Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Why the Congressional Hearing on PEG Matters
by Michael Eisenmenger http://saveaccess.org/node/2119
Posted on January 29, 2008 - 11:14am.
Today's Commerce Telecommunications SubCommittee Hearing, "Public, Educational, and Governmental (PEG) services in the Digital TV Age", was called by Rep. John Dingell (MI) in response to Comcast's actions in Michigan. Comcast had unilaterally announced that PEG channels in many municipalities would be bumped from analog cable carriage to obscure digital channels in the 900 range. The move would mean that 'basic' cable subscribers would no longer have access to the local PEG channels, in fact they would need to subscribe to more a expensive digital cable service tier and pay for an additional charge for a digital cable set-top box.

There's much more involved than simply channel slamming of course, but first a little history. It was just two years ago that this very same Congressional Subcommittee laid the tracks for the current the State Cable Franchise train wreck. At that time the Republican Party was in the majority and Chairman Rep. Joe Barton of the AT&T state of Texas introduced legislation that later began known as the COPE ACT. This was actually a bi-partisan Bill, Rep. Bobby Rush of Illinois co-sponsored the bill after AT&T threw a million dollars to his personal foundation (headed by his son). But the telco money flowed liberally in all directions, and the well greased bill passed through committee and slipped through the House as well. It wasn't until COPE hit the Senate where Senator Stevens got tangled up in tube talk and net neutrality that the federal franchise train derailed for good.

COPE failed, but a legislative template had been put in place, after all the bill was largely written by telephone company interests and they weren't about to give in. Having failed at the Federal level, the telcos quickly shifted gears aiming their lobby dollars at State Houses around the country. Only 18 months later, a total of 19 State Cable Franchise Bills have been passed (with more in play). Not all are alike, but many simply contain the boilerplate legislative language that AT&T and Verizon previously fashioned for the COPE Act. And that leads to Michigan and the need for Congress to revisit what they helped launch in the first place.

The "uniform video services local franchise act" passed in Michigan in Dec 2007 and quickly went into effect Jan 1st 2007. A new study by Howard and Howard Attorneys revealed that "anticipated benefits of the new law haven't yet materialized" and it rated cable competition, prices and service as 'very poor'. While AT&T has been slow to 'build-out' new services under the state franchise, the cable companies, in particular Comcast, have been quick to take advantage of the relaxed regulation. This pattern has been repeated around the country as the cable and telephone companies reposition for duopoly control, at the expense of local municipalities and in particular PEG channels and services.
The Alliance for Community Media has documented the impact in detail. For a chart of this go to http://saveaccess.org/node/2119Why Michigan?
Michigan isn't the first to encounter PEG "channel slamming", but perhaps the most widely affected. Comcast's plan to move PEG channels to digital would affect about 40% of its 1.3 million Michigan customers. While Comcast pitched the channel move as technical upgrade, this quote from a cable rep. sums up the business logic: "Analog channels consume capacity where I can put eight [digital] channels in the same place," Michael DiMaria, Cox Communications (from KOLD News )

Comcast is able to do this partly because of AT&T's influence on the state video cable franchise bill language. As an IPTV provider, all of AT&T's network is digital, as such they eliminated requirements for 'analog' cable TV channels since their U-Verse system is unable to deliver such signals. As cable companies apply for and receive new terms under state cable franchising, they quickly try to free up bandwidth for more digital channels by moving PEG channels from analog carriage. Comcast was merely speculating in bandwidth real estate, evicting the PEG channels and relocating them to Siberia - and they got caught.

But here's another underlying issue that might not come up at today's hearing. The original intention of keeping PEG channels on analog carriage was to make them as accessible as possible to members of the communities they serve. As unregulated cable pricing escalated with many different tiers of services, "Basic Cable" service remained the only tier of service with some local regulatory oversight of pricing. The logic of "Basic Cable" was to make cable affordable to seniors and low-income residents who needed it due to broadcast reception issues but would also benefit from local PEG channels and services. This last vestige of cable pricing regulation is now under threat since the FCC can, and does, lift local oversight when it determines real "competition" exists in a service area. As a result, "basic cable" prices will skyrocket as AT&T and the other telcos roll-out services (competition=higher prices).

Of course, 'basic cable' prices are a well kept secret. Few cable companies advertise this tier of service, in fact many make it difficult to even get information about the service. We checked the Comcast web site and entered a Dearborn Michigan address and zip code to search for "Basic Cable" service (we used the address for Comcast's Dearborn MI office). The results returned only two introductory tiers available for purchase on the web site: Digital Starter - $24.99 and Standard Cable - $49.49 (analog). Looking further we discovered a channel guide for "limited basic" (analog PEG and broadcast channels - the one price regulated with local oversight), but nowhere on the web site could we locate pricing or a means of ordering the service. It took an online chat with Comcast service reps to get the information (they were helpful). It turns out that "limited basic" is available for the Dearborn area at $11.99 a month, more than 50% less expensive than the digital starter service and 25% of the "standard cable" analog service. And since "limited basic" is analog, a $4.20 per month charge for a digital set-top box is also unnecessary.

Eventually, all cable TV services will be digital. The FCC mandate for this is three years after the DTV Broadcast Transition (Feb 2012 pending prior review). Cable companies wishing to transition out of analog carriage before this date can do so - if they provide subscribers with set-top boxes and continue to provide carriage of local channels. In the case of Comcast in Michigan, they weren't eliminating analog carriage entirely, merely repositioning some analog channels to capture more digital bandwidth.

