Sustaining Autonomous Media Networks Part II

Sustaining Autonomous Media Networks - Part II

By Simon Worthington, 18 July 2006

In Mute's second review addressing the state of debate among autonomous media producers, Simon Worthington reports back from Transmission, a video activist's gathering held at an old fort (Forte Prenestino) in Rome this June. The groups were left to self-organise and self-document, which they did with a military efficiency befitting their surroundings. The central question? How to build an independent video network strong enough, and techie enough to put a hole in YouTube's hoover-bag

In early June over forty online video activist groups gathered for Transmission, a four day meeting in Rome, to work on improving content sharing, video distribution and collaborative working among independent media practitioners. The event consisted of open forums, presentations, workshops, discussion groups, coding sessions, content swapping and what turned out to be intensive note taking and documentation, with several WikiBooks being initiated from the sessions. The event took place in Forte Prenestino, a social centre based in an 18th century fort located in a residential suburb of the city – drawbridge, portcullis, dungeons included. Forte Prenestino was occupied in 1986 by the local punk movement, and since then has facilitated cultural and political initiatives. Since its conversion into a social centre, the fort has been involved with the cyberpunk scene, first taking part in pre-internet networks like European Counter Net and, for the past two years, running a hacklab. At the same time as Transmission, a comics and graffiti festival called Crack! Fumetti dirompenti! was going on, in which the fort was being reworked into a Terry Gilligan like film set, with graffiti reaching two stories high.

The Transmission participants came from many parts of the world – Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific. These different contexts for video production proved to be very important for understanding how to work with users/audiences and encourage participation. The groups came from across the entire spectrum of alternative media, from institutional NGOs to autonomous anti-capitalists, from video makers to Free Open Source Software (FOSS) developers and from grass roots initiatives to union supported bodies. The event coordinators had set up Transmission so that the participants could organise the schedule and agenda within a framework of the theme of infrastructures for video activism and social justice. In the run up to the gathering, groups had been invited to suggest workshops and discussions via an email list. On arrival at the fort open forums were very quickly established for groups to meet and fill in the detail of the four day program with the responsibility of coordinating different events, discussions or workshops.

The second lead from the event coordinators was a focus on the current lack of coordination between media projects in the social movements and the risks of duplicating efforts resulting from a lack of awareness. This applies to the many areas of networked video production, for example P2P networks, syndication, Content Management Systems (CMSs), translation, collaborative working software and video encoding standards. Many groups have different crossovers involving collaborations or an awareness of one another, but the need for more effective collaboration resonated unanimously.

It is clear that many of the groups attending had comprised the avant-garde of video based citizen journalism such as Indymedia, V2V and Democracy Now!, to name but a few. As the Transmission organisers pointed out, greater coordination between these groups is badly needed, and in some senses this has come from the current growth of corporate internet worldwide. In a perverse way corporate players like Google Video and Web 2.0 start-ups like YouTube have taken advantage of user generated content in true corporate vampiric fashion (e.g. in June 2006, received 65,000 video uploads). User participation or Open Publishing has long been advocated by media democracy advocates and theorists, an ethos with roots in precedents like Bertolt Brecht's ideas of radio as a two way medium not just a broadcast system. The pressure on the web at present is coming from convergent media where the traditional broadcasters and media corporations are moving onto the web, bringing with them conventional TV-derived forms of user generated content, like 100 great home movie pet disasters. Conversely corporate media groups are part of a tendency that is creating a social norm of participation that the social movement can only hope will have other effects and give people a taste for taking video footage or photos of their workplace or injustice in their communities.

With a background in Open IPR and FOSS the social movements' video groups are experimenting live with how their networks and messages of social justice and media democracy can negotiate this new phase of the internet's convergent media landscape. It is the practical use of FOSS and accompanying values of sharing and collaboration that continues to give media activists a growing tool box for facilitating citizen journalism. Through the workshops and meetings a couple of examples of FOSS projects came up for people to make use of.

Firstly,, a WebTV news outfit based in Malaysia, produces pan-Asian news on the web in English, using Joomla CMS for their main web site in conjunction with a Wordpress blogging tool implementation for their satellite site because of its usability. In both cases Asia247 has been able to customise the software to allow the delivery of podcast news on a daily bases. For Asia247 the podcast has been their preferred delivery format to spread social and labour news among commuters, as they make their way to work with video playback on handheld devices. The video podcast is something that is already prevalent across Asia and it is only a matter of time before it becomes one of the main ways to watch video worldwide.

Democracy Player, not to be confused with Democracy Now! the US indepenent news programme, is FOSS platform for delivering WebTV. The player collects video RSS feeds with summaries from video producers all over the web, allowing the user to build their own customised WebTV channel from the RSS feeds. The Democracy Player is produced by the Participatory Culture Foundation and is part of a new generation of tools that use RSS to overcome the distributed nature of content on the web through filtering and aggregation. Important to this filtering process is the ability for users to make decisions about what is import to them and share that information with other users.

As the Transmission event progressed, it became evident that the relatively new but quickly maturing set of FOSS tools and open standards could be reaching a tipping point where barriers to building networks for user input and accessing audiences start breaking down. If this happens, and Transmission participants certainly seemed to think so, then the long held ambitions of democratic citizen journalism may become a reality.

Many initiatives and collaborations developed from the Transmission event and one of these initiatives was to have a follow on event this October in London, called Re:transmission, which will focus on completing work on some of the core projects identified at this year's meeting in Rome. These projects have been selected because the group thinks that they can be made into actually existing tools and form the basis for solving many of the community's other technical needs. Through discussion and workshops this October in London, the projects listed below will be refined and further developed. After the event, teams will integrate the event input and complete work on software, standards and documentation to make the following services available for use:

- Visibility – Semantic Web classification for alternative media content - Common aggregation site – using Democracy Player or other FOSS Delicious like systems - International screening database – CiviCRM based software system - Documentation – a WikiBook to survey and develop online video documentation

Limehouse Town Hall will be the main venue for Re:transmission, where there will be a mixture of closed and public events including; a 24/7 hacklab (run by Rampart Social Centre), screening facilities, workshops and training, working meetings, forums, open sessions, presentations and most importantly a kitchen. Additionally screenings will be taking place at the South Bank Centre.    

Additional info and links: List of projects taking part in Transmission: Notes: Wiki books originated from event: Video – Convergence and collaboration – Appropriate use –

Democracy Now!: Democracy Player: Asia247: European Counter Net (about):

Google Video You Tube     Transmission Organised by:


Candida TV: Clearer Channel:

With assistance from: Association for Progressive Communications: Community Communications Online: Funded by: Open Society Institute

Re:transmission London 13-15 October, 2006 Limehouse Town Hall   re AT Simon Worthington is part of the coordinating team for the London Re:transmission event.