Monday, May 25, 2009

Media As a Weapon: 2 Cents from New Orleans

by Jordan Flaherty
The video grabs your attention immediately. Young people in the Lower Ninth Ward hold up signs that read: “looter,” “we’re still here,” and “America did this.” Amid empty lots and damaged houses, poet Nik Richard delivers this message: “Hurricane Katrina was the biggest national disaster to hit American soil, and nearly two years later, this area is still devastated. But you know what? We made sure we preserved it strictly for your tourism. For about $75, you can take one of these many tour buses.”

Tourists drive by and people with cameras gawk. Richard looks directly at the camera and says, “It looks like there’s more money to be paid in devastation than regeneration. If y’all keep paying your money to see it, should we rebuild it?”

The short film New Orleans For Sale, which has garnered several awards, was made by 2-Cent Entertainment, a group of young Black media makers in New Orleans. The group, which currently has 10 members, made New Orleans for Sale to convey the frustration felt by many New Orleanians as the city has become a national spectacle and a backdrop for countless national politicians, while the aid the city needs to rebuild still hasn’t arrived. In 2008, the film won several awards including an NAACP image award in a competition, called Film Your Issue, which featured a high-powered jury with the likes of news anchor Tom Brokaw and media executives from MTV Networks, Lionsgate Entertainment and USA Today.

But for 2-Cent, the praise of the corporate media is beside the point. The collective's target audience is their community. Working at the intersection of art and justice, as well as entertainment and enlightenment, 2-Cent has attracted a wide and growing audience. In New Orleans, they’ve also collaborated with the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, produced shows on local television and radio stations, and created mix CDs and scores of short videos. Beyond creating inspiring programming, 2-Cent members also seek to pass their skills onto the next generation, and have taught and presented their work and in New Orleans high schools and colleges.

“Huey Newton said the young people always inherit the revolution,” says Brandan “B-Mike” Odums, 2-Cent’s founder. “And that’s what 2-Cent is, it’s how our generation responded to that call.”

Positive Images

The collective formed in 2004, when Odums gathered a group of friends (most of them fellow students at the University of New Orleans) to produce a TV show with a message.

“A lot of TV promotes a monolithic way of thinking, saying there’s only one way to be, or promoting ignorance as cool,” says Odums. “We say it’s hot to stand up for yourself and speak for yourself.”

The group was still newly formed when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and in the aftermath of the storm, with 2-Cent members spread across the United States, they nearly disbanded. “Katrina made us realize that this is what we want,” says Odums. “We’d done two episodes before the storm. Everybody was scattered. Katrina forced us to make the decision.”

The collective briefly relocated together to Atlanta, then made the decision together to return to New Orleans.

Kevin Griffin, another of the founding members of 2-Cent, joined because he shares Odum’s desire to change the images and messages delivered to today’s youth. “We were seeing the images that BET and others were putting out,” Griffin says. “And we wanted to do something different, more positive.”

Griffin is not just a media activist; he is also one of the leaders of a citywide movement spearheaded by the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an organization whose mission is to close the Youth Studies Center, the city’s youth prison. The group has led campaigns to shut down other youth prisons around the state including the notorious youth prison in Tallulah, Louisiana, and they are also working to create more options for young people beyond jail.

For Griffin, these struggles have personal meaning. “At the age of 10, I was sent to the Youth Studies Center,” Griffin explains. “A year later I was moved to Tallulah, which was known as the worst youth prison in the country. I was 11. The next youngest person was 17, so I was a child among adults. And I was there for five years.”

When he was released, Griffin was determined to turn his experience into something positive. “I could have stayed on that path that was laid out for me,” says Griffin. “But I didn’t want to become that.” He credits his family for helping support him when he got out.

Griffin now works full-time at WBOK, a Black-owned talk radio station (their slogan is “Talk back, talk Black”). Art also runs in his family. His cousin Mannie Fresh, the music impresario of New Orleans’ Cash Money record label, produced much of the music that made New Orleans hip hop famous.

Humor and Style

2-Cent videos are notable for both humor and style. “We liked a lot of the messages you would see on Public Access TV,” explains Griffin. “But we wanted to make something with better production.” This combination of form and content, and a mix of serious and comic, defines the 2-Cent style.

“We take education and comedy and we mix it all together,” says collective member Manda B, who writes and acts in many of the group’s videos. “We can trick people into learning. We built it off a foundation of edutainment. Even with our most crazy and bizarre scripts, we have a meaning.”

The group seems to have limitless energy and ideas, and they bring new angles to their subjects, finding humor in unexpected places, and bringing ideas to young people by using that humor. Their piece on Jena, Louisiana, is filmed at the September 20, 2007 protests in Jena, when tens of thousands of young people converged in what was called the birth of the 21st century civil rights movement. But the 2-Cent video intercuts with one of their members—an effortlessly humorous young performer named Stiggidy Steve—wandering confused on Jena Street in New Orleans and wondering where everyone is.

“Older folks may try to put out similar ideas,” says Manda B. “But it’s like they’re preaching. I think we know how to connect with our generation.”

These young media activists praise Gil Scott Heron, who said the revolution will not be televised, but for 2-Cent, media is a tool to be taken and used for the mission of social change.

“Other generations marched, and we march too,” says Odums. “But in this age we have a whole new range of weapons, and we’re trying to use those weapons. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would want to be on YouTube, to have his speeches distributed that way. Malcolm X would love to make mixtapes, have those out on the streets. The same reasons they boycotted and had protests in that era are our reasons too. We’re coming from that same mindset, but we’re using new tools, trying to get our inheritance.”

