Free media: issues, challenges and proposals

Decolonizing Communication Media and Digital Technologies

, by BRAVO Loreto

Mobile telephony came abruptly into our lives without any prior consultation. Telecommunications companies saw huge profit-making potential in it and other communication media companies all played a role in convincing the public to let this technology invade every inch of their lives.

So intense is the prestige of carrying our cell phones around everywhere that we are happy to sacrifice our privacy and turn a blind eye to the negative human and environmental impacts of cellular technology and the Internet. One example is earth minerals like coltan [1] from the Congo, which are used to manufacture cell phones.

Then came the World Wide Web and the increasingly large array of applications, developed and now controlled by major companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.

The Internet and mobile telephony only came into existence thanks to prior knowledge, such as that of integrated circuits and databases. As these technologies are the result of an accumulation in human knowledge, they become digital commons; access to them should be considered a human right. However, the Market/State [2] duo makes profits and controls the raw materials with which the access to this human right is built. In other words, only those with great power and wealth can create this technology. By complying, we are handing over our lives and desires to the administrative apparatus of unbridled capitalism that reigns on Earth.

This is how, over the last 25 years, 3.5 billion people have been connected; that is, half the world’s population. Now the telecommunications and digital technology companies are attempting to connect the other half, regardless of whether they have access to basic services such as drinking water, food, education, health, work and housing.

While neoliberal economic and political power groups sharpen their strategies of coercion [3] , the majority of the world’s population gets up every morning thinking about how to live day to day, how to adapt to the new climate conditions and survive the ecocidal policies of the capitalist system.

The challenge of surviving dehumanizing and denigrating policies is a high-risk sport that has been going on for more than five centuries in Latin America and the Caribbean. The strongest forms of resistance can be found in everyday spaces like the home, the community and in collective groups and organizations. These are spaces that reclaim collective values and interests, where people are actively contesting the political and economic power of the State and corporations. Here, oral expression is the primary channel for bringing people together. Oral communication has tremendous emancipatory value. It has been one of the main ways indigenous women communicate with and maintain their communities, as it is women who have been and continue to be responsible for the subsistence of the household and the community. They are the guardians of oral traditions, who transmit culture and values from generation to generation.

These areas of subsistence-resistance are fertile ground for techno-seeds; in other words, places where people first began to experiment with technological appropriation. This is how community radio emanated in Bolivia in the sixties, a development which was soon replicated all over the continent. In Oaxaca, Mexico, the community radio movement was one of the first autonomous and community mobile telephony networks. Today, 16 communities own and manage their own cellular networks and work together under the umbrella organization Telecomunicaciones Indígenas Comunitarias. A.C. [4] This model is being replicated in Brazil, Colombia and Nicaragua.

The experience of community radio and autonomous mobile telephony in Latin America and the Caribbean is the result of people with shared goals and values working together to appropriate communication technologies and create a commons [5] in order to create different a way of life to that imposed by the Market/State. This is ultimately what decolonizing media and technologies is about.

It is not simply about using communication media and technologies as mere tools, but about appropriating them in order to create an interactive space where we can rethink our current system and build another kind of world. One of the main challenges of community communication is creating a space which has none of the power dynamics that exist in the commercial media. In these community spaces, technology is a common resource at the service of buen vivir [6] as it is called in Ecuador and Bolivia or comunalidad [7] as it is known in Southeastern Mexico.

Decolonizing communication and technologies breaks paradigms imposed by the mercenary regime. Community networks illustrate that it is not only major telecommunications companies that can provide cell phone services; there is also another way to see things – where communication is viewed as a human right and technology is viewed as a resource that serves to strengthen a community’s autonomy. Decolonizing the media is thus a political, technological, economic and social undertaking.

Decolonizing digital media and technologies involves initiating several processes within communities:

We need to demystify the idea that technology is an exclusively masculine realm of specialists and engineers. We all know something about technology because we use it in our everyday lives. To counteract the abrupt way mobile telephony and the Internet came into our lives, it is necessary to create a non-schooled pedagogy of critical reflection on technology and the role it plays in our lives, particularly among children and young people.

