Struggles and hopes of free media activists around the world
The World Forum on Free Media (WFFM) is a gathering of free and alternative media activists, researchers, and facilitators from around the world. It is part of the broader World Social Forum (WSF), which, since 2001, brings together activists, social movements, and organizations concerned with social justice and the building of a new society, based on solidarity, equality, and ecological development.
Since the first edition of the WFFM in 2009 (in Belém, Brazil), there has been numerous gatherings, mainly within the WSF, but also in local and regional seminars, and online meetings. This process has helped us to create collaborations and even friendships. More importantly, it has allowed us to develop a better understanding of the issues surrounding free media and free technologies around the world.
This collection of articles is one of the results of these discussions. More specifically, it follows the last edition of the WFFM that was held in Montreal, in August 2016. While we had stimulating debates during this event, we also wanted to have a written insight on these discussions, so it can be shared broadly in our networks and beyond, and can contribute to enlightening and enforcing similar struggles and initiatives. The goal was to consider the many common challenges facing free media around the world, while also bringing out some regional specificities.
Besides the contributions that came from several different countries, it’s important to note that the production of this collection was done entirely remotely, organized between people from three countries (Canada, Brazil and France). The contributions are divided in two main parts: the first addresses issues and challenges for the free media today, and the second part presents propositions and alternatives to these challenges.
The first article, by Gustave Massiah, is based on the speech the author gave at the opening event of 5th edition of the WFFM, in Montreal. The article presents a broad overview of the “old world dying” and how new movements such as the ecological revolution,and the women’s movement are emerging in response to this decline of the old world. While not specifically related to free media, the article establishes the context in which free media activist are evolving.
Rita Freire, Bia Barbosa and Mônica Mourão are involved in the Brazilian organizations Ciranda and Intervozes. They expose in their article the history of monopolies and concentration of media in South America, and argue that these concentrations are most of the time, if not always, beneficial to conservative politicians and ideologies. This is especially the case in the recent political struggle in Brazil, where dominant media has “manipulated Brazilian public opinion against the government” of Dilma Rousseff.
In the following article, AMARC (World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters) looks at the process of violence and criminalization against popular communicators. The association affirms that there is no structural crisis over community radios and that the pressure suffered by these broadcasters end up leading them to creating “escape lines”, seeking new types of action, and contributing to redesigns in their operating models. So that they remain socially and politically relevant in the communities where they are present.
Sébastien Boistel raises in his article the challenges free and “citizen” media faces to survive financially. This is especially the case for independent media who relies on salaried workers for its work. Situating the analyses in France, the author notes that while significant investment has been made in the free media sector following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, these investments are most of the time restricted to a particular type of media activity, excluding, for instance, more participatory practices.
Sally Burch, in her article, is contrasting the corporate Internet that is increasingly controlling our lives, with people’s Internet which, despite adverse conditions, is still going strong as demonstrated by initiatives of open knowledge, free culture, non-proprietary technologies, community networks, etc. Sally also recalls the proposal of the Internet Social Forum to unite these different initiatives.
Alex Haché and Fieke Jansen address in their article how privacy, surveillance and data tracking should matter for human rights defenders and free media projects. They show the different ways in which the use of the Internet – especially commercial – can put them at risk as well as their contacts and networks. They urge us to change our practices in order to, among other things, consider privacy-sensitive alternatives.
Concerning the second part, on propositions, Bernard Salamand and Viviana Varin analyze the role of alternative media in climatic justice. They argue that the approach of mainstream media towards climate change is mostly consensual and centered on spectacular or significant consequences on the media level. Alternative media, on the contrary, tends more to politicize climate change. Alternative media, as it is closer to social and environmental justice movements, is better suited to address the systematic causes and solutions to climate change.
Loreto Bravo calls for decolonizing communication, media and digital technologies. Her call is grounded on her practice in community radio and autonomous mobile telephony networks in Latin America, and especially in Oaxaca, Mexico, where she is active. Decolonizing means initiating several processes such as demystifying the idea that technology is the masculine realm of (white) engineers, insuring that knowledge creation is sustainable, rejecting the commodification and romanticism of indigenous cultures, and reclaiming the radio spectrum for community use (especially on indigenous land).
Gretchen King and Laith Marouf also look at community radio and more specifically describe Radio Free Palestine, a radio show held on a Montreal community radio since 2008. The article describes the aims of Radio Free Palestine, its organization and impact, but also ground this initiative in the context of other similar broadcasts featuring Palestinian voices, and with community media more broadly.
Myriam Merlant addresses issues of hate discourses in different countries, like “trash radio” (radio poubelle) in Quebec, the contribution of mainstream media in the rise of “Trumpism” in the USA, the struggle against Islamic radicalization in Maghreb-Machrek and finally, against conservative media in Brazil. Her work here is based on interviews she did during the 5th edition of the World Forum on Free Media, in 2016.
The next article calls for the need for an independent international media network. It was written by the “Indymedia Montreal 2016 Convergence Working Group”, a collective of activists who met during the 5th WFFM in Montreal to discuss how Indymedia – the global network of independent media very active in the early 2000s – could provide lessons to create a new independent media network. The article summarizes these discussions and exposes different aspects that such a network would need to take in consideration.
Finally, Erika Campelo presents the history and challenges of the WFFM. She describes the major moments that marked the WFFM and led to its most significant production, the World Charter of Free Media. Among other things, the author reminds us that the approach taken by the WFFM is inspired by the idea of information as a commons, meaning that information should not be controlled by a small number of communication groups. Communication rights and social appropriation of technologies are also major issues discussed in the WFFM.
Following this overview of our articles, we would finally like to note a few common ideas that cross our collection of articles.
The recognition of the “old world dying” - to use Massiah’s formulation - which includes for instance a radicalization of conservatism, and the persistence of alternative and progressive social movements in which free media is or should be grounded.
The necessity to use non-corporate technologies (such as free software), to be conscious and hopefully avoid state and corporate surveillance and data collection, and the necessity to build and maintain community-owned infrastructures.
The necessity to create networks of media initiatives, or empower existing ones. Community radio networks created since the 1960s were mentioned but there is also a need to create or update our networks in the context of the ever-increasing role of digital media.
The necessity to decolonize media, and more specifically to enhance the voice of indigenous people around the world and, conversely, to decenter the voice of settler colonialism often hidden behind the discourse of neutrality and universality.
Free and alternative media are constantly growing and renewing, especially with the rapid development of digital communication technologies. However, social struggles and challenges remain largely similar over time, and there is a necessity to at least talk to each other and develop strategic alliances.
If you want to be part of this movement, do not hesitate to contact us or any author who participated in the collection.