N5M/Indymedia

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Original post: http://www.indymedia.nl/nl/2003/09/14038.shtml

Indymedia debate at Next 5 Minutes 4

Translaters - 26.09.2003 18:58

A translation of the earlier posted Dutch summary

From 11 till 14 september 2003 the fourth edition of Next Five Minutes (N5M) took place in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. This festival seeks to give an overview of what are the current debates and initiatives regarding 'tactical media', which refers to the gathering together/acting together of media, art and politics. "Tactical media are media of crisis, criticism and opposition. Media that provide an antidote to the world as we see it represented in mainstream media and current geopolitics. (...) Defining for tactical media is not the medium itself, but the attitude towards media," the N5M website explained.

For about one year organisations, collectives and individual activists prepared this edition of N5M during so called 'Tactical Media Labs', organised in cities all over the world. This edition was built around four themes: the search to the public of tactical media (TM), the local working of TM, the appropriation of TM, and the technical aspect of TM. Starting out from these four themes, a great number of movie-presentations, debates, interviews, installations, and more were organized.

The Indymedia debate, which was held on Saturday late afternoon, was an event for which clearly quite a lot people looked out for at N5M. The debate, which hosted approx. 80 people, including Indy-activists as well as other people who were interested (the 'casual' passer-by :-), took place in a circle-shaped square as to facilitate everyone hearing and seeing each other. In this way everyone could really take part in the debate, which lasted about 2 hours in total.

"We are everywhere!"

The debate started with an introduction by Sheri from Indymedia Seattle, who witnessed the establishment of the first IMC (Seattle, November 1999). "We are everywhere and we are winning," she started her outline. "Although we have seen many successes with Indymedia, it is necessary to open ourselves for criticism, internally as wel as externally," she continued.

After that she quoted a number of definitions of Indymedia, coming from activists and media-critics: an international news-organisation, a participating platform for media production and -distribution, a decentralized social and digital network, a catalyst for tactical media, a peoples' CNN, an experiment in world-wide democracy, a chatroom, a laboratory for social and technological innovation, ... "Indymedia is not one thing, not one or hundreds of websites; Indymedia is different things at the same time, for us, for our public as well as for our allies and for our enemies."

Indymedia differs according to Sheri also on many ways from other communication networks and NGO's. First of all because of the way in which Indymedia handles money, which almost singularly goes to infrastructure (the past four years Indymedia spent globally -only- $26.000 on a network of 120 IMC's; also, the larger part of this money went to IMC's in the 'global South'). "Indymedia differs also from NGO's because of the fact that we absolutely want to strife for self-determination and independence of local communities."

Sheri continued by saying that Indymedia, after four years, has evolved enormously and is still changing rapidly. "This change is one of our fundamental realities, and can be seen as a continuing adjustment and improvement of Indymedia and local situations. We insurrected a global network, and we provide infrastructure, means and inspiration. How do we extend that communication network, regarding from our current position, in a way in which our ideals remain, so that we get people involved and work in a liberating way? How can we continue to grow, without being forced to compromise and bring our development in danger?"

From top-down media to grassroots media.

After the introduction by Sheri, the first topic ("Is Indymedia only about top-hopping, and is there enough attention to the 'daily' news?") was introduced by Xavier from UK IMC. He stated that Indymedia started out reporting on and drawing attention to the actions against the neoliberal top-gatherings, and that Indymedia partly reflects the 'anti-globalisation' movement because of this. "The question then becomes of how one brings the knowledge one obtains during such a top gathering home and how that translates to daily practices of media activism", he concluded.

An answer on this was given by Marol (?) from IMC Argentina. She told about the Argentinan privatized media, and the very difficult struggle to build up an alternative mass medium in a country where more than 50% of the people are living below the poverty line and 90% of the population does not have internet access. "Even though there are no top gatherings in Argentina, we work together with several organisations to set up an independent news source which sends messages about things happening in Argentina every day. We feel very concerned about the people, also because we find things that happen offline very important. Sometimes we show political movies to people who have never been in a movie hall before. Although we're not experts, we help each other to make media, to use technology, to be creative, ... We want to be engaged in the social changes that are happening on a daily basis."

A girl from Indymedia Romania noticed that it is important, besides the international tops and worldwide themes, to focus on local problems and situations: "in Romania it's more relevant to talk about the orthodox church then about an action against McDonalds. It makes no sense to just copy topics which might be important globally, and if you don't translate them to local or national situations.

Also, several people mentioned that the summits are the reason why most people come to Indymedia sites, and that these people often keep returning to the site after that. "That's why it's important to see relations and to explain between the international public and the smaller disgraceful states of affairs and grassroots actions that are taking place," says an Italian IMC-ista.

Also the importance of the organisation of information was pointed out. "If you look to Indymedia, there are big stories besides smaller ones, which are at least as important. On the other hand if you look to the big mainstream media, you notice that the smaller stories are at once relegated to the background."

