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Indymedia Debate @ n5m

This is a (temporary?) space to rewrite the announcement "The Indymedia Debate" at the Next5Minutes in Amsterdam (11-14 Sep 2003), and to develop ideas for topics of the debate and to organize a 2 h workshop.

Table of Contents


Looking back

In the end everything took place... About 25 Indymedia people were present at N5M, meeting for a preparation meeting, a workshop on the diversity of Indymedia, the Indymedia debate, preapring and giving a "WTO recap" keeping us uptodate on events from Cancun, and several smaller meetings over drinks and food.

Many topics came up ranging from practical issues of daily work, to broader issues about the Indymedia network or the politics of media activism, and it is obvious that we could spend much more time on them. Therefore first steps are made for a meeting of European, African and Asian IMCs (Europe-mediteranian or however to call it...)

First reports (nl|eng) and pictures (1 | 2) have been posted, but the N5M organizers are not sure whether they have archived the video-stream from the Indymedia debate.

Just a short overview over the topics of the workshop:

  • How it starts: History of Indyemdia -- Indymedia.nl as an example of an IMC based on existing media projects -- The growth of the network
  • Cooperation between local IMCs: Indymedia UK as an example for regionlasation -- Oceania syndication -- biotech as a topic site
  • Developing the network: diverse codes and how they are developed in interaction -- How to set up a new IMC -- Why did IMC Finland close down?
  • Beyond the websites: Off-line project in Argentine (Cooperation with local and internet radio stations, and video projects were planned, but there wasn't enough time)

The topics of the debate:

  • Summits and day-to-day coverage
  • Branding?
  • Breaking boders and inclusivity

The prepartion of N5M for further reference:

Background and Practicalities

n5m have dedicated a slot to a debate on indymedia. A discussion on imc europe addresses inaccuracies in the the draft outline of the n5m organisers. The person responsible for the imc slot at n5m agreed that we send them a revised proposal (mail from Menno Grootveld), and this version has now been included in the programme. Even though organized by n5m itself, the topics of the debate as well as speakers for introductionary statements are still uncleas. In addition to the indymedia debate, n5m have offered imc space for a 2 h workshop, and imc.nl are organising some space for informal imc gatherings.

Practicalities

Info for IMC people going to the conference:

Resources

Children?

Trying to find a suitable place to meet with Indymedia volunteers and other local activists outside the n5m venue has started a discussion among Indymedia.nl and on the imc-women list about who's resposibility children are at Indymedia meetings. So far, there is no suitable space outside the venue.

Now n5m also has forgotten about childcare, so we will have to organize some collective childcare for one or two 1 year olds. To make matters more complicated, smoking is allowed in throughout n5m, including during several workshops and debates.

For more on this see this post from clara and this post from anna to the imc-europe list.

Other IMC stuff at n5m


2 hour workshop

n5m workshop — The first idea for the workshop was to get a lot of short presentations of a few minutes to show the diverstity in "missions" and ideas, projects and priorities within Indymedia. So far we know of about 15 Indymedia volunteers from different IMCs and working groups who could contribute 2 or 3 minutes each.

Some brainstorming came up with the idea to set up the workshop around a list of things that Indymedia is (or is not). Instead of giving short presentations and having questions on them, we could set up 10 or 15 table on those points and have (volunteers from) different IMCs and working groups as examples. All the people could then move around and discuss in smaller groups, interupted some shorter presentations. Could that work?

So what is Indymedia? Indymedia is many things to many people; it is no ONE thing.

  • an international news organization;
  • a participatory media production and distribution platform;
  • a decentralized social and digital network;
  • a tactical media catalyst;
  • a people\xB9s CNN;
  • an activist communications network;
  • an experiment in global democracy;
  • a social phenomenon;
  • an advocacy network;
  • a bulletin board;
  • an organizing tool;
  • a chat room;
  • a laboratory for social and technological innovation;
  • an incredible experiment in self-governance; and
  • a pioneer in the communication landscape.

it's obviously an incomplete list. what are other ways people describe or "define" indymedia?


The Indymedia Debate

The 3 hour debate will be broken up in about 6 shorter blocks with an explicit topic and one or two introduction statements (about 5 minutes) for each blocks. Below are some ideas and comments, as well as a text from Sheri: Defining tactical media & being successfull. This list is neither complete nor definite. The last block should be used to summarize the earlier results and to concentrate on the positive aspects of Indymedia.