After nearly five years together, the group has survived Katrina and all the connected stresses of living in New Orleans during this time, and their bonds become stronger and closer. When asked what aspect of their work they were most proud of, various 2-Cent members expressed the same sentiment as Manda B, who explained, “For me, the best element of all this is that we’re family.”

Despite being a large and unfunded collective, 2-Cent seems to have no problem working together, creating new content every week, and continually expanding the range of work they do and the audiences they reach. “We’re all together like family,” says Griffin. “And we can’t imagine not staying together.”
More about 2-Cent:
New Orleans For Sale:
Freedomland Video:
People's Hurricane Relief Fund Video:
New Orleans March for Gaza:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Video Journalists of Burma

Anders Østergaard, Khin Maung Win, Interview by Liza Bear
BURMA VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country , directed by Danish filmmaker Anders Østergaard uses camcorder and cellphone footage from undercover DVB reporters risking their lives. The story of the brutal quelling of the September 2007 monks' uprising is narrated by an unseen protagonist, Joshua, a 27-year-old reporter exiled in Thailand.
Background--Burma, September 2007: An increase in fuel prices sparks extensive protests by students and activists against the military junta, a repressive regime that has held the country hostage for over 40 years. For the first time, they are joined in the streets of Rangoon by thousands of Buddhist monks (the saffron revolution). As the ranks of the protestors rise to 100,000, foreign news crews are banned and the internet is shut down. The Democratic Voice of Burma, a collective of 30 underground video journalists (VJs) record these dramatic events on handycams and cellphones and smuggle the footage out of the country, broadcasting it worldwide from Norway via satellite. Risking torture and life imprisonment, the VJs document the brutal clashes by the military and undercover police and the violence committed on the monks— themselves also becoming the targets of the authorities.
A Sundance and Berlin festival award winner, the film opens May 20 at the Film Forum, New York in this its theatrical premiere.

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Book Grab by Google

cartoon by Dave Walker from Weblogcartoons.comBy Brewster Kahle
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
A court in the Southern District of New York will soon make a decision that could determine our digital future.

A ruling is expected shortly on a proposed settlement of lawsuits filed against Google in 2005 by groups representing authors and publishers claiming that Google's book-scanning project violated copyright. When Google announced its project in 2004, the company said its goal was simple yet far-reaching. Like its search engine, which points people to Web sites, Google's book search product would help people find information in books and direct them to volumes in libraries and bookstores.

The project seemed in keeping with the guiding principles of the Internet, which assumes a quid pro quo between search engines and Web sites. That is, sites allow themselves to be copied and indexed as long as search engines such as Google lead people back to the original sites.

But as we learned when the settlement was proposed last October, Google's search tool has become a digital bookstore. The settlement outlines business models for creating and selling electronic editions of books, and selling subscriptions to Google's new exclusive library.

Whereas the original lawsuit could have helped define fair use in the digital age, the settlement provides a new and unsettling form of media consolidation.

If approved, the settlement would produce not one but two court-sanctioned monopolies. Google will have permission to bring under its sole control information that has been accessible through public institutions for centuries. In essence, Google will be privatizing our libraries.

It may seem puzzling that a civil lawsuit could yield monopolies. Traditionally, class-action lawsuits cluster a group of people who have suffered the same kind of harm as a result of alleged wrongful conduct. And under this settlement, authors who come forward to claim ownership in books scanned by Google would receive $60 per title.

But the settlement would also create a class that includes millions of people who will never come forward. For the majority of books -- considered "orphan" works -- no one will claim ownership. The author may have died; the publisher might have gone out of business or doesn't respond to inquiries; the original contract has disappeared.

Google would get an explicit, perpetual license to scan and sell access to these in-copyright but out-of-print orphans, which make up an estimated 50 to 70 percent of books published after 1923. No other provider of digital books would enjoy the same legal protection. The settlement also creates a Book Rights Registry that, in conjunction with Google, would set prices for all commercial terms associated with digital books.

Broad access is the greatest promise of our digital age. Giving control over such access to one company, no matter how clever or popular, is a danger to principles we hold dear: free speech, open access to knowledge and universal education. Throughout history, those principles have been realized in libraries, publishers and legal systems.

There are alternatives. Separate from the Google effort, hundreds of libraries, publishers and technology firms are already digitizing books, with the goal of creating an open, freely accessible system for people to discover, borrow, purchase and read millions of titles.

It's not that expensive. For the cost of 60 miles of highway, we can have a 10 million-book digital library available to a generation that is growing up reading on-screen. Our job is to put the best works of humankind within reach of that generation. Through a simple Web search, a student researching the life of John F. Kennedy should be able to find books from many libraries, and many booksellers -- and not be limited to one private library whose titles are available for a fee, controlled by a corporation that can dictate what we are allowed to read.

We've wrestled with high-tech monopolies in the past -- IBM, AT&T, Microsoft. The lesson was that such strongholds restrict innovation and competition. In those cases, the courts stepped in to address the inequities. Now, we have a proposal for monopolies to be created by the courts.

This settlement should not be approved. The promise of a rich and democratic digital future will be hindered by monopolies. Laws and the free market can support many innovative, open approaches to lending and selling books. We need to focus on legislation to address works that are caught in copyright limbo. And we need to stop monopolies from forming so that we can create vibrant publishing environments.

We are very close to having universal access to all knowledge. Let's not stumble now.

The writer is founder and director of the Internet Archive, a nonprofit library in San Francisco, and the Open Content Alliance.

