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Alternative Culture Articles

October 29, 2000

Organizing Independent Media
By Royce Carlson

The news is full of reports about media giants gobbling each other up to create even larger companies. This consolidation of mainstream media is giving us less diversity in news reporting. Because these corporations are under pressure from stockholders who expect earnings to increase quarter by quarter, and since their revenue comes mostly from advertising, the news they report cannot help but skew toward a pro-corporate viewpoint. As a result alternative viewpoints are rarely heard in mainstream news media.

In November of 1999 the beginning of a new age for independent media occurred when the first Independent Media Center was founded for the purpose of covering the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle. The mainstream media covered the few violent outbreaks. The IMC covered the viewpoint of the protesters and the police brutality against protesters. It was a great success. Since then Independent Media Centers have been cropping up in cities around the world.

A few weeks ago alternative media people gathered at a conference in Burlington, Vermont called "Building Independent Media: Strategies for Change." It was a day and a half of speakers, workshops and roundtable discussions on the challenges independent radio, television, newspaper, journalists and web media organizers are facing in their quest to make alternative reporting on current events available to more people. The conference covered such topics as The IMCís and the Movement; Roadblocks for Indy Media, Internet and Television, Low Power FM Radio, Breaking Through Censorship, and more. I was involved in some of these workshops and here is what I thought was the most important point generated by the conference.

If you look at the history of activism since the 60ís, you can see a distinction between the way the right wing activists operate versus the way the left works. The right funds media and activism and the left finances primarily the activism with media as a afterthought. Because of this difference, the right produces a more organized and more powerful effect. The mainstream political figures seem to always be trying to appease the right. Why? Because, even though they are a minority, they have a loud and clear voice. As a result of the Vermont conference, this difference in strategies is now clear and it is also clear that funding to try to achieve progressive changes in government must at least equally go to creating and supporting independent media along with the financing of the activism itself.

What has been happening during the current renewed wave of protests against the corporatization of government is that the mainstream media does not report the messages that the protesters are trying to get across. There were substantial protests at all three presidential debates this past month. If you got your news from network television all you heard about, maybe, was that Ralph Nader was refused admission to the first debate. This was very frustrating to the protesters. They feel forced into direct action in order to get coverage and, when they finally do get mainstream media attention, only the "unruliness" gets reported and their message is still not heard. Itís time for the left to organize and support its own independent media and do an "end run" around the mainstream.

How to do the "end run" was largely the overall theme behind the conference. The discussions on the success of the IMC, how to produce and stream audio and video on the Internet, how to finance independent media, how to effectively link the hundreds of progressive news sources to present a powerful and coherent media voice were all very important. This was a good beginning. I say beginning because a weekend conference was long enough to raise the important questions but not long enough to produce anything but the most general solutions. Still, I felt it was a very successful event and I mentioned to the organizer of the conference, Greg Guma of Toward Freedom, that it would be great if this kind of conference could happen soon in other regions of the U.S.

This past week I found out that Dr. Peter Phillips of Project Censored is organizing a West Coast Independent Media Conference and Exposition for April of 2001 in San Francisco. I am excited that this is happening. There is a bright new future for indy media and activism and it couldnít come at a better time. There is a lot of work to do to keep the mega-corporations from totally running our governments and our lives.


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Royce Carlson