What Next?
The Jan. 29th Congressional Hearing is long overdue, Hopefully what comes from it will be increased Federal scrutiny over the state cable franchising process and subsequent impact. Eventually there may need to be Federal legislation to reverse the more glaring shortcomings of these state cable franchises.

The hearing today includes a Comcast executive vice president David Cohen and Gail Torreano, president of AT&T Michigan. David Cohen, has already issued a preemptive apology, but we prefer actions to words and Comcast has much to fix in Michigan and around the country. Also speaking will be John O'Reilly, mayor of Dearborn, and Annie Folger, executive director of Midpeninsula Community Media Center, Palo Alto, Calif. This is probably the fairest hearing we've seen for cable and telecom issues and Rep Dingell is to be commended. In the past under Rep Barton's leadership, there were always 'telco astroturf' groups participating as 'public interest' organizations.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Catia TV: Don't just watch TV, make it!

Intrevista con Ricardo Márquez por ENcontrARTE
Es el actual director de Catia TV, la televisora comunitaria para las populosas zonas del Oeste de Caracas. Luchador social y comunicador popular, Ricardo Márquez es un ejemplo de superación y transformación individual partiendo del compromiso con sus semejantes en el desarrollo del hecho cultural. Como el mismo dice, de no haber sido un activista cultural y luchador incansable para las causas de los demás, hoy sería, en el mejor de los casos obrero o empleado bancario.
Nació hace 32 años en el Barrio Simón Rodríguez del Manicomio conocido como las Barracas donde ha pasado toda su vida. Porque su vida es la suya junto a sus compañeros y camaradas.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Cómo comienza tu vida de trabajo con la gente y con los medios audiovisuales?
RM: De niño leía mucho, me gustaba y me gusta leer.. Mis primeros pasos, en eso de trabajar con la comunidad, comenzaron cuando formamos un grupo para enfrentar a otros jóvenes del barrio que andaban en la droga y esas cosas. Al principio era enfrentarnos con ellos pero después nos dimos cuenta que teníamos que hacer cosas que los motivara y lo mejor era dedicarse a actividades culturales.Comenzamos en un local de Corpomercadeo que había quedado abandonado después del Caracazo, pero unos meses mas tarde, a mediados del año 1989, empezamos a confrontar problemas porque no nos querían dejar usar el espacio. Nosotros ya manejábamos ideas bastante progresistas y veníamos además del Liceo Luís Espelozín, que era la pequeña “universidad de Catia”… los movimientos estudiantiles y las manifestaciones de los estudiantes de este liceo eran comparables, y a veces hasta más importantes, que las realizadas por los estudiantes de la Universidad Central de Venezuela.
Nuestro grupo tuvo una militancia política cercana al PRV y otros movimientos de izquierda y empezamos a hacer trabajo político en el barrio. Allí se incorporó la compañera Blanca Eekhout quien es ahora presidenta de Vive TV y de Venezolana de Televisión, ella es originaria de Acarigua, Estado Portuguesa y se quedó a vivir con nosotros en el barrio, participó en todas nuestras luchas y en todos nuestros sueños. Yo estudié producción audiovisual y Blanca, quien había empezado estudiando economía, se graduó de Licenciada en Artes mención Cine.
ENcontrARTE: Volvamos a la historia…
RM: Si, a finales de este mismo año fundamos un grupo de gaitas que no sabíamos como llamarlo. No queríamos ponerle un nombre común y una noche estábamos el grupo de diez personas pensando y pensando y se nos ocurrió llamarlo 10-12 porque éramos diez personas a las doce de la noche. ¿Se imaginan? no teníamos recursos… organizamos un bingo en el barrio para recaudar fondos para comprar los instrumentos musicales.
Y tuvo mucho éxito, todo el mundo quería participar. A consecuencia de esta actividad tomamos un espacio que estaba disponible en el barrio, hicimos una asamblea y la comunidad decidió que nosotros funcionáramos en este espacio y así fundamos la Casa Cultural Simón Rodríguez.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Y que más hacían, además de tocar gaitas?
RM: Este espacio se convirtió rápidamente como una pequeña alcaldía del barrio, la comunidad se reunía una vez a la semana religiosamente para hablar de todo. Planificando actividades, trabajo social, hablar de política, etcétera, en fin, todo lo que le interesaba a la comunidad. Organizamos muchas actividades culturales y sociales, inclusive participaba gente de otros sectores y barrios aledaños, todo esto siempre enmarcado en nuestra perspectiva política que nunca estuvo ausente.