Understanding that digital technology and its progress are the result of previous inventions now considered the heritage of humanity. We need to ensure this process of knowledge creation is sustainable. Free licenses are one way to do that. Most devices, programs (software) and applications are developed by companies whose main goal is to make money, which is why they use proprietary licenses. Free licenses allow people to use technology, copy it, study it, modify it and disseminate the changes made in order to continue contributing to the collaborative development for the common good. Private licenses, on the other hand, are all about control and profit. For community and autonomous media, it is essential to create links with the closest free software movement and to engage in dialogue about ethics and freedom in order to spark collaboration. Nowadays there are more and more community radio stations and communicators that use free software. One example is the Community Radio and Software Libre Network [8] whose collaborative processes were key in developing the first 100% free and Latin American GNU / Linux distribution for community radio stations, called EterTICs. [9]

Design from Vecteezy ! Liberaturadio

The process of decolonizing language (word, sound, image, body) to generate other narratives and meanings. Women are tired of being reified in a commercial media complicit in the normalization of sexist violence. Indigenous peoples reject the commodification and romanticism of their cultures which is taking place while their native languages are disappearing, while there is an obscuring of ethnocide. Immigrant populations are more than just statistics; they embody life stories, they are diasporic cultures. The collective NoísRadio’s [10] Radio Piropo [11] program has shown us that the sound landscape of a woman walking in the streets of Cali, Colombia is very different to that of a man walking in the same place. This program has illustrated that it is possible to create other narratives to talk about gender violence. It is about inventing other narratives to contest conventional meaning and understanding in order to revert the impact of colonization on our bodies.

Decolonizing the radio spectrum is a way to amplify the voices that need to be heard. Decolonizing the radio spectrum means understanding that it is a space and a resource, a common socially-constructed asset. In other words, it only exists insofar as we create it. Therefore, we, as citizens, need to know how States are managing this common good and ensure that there is spectrum available for social and non-profit use. Appropriate legislative measures would foster and support community Internet and telephone networks. In the current digital switchover, it is fundamental that our countries choose an open technological standard like that promoted in Brazil with Digital Radio Mondial. [12]

Decolonizing content means that we learn to look beyond what is offered by the market. It means venturing into the great independent production of musical content that exists all over the world. It means standing by journalism that respects sources, journalism which has access to open data, and which is protected by legislation. It means creating a form of journalism that builds the news with its public and addresses gender and ethnicity issues, journalism that seeks to democratize the digital word. [13]

Decolonizing infrastructure involves the following questions: How does the Internet reach a cell phone or computer? Do you or does a company own your cell phone? Who controls access to a country’s fiber optic trunk and manages these networks? Where are the services, platforms and our data hosted on the Internet? How much energy is required to maintain a data center and how is it obtained? What is the environmental impact of this energy consumption? Yes, we are running out of planet! Digital and territorial communities are decolonizing the Internet by creating autonomous infrastructures such as the network [14] in Catalonia.

Decolonizing the media, particularly digital platforms, also involves being aware of the mass surveillance carried out by governments through collaborative agreements with the companies developing these technologies. If you are someone who carries a cell phone around in your pocket, you should know that your movements are being tracked and recorded in the databases of the company that provides you with your telephone service; And if your cell phone is also connected to the Internet, the information you enter through popular applications such as WhatsApp or Facebook is being sold to other companies. Thankfully a digital self-defense movement exists which provides privacy tools, such as Security in a Box. [15]

But what is the use of decolonizing our machines and our minds if we don’t decolonize our social relations? This is one of the most important challenges of the decolonization process. It takes a lot of work to raise awareness and not reproduce the same power dynamics within alternative, popular and community media. We need to create the right conditions for women, girls, boys, young people, transgender, elderly people and people with different capacities to find a space within our media. It’s important that their voices are heard and that they become agents of change within the community.

Each of these processes involves breaking away from the artificial and dependent world of unbridled capitalism and its grip over our lives. We as human beings need to take these technologies out of the hands of capital and put them into our own hands. We need to save our planet, and put it back on the right track. We need to reclaim our own role in this story ... and turn it into a more epic one.