Manual for Transmission Applications for Indigenous Radio in Mexico Raises Doubts

*Comunicado de Prensa
*Gobierno Federal pretende deslindarse de los compromisos asumidos para el otorgamiento de permisos de radio indígena*
*Cuando parecía que el Gobierno Federal había optado por el diálogo*, la conciliación y el reconocimiento de los medios de comunicación indígena, lanza un mensaje contrario cancelando repentinamente su asistencia al evento en que haría público dicho compromiso.

A pesar de haber participado en el proceso de diálogo que dio lugar al Manual para el Trámite de Permisos de Radiodifusión Indígena, y haber asumido dentro de este proceso su compromiso para el otorgamiento de permisos a las radios comunitarias indígenas, las instancias involucradas en el trámite de éstos permisos ( Dirección de Radio Televisión y Cinematografía de SEGOB, Dirección de Sistemas de Radio y Televisión de COFETEL y la Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas CDI) cancelaron dos días antes su participación en el evento de presentación, no obstante haberla confirmado con anterioridad y, en el caso de la CDI, se prohibió a su personal asistir a éste.

El Próximo martes 19 de mayo desde las 9:30 hrs hasta las 15:00hrs, tendrá lugar la presentación del Manual para el Trámite de Permisos de Radiodifusión Indígena, en el Club de Periodistas de la Ciudad de México, Filomeno Mata 8, Centro Histórico, D.F.

El Manual representa un paso trascendental en el ejercicio de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas a adquirir, administrar y operar medios de comunicación, ya que sin dejar de resaltar la necesidad de contar con una nueva ley de medios que desarrolle los derechos constitucionales de los pueblos indígenas en esta materia; transparenta el procedimiento para el otor-gamiento de permisos de radiodifusión indígena, con base en el marco legal de la radiodifusión y el marco legal de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas.

El manual fue resultado de un proceso de diálogo que duró aproximadamente 9 meses realizado desde julio de 2008, que integró en un grupo de trabajo, radios indígenas permisionadas, radios y comunicadores indígenas, la Comisión de Seguimiento del Congreso Nacional de Comunicación Indígena, Organizaciones Civiles y las autoridades relacionadas con el trámite de permisos de radiodifusión, la Dirección General de Sistemas de Radio y Televisión de la Cofetel, la Subsecretaría de Medios de la Secretaría de Gobernación y la Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas por conducto de la Dirección de Comunicación Intercultural y el Consejo Consultivo.

Durante los trabajos las autoridades manifestaron su apertura y disposición a la realización del manual que permitiera conducir posteriormente el trámite de los permisos de radiodifusión de las comunidades indígenas, participando en las reuniones, proporcionando información e incluso observaciones y comentarios al manual y en diversas ocasiones dentro de las
reuniones manifestaron su compromiso para continuar avanzando en el trámite de permisos de radiodifusión indígena.

Sin embargo, a pesar de haber confirmado su participación en el evento de presentación del manual, sorpresivamente el viernes 15 de mayo, un fin de semana antes de la realización del evento, se recibieron una serie de llamadas a la organización convocante, Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad A.C., cancelando la participación de las 3 autoridades federales involucradas en el otorgamiento de permisos a las radios indígenas: COFETEL, SEGOB y CDI. Resalta principalmente la de la Subsecretaría de Medios de SEGOB quien por escrito había confirmado la participación del Director de Radio, Televisión y Cinematografía Álvaro Lozano en representación de la Subsecretaria; y de la CDI, que a pesar de haber apoyado financieramente para el traslado de los músicos y la comida del evento, ha prohibido a los funcionarios de esta institución asistan al evento y evitó contactar a los integrantes de la Mesa de Comunicaciones del Consejo Consultivo para hacerles llegar la invitación que les fue extendida, así como facilitarles los medios para su asistencia.

Sorprende, la sincronía con que se dio la cancelación de la participación de dichas autoridades, en el momento en que tenían la oportunidad de ratificar públicamente el compromiso asumido dentro del grupo de trabajo, a continuar las acciones hacia el otorgamiento de permisos de radiodifusión indígena.

Acciones como éstas ponen en duda la credibilidad de las autoridades y se inclinan a seguir acotando las posibilidades para las comunidades indígenas de ejercer sus derechos por la vía de la legalidad, acrecentando el descontento social e ignorando completamente el papel fundamental que están jugando las radios indígenas en el desarrollo de las comunidades y la preservación de las lenguas y diversidad cultural de México.

Esperamos que las autoridades involucradas actúen con responsabilidad y respeto a la ley y a los compromisos asumidos, pues son condiciones esenciales en las acciones de diálogo y conciliación con los Pueblos Indígenas de México, cuyos derechos colectivos siguen pendientes de ser reconocidos y ejercidos.

En este sentido apelamos a que el evento se realice con la presencia de los actores previstos y reiteramos la invitación a la presentación de este documento, paso fundamental en la democratización de los medios.

México D.F. a 17 de Mayo de 2009
Programa para el Ejercicio de los Derechos de los Pueblos Indígenas a
Adquirir, Administrar y Operar Medios de Comunicación
Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad A.C.
Tel. 36409467

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Prison Radio Shines

from by Parmy Olson
LONDON--Johnny Cash made a mint when he recorded part of his 1968 album At Folsom Prison amidst the whoops and shouts of a roomful of inmates. Today's entertainment for prisoners is a more sobering affair: interviews with politicians, hard-hitting programs about suicide and self-harming. But it too is finding success.

A tiny prison radio station in South London is up for four prestigious Sony awards on Monday night, putting it alongside the some of the top talent of the BBC and other commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom.