Entonces comenzó la represión, nos allanaron, algunos compañeros fueron detenidos, nos empezaron a intimidar… fue duro, en aquel momento el alcalde era Claudio Fermín y Antonio Ledezma Gobernador del Distrito Federal, ambos adecos, Ledezma el peor, nos perseguían, porque durante la IV República toda forma de organización comunitaria era vista con malos ojos por las autoridades.Por ejemplo un verano el extinguido Ministerio de la Familia nos ofreció unos recursos para organizar un campamento vacacional para los niños del barrio con actividades recreativas etc, sin embargo cuando teníamos casi todo programado y listo para arrancar el mismo ministerio nos negó los recursos. Era una catástrofe… hicimos una asamblea de la comunidad que decidió seguir adelante y nos organizamos para conseguir los recursos para poder atender a los niños. El plan vacacional se llamó “Plan Vacacional Todos Unidos”, y a pesar de todo, salió bien, logramos llevar a cabo el proyecto para ciento cincuenta niños
Mucho después nos enteramos que un adeco del barrio había ido al ministerio y saboteó la iniciativa.
ENcontrARTE: Hasta allí, nada de cine ni televisión…
RM: Teníamos mucha confrontación con los adecos del barrio y temíamos que nos sacaran del local que habíamos ocupado, porque ellos tenían el poder para hacerlo. Nos dimos cuenta que debíamos que multiplicar las actividades y la participación de la gente y entre todas estas actividades fundamos un Cine Club que se llamó “Cine Club Manicomio” y comenzamos a proyectar muchas películas. El sitio de proyección eran las gradas de la cancha, colgábamos una lona de aproximadamente doce metros de ancho en el techo de la cancha, que es una de las pocas canchas deportivas techadas que existen en los barrios populares de Caracas, y allí se formaba un cine al aire libre pero techado. Proyectábamos los viernes y los sábados.
La Dirección de Cine del CONAC suministraba las películas. Nuestro grupo entonces se fue entusiasmando con el “cinecluísmo” y nos fuimos hacia esta actividad. Nos cautivaba mucho todo lo audiovisual y como éramos un cine club que teníamos actividad regular, nos llegó una carta de la ofreciéndonos estrenar la película de Carlos Azpúrua “Disparen a matar” eso fue en el año 1993. Nos trajeron equipos y así fue que vimos el primer video bin y nos pareció genial.
Nuestro grupo tenía muchos problemas con las autoridades porque habíamos participado en el golpe del 4 de febrero del 1992 en el barrio y nos andaban buscando. Estábamos casi en una situación de clandestinidad, pero cuando hubo las elecciones para alcalde que ganó Aristóbulo Istúriz, los vecinos nos pidieron que fuéramos testigos de mesa y allá fuimos sin saber mucho cómo era la cosa… Pero cuando empezó la repartidera de los votos entre Acción Democrática y Copey, nosotros armamos un escándalo que terminó en una trifulca, y esto estaba pasando en otros centros electorales en otras zonas populares de la ciudad.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Quiere decir que no militaban en ningún partido?
RM: No, pero nuestra actitud fue conocida por la gente de la Causa R… dias después de esas elecciones nos llamó un concejal de la Causa R recién electo y nos invitó a trabajar con ellos en la parte cultural de la alcaldía de Caracas. Estuvimos en la comisión de la cultura de la Alcaldía. Y lo primero que le propusimos a la alcaldía fue comprar video bins y que los repartieran en comodato a los varios cine clubes que existían en los barrios del municipio. Y así se hizo, y más aún, Aristóbulo nos ofreció construir una nueva casa de la cultura: se tumbó la casita para construir una nueva estructura la cual por razones burocráticas nunca se terminó y cuando Antonio Ledezma fue elegido alcalde en sustitución de Aristóbulo, dijo que él no iba a construir ninguna casa de la cultura a unos guerrilleros y eso se quedó sin terminar hasta el día de hoy. Pero no nos detuvimos, igual seguimos haciendo el trabajo cultural, pero sin espacio.
ENcontrARTE: Fue algo así como comenzar de nuevo…
RM: Ledezma quiso quitarnos el video-bin pero no lo entregamos y seguimos proyectando. En eso conseguimos una cámara de video y empezamos a grabar todo lo que podíamos, y lo mas directo eran las actividades de la comunidad. La primera grabación fue una Paradura del Niño y anunciamos que la íbamos a proyectar en lugar de una película. A la función llegaron casi dos mil personas cuando en general asistían una doscientas. Fue algo impresionante, vino todo el mundo.

