By John Hanan
Members of the indy media throw away their press passes.
Don’t believe everything you read, watch on TV, or hear on the radio.
Paranoia was the theme at a conference held on September 22 by the independent Media Centre of Ontario. They passed out pamphlets and sign-up sheets, planned for future protests and worried about reactions to the recent terrorist attacks in the United States.
The IMC was founded in Seattle after 1999’s protest against the World Trade Organization. The group is fuelled by a belief that mass media has become little more than an extension of corporate and government interests. They began spreading their alternative views through the internet, free from all editing and censorship. The Toronto chapter of IMC doesn’t have an official office, so the University of Toronto was used to host social activists from around the province.
“I wanted to bring a TV and VCR, but since today is car-free day, I couldn’t , “joked seminar leader Johnathan Culp. “So in solidarity, my workshop is fucked.”
The workshop, one of 15 held during the event, was a skill-sharing class that provided tips like “the bigger the camera, the further you go,” and other ways to look like a pro and avoid being arrested.
Culp holds no pretence of objectivity in his work and admits to being an active participant in the events he covers.
“We don’t wish to serve institutions of power, we’re trying to document dissent and offer alternative perspectives,” he says.
Some of Culp’s videotapes have been used as court-room evidence defending activists against charges of resisting arrest and assaulting police officers. But he says he’ll turn his camera away from the trashing of a bank rather than incriminate anyone.
Attendees were encouraged to submit stories, digital photographs or video to ontario.indymedia.org. The site posts all submissions, and has links to IMC networks around the world, including nine others in Canada.
“We’re not independent in ideology, but independent from corporate control,” explains Dmytri Kleiner, who gave a workshop on the logistics for OCAP’s upcoming economic disruption campaign which will take place in Toronto’s financial district on Oct. 16.
Not all indy media followers condone violence or the practice of turning a blind eye to criminal behaviour. Kleiner believes that the anti-globalization movement has reached a stage where any violence by protestors will be detrimental to the cause. He fears the association of legitimate protest with senseless violence will spur a uniform backlash against all protest participants. He says that violence and vandalism at protests could give authorities justification to ignore civil liberties and make sweeping arrests. “But how much worse can it get after the clashes in Quebec City?” he wonders. “How much further can [the conflict] escalate?”
IMC members network with affiliated groups and disseminate information via cyberspace. “The IMC exists simply as a sub-directory in a computer in Seattle,” says Kleiner.
Every member determines his or her own level on involvement, but they all use maximum security encrypted email accounts. Don’t trust Yahoo or MSN to protect your secrets, conference attendees are told.
The day’s most animated class hosted a discussion on media coverage of recent terrorist attacks in America. Asad Ismi sported a Ho-Chi-Minh T-Shirt while moderating the session, and got the crowd worked up as he declared “The media machine is producing nonstop propaganda to justify America’s new war.”
Ismi is an author who refuses to publish his work in any forum with advertising.” As indy media we have to investigate what the mainstream is ignoring, which is usually all the background to a story,” he says.
He’s not shy about expressing anticapitalist beliefs and feels independent media must take a socialist stance to combat the mainstream media’s right-wing bias.
“If you sit on the fence, you get shot from both sides,” he declared.
“There is a tendency on the part of large media to narrow the agenda,” admits Vince Carlin, chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism. Although he doesn’t buy into conspiracy theories, he says “There has to be the will on the part of the editors and producers to take a chance on missing the obvious and getting to the motivation behind events.”
CBC radio executive producer George Jamieson does not believe the media ignores socialist concerns.
“I have a hard time believing that there’s a major suppression of stories,” says Jamieson, nothing the line between advocacy and balanced journalism gets blurred when reporters become personally involved.
“Journalism is more of a craft than a profession, but we do not have standards which says if you know stuff you don’t hold it back. I don’t allow the people I work with to be selective with the information they pass along.”
At the Indy Media conference, it seems hard to walk the line between alternative perspectives and responsible action. Their quest to find that balance will continue when both sides – the paid professionals and grassroots reporters – will meet again on Oct. 16 as activists try to shut down Bay Street.