Electric Radio in Brixton Prison is run by the Prison Radio Association,, a British charity, and broadcasts to just 800 inmates--but it has a rich array of programming. Weekly discussion programs about taboo subjects such as self-harming, mental and sexual health and the prison environment are mixed in with a daily dose of editorials and of course, music. The studio is located under the prison chapel and manned by inmates.

Its nominations include an award for talk radio and the all-important Interview Award. For this, one of Brixton Prison's inmates interviewed former U.K. government minister Jonathan Aitken, who was sentenced to 18 months in Belmarsh prison in 1999 for perjury and perverting the course of justice.

The interviewer was half-way through a four-year sentence when he conducted the interview, and the two men were "socially, culturally and educationally poles apart," the Prison Radio Association says. But while Aitken comes across as well-spoken and slightly pompous, Tis' is not afraid to ask probing questions, creating an intriguing interview in which Aitken opens up about his divorce, bankruptcy and experiences in jail.Brixton is one of 20 prisons in the U.K. that operate its own radio station or offers training in the area. The first was established in the Feltham Young Offenders Institution in 1994 by the Prison Radio Association when its young inmates called for its establishment. The organization got legal charitable status in June 2006.

There is as yet no clear evidence that prison radio contributes to rehabilitation, but Electric Radio Brixon, launched in November 2007, claims it is a useful source of information for prisoners with literacy problems and does help with rehabilitation.

An clip from the station is here.

The Prison Radio Association says it is working on the development of a National Prison Radio Service, with the potential to eventually reach every prisoner in England and Wales.AND FROM THE GUARDIAN UK:
It was a gig a lot of people would have paid a lot of money to see. Mick Jones, formerly of the seminal punk band the Clash, playing an acoustic and oh-so-gentle version of the band's classic stomper Should I Stay or Should I Go - and Billy Bragg, unchallenged master of conscience folk rock giving a deliciously cutting rendition of Rotting on Remand - "I said there's no justice/ as they led me out the door/ and the judge said 'this ain't a court of justice son/ this is a court of law'."

Introduced by Radio 1 DJ Bobby Friction, the two national treasures were performing live at the launch of Electric Radio Brixton - the first prison radio station in the UK to broadcast via satellite, and the first to broadcast 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

It is an ambitious project. But Phil Maguire, chief executive of the Prison Radio Association, a charity founded 18 months ago by Roma Hooper and Mark Robinson (who were instrumental in the setting up of the radio station in Feltham Young Offenders Institute 13 years earlier), has even more ambition yet to fulfil. "We want to see the establishment of a national prison radio network," he says, "serving every prison cell in England and Wales and broadcasting material produced not just in Brixton, but produced by prisoners serving sentences in prisons all around the country."

Maguire is a determined champion. His charity organisation is currently working with over 40 prisons. So far at least 15 have radio studios or radio training facilities. "I've loved radio for as long as I can remember," he says. "Ever since I was a little boy curling up at night under my bed clothes with my transistor. I love the way you can watch it with your eyes closed. It makes me laugh, sometimes makes me cry and almost constantly makes me think."

But why prison radio? He gives me a look of incredulity.

"It's an all singing, all dancing bulletin board," he says. "Radio is a phenomenal communications tool. In here, its ability to inform and educate takes on a whole new level. It supports the regime, creating opportunities for positive and fruitful dialogue between prisoners and staff. It enhances education provision and prisoner engagement activities. It can reach everybody, the young the old, men and women, the lonely and the disenfranchised."

Whilst watching the musicians through the studio glass, listening to their banter over the loudspeakers, we mingle by tables that have been set with canapés and soft drinks. There is a good turn out of invited guests, all thrilled and upbeat about the event; it is after all, historical.

Brixton is a difficult prison and it's to Governor Paul McDowell's credit that he has been able to find the energy and the commitment to support Electric Radio Brixton. Staff shortages mean that too many people are left locked in their cells for overly long periods. A number of prisoners are mixing with the guests, chatting freely. "There are some good things here," says 'T' who has spent four years in Brixton so far, "but there's too much bang-up - by the time they let us out everybody wants to fight."

Some prisoners are involved as producers of the radio station and I'm delighted when I spot an old friend, multi-talented Peter Wayne, a prodigious writer who, during his many stints inside, used to pen a wonderfully decadent column for Prospect magazine on prison life and who inspired my own efforts in the Guardian. He tells me he is back in on a shoplifting charge, "I'll be back out around Feb," he says. I tell him that he looks as well as I've ever seen him.

Now in early middle age, Wayne should be enjoying a comfortable life after a successful creative and contributing career. Instead, his close relationship with the demon heroin has kept his true colours from us, and left him spending the better part of his life haunting prison landings.

"I feel safe in here," he says cheerfully. I'm sad, but thrilled to see he is heavily involved with the new radio station. Alongside Bobby Friction he is next in the studio, interviewing Billy Bragg. Their chat is good humoured and I'm amazed at Wayne's professionalism. Bragg is a genial interviewee and talks zealously about the need for an emphasis on rehabilitation in prisons. "That's the only way to create fewer future victims," he says. He talks about the charitable foundation he has set up called Jail Guitar Doors, named after the B-side of the 1978 Clash single Clash City Rockers.

Bragg wants to use the transformative power of music to help change lives in prison; to that end he visits prisons around the country, donating musical instruments. "Music is a great way of communicating," he says. "It's a way of finding out where you are, who you are, and can help you to put something back."

Mick Jones is a close friend of Bragg's and gave him the first donation towards the purchase of instruments for prisoners by Jail Guitar Doors. "I was born in Brixton," says Jones, "I grew up looking at this place and now I'm pleased to be helping." Both men exude a passionate ability to empathise with the underdog which will have endeared them greatly to the men behind their doors in Brixton prison.