No lo podíamos creer… ese día nació Catia TV. Estamos hablando de mediados de 1995. Decidimos entonces organizar un canal de TV para que la gente pudiera verse. Comenzamos a entrevistar a la gente del barrio con una camarita, comenzamos a hacer denuncias sobre problemas de la comunidad, hacíamos reportajes y cuando llegaba el viernes transmitíamos los partidos de baseball en pantalla grande también los videos que nosotros hacíamos y venía mucha gente a ver los juegos en pantalla grande se llenaban las gradas. Cuando venían los intervalos con propaganda cortábamos y transmitíamos los videos que nosotros hacíamos. Y así fuimos haciendo cosas.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Como qué?
RM: Para el año 1998 fundamos la Asociación Civil “Centro de Cultura Cinematográfica Linterna Mágica” para hacer trabajos audiovisuales, pero con niños. Inclusive viajábamos en varios estados de Venezuela proyectando películas.
A mi se me ocurrió el proyecto de crear una televisora: pensé en un circuito cerrado, pasando una tubería por todas las calles del barrio y cableando todas las casas y en la casa de mi mamá hacer un estudio para que allí algunos miembros de la comunidad impartieran clases o dieran charlas etcétera. Me dijeron que estaba loco, que eso era muy difícil.
Cuando Chávez ganó las elecciones hicimos un encuentro en la ciudad de Maracay con otros grupos que estaban en lo mismo que nosotros y resulta que unos compañeros del Táchira contaron que ellos tenían una televisora desde hace ya varios años porque uno de los integrantes es ingeniero de telecomunicaciones y que se las había ingeniado para hacer funcionar una televisora.
Así fue que con la ayuda de ellos nos montamos en el proyecto. El Estado nos hizo un primer aporte para comenzar a hacer funcionar la emisora y también la comunidad nos dio algunos recursos y así logramos comenzar con la emisora.
ENcontrARTE: ¿O sea que el “Cine Club Manicomio” originó lo que luego fue “CatiaTV”.?
RM: Si, originalmente nos constituimos legalmente como televisora en el año 1999, primero le pusimos el nombre de “Televisora Comunitaria del Oeste” y después lo cambiamos por Catia TV que, entre otras cosas, representaba el carácter rebelde de Catia. El nuestro no fue el único caso, muchos otros cine clubes se convirtieron en medios radioeléctricos comunitarios, en radios mayoritariamente. Estábamos en una búsqueda comunicacional.
Después nos mudamos en el Hospital de Lídice donde el Alcalde Alfredo Peña nos cerró la emisora y en fin toda esta historia ya más conocida y a raíz del hostigamiento del Alcalde Peña, Jesse Chacón actual Ministro de Interior y Justicia, que para aquel momento era Director de CONATEL y Diosdado Cabello, actual Gobernador del Estado Miranda y para entonces Ministro de Interior y Justicia, nos cedieron la sede donde estamos actualmente, que es una casota espaciosa pero al momento de la entrega estaba bastante en mal estado.

