[Imc-communication] Belgium Imc Western - Reflections
ionnek at aktivix.org
Tue Jun 28 01:47:56 PDT 2005
Thanks Laila for your posting:
I find it constructive. I won't comment on your description of stalinist
parties, but i see some more aspects where the indymedia.be collective
acts differently from most other imcs. I'd like to share these observations.
[en] Summary: I argue that the www indymedia org URLs are "owned" by the
network of imcs, not by the individual imcs who use them. I identify
some aspects where the .be collective is setting different priorities
from many other imcs in the network: a drive towards "alternative mass
media" and "efficiency" rather than "alternative open platform" and
"empowerment". I conclude by arguing that being part of the network of
imcs is articulated more by active participation in our social network
of support and shared, constructive, consensus-based decisionmaking than
on the use of an official Indymedia dot org URL.
[de] Zusammenfassung: Ich bin der Meinung, dass die www indymedia org
URLS dem Netzwerk der IMCs "gehören", nicht den einzelnen imcs, die sie
nutzen. Ich nenne einige Aspekte, wo das .be Kollektiv andere
Prioritäten setzt als viele andere imcs im Netzwerk: Eine Tendenz zu
"alternativen Massenmedien" und "Effizienz" anstelle von "alternative,
offene Nachrichtenplattform" und "Empowerment". Ich schliesse mit der
Überlegung, dass die Zugehörigkeit zum Netzwerk sich eher in der aktiven
Beteiligung an unserem sozialen Netzwerk, der gegenseitigen
Unterstützung und der gemeinsamen, konstruktiven Entscheidungsfindung
auf Konsensbasis ausdrückt, als in der Nutzung einer offiziellen
Indymedia dot org URL.
Here are some reflections on the Belgium conflict - some of my thoughts
with no aspirations to authority or even usefulness, and sometimes
contradicting myself. I can't come up with a proposal what to do without
understanding what is actually happening. I am directing my thoughts to
the reasons for the conflict, without trying to come up with a clear
solution or a clear taking sides for one group or the other. Reading the
imc-communication list on this issue has been exhausting and confusing,
made me feel stuck in pointless conflict and disempowered. Sometimes I
even had difficulties to identify who was from which side of the belgium
conflict! I would like to move away from the proposal-block-personal
ping-pong exchanges. This seems to me an unneccessary focus on
bureaucracy. I'd rather have a debate in solidarity - and hope that
clearer processes might emerge from it.
I like the temporary solution to have a "www . belgium . indymedia .
org" static page with links to all imcs in Belgium. Considering that the
indymedia.be collective had a big banner "www . indymedia . be" long
before that change at the top of their website, I believe that
indymedia.be has not lost its identity on the web - people will easily
find them. A google query to indymedia belgium leads to the static page,
in which indymedia.be is included. If the imc network had kept the
status quo, where only the .be collective had access to this URL, all
the local collectives in Belgium would have been excluded.
Who "owns" the belgium.indymedia.org URL?
It's clear from their posts and from the naming of their twiki pages
that indymedia.be would have preferred to keep the belgium.indymedia.org
URL for themselves instead of sharing it with others. It is also clear
that the local belgium collectives wanted access to that URL as well.
This is a difficult situation for an early imc like .be, with a large
"territory". You start out as one collective, the project grows and
becomes more diverse, additional collectives form, and then you have to
realise that you are not the only imc collective in that territory
anymore, that you need to cooperate with others, take their views into
account. For, in my view, the indymedia.org URLs are "owned" by the
network, and using them comes with the obligation to engage in a wild
and sometimes anarchic process of consensus based, global decisionmaking.
There is also the concept of local news (in one city or region) and
national news (from one state). Indymedia Estrecho are shifting this
concept by defining their own territory, a region between spain and
north africa, europe and africa. But most imcs so far stick to the more
traditional (and less exciting) city/state/continent framework.
Reporting national news, as .be does, is different from local news. I
think there should be space for both. But it is difficult if one
collective with a very boundaried approach claims exclusivity for
national reporting by insisting to "own" a state-based URL like belgium
. indymedia. org.
I remember that when indymedia Bristol started in the UK, in addition to
imc uk, I was worried about the inconsistency in labels - traditional
organisations would have a clear (and hierarchical) relationship between
countrywide and local branches. But practice over the years has shown
that indymedia's logic works differently. We cooperate fine as a
network, and our connections don't rely on using the same server or the
same database. A local imc in a town can easily stand next to a
country-wide imc. Imc Scotland even has two pages, while indymedia
lancaster has none at all! Imc wales is not listed on the uk site,
because it has technically no open publishing, but keeps in touch anyway.
Alternative mass media or participatory news platform?