Before leaving Jones conducts a final singalong of Should I Stay. He's laughing and obviously having a great time. Outside the studio the guests are tapping feet and bobbing heads. A female prison officer is swaying. Electric Radio Brixton is touching souls and rocking its message through time and space.

· This article was amended on Monday December 3 2007. The PRA was not in fact set up 13 years ago. It was Radio Feltham (Radio Feltz), the UK's first prison radio station that was set up 13 years ago. The PRA was founded 18 months ago. This has been corrected.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

La TV que no te ve
Emiliano Bertoglio Rebelión
¿Qué hacemos con la TV? ¿La aceptamos tal cual es sin cuestionarla, o la rechazamos sin ni siquiera repensar su función social? ¿Debemos rendirle cultos y reverencias, o debemos demonizarla? El debate parece sencillo. Sin embargo, pensar que la tecnología por sí sola puede ser buena o mala es una falacia equivalente a creer que las prácticas que las personas desarrollamos a diario no encierran un posicionamiento político frente a la vida y al entorno. Con lo cual, antes de pensar en la televisión como fenómeno tecnológico a secas, deberíamos estar reflexionando sobre los usos que de ella hacemos los sujetos.

Expresiones menos casuales que intencionales son las que se enarbolan desde los medios audiovisuales más consumidos en la sociedad[2] para definir al mundo actual: éste sería una mágica aldea global en la cual todos nos conoceríamos con todos,
y donde todos seríamos iguales porque consumimos los mismos productos. En esta “comunidad”, la televisión y los demás medios serían ese espejo en el cual maravillosamente se multiplicarían hasta el infinito todas las formas y todas las voces existentes; serían ese punto en donde se podrían contemplar -desde todos los ángulos posibles- todos los puntos del Universo (el “Aleph”, que definiera Borges en su cuento homónimo).

Sí, en estos medios todo aparecería representado… Ahora, ¿es capaz la TV de ver todo cuanto acontece? ¿Puede ella mostrar “la” realidad? ¿Podemos confundir cantidad de frecuencias en nuestra pantalla con cantidad de conocimiento? ¿Qué
estereotipos y qué identidades contribuye a crear ella sobre la mujer, los adolescentes, los niños? ¿Atiende a las diferencias, a las minorías, a los silencios de los que no tienen voz en la sociedad? Y si lo hace, ¿qué imaginarios construye sobre ellos?

La televisión comercial y masiva de estos días parece detenerse muy poco en cada uno de estas particularidades. Por el contrario, y en la persecución de la mayor rentabilidad posible, mira más el propio ombligo que a la sociedad: “La pantalla de la televisión nos muestra un televisor que contiene otro televisor, dentro del cual hay un televisor”, sostiene Eduardo Galeano. Hoy la TV no te ve ni me ve.

Es por esto que si creemos las verdades de los abogados de “la aldea global”, terminaremos creyendo que en ella -afuera- lo único verdaderamente trascendente son mujeres que bailan en un caño, y adolescentes vacíos encerrados en una casa para pelear discusiones mal guionadas. Paralelamente, dejaremos de ver a la televisión y a los medios de comunicación en general como lo que son en potencia: herramientas cuyo uso puede ampliar efectivamente nuestras capacidades humanas de ver, de escuchar, de decir y de conocer.
Emiliano Bertoglio es Lic. en Ciencias de la Comunicación. Hernando (Córdoba, Argentina).

Monday, May 4, 2009

SABC became a “soap opera”. But it’s an educational one.

South Africans thought they had fireproofed their public broadcaster when they began re-designing the institution in 1993. Never again, it was believed, would the South African Broadcasting Corporation be used as a tool of political abuse, as it had been in the apartheid era.

Hatred and suspicion attended the SABC back then. This was the result of the broadcaster rationalising white racism, demonising the resistance and trying to divide black South Africans through promoting tribalism. Because of this record, there was a clear recognition by anti-apartheid activists that if the 1994 election was to be free and fair, control of this key means of communication would have be vested in an independent board. It was also perceived that the de facto state monopoly on broadcasting would have to end, and that the licensing process of new players be set up under the auspices of an independent regulator.

A broad-based civil society coalition drove these developments, with participation from the leading resistance group – the African National Congress (ANC) which would go on to win the 1994 election. It was possible to secure breakthroughs in all the desired areas of reform, due to a historical window of opportunity where rival political forces were amenable to the depoliticising of broadcasting. For the ANC, control of SABC by the National Party was seen as dangerous in the build up to the impending election. The other side, knowing that they could not win the poll, did not want to see a victorious ANC assume the standing level of control. The mutual solution? Each contestant effectively agreed to relinquish designs on SABC.

From the point of view of civil society, and business, this was ideal. It opened the way for broadcasting to be recast away from a state-based monopoly tool for white domination towards the interests of independently reflecting the full spectrum of interests. Accordingly, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was legislated in 2003. The subsequent national constitution provided explicitly for independent regulation of broadcasting. The IBA set about licensing – first, community radio stations; then, private radio and television. In later years, the same body – now named as the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa – also set out detailed public service conditions in the licensing of SABC’s many stations.

But even with increased pluralism, and with some privatisation of its commercial radio holdings, the SABC remained the biggest player in the broadcast landscape – claiming to be the primary source of news and current affairs for 27 million adults (SABC advertisement, 16 November, 2007, Sunday Times).

A panel of agreed eminent persons held public hearings for the membership of a new SABC board in 1993, and their subsequent nominees were appointed by the then apartheid president. The new board in turn oversaw a new leadership cadre moving in to change the broadcaster for the better. The SABC thus began to reflect, more representatively, the diversity of the country. It began to play a positive role in democracy and development.