Hemos recorrido un largo trecho. Peña cerró la emisora el 10 de julio del 2003 y nosotros logramos volver a salir al aire exactamente un año más tarde después de haber recuperado la casa y haber montado nuevamente la televisora. O sea, tenemos aproximadamente un año y medio funcionando en la nueva sede. Y lo hemos logrado gracias a la calidad el equipo humano que trabaja aquí.
ENcontrARTE: ¿En qué frecuencia o canal y qué alcance tiene CatiaTV?
RM: Ahora salimos en el canal 41 UHF y sabemos que la señal llega a muchas partes inclusive en el Este de la ciudad y en el Litoral Central. Cuando hacemos programas en vivo llegan hasta cuarenta y cincuenta llamadas telefónicas.
El horario de transmisión es de 10 AM hasta 12 PM. A partir del próximo mes de enero vamos a transmitir también algunos programas de TeleSur de doce de la noche hasta las diez de la mañana para que la gente que no tiene cable lo pueda ver. Pero muy pronto, Catia TV también se verá por cable.
El correo electronico es catiatve@gmail.com
ENcontrARTE: En síntesis, ¿cuál es la filosofía de Catia TV?
RM: Nuestra filosofía no es ser una televisora más.
Nuestro lema es “No vea televisión, hágala”… nosotros queremos que Catia TV sea una escuela permanente de formación comunitaria donde la gente aprenda a hacer audiovisuales. Este es nuestro trabajo principal. La tarea de hacer programas se la dejamos a los “ECPAI” (Equipos Comunitarios de Producción Audiovisual Independiente) Los grupos vienen, se inscriben, reciben unos talleres completamente gratuitos, se les enseña todo, como hacer un guión, como manejar una cámara, la edición etcétera, después les prestamos las cámaras y pueden hacer el trabajo de post producción aquí. nosotros les prestamos los equipos porque la gente no tiene la posibilidad de comprar equipos tan costosos.
ENcontrARTE: ¿O sea que no es fácil que se desarrollen televisoras comunitarias…?
RM: Creo que pueden haber muchas radios comunitarias, porque hacer un programa de radio no es tan costoso como hacer un programa audiovisual. Hacer funcionar un canal de televisión es mucho más complejo y costoso. Es por eso que nosotros ofrecemos todo el apoyo, tanto técnico como educativo, para que los productores independientes puedan de verdad hacer sus trabajos. Creemos que deberían existir estructuras que brinden apoyo a la gente para que puedan desarrollar el trabajo audiovisual. Nosotros transmitimos catorce horas de programación y esto es muy costoso inclusive repitiendo algunos programas.
Porque a nosotros no nos interesa transmitir unos “enlatados” importados nosotros queremos trasmitir lo que de vera hace la gente de los diferentes sectores populares. Tenemos “ECPAI” en casi todas las parroquias de Caracas.=
Para que existan experiencias similares va a pasar tiempo es un asunto complejo y repito costoso. No es fácil y nosotros somos como los primeros que comenzamos este camino. La tarea es titánica, nosotros no somos una televisora comercial, pero queremos tener una buena televisora, hacer televisión de calidad, y para eso necesitamos buenos equipos, estudios, transmisores, cámaras etcétera.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Qué actividades se llevan a cabo en CatiaTV?
RM: Tenemos una sala de postproducción, el estudio para hacer los programas en estudio, transmisión que es el corazón de la televisora, una biblioteca que la estamos arreglando y los talleres que son permanentes, todos los fines de semana: se imparten aproximadamente cuarenta talleres al año: talleres de producción audiovisual, de estudio, de escritura, de cámara, de sonido, iluminación. Este año vamos a trabajar un segundo nivel para los que ya tomaron el primer nivel de producción audiovisual, que se enfoca más hacia la fotografía.
ENcontrARTE: ¿El compromiso político es una premisa indispensable?
RM: El compromiso político es ineludible pero para nosotros es más el compromiso social con la gente. Ha habido algunos políticos que se vinieron a quejar de algunas críticas y algunas denuncias que las comunidades han hecho por medio del canal, pero nosotros no estamos al servicio de nadie y así se lo explicamos. Claro que todo el mundo tiene su derecho a réplica como debe ser, pero a la gente no se la puede callar. La gente del barrio dice lo que tiene que decir.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Qué importancia le dan al aspecto formal de los programas?
RM: Rompemos todos los esquemas para hacer cosas distintas. Las comunidades deciden por último lo que quieren hacer y como lo quieren hacer. Nos han cuestionado que ¿cómo es que una ama de casa o un latonero o un albañil podían hacer televisión? Bueno, hemos demostrado que sí pueden hacer programas audiovisuales y de calidad. Nosotros les damos formación, les enseñamos y es un proceso de aprendizaje, de ir poco a poco evolucionando.
La gente está en la búsqueda de su propia estética, de aprender a jugar con la cámara, con los planos, ponerse a inventar y poco a poco surgen nuevas interpretaciones, es un proceso.
Estamos seguros que estamos creando una nueva estética, algo nuevo, más popular, estamos en búsqueda de cosas nuevas y seguro que irán apareciendo.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Quiénes son Catia TV?
RM: Los integrantes originarios de 1999 o Primera etapa fueron: Iris Castillo, Gladys Castillo, Wilfredo Vázquez, Ricardo Márquez, Blanca Eekhout, Leafar Guevara, Eliano Camilli, Álvaro Cáceres, Gabriela Fuentes, Yuruaní Rodríguez y Mónica Gil.
Luego, en la Segunda etapa después del cierre de 2003: Reinaldo Maldonado, Jesús Suarez, Joffredy Agraz, Mayerling Chirino, Tatiana Arcos, José Gómez, Alí Guevara, Freddy Borges, Orlando Medina, Gabriel Gil, Meylin Chung, Los ECPAI, Vereda, Santa Teresa, Visiones…
ENcontrARTE: ¿Qué proyectos tienen para el futuro?
RM: Ahora tenemos en mente el proyecto de hacer una guardería para las mujeres que son la mayoría que vienen aquí a desarrollar sus trabajos para que puedan desenvolver sus actividades y que sus hijos estén atendidos. Ojalá podamos hacer algo con la alcaldía. Abrir una sala de cine aquí, en nuestra sede de Caño Amarillo
ENcontrARTE: ¿Cuál la situación legal de la emisora?
RM: Está en regla con la ley, totalmente habilitada. Ha sido el primer medio radioeléctrico del país en obtener la habilitación por parte de CONATEL.
ENcontrARTE: ¿Cómo crees que ha sido la actuación de CONATEL con respecto a el tema de las habilitaciones?
RM: Creo que ha sido lenta en el proceso de habilitación y en el proceso de asignación de frecuencias a los medios comunitarios, sin embargo creo que también a CONATEL se le han coleado muchísimos medios que declaran ser comunitarios y no lo son en verdad. Estoy seguro de esto. Emisoras religiosas, grupos políticos, funcionarios públicos que no son medios comunitarios, que no están asociadas a la gente...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Indymedia Once Again Provides Crisis Communication

