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<nettime> Towards a Critical Analysis of Media EmergenC


Towards a Critical Analysis of Media EmergenC

 From October 6th-9th, as the National Association of Broadcasters was
holding their annual Radio Road Show in San Diego, a group of media
activists converged to try to illuminate what is wrong with the corporate
media and to strengthen independent, community autonomous media. This
convergence was called the Media emergenC, highlighting the two themes  of
emergency and emergence. With 4 days of talks, film screenings, marches,
panels, forums and independent media making, the media activists, mostly
composed of members of San Diego Indymedia and radioActive sanDiego, but
including media makers from as far away as New York and Philadelphia,
tried to confront the NAB as had been done in many other cities, but  also
to challenge the independent media movement and push it forward. For an
overview of the events, see:

Independent Media Coverage

The Prometheus Radio Project, after trying out a community reporter
program at the Philadelphia NAB Radio Show in 2003, was eager to take this
program to San Diego in 2004.  Prometheus secured local reporters  in
Philadelphia, as well as some community reporters who'd be coming in  from
the Chesapeake Bay, and others from Baltimore, NAB press passes.
Community radio stations, primarily Low Power FM stations all over the
country, provided the press credentials to these reporters.  Then,  these
reporters collected audio inside the NAB convention, which would otherwise 
cost between $400-$700 for entry.  This audio was processed into headlines,
print articles, and longer audio pieces for some of these stations.

The same stations, for the most part, provided credentials to local San
Diego reporters, as well as reporters flying in from New York (!) and
other exotic places. These reporters went into the NAB in San Diego, and
collected a wide variety of audio for production.

What were the goals here? First, to form relationships between community
reporters and community radio stations all across the country.  It was
originally a hope of Prometheus and some of the participating stations
that these reporters and their contacts at the home stations might  decide
to work together in the future, and provide regional/beat reporting to
the local stations even from far away.  This ties in to the larger goal of
networking stations to other stations more effectively, and sharing

Second, to get representatives of independent media into workshops and
forums where they almost never go.  The National Association of
Broadcasters is a very closed organization, and its behaviors have a great
impact on community media and its ability to proliferate (ex. the LPFM
expansion).  If our reporters can hear about the planned strategies of
the corporate media, and bring them to the stations who might suffer the
impact, or those community members who might want to fight for more
accesses, then we've succeeded in really penetrating the NAB.

Third, to teach ourselves audio production, and try to bring new
community producers into the larger stream (Free Speech Radio News,
Critical Mass Radio, Indymedia audio).  New blood!

Fourth, to form relationships between reporters.  New allies and   friends!

Fifth, to create finished pieces that told the story of NAB resistance,
in a fashion that could be widely distributed amongst a wide variety of
radio stations and communities. Mixed between resistance outside, the
counter-conference, and reporting inside.

How many of these goals were met?

Were relationships between reporters and stations made?  Nope, not really.
We didn't turn in most of the audio, because we didn't finish producing
much in SD and followup work wasn't kept up after the convergence.

Did we get representatives into the NAB?  Yes.  And they asked amazing
questions of people who everyday community radio folks never get to
engage, like head counsel of the FCC, John Cody, and John Hogan, the
president of Clear Channel.  And they were present as community radio
stations, showing themselves to this community of commercial
broadcasters, large and small. That simple visibility makes a difference
when the community of the NAB is using its girth to affect regulations
at the  FCC.  If they, even for a moment, remember the motley crew
inside the NAB, asking challenging but well-thought out and responsible
questions, then that might make a difference.  (This is not a radical
analysis, rather  it is grounded in changing the NAB and its
constituents from the inside...  we are, however, interested in working
on and discussing radical analysis)

Did we learn audio production?  I think so, to a large extent.  But in
San Diego we hadn't prepared an editing lab that made it easy for
reporters  to edit their sound.  We didn't even prepare enough to have
the right minidisk recorders for all the community reporters -- some
folks were relying on little cassette recorders.  Arrgh!  We didn't prep
the mass production studio necessary for this kind of effort.  Next time
we must: a) Pick a few local folks to prep and organize a studio.
Buying/securing computers that have enough memory for editing, and can
also do file transfers of finished and raw audio. b) Prepping the
reporters so they have a sound recorder that will actually transfer
files cleanly to the editing machines. c) Getting a few volunteers
around the production studio at all times to help folks out. d) Giving
folks examples of good pieces to hear ahead of time, for ideas on
structure. e) Community handbooks with tips on using
Audacity/minidisks/etc f) Always having cables for transfer around. g)
Loaner/purchase of good mics. h) Some strict deadlines/time budgeted
into the schedule for production, rather than more gathering,  or
partying, or protesting.  There's nothing like the feeling of a finished
piece to encourage a reporter to produce again. i) Good followup to
encourage finishing pieces that remain undone after the end of the

Did we form relationships between reporters who weren't previously
working together on projects?  Hells yeah!

