By the turn of the twentieth century media organization has established themselves as voices of their societies, although more often they were the voices of politicians in their countries. However, its connection as a source to propagate ideas, the concerns and the struggles of the people was never lost. Perhaps in the second half of the twentieth century with the emergence of many groups advocating or protesting many issues, whether it was the woman’s movement, or Vietnam war in the U.S, or the anti-nuclear movement in the Germany back in the seventies and many other, these activist groups turned to the media as a sphere of political action. Perhaps social movements are the most that sought to public communication medium in order to achieve their projects.
However, there is a distinction must be made for Media activist where according William Carroll they differ in their social sources, sites, strategies and interventions which he identified following as the political economy tied to these media: (1) the institutional architecture of media organizations control and access to production and distribution; (1) the production process within media organizations (including notions of ethics and professionalism), (3) the content, or texts, frames, messages and programmes disseminated through that production process; (4) media audiences, whose attention to and negotiation of the multiple but structured potential meanings of media texts condition the latter’s ideological effectivity; and the cultural and structural ‘environment’ of communication institution” (Caroll, 2006). We can see these really pertain to the traditional mainstream media, so it won’t be surprising when we see how with the help of the new communication technologies people have found new outlets for their activist pursuits.
To shed light on some of activist movements taking place I think one of the most prominent ones are those that are called Hashtag Activism on social media, where we have seen many protests campaigns organizing themselves or voicing their news mainly on Twitter (since it’s the one that has #Hashtag) which they were able to reach to a vast majority of people all over the world. Many other movements come to my mind such as the Arab Spring, where I think the most important element used was social media but then once people gathered on the ground another dynamic would take place in which people began to bond in groups and kind of support each other, at least that’s what happened in Tahrir square in Egypt during the 2011 revolution which threw president Hosni Mubarak. I think these two examples take precedence now a day’s adding to them Occupy Wall Street in the U.S which also used social media extensively to spread its news. And of course there will always be the Indymedia which is one of the early versions of activism with the help of technological means of videotaping the Seattle protests back in the nineties.
Today, we have social media as the newest form of utilizing media for activism, previously we had examples such as “Samizdat” in communist Russia, or the traditional print form magazine “Red Pepper” in the U.K. I have to ask what will be the next new outlet for activists to spread their word.
If we examine the developments we went through in our modern history, we will find that the biggest leap of all is the one that took place in the mid twentieth century with the innovation of computers and again in the nineties when the internet became available for everyone. In her book Alternative and Activist Media, Leah Lievrouw asserts that “The internet has grown beyond its initial mode as a vast library and document repository into something more like a cultural festival in which anyone can perform, contribute, comment, and debate”. With the development of internet practices also become more available to people what can be called Commons Knowledge. Commons knowledge offers an alternative to the traditional knowledge creation which we are more often exposed to through schools or colleges, from experts or various institutions. Today how this knowledge is created, distributed and filtered has taken one step ahead.
Whether this new commons knowledge is a good thing or not, I think a great example that well explains this term is Wikipedia, it is an open source knowledge database where anyone from anywhere can contribute, add or edit the information pages on its website. A question that should be asked how reliable as a source of information Wikipedia could be? The answer I think is “it will never be fully reliable” but it will still remain as a reference where people go to seek information. But Why? I think the answer to this has two folds; first the assumption that the contributors to Wikipedia could have truth in their contributions creates some sorts of reliability in the minds of the readers, even if it’s not true, second, it’s easy and almost have every kind of information you would want to know. I think if it was not for the internet, meaning if it had another print like form, Wikipedia would’ve been obscure.
What we need to learn is the ability to recognize a good source of information when we seek knowledge otherwise we will doom ourselves to ignorance. Feeding ourselves with unworthy and untrue facts, and this is where the danger from such sources lie, history can easily be misinterpreted, sciences can be falsified.