One of the key roles of the Indymedia network has been to create dialogue and emergency information during crises. The recent situation in Kenya has generated many posts and creative use of the website http://kenya.indymedia.org/for audio feeds, photographs and first person accounts.

Donate to IMC Kenya
IMC Kenya is accepting donations for local media capacity building, cell phone airtime which can be used to send news about people's movements, and can mean the difference between life and death, and to support displaced adults and children. Urbana-Champaign IMC is accepting funds on behalf of IMC Kenya. Click here to donate. Use the comment section to note that your donation is intended for IMC Kenya.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The mobile revolution in Africa, Hope or Hype?

Rikus Wegman | 14 January 2008, 1:24 pm
Last friday de balie in Amsterdam was host to the fill the gap conference: Mobile revolution, hope or hype? The 5th annual Fill the Gap conference started of with a short introduction about where the mobile phone is at the moment in Africa. The focus in this introduction was on new ways of use for the mobile phone that are especially created for African use. A good example of this new use can be seen in the possibility to send family or friends money via sms. By sending an sms to a certain number and attaching a certain amount of money to it, the person who receives the sms can go to a local telephone-cash point and collect the money. More on this specific subject can be read on the African Matrix blog.

After this short introduction of where mobile telephones are at the moment in Africa the first speaker was Christoph Stork. Stork is senior researcher for the LINK Research Centre ICT Africa (RIA) in Johannesburg. He talked about the research network of universities and think tanks from 18 African countries from where he did research into the use of mobile phones in SME. One of his conclusions was that; for the mobile to be sustained in Africa one of the most important things is creating a business climate. He also found that access and use have a positive impact on profit in both small, middle and ‘big’ SME’s. This looked quite obvious to most of the people in the room butt Stork defended himself by stating that an important piece of scientific research is showing and proofing the obvious. He closed of his argument that was filled with a lot of different numbers, percentages and calculations by naming the problems that mobile phone users are having at the moment. He talked about problems with the high prices and the low capacity of the networks.Next up was Lotte Pelckmans from the African Studies Centre of the University of Leiden. She was on the verge of starting research on the ways mobile telephones were able to drastically and revolutionary change social relations in Africa. Because the project was still in a starting phase she could not show any interesting outcomes at the moment but she did make the audience aware of the huge importance that Africans attach to their mobile phone. Even if they don’t actually have money to make a phone call they still use their phone in special ways. The obvious examples of this way of telephone use where beeping and flashing. When you are beeping or flashing you only let your telephone ring once in order to let the person on the other end know that you are either thinking of them or that you need them to call you back. In my point of view this is not a typically African thing because I know a lot of young kids in England who use the same way of communicating when they are low on money. Another example that she mentioned that I did find really interesting were the 3 second calls in Mali. According to Pelckmans there is a provider in Mali that has a service in which the first 3 seconds of a call are for free. She said she knew a lot of people who used this service by making really short calls and then calling back. These conversations can last up to 2 hours…..

The next speaker that was interviewed was Shafiu Shaibu. Shafiu Shaibu from the SEND Foundation in Ghana is interested in how information resources can transform the life of farmers in north-eastern Ghana. As a soy-bean former he found out personally the importance of knowing the different bean prices from around the country to show where the best proffit can be made. They use huge chalkboards to show all the different prices from around the area. They tried to use internet to exchange the price information, but the costs of the access via VSAT were too high. He is looking into the possibility to start using mobile phones for this information exchange because this would be a cheaper form.

Ethan Zuckerman was the next speaker in line. He stated that it is important to understand why African people are interested in mobile phones. He showed that there are almost 100 million handsets in sub-Saharan African and illustrated the awareness that people have of the mobile phone by showing that 97% or Tanzanian people are aware of mobile phone use and are ‘able’ to make a call in case of need. These numbers to me were quite astonishing because they show that although there are a lot of technical and financial problems surrounding mobile telephone use in Africa there is a lot of interest in the medium. People in Africa are aware of the mobile phone and very much willing to use the medium. According to Zuckerman “Mobile is a powerful tool to make your own media”. In activism it is a really good tool to use. It offers what Zuckerman calls “sousveillance”, which is the bottom-up new form of surveillance and serves as a powerful new way of exposing and showing ‘Africa’ to the rest of the world.

He also gave an interesting examples of new ways of mobile use. In Africa there is a lot of counterfit fake medicine available. In most pharmacies you run a great risk of instead of buying the medicines you so desperately need you wind up with a piece of chalk or other fake medicines. Zuckerman was telling about a pharmaceutic company (mPadigree) who dealt with this problem by sealing their medicines with a code that people could sms to a certain number. If the code is correct and not already in use the medicine would be real and usable. This to me once again was a great example of new ways to use mobile phones that could really mean something to help the people in Africa. According to Zuckerman, the most important thing is getting a tool that is available for everyone. With mobile we are not there yet….. but we are closer than ever. The question is if by closing the digital divide we are creating new divides is also an interesting question that Zuckerman touched upon. As a business man you have to have a mobile, if you don’t have one you’re excluded. Does the mobile phone create new divides?

The conference ended with an interview with Kenyan professor Firoze Manji. The interview started with Manji explaining the current situation in his home-country. (There is a great list of bloggers who are blogging about the current Kenyan situation on whiteafrican.com) Manji wanted to make clear that it’s people who make revolutions, and that no technologies ever does. He stated that Pencils have contributed more then mobiles and suggested to do research into the pencil instead of the mobile phone. According to Manji the phone won’t make the difference, it's how people use the tools available. After a short discussion between Stork and Manji in which Manji doubted the significance of Stork’s research.

To me, one of the most important and interesting things about these kind of conferences is to see so many people with an interest in ICT in Africa together in one room. People from Hivos, IICD, oneworld, the tropeninstitute and a lot of other organizations were present and it was interesting to exchange views. For me personally the conference was a big success with a lot of interesting people present. from the Masters of Media at the University of Amsterdam

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Campaign against Darwin's Nightmare

I received this letter from Joan Churchill:
Dear Friends,
My apologies for writing one letter to all of you, but I am about to
disappear to Alaska on a production & wanted to get this to you. If
you click on the link below, you can read about the hate campaign
against Hubert Sauper's documentary, "Darwin's Nightmare." We’re
asking you to sign a letter of support that will be given to the
French judge presiding over Hubert's case against a French professor
who has carried out a relentless and far-reaching campaign of
defamation and intimidation against him and the film.
It's an incredible story complete with manufactured websites
depicting Hubert & bin Laden having a beer, faked interviews with the
subjects of "Darwin's Nightmare," where one hears the interviewer
say, "what I want you to say is...."

But what's really going on is that "Darwin's Nightmare" shook the
government of Tanzania & threatened the corporate powers whose
profits rely on the misery of victims of AIDS, poverty, starvation, &
the numerous wars fueled by the trade of arms for fish. So they went
after Hubert & "Darwin's Nightmare," a film that has won more awards
throughout the world than one can count.