Did we create finished pieces?  Again, no.  Any future convergence, as
I've already mentioned, should include more of a focus on production
and the importance and pride of completed production/training of new
volunteers. We did, however, half-finish one audio piece that can be
found here: http://radio.indymedia.org/news/2005/02/3652.php

There were a few finished pieces produced by members of Free Radio Santa
Cruz, and one of these was broadcast on Free Speech Radio News. The Free
Radio Santa Cruz members did not have press passes to get into the
official NAB event though. Their pieces were entirely about the Media
emergenC events.

One success of the independent coverage of the Media emergenC was the
live radio production. Throughout all 4 days of the conference,
radioActive sanDiego did interviews with people around the country on
the topic of media consolidation and independent media. These interviews
ranged from Michael Albert to Conglomco to the Arab-American Anti
Discrimination Committee. In addition, the conference itself was
broadcast live on radioActive sanDiego and was picked up and rebroadcast
by a local pirate radio station, 106.9fm. In addition, people at the
street actions were able to call in their live reports and share their
experiences with listeners. For example, see

Street Actions

There was one main street action. This was a march from the NBC building
downtown to the steps of the awards ceremony for the NAB. On the lawn in
front of the NAB awards ceremony, we deployed a sound system and staged
a mock awards ceremony. The march and theatre went well, with over 100
people in attendance who were all very enthusiastic. Nevertheless, in
the end, the Media emergenC received little corporate media coverage.
This could've been helped by having more direct action.

Here it seems like one of the major problems was just a lack of serious
dedicated people towards getting our message out in the media. Three
organizers worked on press releases a lot, but only Hannah from
Prometheus did any follow up work. I think that what has to be done to
really get the story in the media is to have a whole media team of a few
people on the phone with the corporate media all the time. It's a
traditional attitude of indymedia folks to not want to work with the
corporate media at all. It's often decried as counter-revolutionary by
some folks. But I think that its just another part of the resistance.
As long as we have this  huge system around us, we have to work within
it to fight it, like buying PVC for lock-downs. But PVC can be stolen,
some might say, but we have not done any serious work on the issue of
how to steal the audience of the corporate media. I've heard of some
people claiming to do mini pirate broadcasts that take over corporate
frequencies, but never heard of it materializing.


Were there too many traditional critiques and not enough anarchist, or
more radical critiques?

We did not have enough discussion of anarchist critiques; subverting the
media  hierarchy should have been a more prominent focus. It seems like
here, we were just running up against some of the limitations of
indymedia being unassociated with any explicit politics. While it could
be an opportunity to move beyond more traditional theories of
revolutionary change, in fact it seems more like a bunch of people who
have their own theories (communist, marxist, anarchist, etc) who simply
don't agree. There are lots of widely varying political philosophies in
our own imc,  so to say "lets make this more anti-authoritarian" might
not work. Is the indymedia principle of "organizing using
anti-authoritarian methods" enough? Do we ever use the space of
indymedia to consciously move beyond traditional political organizing

Did we show that there's a growing indymedia movement and did we move
that forward?

Again this seems like a problem created by our scheme of bringing big
name speakers instead of bringing kick ass media activists. We said many
times "the problem with finding speakers is that in indymedia, no one is
supposed to be more important". That seems like the problem with our
method was right in front of our face.

One possible problem was that there was lots of intro content, not much
discussion on moving indymedia forward, very little work done on the
issues around oppression and difference and very few people of color in
attendance at all. These issues are obviously very difficult ones. Did
we do enough outreach in communities of color and in Spanish? We tried
to have a pre-event in a neighborhood of people of color, but only two
of  us worked on it and it was not done very well.

But again I think this gets back to the issue of inherent limitations in
the "Indymedia" model. Does the phrase "independent media" mean anything
to people who are not in the movement? Are we effectively communicating
to people the fact that we're trying to get people of color's voices
into the media? Does "media" mean anything to people?

Also, a number of people have told me that the theme we used "media
emergency" was hard to understand and doesn't mean much to people. i
don't know what would be clearer, but something like "books not bars" is

So, these problems seem to stem from the lack of inclusion of people of
color in the organizing process, based on a lack of dedication on our
part to include them (ours as in the organization). We had our events
at locations focused on communities of color, but those folks didn't
come to our events. How could we have included our hosts better?