Setup of the room: Instead of having everybody sitting in rows looking facing each others backs and a small panel, it would be more suitable to set up the chairs in a circle with several rows (like for example at the PGA meeting in Leiden) so that people would have the feeling of talking to each other.

How to empower without patronize?

Clara: The problem of giving the newswire to individuals who don't know how to handle it. Enforcing rules (like no hate speech) without enacting power. (It's similar to some discussions on #indymedia in the last weeks, of whether we have the right to demand that people stop insulting others, and indivuduals who do not know who to handle the anonymity of a secure chat)

Tony: merges with: open publishing tension

Tapio: And how to keep the political project alive? There is tension between open publishing and political project because open publishing is not the whole project (at least not for me). It is same thing with openess. Saying "everybody can participate Indymedia process" is wrong because there are and there must be some political conditions for participation. Basically few of us are interested to work with a media that damages our political project (social justice etc).

Ingrid: Good point, which again ties into my previous point on nl-editorial of the tension between the pluralist democratic idea of 'freedom of speech and access to information for all' and to 'countering present-day local and global right-wing/fascist/sexist etc ideologies' in Indymedia. I think basically that the idea of 'enforcing rules without enacting power' is a total illusion to begin with. If the initial goal of Indymedia is to subvert hierarchies in society (both locally and globally) then one HAS to enact powers that go against any oppressive -ism. Also, Indymedia is not some free-floating space disconnected from social reality, and as such, if the many oppressive power structures in society are not critically reflected upon and dealt with within Indymedia, then this will inevitably lead to a simple duplication of those power structures.

Day-to-day politics and summits.

Clara: Is the reduction of Indymedia on summit-coverage in the eye of the beholder? How can Indymedia go beyond news to provide political analysis?

Tapio: This is very important. We need much more articles that provide background information about subjects we are working with. What happened in Indymedia Finland was that we were able to break out from

activist ghetto and that made things much more complicated. Society around us for example in Finland is basically hostile toward for example freedom of movement. It is not easy to work in environment where majority of comments are attacking every article about this subject etc.

Ingrid: Good point again. But it suggests that providing and selecting news is not political in itself (which I think it is already). The boundaries between facilitating and producing political analysis and news are very diffuse anyway, I believe. But there are ways for local teams to make analyses stronger, especially through pointing out connections between local and global oppressions. I think the exchange of local information is crucial in this one.

Centralizing and De-Centralizing.

Clara: How to combine the news about small-scale local actions with broader pictures. Local IMCs can empower grassroots politics, but where does the visitor get information about politics in a country as such? Where do local actions go when the coverage focusses on theborader pitcure?

Ingrid: Indeed. I guess it depends on how the locally produced analyses make the connection to global issues. This issue could be taken up in the debate on how local editorials could 'spice up' the local news with global analyses (under 'day-to-day politics and summits').

Branding an idea and its diversity

Clara: Advantages and disadvantages. Branding as community building.

Harry: Fifth, "Branding Problem": This should not even be a problem. We need logos - better brands and logos than anything capitalism has to offer. See the success of brands such as Indymedia, Crimeth Inc, Free Software, the Zapatistas....people want to be able to identify radical and passionate voices. Hell, "postmodernism" is a brandname - I should know, Fred Jameson's kid used to come over to my house to drink. And obviously the Next Five Minutes, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. are also brandnames. The question is - is it a succesful brandname, and what advantages does the particular brandname give, and what concrete resources? And to be honest, Indymedia is one of the most successful networks to come out of the anti-globalization movement...and, other competing brandnames such as DAMN in the states are dead as far as I can tell...so keep it rockin, IMC folks.

Dominated by western techies?

Clara: the three legs of indymedia: content, technics and communication. Skillsharing around the globe.

Ingrid: I really like this one. And I think Indymedia needs to be very self-reflexive about which parts of the globe (mostly the West) get overrepresented and through which technologies and knowledges (which play also a part in global oppressions) this takes place, so that it can endorse a politics that may be even more subversive and liberating smile

Ionnek: strong proposal to change the topic to "Dominated by Male western Techies?" The section could include social and geographical tech in-and exclusion. An attempt to name the gates that guard indymedia as a "tech space/identity(?)" through language, skills, communication, practices. and to check out strategies to open the gates.

See background on gender relations in indymedia. See Anna's mail - a meticulous account of one women's odyssee in search for child care at an art-tech festival. A case study beyond individual's experience.

principles of unity - too strict in terms of membership?

how to cooperate internationally?