Long through the history of mankind we have been able to preserve our heritage or culture through stories more often told by the elders in the community and passed through generation to generation, many of them has evolved and changed where they become a legend or a myth. Of course, the kind of story I am talking about here is not the professional literary written and then printed kind of a story, I am talking about that intimate kind of story that talks about personal experiences, a story told by an individual about what he is going through or something about his surroundings, it is a story that’s is usually neglected within the literary industry.
Today, this storytelling has evolved to digital storytelling, it’s no longer a word of mouth. With the video recording technologies we have today, one can document his own history; we no longer have to know only about famous people such as politicians, actors, kings or queens. Today with digital storytelling the ordinary individual has been given a voice to make his own story heard, I think this would become the biggest reservoir of world history that human kind can generate for the future generations. With digital storytelling, people will share their lives experiences whether they are intimate or ordinary, they get to say their own point of view without the filtering or the projection and twisting of a second party which used to be the person documenting or writing a biography.
I think this digital storytelling will open new doors and shut others, at one hand it will allow people to tell their story from their own perspective, on the other hand, biographers may become out of business, also I think it will challenge the celebrity culture that’s adopted by mainstream media, we no longer just have to hear about the American singer Beyounce’s problems or how the British scientist Steven Hawking got to overcome obstacles despite his disability. We now can hear the story of a small refugee kid who had to flee his country, or a woman who has a medical condition that she has to live with the rest of her life. The digital storytelling has risen self-expression and widened the pole for people to be exposed to others stories to learn more about each other, and this is why I think it can be a counter attempt toward the celebrity industry and reality shows we see in mainstream media. And it will also bring people closer together since they can now relate to each other and find more commonalities between one another.
I think it is imperative that digital storytelling maintain its feature of being the voice of the ordinary person and not to be highjacked by big corporates and mainstream media. Its strength comes from its objectivity and projecting perspectives that otherwise would have been ignored.
According to Barber the purpose of democratic talk is to create citizens who can think as a public (1984), I would like to shed light in this article on one part of the world which is the Middle East, which has been going through turmoil in the past five years. I will have to argue that a critical factor for this eruption is the lack of a Democratic Talk in some of these countries. What has come to be known as the Arab Spring has started in many Arab countries out of struggle for free speech. There were instances where people were jailed for expressing their simplest thoughts about what’s going on in their countries, so this urge for free expression has erupted. But why did it erupt all of the sudden, or was it really sudden or an accumulation of suppressed thoughts and aspirations to participate in political talk. I think the latter is more valid. There are some examples of initiatives that took place showing people’s eagerness to express their opinions such as bloggers in Tunisia who started “7ell blog” or “start blogging” which a web page and Facebook page were also set up to further propagate their messages, another forms of expression took place in Libya for instance where Rappers started rapping against the Gaddafi regime. However, according to Allen Fountain Al-Jazeera channel comes out to be the most distinctly Alternative view in the Middle East (2007).
A crucial element that can allow people to be involved in political participation is to learn “How”, where Barber’s conception of democratic talk is supported by media theorists who link civic education to active participation in public deliberation and debate (Abramson, Arterton and Orren 1988; Entman 1989), from this we can see how imperative it is to integrate active participation in civic education which is a factor that is more often neglected.
Throughout the years many projects has evolved to allow people to participate and voice out their concerns and work to amend their social reality some of them has started very modestly with tapes being circulated, however, today many took a further step to be online like Labor beat, Alternative Views and there is Paper Tiger Television. I have to somehow argue that in some places more than other, alternative media has positioned itself as a reliable and trust worthy source of information perhaps starting a new episode of them replacing the more dominant main stream media. People are hungry for getting different views of news, reliance on state television has drastically weakened. So, it become important for people who are making news through alternative media to establish more strategic and organize their operation and make them more tolerant to external forces so as not to be swept away by the first crisis but still serve the causes they started for.
Through the ages people have always found ways to express themselves, their views and their affiliations. Artist like Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso and Andy Warhol had left their marks behind for generations to some, some were controversial at their time, like Picasso’s Guernica painting or Warhol’s art. These figures can be described as Cultural Jammers, create with mirrors’ and are related to what Gramsci (1971: 417) called a ‘new way of conceiving the world’ and ‘modifying . . . popular thought and mummified popular culture’ (Baily, 2007).