Subsequently, a new system was legislated in 1999 for the board’s appointments. Although this reduced the influence of civil society, the mechanism – combined with various high-minded aspirations for SABC being set out in a Charter – kept SABC’s independence intact. Essentially the system put the power in the hands of a multi-party parliamentary committee. It retained the formula of conducting public hearings, and of putting forward a list of names to the president for selection or rejection. Conditions were also specified for the types of persons eligible for the office of board member – for instance, excluding political office bearers.

This system operated with a degree of credibility up until 2007, despite sporadic controversy. There were accusations of bias made by opposition parties, but most criticism was of the overwhelmingly commercial business model which was seen as diluting distinctive public service programming. Another controversy emerged about views of some SABC board members who eschewed “objectivity” in journalism, but then had to back down. After 1994, successive ministers of communications tried to gain greater control over broadcasting in general, but media reform activists and others lobbied to ensure that legislation confined government’s role to broad, consultative and transparent policy directives via the regulator.

There was widespread public participation in 2004 in a legislated consultative process to plug a gap in the system. The issue was SABC’s lack of detailed editorial policies to give substance to the fine sentiments in the Charter. The detailed policy, adopted by the board, spelled out commendable guidelines that insisted on political independence and impartiality. An initial proposal for a top-down mechanism of “upward referral” was amended to allow for reasonable editorial independence for coalface journalists. But one suggestion that failed to win acceptance was a separation of the top position into two peer responsibilities – editorial content, and business responsibility. Instead, the CEO was formally designated as the Editor-in-Chief, thereby concentrating these two huge (and rival) foci in one person.

Despite some imperfections, it seemed generally that the system was a model case, especially in Africa. But serious flaws in institutional design and practise began to emerge during 2007.

First, within the broadcaster, the editorial policies failed to empower rank-and-file journalists. They mainly preferred to please the perceived political preferences of their news chiefs who, after all, controlled their salary rises. The policies also proved to be inadequate on the use of “expert” commentators. Evidence emerged in 2007 of blacklisting of some voices for political reasons in the absence of clear-cut criteria that could more legitimately guide inclusions and exclusions.

Second, regulating the external control of the broadcaster was not as fail-safe as originally thought. In 2002, the SABC was “corporatised”, placing it on a par with other state-owned enterprises. This converted government’s role into that of “shareholder”, and the Minister accordingly became involved when the board selected candidates to fill the top executive positions.

Third, the system of parliamentary scrutiny and recommendation of board members was reduced to a partial-charade in 2007. Its design had never excluded the possibility of a dominant party commanding all the positions on the board, but the tradition had been to seek a degree of multi-party consensus on recommended candidates. What was lacking was a provision for an “affirmative action” proportioning of seats such that instead of a potential “majority-takes-all”, there would be a guaranteed minimum representation of candidates favoured by minority parties.

What really discredited the selection system, however, was the news in 2007 that ANC members of the parliamentary committee, notwithstanding their screening of candidates, not only consulted party headquarters about their preferences for a new board, but that they further let themselves be over-ruled on four names. It was evidence of ANC over-centralism, and of an instrumentalist mindset that the SABC was a tool of government, rather than an autonomous forum for the wider public. The same thinking was also evident in ANC policy proposals in December 2007 that there should be statutory regulation of the press.

Thus, the party’s selection intervention on SABC was not only contempt for the integrity of parliament, it also revealed cynicism about the notion a public broadcaster. Even worse, just months later after submitting their revised list, and no sooner did power shift in the party, the same ANC MPs suddenly found their tongues, and demanded the firing of very board which they had proposed to the president.

The circus got really going when the then president, Thabo Mbeki, ignored their motion of no confidence in the SABC board, the MPs then engineered a change in law to compel him to follow their lead. This was opposed by the pro-Mbeki Ministry of Communications that wanted a longer and more comprehensive process which would have taken some pressure off the board.

The convoluted route to this legal amendment proved unnecessary in the medium-term, because just months after losing control of the party, Mbeki also received marching orders as regards the presidency. Compounding matters, however, the law change also provided for the appointment of an interim Board, without respect for the safeguards that had been built into the process and eligibility for the standing board.

At the time of writing this article in November 2008, the law was still to be signed into effect. The SABC board had not been toppled, and instead looked set to defend its record against this fate. Meanwhile it had not been sitting passively. One of its early acts had in fact been to act against the SABC’s CEO, Dali Mpofu. Although he succeeded in twice contesting suspensions, in the end this status was upheld in court. A board investigation into his performance continues.

One of the key arguments used against Mpofu was that he had lost national football rights to a private broadcaster. Little wonder that this had happened, when this single person had, inter alia, to take political responsibility for content on SABC’s 19 radio stations and 3 TV channels, steer the broadcaster through the challenges of digital migration, and ensure the commercial well-being of a billion rand enterprise super-dependent on advertising revenue.

Notwithstanding this, it is widely believed that the underlying reason for Mpofu’s suspension was political, rather than performance-related. Formerly an Mbeki supporter, he was read as having shifted allegiance to the newly hegemonic camp in the ANC after December 2007. With the board’s roots in an Mbeki-dominated party and parliament, its members seem not to have appreciated such “floor” crossing. The Ministry seemed to take the side of the board against Mpofu, despite him appealing there for support. The senior SABC executives did take his side, however, and issued a statement that it was the board, rather than their boss, that should be fired.