Technical crisis

Harry: First, I do feel that the one crisis facing Indymedia is technical: archiving and cataloging of material. For example, the loudeye disaster hit hard in the States, with lots of IMCs losing large amounts of valuable media. I'm interested in helping out - although I was very busy this year finishing a thesis - I'd like to talk to folks about it. Overall, as the SCO suit shows, the open souce communtiy is under heavy fire and is radicalizing rapidly - how can we build connections between them and indymedia? How I can help here...

Professionalization

Harry: Second, there's the "professionalization" problem. One good example of this is how many folks over at NYC-IMC felt that articles on the Earth Liberation Front were alienating to the "average" audience, and the removal of certain folks from NYC-IMC's print magazine, the Indypendent. I feel that "professional" media only alienates people - who are much more diverse and radical than "professional journalists" or "professional activists" usually are! Anarchy, and social movements in general, usually succeed when a dedicated group of people manage to open and create the space for communication and action amongst all sorts of people...who then use that space and create even more anarchy. Losing such spaces to fascists,liberals, and professionals - to hierarchy of any stripe - is a tragedy.

The "print" problem

Harry: Third, the "print" problem: If anything, IMC's greatest problem is it's over-emphasis on computers as forms of communciation. Good ol' fashion paper propaganda can still be wildly successful: look at the Crimeth Inc's collective "Fighting For Our Lives" project, which distro'ed 250,000 well-laid out radical pamphlets in the USA in a few months! I feel the largest hurdle faced by many IMCs is just a lack of knowledge about how print media works. It's really not that complex or expensive.

the "cyberpajama" problem

Harry: If Geert and Nettime folks can be convicted of anything, it's this - the almost giddy (yet properly "critical") embrace of all things technological, as if as soon as the human race jumps into our collective cyberpajamas everything will just sort out. That's obviously ridiculous - as Tim Berners-Lee pointed out, the WWW was supposed to mirror the web of relations in the non-computer world, yet suprisingly the activity of the WWW takes place primarly on the WWW! Indymedia has done an excellent job using its "demo-hopping" to connect the cyber world to the 3-d world - and that's one of it's greatest strengths. I think that if Indymedia follows the path of trendy cyber-art critics, it will become insular and die, after producing maybe one or two Autonomedia books with lots of Foucault references smile While I know some tactical media folks have critiques of Indymedia, many of these critics aren't exactly good role models IMHO. The last thing we need to do is to ape the discourse of academia, or the discourse of power, but in the true spirit of Deleuze and Guattari (as opposed to second-rate imitators) build new and relevant languages that lead to "down to earth" connections in the struggle for freedom - think Assata Shakur, not Donna Haraway! Think direct action and popular uprisings, not yet another academic manifesto or "art installation".


Programme text

(Can we delete the earlier versions of this text?)

This is the latest version, it is a shortened version of 0.2.1 by ClarA, with additional hyperlinks from ChrisC, another two changes from ClarA as basque country is not a region, one of the nation-sites, even if that doesn't overlap with current borders, and climate is dead, and biotech not yet discussed, last changes from Chris and Ionnek included

The Indymedia Debate 0.2

A global network of more than 100 open-publishing news-websites run by volunteers using free open source software, Indymedia Media Centres (IMCS) are an a successful example of tactical media. Scale of reporting and global collaboration is flexible. Individual websites, although "branded", are customised according to the needs of local collectives. Apart from websites, Indymedia uses a old and new media from photocopies to radio streams and video. However, the very diversity of indymedia and its rapid expansion leads to contradictions, conflicts and debates. Is indymedia a model for the further development of tactical media, or has it reached its limits?

Technology - the answer to all questions?

Despite cultural differences, Independent Media Centers manage to collaborate as a network by tactically using geographically independent IT-tools. However, this doesn't lead to the dissolution of national boundaries. Most European IMCs organise on a national level, while the biggest number worldwide are organized on city levels. Some are in regions and different forms of splitting up or syndication are set up, also global topic based IMCs are being considered, for example, biotech. Is Indymedia a model for a world without national boundaries - or does it perpetuate these boundaries?

News from the activist ghetto?

Besides day-to-day local reporting, indymedia symbolically multiplies summit protests by collaborative live reports. But do anti-summit protests reflect a reductive definition of politics as a place where world politicians make decisions behind close doors? Should Indymedia use its powerful role in the movement to push a wider understanding of politics?

Open Publishing - at what costs?