However, many whom are considered Cultural Jammers today are forces [that] counter-hegemony as a strategy to challenge dominant forces and discourses in society (Baily, 2007), among these, the name of Ron English come to the surface as one of the most recognizable artists of current times who had made some powerful images on the street, in museums, movie, books and television. He had a very unique way of combining, what he describes as, high and low culture, his images meshes together modern superheroes to figures from far away history. One of his famous art works is Marilyn Monroe’s image he made. However, another important Jammers of our internet age are the Anynomous group, which is a loosely associated international network of activist and hacktivist entities which promote anonymous social engagement by direct action. It originated in 2003 on the image board 4chan [website], representing the concept of many online and offline community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic*1. hacktivism, another notion that has become commonplace in recent years to describe digital activism (Baily, 2007). The Anynomous group has been active in opposing behemoth corporations and government organization because of their practices against ordinary citizens. Such hacktivist work included hacking the U.S Federal Reserve. I think this is one of the most powerful movements of our time, its un-centrality and unclear chain of commands (which I doubt to exist) made it so wide spread worldwide.
These Jammers are contributing in shaping our societies that we live in. Their work can be felt and reach everyone today, especially with the Internet. So, no one can deny their impact and perhaps their work can get to be so profound that it can change the course of history.
The sixties and seventies of the twentieth century in Europe has witnessed a tremendous eruptions calling for change, such as in France when the student movement unified with the working class asking for social change although it was later silenced, Britain on the other hand had similar experience where there was a time where calls for cultural change was high in demand, never the less, there was a caliber of people who went on to challenge the authorities and the state, they wanted to reach their voice and ideas or even music to the world, and their means were Pirate Radios.
Pirate Radios were a form of alternative media in which they were unlicensed and some of them operated from ships in the sea at that period of time, especially in England, among the famous of these were the Swinging Radio England (SRE) and the Irish pirate radio stations.
Swinging Radio England (SRE) was an American Top 40 station founded by Don Pierson who was an American car dealer and a former Texas mayor, the idea was to air American music in the UK. The station operated from May to November 1966 from a World War II vessel built in the USA as a supply ship. One thing that distinguished (SRE) is that it did not exclude advertising as a source of funding. The station aired music that was not heard before in England. Some of the ironies and problems that faced the station when it was finally aired that its frequency clashed with an Italian state owned radio station and was too close to the BBC network in Scotland. Although this was sorted out, but still the station had a problem in getting advertising revenue to fund itself in which eventually it had to close down.
Looking from a political point of view, there was ‘Radio Free Derry’ which was a pirate radio station that operated in Dublin, Ireland by the Irish republican movement with an aim to spread propaganda. This station was looked at closely by the authorities in Ireland, another Irish pirate radio was ‘Radio Milinda’ although it was a music radio station nevertheless it was one of the first raided and prosecuted pirate radio stations by authorities in 1972, finally, there was ‘Radio Pirate Woman’ that aired in 1990 which it broadcast information on abortion services and discussed other issues that affected women.
These pirate radios represented the people who were averse to authorities in their countries and whom went to extreme measures to get themselves heard. Whether they were political like the Irish Pirate Radios or just trying to air music, they both came with new concepts and ideologies and both were challenging authorities.
Publications have been struggling to continue printing its issues ever since the word Publishing started, although the ones which we can call mainstream or commercial publishing still get to survive and more over thrive in their readership markets, but what about those less popular ones, those which follow a political party, ideology or a cause, those which are often called Alternative publications, How can they survive in this behemoth market where skill and resources are crucial?