A strong brand ?!

After the discussion about top hopping the debate turned into the issue of Indymedia as a 'brand'. Clara from Indymedia Netherlands explained that there are many questions asked about "the branding of Indymedia". Shouldn't we split Indymedia up into smaller media-organisations? Are we really a brand in the capitalist meaning of the word? Do we sell a product? (By the way, the answer on the last two questions was a unified 'no'). "Indymedia is an idea, a very wide and diverse idea", she explained. "Although the fact that there is a lot of variety between various Indymedia's, there are also a few basic demands which any Indymedia has to conform to: openness, transparency, non-hierarchical structure, ... None of these rules explicitly state what kind of news you have to produce as an IMC, or that you have to write about anti-globalization, or that you have to be anti-American, .... In other words, we don't say what you have to do, but we do say in which way you should work in order to be an IMC."

Besides this, Clara talked about the social aspect of the 'brand' Indymedia: "It's also about community-building, about people who are busy with the same cases. This morning we were here with 25 people from Indymedia who have never seen each other before and only knew each other name from a mailinglist or a chatroom. We didn't need to get to 'know each other', but we could have immediately begin as people who all work on Indymedia. According to me we're also a very cute brand. We share information, infrastructure, technology, software."

Geert, a Dutch media-theorist, told that the brand is of importance because of several already existing collectives and mediagroups, to bring them together, to share knowledge, and to create alliances, ...

A heated discussion emerged on the 'brand' issue: "It's something that corporations invented and something I will not use to describe what I'm doing", said someone from IMC UK, who also got involved in the founding of IMC Prague. A German commercial woman said that 'branding' exceeds the business world and doesn't necessarily have negative connotations. "A brand makes the connection between the organisation and the action. It makes you visible as an organisation and can help you to get more people involved and to urge upon action. For Indymedia it can be a hallmark which says: this is high quality, independent information."

Somebody from Indymedia Germany said that the brand Indymedia also has had negative consequences. "Right after an Indymedia is set up, people loose interest in other projects. Indymedia sort of pushes the other projects away, because of the reputation Indymedia worldwide has. We have to focus more on our work, but on the same time also cooperate with other groups. This translates also to the outside world: we should not give people the impression that we're the only ones who are dealing with open and independent media."

Open medium

After the discussion about the 'brand' Indymedia, it was time to discuss the openness of Indymedia, the last subject on the debate. Several questions were raised: Is Indymedia open or pseudo/passive open? Do you have to be a 'techie' to work with Indymedia? How do we prevent extreme-right groups to hijack our open newswire? How can Indymedia be open to other groups in the Tactical Media universum? How can we bring out in the open voices, which are hushed up (ignored) everywhere? These are easy questions to ask, but difficult questions to answer.

The first reaction came from an American IMC-ista, who told that it's sure less easy for women to work at an IMC. "In the past there have been numerous problems regarding child-friendly IMC's, smoke-free places, ..." She continued that sometimes knowledge isn't passed on at moments when this has to be done quickly, like during a big international event. She admitted that some people, who work temporarily at an IMC, often do not really contribute to how it works, and sometimes only use it to organise their next party.

Another 'problem' she brought up, was the lack of sense of humour at Indymedia: "It's like... sometimes we get so fucking serious, like it's really really boring." Also the lack of attention to art was brought to the fore: "Most IMC's ignore a mass of chances to organise fantastic exhibitions, for example by simply printing out photographs from the website and bundling them together. It's more than just your computer." The last problem she pointed out, was that at Indymedia there's too litlle attention to media criticism and -analysis, although there is a lot of expertise and insight at many IMC's. "We should study the big media structures better to understand them and to change them in the end, so that one day a satellite may be there with an Indymedia logo on it."

The German commercial woman asked if Indymedia is ready to become a power in the information-war ("Yeaaaahh!! We already are!!" the loud answer sounded) and what happens then with the openness and access to basic information about Indymedia. Xavier from IMC UK couldn't answer the question, but pointed out that this question is very important: "In the past we have seen that so many initiatives, which after they became bigger and bigger, either got profesionalized, or got marganalized and eventually died a silent death. We actually have to ask ourselves how we, within Indymedia, should deal with this ."

There was also attention for 'the digital divide', the digital chasm between poor and rich, North and South, men and women. Somebody from IMC Germany said that within Indymedia more attention has to go to less technically oriented people and communities. Thus "empowerment" of less wealthy groups. After that there was a short reaction from somebody who said that in his environment (in the South of the US) many African-Americans in the meantime use Indymedia to tell their story.

After the debate, which actually was more an inspiring and "strategic dialog" than a real debate, there was some post-talking and post-thinking. To be continued on all kind of mailinglists.

Translated from: http://www.indymedia.nl/nl/2003/09/13846.shtml