IMCs are often critized for their approach to open publishing. Advocates of a radical free speech approach are worried about "censorship", while many imc volunteers are not prepared to tolerate discriminating postings. IMCs have come up with a number of open publishing models, and even open editing/moderation. Is the legal and political price for open publishing too high?

Or is open publishing an integral part of the global "commons of content" (Wikipedia, Creative Commons), where the free software mode of production (Oekonux) is applied to content production?

The Brand moves on - DIY Ideology Versus Professionalisation

Indymedia is a successful brand - recognisable, adaptable, easy to franchise. Is it on the way towards a professional organisation, loosing its empowering DIY-character? Is it time to radically decentralise, move on to smaller, autonomous projects beyond the limitations of a vast network?

Original version of n5m indymedia debate proposal

The Indymedia Debate

The extraordinary expansion of www.indymedia.org and IMC's could lead one to conclude that the Indymedia model represents the most successful example of tactical media to date. And yet in Switzerland and in Belgium Indymedia has been under attack for allowing anti-Semitic propaganda on their site. Some European indymedias therefore want to rid themselves of the open publishing principles, but they face fierce opposition from the U.S. In what sense does this transatlantic rift between activist communities reflect the transatlantic rift on a governmental level? And why do indymedias have to be organized at a national level anyway? The inherent problems of any open system are causing great tensions within the indymedia network and it is clear that the indymedia concept is in urgent need of public reflection. So What is the tension between the drive towards becoming a professional news medium and the open publishing principles? What are the merits of such a centralized web portal? Why not spit up and create a thousand new indymedia that no longer carry that name? What are the good and bad sides of 'branding' in the tactical media scene? And above all is not high time to question the over-emphasis on live reporting of summits. How can Indymedia and the IMC's move beyond summit hopping tourism and reductive definition of politics as a place where world politicians make decisions behind close doors?

Revision of Draft Proposal version 0.2.1

(ionnek included chris and claras comments + many links, more to come)

The Indymedia Debate 0.2

A global network of more than 100 open-publishing news-websites run by volunteers using free libre open source software, Indymedia represents a successful example of tactical media. The scale of reporting and global collaboration is flexible. Individual websites, although "branded", are customised according to the needs of local collectives. A part from websites, Indymedia uses a wide range of old and new media from photocopies to peer-to-peer video and radio streams. However, the very diversity of indymedia and it's rapid expansion leads to contradictions, conflicts, and questions for debate. Is indymedia a model for the further development of tactical media, or has it reached its limits?

Technology - the answer to all questions?

Although imcs exist on all continents, the largest number is located in Europe and the US. Despite cultural differences, imcs manage to collaborate as a network by tactically using IT-tools. However, the availability of geographically independent communication tools does not lead to the dissolution of national boundaries. Most European imcs organise on a national level, although thematic (imc biotech, imc climate) and regional (Euskal Herria) sites are being set up. Imcs in Europe and the US have been on oppposite sides of internal conflicts - does this reflect the transatlantic rift between the US and European governments? Is indymedia a model for a world without national boundaries - or does it perpetuate these boundaries?

News from the activist ghetto?

Besides day-to-day local reporting, indymedia symbolically multiplies summit protests by collaborative live reports. But have the anti-summit protests reached their peak? Do they reflect a reductive definition of politics as a place where world politicians make decisions behind close doors? Should Indymedia use its powerful role in the movement to push a wider understanding of politics?

Open Publishing - at what costs?

Imcs are often critized for their approach to open publishing. Advocates of a radical free speech approach are worried about "censorship", while a Swiss group complained about anti-semitic postings in the "trash" of imc-ch. Imcs have come up with a number of open publishing models. None of them satisfies both ends of the range. Any restriction of open publishing compromises the claim to radical free speech, while many imc volunteers are not prepared to tolerate racist postings.

Is the legal and political price for open publishing too high?

Or is open publishing an integral part of the global "commons of content" (Wikipedia, Creative Commons), where the free software mode of production is applied to content production? Oekonux even considers this practice as a seed for a different economy alltogether.

The Brand moves on - DIY Ideology Versus Professionalisation

Indymedia is a successful brand - recognisable, adaptable, easy to franchise. Has the brand grown to a point where it restricts political, aesthetic and tactical creativity? Is it loosing its empowering DIY-character, is indymedia on the way towards a professional organisation, with project managers and fundraisers? Is it time to radically decentralise, move on to smaller, autonomous projects beyond the limitations of a vast network?

