Report: Media G8way International Press Group

This report of our experiences as an international press group during the 2007 G8 protests is intended to inspire more people to do press work in the future, to try to counter the spin of the press industry of corporate capitalism to utilise the press. Just like summits, streets, neighbourhoods and workplaces, the press is a site of struggle. When blockading, our aim is to disrupt the summit, in the same way, we can understand press work as disrupting the story-telling of the powerful about how the world functions. Those with power constantly construct discourses to legitimise their power and their actions. One way they do this is to use the press. One way (of many others) we can challenge this is by doing so too. But of course the press is not a neutral arbiter in this struggle over meaning. Our intention was to embrace this discursive struggle to battle out the story through the press, rather than let it simply report the story of the battle on its own terms. Of course ‘the’ press is not a homogeneous entity and represents differentiated interests despite perhaps some common tendencies, at least within the corporate realm. This is why Indymedia and other activist press projects remain a core element of our movements. Our starting point was a recognition that we had to understand the interests press outlets have and how they function. These we aimed to challenge. Not simply to ‘bring the press on our side’ and influence them to report more ‘favourably’ about us, but to engage with, and enable others to engage with the challenge of productively using the press for our political aims. In this spirit we offer the below as a contribution to the ongoing debates about mediation, representation and press work that take place within our movements.


Phase 1: Getting things started

As part of the G8 2007 mobilisation, there were two press groups associated with the radical left, Gipfelsoli Infogroup (literally ‘summit solidarity Infogroup’) and Campinski. Gipfelsoli is a solidarity and antirepression infogroup that has existed for a number of years now, which, already in the run up to the summit, disseminated press releases regarding particular groups’ actions, state repression and police plans, either on behalf of other groups or under its own name. The other press group, Campinski, was formed during the preparatory anti-G8 camp with the same name in August 2006, and decided to rekindle their activities in early 2007. Campinski also distributed press releases of various groups within the radical left mobilisation and increasingly issued their own press releases too. Both groups also made themselves available for interviews.

Our plan was to complement this work with an international dimension. Only three weeks before the G8 summit was due to start a few companer@s from different countries and radical left contexts decided to set up an international press group that would act as an international portal or press service to groups of the radical and autonomous left who wished to have press releases about their positions and actions disseminated and/or who were willing to give interviews to foreign language press. For this, we needed to build a database of (reliable) international press contacts. Our database at this point was an amalgamation of existing contacts we and the groups around us had collected whilst doing press work on other campaigns or summit mobilisations and the contacts we obtained from companer@s all over the world.

It took more than a week until a first meeting with a bigger group of interested people took place (fortunately there were experienced folk from the G8 2005 Counterspin Collective willing to be involved again). Language was a problem. We wanted our press releases, and those we translated from Gipfelsoli, Campinski and any other groups, to be sent out in as many languages as possible and to be made politically relevant to as many different national and regional contexts as possible. This meant having at least one person responsible for each language. Besides, we needed enough people willing and able to translate from German into English (from which most people were going to translate into all other languages). We made some basic plans.

First we set up an email account and a wiki page. We knew we had to get more people involved in this project, both people who would join the group, but also people who would be up for giving interviews during the protest events. Experience of the Counter Spin Collective showed that such a list of interviewees was gold dust and needed to be worked on as early as possible. As an outreach tool and to provide basic skills to people, we organised an interview training workshop at the Convergence Centre in Berlin. We made bilingual handouts on how to give good interviews which we disseminated on lists and put up on websites. We hoped to attract more people with the workshops, yet as these things go, not many people had time to attend. Nonetheless, the handouts proved useful for many people and we also offered more workshops at the Reddelich camp in the days before the protests. Beyond techniques for interviews, the training also involved a good deal of role play with set questions that we thought were particularly difficult for people to answer: the problem of representation and being quoted as a spokesperson by journalists, the question of so-called ‘violence’ at protest events and the problem of solidarity across action forms and political perspectives, the latter two which would haunt us most throughout our work in the following weeks.

Our second big problem was becoming evident: we had too little time left. Particularly it became clear to us that we were running out of time to discuss in any meaningful way whether it would be possible to have a specific (political) press strategy beyond being an (albeit important) channel for communication between protesters and the mainstream press.

Phase 2: When things became a complex operation

To our delight, more people wanted to get involved. This was great, but as yet there was still a lack of structure for people to access. It was great to see people coming on board and deciding to create specific task areas, either taking on specific regions, countries or languages, or taking on technical tasks like setting up e-lists. It was beginning to look like real international outreach was within the realm of our possibilities.

Our unexpected success in collecting press contacts complicated the entire operation (we had 4,400 on our database in the end). After painful nights of manual insertion of mail contacts (no, there had not yet been any csv files, and yes, there are now!) we decided to work with one general English mailing list with all contacts, and fourteen further lists according to the different languages could offer and contacts we had across the globe. The Convergence Center in Rostock may remember the sweat of our working nights!

The raids on houses and projects in Germany on May 9th was our entry point. From then we started translating German press releases and sending them out internationally. This was also when international press interest in the G8 Summit protests started to heighten as time drew closer to the events. It was at this point that we also set up a press phone number, which journalists immediately began calling for information and for interviews.