Meantime, shortly before the CEO was suspended, he himself had suspended a key rival within the corporation – the Mbeki-leaning head of news, Snuki Zikalala. Subsequently, the latter was reinstated, with the Chair of the board saying he had been vindicated. Nevertheless, leaked correspondence later revealed different views within the board over this claim.

In the real-life suspense and drama around such power battles, Icasa’s voice was not to be heard. But the fiasco did galvanise civil society to reconstitute an alliance for media reform. The “Save our SABC” campaign brought together various unions, media NGOs, and media activists to call for action to clean up the mess. Their position was that the board was illegitimate and should resign, but also that MPs’ changes to the law should go further than compelling dismissal and include new safeguards against political interference (such as scrapping the corporatisation articles of association that allowed ministerial involvement in the SABC). Neither the board nor parliament, however, heeded these demands.

Within the broadcaster itself, SABC staff found themselves caught up in the conflicts. Some spoke out on one side or the other – including sometimes finding courage to speak out in public. Others also took advantage of the power vacuum to flex their muscles as independent journalists. These trends impact on SABC’s independence during and after the 2009 national elections. Predictably, as the poll has loomed, political parties and factions of all hues, and not least the ruling party and a pro-Mbeki breakaway group, have been lobbied SABC to cover their own people more, and their opponents, less. The board has complained about intimidation of journalists, and set up a hot line for political complaints.

South African Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) informal reporting policy came to light in September after an internal commission was set up to investigate the News and Current Affairs Managing Director Snuki Zikalala. The commission - under former SABC head Zwelakhe Sisulu and advocate Gilbert Marcus SC - found that the SABC had indeed blacklisted certain commentators and analysts.

The danger in all this is not so much in SABC becoming a mouthpiece for one party or faction thereof, but in it serving as a mouthpiece for all parties. The model then is of a “political parties” broadcaster. That is an improvement on a “single-party” one, and especially on a “ruling party” model. But it is also very close to a “civil service” style of broadcasting. This refers to a broadcaster that is “loyal to the government of the day”, even though it is also reasonably fair in giving some access to recognised opposition parties. Mainly, however, its content producers see themselves not as independent journalists, but as state employees.

In contrast, a public broadcaster differs in two ways. First, it has to represent key stakeholders in addition to political parties. Second, it should add own value by doing journalistic scrutiny of all parties and by helping to educate the public about choosing within an election. It is both an inclusive and a proactive form of broadcasting, that cannot be reduced to playing a narrow and passive part as a platform for party interests.

The SABC saga described above resembles a case of “innocence” being lost – of a once-inspiring media reform turned sour. That all-too-familiar narrative framework, however, misses some salient issues, and it serves only to demobilise media reform activity.

The main point is that despite SABC’s tribulations, there is no question that the South African institutional design for public broadcasting still represents enormous historical progress. This is not only as compared to the awful past of that country, but also in terms of comparisons with many other countries. Real retrogression of SABC is indeed possible, but so too is further progress – and this depends on what gets learnt from the recent developments. Amongst the lessons are:

• It is imperative for legislatures to act with integrity, and not let themselves be micro-politically managed by a ruling party headquarters;
• Corporatised public broadcasters need articles that will uphold their integrity against the government as representative of the owner;
• The allocation of commercial responsibilities of a public broadcaster should to be separated from editorial and other responsibilities;
• Terms of office for occupants of a public broadcaster board ought to be staggered, so to block the temptation for, and possibility of, a clean sweep of its members in any single political conjuncture;
• Board design could consider reducing the extent of parliamentary involvement, and instead allocate a portion of seats to representatives elected by social constituencies (eg. churches, university principals, unions, etc., and staff members of the SABC itself).
• Both the broadcast regulator, and the actual journalistic employees of a public broadcaster, should speak out loudly in defence of editorial policies and against those who treat the public broadcaster as a political football.

Another lesson is that instead of an agglomerated SABC, an unbundled broadcaster would reduce the dangers of singular political control. Many other countries have several separate and autonomous public broadcast organisations.

If all these changes were incorporated into the South African system, hope would be rekindled for a vibrant and independent public broadcaster serving the society. If the idea of public service broadcasting is to remain at least an aspiration, media activists can learn from the loopholes revealed by the South African experience and work towards reforms even before they become necessary.

Published in the WACC Journal, Media Development
Brief biographical details:

Professor Guy Berger is head of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. He edited the 2007 UNESCO study of Media Legislation in 10 African countries, and makes regular submissions to the South African parliament on media law reform. He writes a media column at

Slum TV

Slum TV is a volunteer project run from a room in Nairobi's Mathare slum. Films are are produced by and shown to the slum's residents in public screenings.In the Mathare slum of Nairobi, a project conceived at the intersection between art, actionism and social study has caused quite a stir in recent years. SLUM-TV was founded by Austrian and Kenyan artists and has, as such, been producing sitcoms, dramas and short documentaries, which are presented in public places in the form of a newsreel and later streamed online and archived, since 2007. The local team – the inhabitants of the residential area – define the contents themselves and are also in charge of the realisation. These productions thus bear aspects of local historiography, enabling a social class misrepresented by the mass media to present itself.

SLUM-TV does not give stage directions or dictate themes, because it is concerned with the self-empowerment of those who are often made out to be ”powerless“ by the hegemonic discourse.

The aesthetics used for media campaigns in connection with AIDS prevention, wars, hunger crises and natural disasters also have a great impact on site. The local media are full of articles and reports appealing for donations with familiar stereotypes (small children with big eyes). This way, they create an aesthetic dispositive which seems to suggest that the only way to get media coverage is with images like these. SLUM-TV attempts to show that this can be done differently.