I hope you will read the history & sign the letter of support.. The
trial begins this week. This is not just about one film, but about
the issue as it affects all documentarians' right to practice their
craft free of threats of calumny & censorship.
Joan Churchill
to sign http://www.stolendev.com/hubert/
user name: doc password: signer

After I posted this I received an email from my friend Katharina who has written articles critical of the film. Her position is that "Of course this campaign against the filmmaker is disgusting and so are the arguments and threats brought by the Tanzanian government.." She says it is a "well-intentioned film" but that ultimately it is naive and is mostly good for promoting the filmmaker. That Sauper had not "even done the most basic research before embarking on this project, or even read some post colonial theory, he is more an “adventurer” than a researcher..." The biggest problem for her is that the "film offers a kind of christian catharsis for the (white)viewer: you go in, feel really bad with these people for a while, maybe cry a bit, then you don´t eat victoria lake bass for a minute or two, and feel better about yourself. this does not change the situation in Tanzania one bit."

She mentions that Sauper did not try to contact local people who were working on the issue: "at the time of his shoot there even was an indymedia group working out of Dar-Es-Saalam. Sauper did not contact them or other Tanzanians who have done research on this subject. the only articulate Tansanian in his film appears at the very end – before that all we see are victims, who need help but can't help themselves – I find this a very dangerous, Eurocentric and paternalistic perspective that always reminds me of the catholic mission magazines my grandmother had on her coffee table. showing poverty like that is one of the most paralysing things happening to african countries – and i guess we have seen by now that it does not change anything, on the contrary, it reinforces the same stereotypes again and again. We are so used to these images, i think they even make us feel better."
Katharina is a filmmaker who has also worked in Africa: "As a filmmakers, this is exactly what I have always worked against. I think what we should do is to give these people a voice and help them to get organized poitically to get out of the situation. pity is the last thing they need. I followed the reaction of the African community here in Vienna a little bit: Darwins Nightmare was condemned by them as well as his film about Rwanda (which is horrible). i have not met one person of African descent who had anything positive to say about the film, and i have not met more than 10 white people who criticised it - isnt´that strange? i guess the post colonial discourse has not reached the film world yet."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Precious Places

One of the most comprehensive community media projects in the US is the Precious Places project. This was organized by Scribe Video and directed by Louis Massiah. An MP3 podcast has an interview with Louis Massiah about the project. http://www.whyy.org/podcast/122107_110630.mp3
There is also a clip on YouTube of one of the segments. From the Precious Places web site: While tourists head straight for the city's official "Historic District" and native Philadelphian's think they have seen it all, Scribe Video Center's Precious Places Community History Project reveals bypassed neighborhood sites as bright landmarks that surprise and inspire residents and visitors alike. Using the video documentary as a storytelling medium, neighborhood residents have come together to document the oral histories of their communities. In the past three years Scribe Video Center has collaborated with community groups to produce 42 community histories. Philadelphia now joins the ranks of other cities such as New York and Los Angeles to have a citywide oral history. What is unique here is that it is the neighbors telling their own stories.

Precious Places: A Grassroots Way of Seeing
By Allison Lirish Dean and Martha Wallner
As he guides us on an unofficial tour, longtime resident and activist Mike Hagan reveals his dizzying knowledge of Camden, N.J. He points out the old Victor Talking Machine Company building, now being converted to luxury lofts, and the collection of ’20s- and ’30s-era bronze sculptures in Johnson Park. “I have Camdenitis,” he says. “It’s a terminal disease.”

Hagan is playing on the media’s tendency to portray Camden, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, as a blighted dumping ground you’d have to be sick to love. “The descriptions are always derogatory,” he says, recounting stories laden with images of “weed-choked lots,” “worthless” homes and “contaminated” factories. Contesting such images is a matter of personal dignity for Hagan, who has good reasons to keep track of what reporters are saying. In 2004 policymakers labeled his neighborhood, Cramer Hill, “not a viable community,” and added his home to a list of 1,200 slated for demolition in a major redevelopment scheme called the Cherokee Plan. Grasping the urgency of generating alternative narratives, Hagan and activists from two community groups, Camden United and the Cramer Hill Residents Association, turned to Precious Places.

Initiated by the Scribe Video Center, Precious Places is a community media project that helps Philadelphia-area residents use video to take control of how their neighborhoods are represented. Pride of the Hill, the first video made by Camden activists in 2006, depicts Cramer Hill as a vibrant place worth preserving. Local residents describe the area’s wildlife, including a habitat for endangered eagles. Over a shot of the gently flowing Delaware River near his home, Hagan explains, “The waves of the water kind of let all your troubles go away,” adding, “It’s the Camden that nobody knows.” Shots of thriving local businesses contest claims of commercial stagnation. Resident Antonia Sanchez explains what attracted her to Cramer Hill: “At the time I was a single parent and I found a home that was affordable. It was a shell, but it was something that I could keep and a roof over my children’s heads.”

After the Cramer Hill Residents Association succeeded in stalling the Cherokee Plan, they decided to produce a second Precious Places project, The Rebirth of Johnson Park, which premiered this year. (The films screen on public television in Philadelphia, at community events and online.) In this video residents recount the city’s industrial accomplishments, and celebrate the restored park as a symbol of resilience. “It was such an oasis in the middle of despair,” notes activist Mary Cortes, who learned through her work with Precious Places that the industrialist Eldridge R. Johnson built the park for workers and their families. “We need more places like that,” she adds.