Well, most probably for the larger portion of these publications they don’t survive. How this can be fixed? There are two approaches has been widely argued the Comedia approach which gives great emphasis on utilizing the capitalistic methods in management, finance and advertising. I would have liked to argue that it is imperative and rather would be unrealistic to disregard such methods, after all you have to know where are you sailing; a magazine needs to know who is its target audience, what’s their preferences, do they want a magazine that covers many topics or one with a focal focus, it’s also important to know numbers in terms of cost, budget and revenue. But after all this said an example that can dispute the success of a fully capitalist approach rise in the form of Red Pepper magazine which according to Gholam Kiabany in his paper “Red Pepper: a new model for the alternative”1 a Leninist theory of socialist press proved to work.
I find Red Pepper is an interesting case study for how a publication stemming from the British leftist politics survived. Though it was not easy, it went through stages of failures and many versions and adopting and shifting in its strategy till it reached its final shape. I believe its survival is due to a marriage between adopting capitalistic methods for managing things and a socialist view by not aiming for financial rewards and resilience from its founders and mainly its editor Hilary Wainwright who witnessed two flopping versions of the magazine but still she did not lose hope in making it work and also not to forget the other workers and writers who volunteered in running and writing articles for the magazine. Today you can find Red Pepper still exists and its online (www.redpepper.org.uk), and this is a proof that it managed to survive.
After what’s said, an important factor is being introduced today, which is the Internet, online publishing can cut costs and allows reaching a wider audience within shorter time frame, although one must not neglect to utilize online strategies where there are specialized experts who are hired just to do that.
After all, this marriage between a capitalistic methods and socialist perspective proved to work, so maybe it can work out in real life between nations as well to bring more balance to the world.
“Red Pepper: a new model for the alternative press?”: https://mcs.sagepub.com/content/22/4/447
When examining Alternative Media it is imperative to discuss the rise of “Infoshops”. This is a phenomenon with a central function of disseminating information, Infoshops started to come out in the 1990’s (although the British model of Infoshops started in the 80s) and are in relation with the “free Information Network” (FINs) and grew out the of the Free Festival Movement, infoshops were not just places of debate through concerts, distributing leaflets or gathering at cafés but also a source of Alternative Media.
The aim of Infoshops when they first started is to counter and create resistance towards capitalism among many other concerns. They entice intellectual argument and people to go out to protest. Some social scientists argued that they function as a repository and distributor of alternative media.
According to Chris Atton they can offer reading rooms of alternative publications (this can take place online now), perhaps even a small library. It can act as a distribution point for free publications and as a retail outlet for priced publications. It often provides cheap do-it-yourself design and reprographic services to alternative publishers.
Today there are many infoshop sites online that act as news platforms; their uniqueness comes from the fact that they don’t follow mainstream rules and conventions. And through my own research I found they speak more about the concerns of the public rather than working according to a certain agenda or try shifting the public’s attention to a specific news which is what the mainstream media does and been doing for so long. By examining some of the infoshop sites such as infoshop.org a variety of articles are published, it was interesting to find the different standpoints and how the point of view about an issue is being presented, you can’t help but to notice after being exposed for so many long time to traditional mainstream media that you are departing to a new way of reading the news, the writing style which is sometimes un-censored, the word “Anarchist” is being used so many times, in overall it allows the reader to formulate a different perspective or see an issue from a different angle, also, since people from all around the world have the right to contribute, infoshops position themselves to be a Huge source of opinions, what I mean is that there is not a lack of topics nor you can find a main focus that the site is trying to take your attention to.
I believe infoshops has a great potential to alter people’s views thus their lives especially that they have an important advantage of being first established in physical space and then moved to the virtual, they have the ability to influence decision makers, this comes from their ability to gather people and perhaps they could become a changing force. But currently an important matter worth considering is that as much as it’s crucial to have people share their views online and have other people read it and absorb their meanings there should be an equal action in real life so as not to remain only in cyber space.
Finally, back to my first question “Are infoshops the voice of Alternative Media?” the answer I think to be Yes they have a great potential of becoming so. But still only time can tell especially with the speed of how technology is evolving and the emergence of new platforms and communication concepts it would be wise not to factualize this assumption.