Revision of Draft Proposal version 0.1

(far too long, needs condensing)

The Indymedia Debate 0.1

The extraordinary expansion of www.indymedia.org and IMC's could lead to the conclusion that the Indymedia model represents the most successful example of tactical media to date: grounded in local working groups yet globally connected. An autonomous space yet intervening in the corporate media landscape. Keeping the balance on the thin rope between professionalism and diy ethos. A decision making process situated between the more traditional consensus approach and the free/open source software approach, which could be seen as the seeds of a new mode of production (see Oekonux).

But as indymedia is growing, a critical re-evaluation of the underlying principles and structures is needed.

Open Publishing - at what costs?

The imc open publishing is located between a radical free speech approach [links? elaborate that the free speech approach emerged in the US?] and the claim for a political positioning [principles of unity, giving voice to the silenced etc]. Both ends of the stick create tensions, open publishing comes at a price. In Switzerland and in Belgium Indymedia has been under attack for leaving anti-Semitic postings on the site. Imcs have come up with a number of models, according to their political situation (imc germany - one click removed, imc uk - hiding after publishing, ed guidelines, imc nl - trash... #more non european expls needed#) Where are the limits of open publishing? Should there be any? Does the indymedia network need one rule that binds every individual imc?

Indymedia: another expl for western domination or a tool for a globalised movement?

What's the role of indymedia in the global movement - smoothing out differences, perpetuating MWWA (Male White Western Activists) dominance, a contribution to deal with these differences and existing power structures?

Although there are imcs in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, the largest number of imc websites exists in Europe and the US. Despite cultural and historical difference, they more often than not manage to collaborate as a network. In which way does the tactical use of IT-tools contribute to this, where are the limitations (expl: clashes between european and us imcistas on S26 in prague, the setting up of the imc-europe and the imc-us lists, the discussion about fundraising (ford) on imc-finance) Is there a transatlantic rift between imcs, reflecting the rift between the US and European governments?

What is the role of the imc focus on summit reporting, or, in a broader sense, have the anti-summit protests reached their peak? How can Indymedia (and the movement) move beyond a reductive definition of politics as a place where world politicians make decisions behind close doors?

Indymedia - perpetrating nationalism?

- Does the organisational structure of indymedia perpetrate old nationalisms?

Yes - x imcs are organised on a national level (esp. in europe) No - more imcs start with a focus on issues, like imc.biotech, imc climate. US imcs are more likely to organise around cities and regions. imc scotland, imc euskal herria are expls for imcs who contradict the nation state structure.

Thought: Why did european imcs organise within their nation states: too simple to answer, we don't live in a vacuum, have to deal with national power structures. also: cross-border-collaboration is especially visible in major reportings, both in process and result (stallman down, link down).

DIY ideology and professionalisation

What is the tension between the drive towards becoming a professional news medium, the open publishing principles and the diy ethos? (z.B. Confirmed reports <-> open access)

Indymedia is a successful brand - recognisable, easy to franchise. What's the price for branding? Has the indymedia project reached its saturation? Will it become a professionalised organisation, with project managers and fundraisers? should it? Is it time to radically decentralise, move on to smaller, autonomous projects beyond the limitations of a vast network?

Menno Grootveld from n5m to indymedia (excerpt)

mail

"This means that for the moment I would like to stick to the original questions in the preliminary text (second paraagraph):

'What is the tension between the drive towards becoming a professional news medium and the open publishing principles? What are the merits of such a centralized web portal? Why not spit up and create a thousand new indymedia that no longer carry that name? What are the good and bad sides of 'branding' in the tactical media scene? And above all is not high time to question the over-emphasis on live reporting of summits. How can Indymedia and the IMC's move beyond summit hopping tourism and reductive definition of politics as a place where world politicians make decisions behind close doors?'

Of course the actual phrasing of these questions may be changed, additional questions added and questions which seem to be missing the point skipped. But for the sake of practicality I would like to start from these questions and see where we get from that."


-- Added the same link plus bluepees gender research to section "Western Domination" -- IonNec - 05 Sep 2003 -- Added link to email about childcare -- ChrisC - 05 Sep 2003
-- Added content for debate and workshop idea, updates some other bits of the introduction, added children -- ClarA
- 3 September 2003
-- Added Europead Newsreal link -- ChrisC - 29 Aug 2003
-- More minor tweaks - ChrisC - 19 Aug 2003
-- Did some wiki formatting tweaks ChrisC - 18 Aug 2003
-- IonNec - added stuff
-- ClarA - 08 Aug 2003

sts

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Topic revision: 23 May 2004, IonNec
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