With strategies from fine art, with the means of performance and intervention, SLUM-TV creates a discourse breaching familiar forms of representation and transgressing conventional fields of action associated with classic community channels.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Process Is Powerful

"Process Is Powerful" is practical guide from Center for International Media Action that presents case studies, tools, tips and lessons on how to use planning and evaluation to strengthen media change work. The focus is how to build participation, power and long-range strategy through the ways we design and assess our work.
• checklists for planning meetings and doing outreach
• case studies of planning and evaluation in alliance-building projects
• activities strategy-planning workshops
• toolkits for working through evaluation plans
• tips on dealing with funders
• and much more!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Africa participates in World Press Freedom Day 2009

The Media Institute of Southern Africa, the West African Journalists' Association, the Media Foundation for West Africa and the Eastern Africa Journalists Association will all be participating in various events in Africa in acknowledgement of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, 2009.
For the 15th year in a row, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) is unveiling its report, "So this is Democracy", which looks at the state of the media in Southern Africa. MISA recorded 163 alerts in the year 2008, the most serious violations taking place in Tanzania - most notably the acid attack on journalist Saed Kubenea of the "Mwanahalisi". The government later banned the weekly, allegedly for publishing seditious material.

A similar distrust of private media has been the basis for media closures in Lesotho and Zimbabwe, says MISA. On 3 May, MISA's World Press Freedom Day statement and report will be available at for download.

The West African Journalists' Association (WAJA) is taking up UNESCO's theme of "media, dialogue and mutual understanding" by participating in demonstrations in Bamako, Mali and Dakar, Senegal and calling for talks between government and the media in West Africa. WAJA has high hopes that dialogue will help create an environment conducive to development of the media sector, "to decriminalise press offences and to put an end to the killings, assaults, arrests and imprisonment of journalists." For more info go to

The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) is teaming up with the Ghana Journalists Association to put dialogue between the government and the media in practice. On 4 May, press freedom advocates, such as Kwame Karikari, executive director of MFWA, and the presidents of Ghana's journalists', newspaper publishers' and independent broadcasters' associations, can exchange views with the Minister of Information, Zita Okaikoi at a symposium at the Ghana International Press Centre in Accra. On 6 May, more talks will follow on how to turn GBC - Ghana Broadcasting Corporation - into a "true public service broadcaster." For more info go to

Worried about the growing intolerance towards independent journalism and rising violence against journalists, the Eastern Africa Journalists Association is organising a workshop on 2-3 May in Kigali, Rwanda. IFEX members the Media Institute from Kenya and Somalia's National Union of Somali Journalists will be among some of the attendees addressing the situation facing journalists and media in eastern Africa, including journalists' safety and working conditions, professional ethical standards, the place of investigative journalism in the region, and media as a tool for dialogue and reconciliation. For more information email or

Friday, May 1, 2009

Mural Memorial

The walls of New York are covered with murals that evoke the city’s history, celebrate its neighborhoods, pay tribute to leaders great and small. And then there’s the mural at the corner of Vanderbilt and Myrtle Avenues, which commemorates Benjamin O’Garro, a controversial figure who is still beloved by some in Fort Greene, even if he represents, in many ways, the neighborhood’s troubled past.

His image, on the wall of a liquor store, makes no intimations of a difficult life, or of the violent end O’Garro met at the age of 26. The portrait of a young African-American man with thoughtful features and a thin mustache hovers above a tranquil Brooklyn streetscape. Dramatic, fading sunlight envelops him. An inscription beneath his name reads, “A cut above the rest.”

But according to reports from The Times and the Daily News, “Killer Ben” was a notorious presence in the Walt Whitman Houses, one who allegedly dealt in drugs and whose gun play once sent a neighborhood child into a coma.

In 1988, he was convicted of attempted murder for shooting at two police officers from the 88th precinct with a Tech-9 pistol. While O’Garro was serving an attempted murder sentence upstate, his 3-year-old brother Ben Williams was killed when someone — possibly a rival drug gang — shot up the O’Garro apartment in a hail of bullets. That same week, in July of 1990, two other children would be killed by gunfire on city streets.

The older Ben returned to New York in the mid-90s, just as Fort Greene — and the rest of the city — had begun the long process of rehabilitation. But he would never have the same chance at redemption. On Aug. 17, 1995, he was shot dead in a telephone booth outside the Whitman Houses. As Ian Frazier wrote in the New Yorker last year, O’Garro may have been murdered because he stole jewelry from an associate of the rapper Notorious B.I.G, another son of Brooklyn who would die violently before the age of 30.

“We can’t really judge him,” cautions Bio Feliciano, who painted the first O’Garro mural 10 years ago with two other members of Tats Cru, a renowned collective of graffiti artists. Feliciano says he subsequently learned the details of O’Garro’s violent past, yet when O’Garro’s family approached Tats Cru to restore the mural last year, he did not refuse. Like the countless other young men Tats Cru has immortalized, the image is not a statement of morality, but a sad note on the lives — however imperfect — this city claims daily.

Family members recall O’Garro fondly, refusing to believe that he was responsible for any of the bloodshed that found its way to their very doorstep. His sister Jamilla Martin, 34, says that her older brother had a “great heart” and often played the part of Robin Hood, buying bikes for his younger siblings or reaching out to help struggling neighbors. Any money he earned, Martin claims, came from working as a manager for musicians like the rap duo Eric B. and Rakim.

Susan O’Garro, 81, who still lives in the Whitman Houses, also defends O’Garro, her grandson, without reservation, claiming that he is still loved in a neighborhood that has changed drastically in the nearly 15 years since his death. “If he was such a bad guy,” she wonders defiantly, “what’s he still doing on that wall?”