Critiques of content, structure and Indymedia

Some people felt that not enough people came to the conference part.
This issue taps at the fundamental type of media we are making. Are we
trying to convert others (media as propaganda) or trying to educate
ourselves more (media as self-critical)? When one of the speakers at our
conference asked about who owned NBC, almost everyone in the audience
replied "GE!" How do we move beyond the choir? Should we? In other
words, does the structure of indymedia facilitate the possibility of
media that is a)  not parasitic on the corporate model, b) not
propaganda, c) self-critical,  d) educational, e) empowering, and f)

In her essay The Language of Tactical Media, Joanne Richardson discusses
the parasitic limitations of indymedia:

"Indymedia critiques the pretensions of mass media to be a true,
genuine, democratic form of representation; it opposes the false media
shell with counter-statements made from a counter-perspective -- a
perspective that is not questioned because it is assumed as natural. My
Italian friends  who work with Indymedia showed me a video they
co-produced about the anti-globalization demonstrations in Prague and
asked what I thought. I replied that it was a good piece of propaganda,
but as propaganda it never examined its own position. In this video
you see a lot of activists who came to Prague from America, UK,
Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, etc; occasionally you even get
ossified Leninist bullshit from members of communist parties. What you
really don't get is any reflection of the local Czech context -- many
locals denounced what they saw as an attempt to playact a revolution by
foreigners who invoked slogans from an  ideology the Czechs themselves
considered long obsolete. The confrontation of these different
perspectives is absent from the video, since it is  meant to promote
Indymedia's own anarcho-communist position, raised to the level of a
universal truth. And in this sense it was as strategic and dogmatic as
mainstream media; it was only the content of its message that differed."

But is it just propaganda? What does it mean to be tactical? How can we
have a self-inflected politics that includes and contests the ideas of
Power and Representation?  Is the goal to educate others or ourselves?
How do you go beyond the parasitic, binary dependance on corporate media
(i.e., counterconference, counterinauguration, anti-x, counter-y)  How
do you become more creative, politically? How can we expand our
political imagination?

We don't believe that Media EmergenC was just propaganda with
different content. The local music, local spaces, local radio and local
networks involved in the organizing and actualization of the event
represented a broad range of methods, forms, and analyses of media, the
NAB, and radio.  Our main purpose with Media EmergenC, and perhaps with
Indymedia too, is to produce a safe and autonomous space to rethink and
remake our own political imaginations. We hope to construct spaces
within the airwaves, the streets and cyberspace that allow such
imaginations to flourish.

The structure was very much like a traditional conference: audience vs.
speaker. We tried to subvert that with the workshops. But how do we go
beyond the "conference" model. Should we? Maybe it should have been
set up more like a media lab, where every participant could come in
and  make media. what if we transformed the World Beat Center into a
huge media lab with different mediums in different corners? That
would've radically changed the whole dynamic of "presenter" and
"listener" What would a media lab look like?Could it be:  Media
Hobbyism, Biomedia, Cybermedia,  Robotic Media, Gendered Media, Ethnic
Media, Indigenous media, Insurgent Media, Foreign media. Perhaps we
should learn from the  FreeCooperation conference that  took place on a
campus of the State University of New York, late April 2004. This
conference seemed to extend beyond the stale politics of panelism and
the traditional conference model:

And then there's Radio, that beautiful device of political polyphony
that precipitated the entire conference. Since the enemy was a radio
lobby, should we have focused everything on radio? Yes: it would have
been more specific, effective, technical, creative. No: perhaps, less
interest,  and we should work on broadening the debate. Perhaps the
radio kids who got inside the NAB should have had a report back on
Saturday at the conference.


We've written this self-critical document in the hope of creating more
critical dialogue within the Indymedia community and the independent
media movement. It is our hope that people will read this, give us
feedback  and make more documents like this critiquing their own
events and actions  and circulate those for discussion as well. We
hope that this can be read  and discussed at the upcoming
Indyconference in Texas  this month (http://www.indyconference.org/).
Above all, we hope that people can think hard about the questions and
challenges that we've posed here, which are constantly  manifesting
themselves in the work of creating our own media structures, and come up
with new methods and ideas  which are more inclusive and more effective
and incorporate those methods and ideas into their work.

By any media necessary, San Diego Indymedia - Prometheus Radio Project
-radioActive radio and all the others who participated in Media

Links and stories about "Media EmergenC"

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