Scribe founder Louis Massiah started Precious Places in 2002 to document neighborhood history that was threatened by Philadelphia’s controversial Neighborhood Transformation Initiative, a plan to assemble parcels of land for predominantly market-rate developers through city investment and wide-scale demolition. The initiative grew out of Massiah’s commitment to teaching media skills to “scholars without portfolios,” regular citizens whose expertise is based on simply living in their communities over long periods of time. “In Philadelphia, history is currency,” Massiah says. “Philly makes a lot of money off its historical sites — the Liberty Bell, the Constitution.” Sites outside this official history, with no obvious tie to commerce, are often viewed as worthless. By supporting community interpretations of local sites, Precious Places helps residents redefine their neighborhoods as historically relevant. This is an important step in reshaping planning debates around a more meaningful picture of neighborhood needs. During the production process, participants also learn important skills that contribute to their effectiveness as community organizers, such as how to conduct oral history interviews and archival research.

In the near future, the shrinkage of local reporting in the dying newspaper industry may mean people will look more to projects like Precious Places to enlarge their picture of urban life. Precious Places also suggests a good model for planning practice by recognizing that planners, politicians and developers don’t necessarily see what residents on the ground see, know what residents know or want what residents want. And their plans often fail to deliver promised outcomes: Research by activist and urban planner Tom Knoche has demonstrated, for example, that millions of dollars of investment in the redevelopment of the Camden waterfront yielded far fewer jobs and less tax revenues than projected. Precious Places identifies the community and institutional structures that sustain people, and asks how we can nurture them.

The inscriptions on the granite friezes of Camden City Hall, as shown in Pride of the Hill, playfully provide admonishments to decision-makers. On our tour Hagan excitedly recites his favorite: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” As their videos make clear, Cramer Hill residents have vision. The question over the coming months is: Will their vision prevail?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Stephen Dunifer at Radio Free Berkeley

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.” — Thomas Jefferson
Have Transmitter Will Travel
Radio Camps on the Road
Free Radio Berkeley will be holding Radio Camp workshops in a number of locations both inside and outside the US during 2007 and beyond. If you are interested in sponsoring a Radio Camp in your area, please get in touch.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Community Radios, For Whom?

Korean Broadcasting Commission's Research of Demand before the Official Launching of Community Radios.
Community radios are now on the first stage in Korea. For the last 3 years, eight community radio stations have been running on pilot broadcasting. But the official launching has been postponed due to the delay of legal procedure and technological problems. KBC's original plan was to start official community radios in 2006 after one-year of pilot broadcasting in 2005.
KBC has recently announced that they would permit regular community radios in 2008. They started with holding several hearings and forums. However, KBC's approach written on "Policy on Community Radios" gives a lot of anxiety to radio groups. The most serious problem is about frequency bands. KBC's paper, "Research of demand for available frequency bands" sets a limit that if community radio groups cannot find a frequency band by themselves, they cannot apply for the business. It is a very difficult work for a small radio group to search and secure their frequency band in Korea where analogue frequency bands are very scarce. Media activists have demanded the solution of this problem for years, but KBC has ignored it. Now KBC tries to avoid responsibility and put the burden on the individual radio group.
The standard for selecting radio groups is also a problem. The main condition is, the groups have to secure enough financial resources and get support from local government. It is harsh for the nonprofit small-size local radios. If the standard gets accepted, lots of small radios will not be able to launch their services. Even if some radios can survive, most of them will fall to be broadcasters for promotion of rich groups and local governments.
The present community radio policy can be summarized into one phrase, "No Support, Regulations Only". KBC has announced that they will cut the fund they have provided for the pilot community radios, in spite of the fact that official financial support is necessary for the running of the nonprofit, public interest-based radios. Not only financial problem but also output limit is another urgent obstacle to jump over. KBC does not accept 10w output range while 10w is legally permitted. Jamming is their excuse. In this situation, solutions to strengthen community radios are urgent now that neo-liberalism has been threatening public interest of media.
Recently, communication radio groups have begun to organize actions to protest against KBC's policy, in solidarity with media activists. They issued a statement against KBC's research of demand and held an emergent forum to discuss how to resist KBC's plan. 2008 will be a significant year for the future of community radios in Korea. by CHAE-EUN PARK, staff of policy & research dept. in MEDIACT Trans. by Moon-a

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Line Up by Tats Cru, AWR and ABC

On East Second Street in the East Village of Manhattan, three graffiti collectives have created a "Line Up" of street artists. From Tats Cru's website: "Tats Cru, Inc is a group of Bronx-based professional muralists whose work in aerosol has changed the perception of graffiti as art. Twenty four years ago, three teenagers began their artistic careers by creating subway graffiti. What began as a recognition tactic has evolved into a powerful expressive style.."
AWR (Angels Will Rise) is an LA based street art group.
ABC stands for Artistic Bombing Crew, an old school Chicago group.

This is a salute to Chico, the legendary Lower East Side mural artist. He was written up in the ">New York Times in 1999: "Chico proved to be the nom de spray can of Antonio Garcia, 37, a Puerto Rican-born street artist who quit a humdrum job with the New York City Housing Authority a dozen years ago to devote himself full time to his lively murals.....Mr. Garcia's obsession with mural painting began while he was working for the Housing Authority in the early 1980's, a time during which he spent much of his wages on spray paint. He quit his job in 1988 after his boss refused to give him time off to paint a mural in England. He has since accepted invitations to do work across the country and overseas, he said. One project took him to Japan two years ago. He said he had lost count of the walls he painted on the Lower East Side because so many of his murals had been erased."