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Indymedia: Another Genoa Casualty

08.07.2001 | ACTIVISM

The police raid on the Genoa headquarters of the Indymedia center, during the course of which 13 people were wounded and 22 arrested, was a cruel blow to the freedom of the press and one which should have been protested strongly by anyone who considers themself a professional journalist. Instead, the raid went unreported in most cases and blatantly twisted in others. CNN, that bastion of thoughtful and comprehensive news gathering, chose to focus on statements made by G8 delegates that vaguely addressed issues of African debt relief, and virtually ignored the presence of 100,000 protesters at the conference. The International Herald Tribune mentioned the raid on the media center, but somehow mislabeled it as a "headquarters for the [anarchist] movement." Western governments, having failed miserably in their effort to placate their own loathsome children with phat blunts and a valiant example of self-absorbed hedonism, are now attempting to criminalize dissent by challenging the freedom of the press.

Indymedia, which was labeled a "terrorist organization" by local Rhodes Scholar Milos Zeman during its operations here in Prague, has had an on-again off-again relationship with the mainstream press since its inception during the Seattle protest. Based on volunteer work and structured on free internet distribution, the IMC could have sold its architecture to long ago; the immediacy and accuracy of the reporting done in Prague earned the site The Washington Post's vote for best news site of the month in September 2000. Those who designed the site have chosen to keep it a democratic medium instead, and have been rewarded for this with repeated slander from public officials, as well as numerous and ongoing attempts to infiltrate and undermine its efforts by members of various law enforcement communities. Why has their struggle to provide free, localized and informed reporting on anti-globalization events been given the cold shoulder by the professional press?

Following the era of decolonization the face of professional journalism has changed profoundly. Witholding value judgements for the moment, let's just say that most of those changes have been internal; occurring on levels most people seldom consider when they open their morning papers. The single most important of these shifts is the disappearance of the stringer--glorified as the freelance maniac who risks life and limb to get a scoop. On one level, the disappearance of this profession has done more than leave a void in the imaginations of aspiring globetrotters; it has led to a false sheen of professionalism in reporting akin to that which afflicts academia, and carries with it the same faults, among them tunnel vision and a condescending, pedagogical tone.

These faults have led the mainstream press to misrepresent the sentiments of the millions worldwide who don't believe that decisions affecting their lives should be made behind closed doors by men who don't represent their interests in the slightest. The phrases turned out to describe the steady stream of anti-globalization protests seem culled from some 1950's anti-communist text. Terms like "neo-marxist", "hardline communist" and "bands of anarchist agitators" pepper their uninformed copy. Eschewing the main tenet of journalism, which dictates that a newswriter should inform her audience, the press has lapsed entirely into a head-shaking, finger-wagging tone calculated not to challenge its constituency's firmly held stereotypes in the least bit. In addition to their frequent omissions, most reporters have made no effort to seek out mouthpieces of the various movements involved in these protests, favouring instead the incoherent statements mumbled by 17 year old kids caught up in the excitement of the moment.

This new journalism is spearheaded by the hotel-dwelling correspondents of the war against Iraq--pampered talking heads respected for their ability to make numbers readable and summon the facial approximation of an emotional response to any given event. The grit, the dirt-under-the-fingernails side of the news has been doubly betrayed by academic reporters and a certain fear of subjectivity fostered by the shallow scope of television reports, which must be nested between stone slabs of commercials without offending any of the companies paying for those commercials. Despite their flaws, stringers were valuable precisely because of their subjectivity. The way Michael Herr saw Vietnam opened people's eyes not because he was the indisputable expert on Southeast Asia, but because his experience communicated something which readers could equate with their own, human emotions. From Freya Stark's anecdotes of life in colonial Baghdad, to those who covered the rise of Mobutu Seke in the Congo, to uplink-toting Balkan correspondents, the quality and depth of independent reporting has always carried a bit more than the numbers and has always aspired to tell the story, even if it wasn't God's own unblinking truth.

An alternative to the stringer has arisen in the so-called "independent media" represented by Indymedia. An unofficial collective of individuals and organizations has sprung up dedicated to presenting news and information that is free of the restrictions placed on traditional, corporate media outlets. Their work spans the spectrum from professionalism to amateurism, but they are united in that they are seldom paid and deliver their information free of charge. Like stringers of old, they usually foot the bill for their own travels and then scramble to make their money back. Most have other jobs, many of them in the new media sector, and contribute their specific skills to the collective effort. It's a phenomenon a friend once called "Zapatourism", a combination of tourism and ideological protest.

The dedication and sacrifice of these people has struck a fearful chord with the powers that be, and understandably so. If people are not paid to "make" news, they might be more prone to reporting it as it actually happens. The availability of digital video cameras and cheap editing software has added to the threat--giving an upstart website like indymedia a serious advantage over giants like CNN and the BBC, which must rely on advertising and the government to renew their ever-more-expensive broadcasting technology. The ubiquitous presence of these cameras at every event since Seattle has also rattled law enforcement agencies, many of which have long since given up operating within the limits of the laws they claim to enforce. No matter how the news is qualified, a man was shot in Genoa. He was shot in the head by a policeman in a Land Rover and then his body was run over by the same vehicle.

So it becomes more clear why silence now reigns in the Genoa office of Indymedia. Silence embraces token statements about Africa and ignores journalists' blood on the walls of a Western city. Silence approves of torture and execution in Chechnya and Turkey. Silence tends to lament the inevitable tragedy. Silence doesn't see the difference between living in an economy and living in a society. Silence strongly believes that you should feel the same.

About the Author
Micah lives in Prague, where he writes for the likes of Think Magazine, The Prague Post and The Washington Times. He also works with digital video and has assisted Indymedia in that capacity.
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