But for the action week itself things had to work differently. We knew the requests would become more numerous and our group would be spread over several locations. The plan was the following: To have ready in advance daily advisories of what was due to happen each day (and was public information). Our intention for the morning was to guide the press in the right direction of actions. In the afternoon, we planned to send out another press release which would be more of a commentary of the day based on the German press releases.

In terms of division of labour, we decided that some of us had to stay in the press office at the Convergence Center in Rostock, where the Campinski group sat as well. From here, the e-lists were managed and the twice daily reports sent out. Others would go to Camp Reddelich to receive and deal with international press showing up at the camp together with Carlos Kemper of the Campinski press group who was reponsible for the German press.

Phase 3: Muddling through at Reddelich

And what an interest there was! The first two days before most other campers arrived, Camp Reddelich held an open day for local people and journalists. Many locals visited and journalists literally ran us over! From dawn to dusk (and the sun rises early and sets late at this time of year!), three of us walked at least twenty rounds over the large campsite, each time with a different press team, showing and explaining to them the playground, the barrio structure, the food kitchens, and finding them interview partners. Although it felt a bit like being in a zoo, the open day provided a good opportunity to sort out the more amenable from hostile journalists, and make contacts with activists who were willing and able to speak to the press. It also showed activists arriving at the camp that there was a committed group of people trying to keep a tab on the many and often irritating film crews and photographers and would take care of them. It gave our work over the next week quite some legitimacy. But legitimacy can also turn out to be a burden: everyone started to approach us whenever anyone anywhere got a camera out, be they friend or foe. We realized we had to draw some more visible boundaries and began to be much more explicit about the fact that we were not a ‘camera watch dog’ but the group dealing with mainstream/corporate press. People taking personal photos, activists wanting to make documentaries and people doing art projects would have to self-organise.

As decided at the camp plenary meeting, from Saturday on no camera crews or photographers would be able to be shown around the camp anymore. This was done to prevent the camp being overrun with journalists and camera teams and enable people to organise in peace and rest from actions without having a camera in their faces all the time. Press would be allowed to film and take photographs at the entrance area of the camp, where the info-point and concierge were. Someone from the press group would stay with them and ensure that people were aware that there was filming of photography going on. We would also either give interviews ourselves or find activists to give interviews. Whilst we were clear that we were not spokespersons or press officers and that people were obviously free to tell the press whatever they wanted to, our aim was to stay within a consensus that neither we, nor others who were interviewed would distance ourselves from any actions or activists so as not to play into the hands of those forces bent on dividing the movement.

Our days began at 7am and ended around midnight. We spent all day every day dealing with the press. A useful contribution to our existing database and that of the future was that we made sure we noted the contact details of all of the press representatives that came to the camp. To ensure ongoing communication with people living in the camp, one of us would always attend the plenary/spokes council meetings in the evening.

Press presence remained a constant source of antagonism at the camp. Naturally, attitudes amongst camp dwellers towards journalists ranged from hostile to welcoming. As go-betweens of these two positions, we didn’t always have an easy ride. We tried to remain flexible to the mood fluctuations in the camp. At times, it became necessary to keep the press at bay and we worked closely with the camp protection group to assess whether at particular moments it may be inappropriate to have too much press around. For example when people needed to chill after protest actions, or if the cops were being particularly aggressive towards the camp at certain times. In these cases or when we felt that there were simply too many journalists and it was getting too much, two of us would move outside the camp to receive and talk to the press there. At the same time, we knew that the press would be a form of protection for the camp too, for example if the cops tried to raid. Thus, we put together a list of journalists to contact at any time day or night, if such an event were to occur.

A final example of the kind of work we did was that, together with Campinski, we were also able to assist the camp in translating and publishing its press release regarding camp security. When after a camp meeting, people decided that they wanted to send out a message to the public regarding their position on what they would do if the camp was attacked by cops (not to attack, yet to defend the camp infrastructure and its participants), we were able to provide a supporting hand. At the same time, this incident was also a good example of how, as an international press group, we had to sometimes judge whether certain information or actions were relevant for an international audience. After much nocturnal discussion, we decided that the camp statement did not need to go out to international press because it was too specific to a less immediate audience.

Phase 4: What we leave behind

We know you all just want our cvs file with all those press contacts… Before we tell you how to get it, a few reflections on our work. We strongly felt that trying to build a structure for communicating our message, or explaining our actions also through the mainstream press, is an attempt to create cracks in their superficial storylines. This has some really great potential. Having said this, what was not clear to us was how to use this potential most effectively. Our vision of being a bridge between journalists and radical activists and establishing trustworthy contacts worked out rather well. However, in being mainly “facilitators” we might not have had the space to work to make more strategic interventions into the press discourse. Often, our efforts remained merely at the level of getting a good quote in. Therefore, a more established network based perhaps on some political principles for press work might be just as, if not more useful.

Phase 5: After the summit is before the summit

A lot of discussions about the G8, the police operations and the repression are taking place right now, at least in Germany. Political trials are going to come, others of previous summits are still ongoing. The next G8 Summit will take place in Japan in only one year. Lots of reasons to go on with press work with a transnational perspective. If you want to get involved in strategising, translating, building up more contacts, please contact: g8-press-int@nadir.org