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Reclaim the media, be the media

July 2005

An anonymous Indymedia volunteer explains how an army of citizen reporters can even the score at the G8

As G8 leaders hide behind their security fences at Gleneagles and a policing operation indistinguishable from an anti-terrorist exercise, tens of thousands of people will be gathering in Scotland to confront them both with resistance and alternative visions of the world they want to live in.

Instead of reporting this popular empowerment accurately, much of the mainstream media will be creating a climate of fear used to justify violent repression of protesters. The press build-up to the summit has been true to form: sensationalist stories about potential for violence that could have been copied from the past five years’ press archives on radical protest in the UK. Cue the ‘infiltration’ of publicly advertised meetings, the liberal use of military terminology where community halls morph into ‘training camps’, and attempts to define and divide protesters into ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

During the protests themselves, the media’s priority will be to focus almost entirely on street clashes. The 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle are a great example. TV networks carried interviews with a senior police officer who denied the use of rubber bullets and praised the restraint of his officers. At the same time, the first Indymedia website was beaming film footage showing the police gassing and shooting peaceful protesters.

This is why Indymedia and its open publishing system exists: to enable anyone with internet access to upload text, still images, audio or video files to the reporting website. It has now grown to become a global grass-roots news network with more than 200 websites worldwide.

Speaking the truth, however, can be a hazardous pastime: Indymedia and other alternative media activists have become targets for repeated and often violent state repression. Durings the 2001 G8 protests in Genoa, Italian police raided the Genoa Social Forum (GSF) headquarters and the Diaz school accommodation centre, smashing computers, stealing the hard drives of the GSF legal support office and beating up activists. They left 62 people injured, 31 of them in hospital, three with life-threatening injuries.

Two years later during the G8 summit in Evian another, less bloody, raid on the Indymedia centre in Geneva took place. Last October two Indymedia webservers were seized from a London web hosting company in an operation involving the FBI. More than 20 Indymedia websites went down as a result (see ‘Information superhighwaymen’, November 2004).

But such acts have only served to promote the cause of Indymedia and have unleashed a wave of solidarity and political support from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), progressive parliamentarians and civil liberty groups like Privacy International, Liberty and Statewatch. Donations have also enabled a more robust and decentralised set-up for Indymedia web servers to prevent any future mass shutdown of activist websites.

During the Gleneagles G8, the need for a strong independent media telling the real story about why people are protesting and what is actually happening on the streets, while monitoring and recording any abuses by the authorities, will be greater than ever. Indymedia is once again on hand to facilitate global, independent grass-roots coverage. As well as the self-publishing websites and special reporting hotline telephone number, mobile teams of video volunteers, photographers and audio reporters will relay near real-time coverage of demonstrations and counter-summits.

Facilitating all of this will be the main Independent Media Centre (IMC) in Edinburgh. There will be a smaller IMC in Glasgow and there are plans for other media access points closer to Gleneagles. People with little experience of media activism will be able to get stuck in straight away by registering with the IMC and then joining various volunteer media teams.

Support for Indymedia at the G8 is strong, with the NUJ passing recent motions in solidarity with Indymedia and other alternative sources of information. Indymedia’s importance to both activists and wider society is underlined by the ongoing prosecution of 28 police officers in Italy for the attacks on activists in Genoa, in which Indymedia film footage, photographs and testimonies are playing a central role.

As the G8 in Gleneagles looms, it’s time for citizens to become reporters, tell their own story and reclaim the media by becoming the media.