However, the Belgium situation is different from the UK situation. .be's
approach is fundamentally different from the local Belgium collectives
and most of the network as well. Indymedia.be is proud to focus on
countrywide, bilingual news. They seem to have a clear line of reporting
rather than the anarchic newsgathering that is characteristic of so many
other imcs. Maybe this results in more concise reporting, I cannot judge
that. The shortcoming is, I believe, that articles that don't fit this
line of reporting are hidden or deleted. Which means that the
participatory, empowering, DIY aspects of indymedia are shifting to the
Indymedia.be is aiming for an "alternative mass media". In that logic,
it makes sense to appropriate the articles of people who are not part of
the .be collective without crediting the authors: an aspiring mass media
needs to display as much "original" work as possible. Enhancing the
global imc network by publicising links to other imcs might not be a
However, in my view, the most encouraging aspect of indymedia is the
widespread appropriation of new media, based on an ongoing experiment
with horizontal, consensus-based organising, and in cooperation with the
still forming global social movements - in a way a much wider remit than
"making media". Many people have gained confidence in using new
technologies through indymedia, and in publishing text, audio and images
for the first time. Wether or not indymedia is or should be an
alternative mass media, I don't know. But it certainly is a very active
global network of volunteers.
Openness vs Efficiency
Indymedia relies on open publishing, which means that the newswires
cannot be completely concise. Most of them (all I know) are prepared to
loose some conciseness in order to gain openness. Newswire postings are
rarely checked or verified. For Imc UK, I find it amazing that despite
the openness of the newswire, there is still little factual
disinformation. A lot of comment, some reflections that I personally
consider as rants, but little deliberate disinformation. Imc open
publishing as a concept seems to have some in-built safety valves.
I believe that indymedia also relies on the openness of its collectives.
I think that there are boundaries around most collectives, simply
because we live in the real world which is still structured by the old
power relations like class, gender, race and probably more. But I would
assume that most collectives at least try to be inclusive. This can be
exhausting. Sometimes it is easier to work with a group of trusted
people who know the ins and outs of the project. But there is a lot of
attraction to an open model, taking the idealised model of open source
programming into meatspace.
If I wanted to go for a webjournal project, with clearly structured and
well researched content, relying on the contributions not of a multitude
of posters but of a set of trusted correspondents, i would not try to do
it within indymedia. Although there is scope for this as well, for
example in the thematic topics provided by most (all?) imc code bases.
>From the evidence given in several documents from imc volunteers in
Belgium, I come to the conclusion that the openness of both newswire and
the collective is not a priority for .be indymedia. I have read several
"leaving messages" and the conflicts that caused them. Nobody was thrown
out (although some ex .be volunteers say they had their logins removed).
It was enough not to include a considerable number of dedicated
individuals in the decisionmaking. This may be a useful policy for a
tightly organised webjournal, or the publication of a well-defined unit.
I doubt its usefulness for an independent media center that is meant to
articulate what has been called "the multitude".
Conclusions - Western movie or multitude?
It would be interesting to explore further wether, and if yes, how, the
.be collective is functioning differently from many other imcs, to
define what distinguishes an aspiring "alternative mass media" from an
"participatory news platform", and what a hybrid of both would look
like. I would be interested to hear if members of the .be collective
find my description accurate.
From my limited insight (only based on twiki, irc and lists), it seems
to me that the .be collective prioritises a concise line of reporting
over open participation, and the efficiency of a tight editorial group
over the manyvoiced utterings of "the multitudes".
Wether or not this approach should be applied to an independent media
center is debatable. I am not sure, and many important aspects have not
been included in this mail. I certainly prefer the static page solution
rather than a Western movie approach ("there is not enough space in
Belgium for both of us"). In the end, any URL is random, and only gains
meaning by the contents and link-count of the site that uses it. It may
be useful to explore the possibility of URLs like
belgium1.indymedia.org, belgium2.indymedia.org, placing all imcs that
want to report about the same area with different approaches on the same
level (for example the .be site and the future belgium synchronisation
Even if the imc network would come to the conclusion that the .be
approach does not lie well with the imc principles of unity, considering
the functioning of the internet, I don't see how a collective that
regards itself as an indymedia can be stopped from using this name.
Another question would be imc projects that don't want to be part of the
network. I don't refer to nonsense like beachcities imc, which has now
thankfully disappeared. The only symbol available to the global imc
network to mark the disaffiliation of an imc is not to link to it from
the cities list. We don't have (and, imho, shouldn't have) a "trademark"
for urls like "indymedia.*", "indymedia*.org" etc. The real political
meaning of a URL relies on the social network of users anyway. Although
the use of *.indymedia.org URLs constitutes a degree of "officialness"
for insiders, it doesn't to casual users, and many imcs use other URLs
(remember the conflict about the "indybay" URL?). I can also imagine a
situation where an indymedia project does not want to be part of the
network, i.e. does not want to comply to the principles of unity.
(1 of imc uk)
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