the Help B-92 Campaign says, may just do it for them: "people
will continue to send e-mail, as long as there are telephone switches. But
if NATO bombs them [the switches] the telling of stories by independent
sources in Yugoslavia will also end."


Donations made to the Help B-92 Campaign are being used to provide support
and equipment for the continued broadcast of independent news in and from
Serbia and Kosovo. For more details, see or

Robin Hamman is a freelance journalist and Internet researcher based at the
Hypermedia Research Centre, University of Westminster. Issue Five of his
webzine, which is on the topic of grassroots political activism online, can
be found at


Robin Hamman, PhD Candidate at the Hypermedia Research Centre,
University of Westminster, London.
   ______      __
  / ____/_  __/ /_  ___  ______________  _____
 / /   / / / / __ \/ _ \/ ___/ ___/ __ \/ ___/
/ /___/ /_/ / /_/ /  __/ /  (__  ) /_/ / /__
\____/\__, /_.___/\___/_/  /____/\____/\___/

Carpe Mo-Diem = Seize the Digital Day

#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL:  contact: