Independent Media Center
The Independent Media Center (also known as Indymedia or IMC) is an open publishing network of activist journalist collectives that report on political and social issues. Beginnings were made in London and Sydney during the 1999 Carnival Against Capital then the first Indymedia Media Center was founded to report on the protests against the World Trade Organisational Ministerial Conference in Seattle. Indymedia became closely associated with the global justice movement, which criticized neo-liberalism and its associated institutions.
|Founded||November 24, 1999|
|Language||English, Spanish, Greek, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish, Russian, Polish, Romanian, Hebrew and Arabic|
In the early 2000s, the Indymedia network extended rapidly across the globe. Volunteer-run centers were set up all using the same software (which had been developed in Sydney), so the websites all shared a format which included an open publishing newswire and use of columns. Centers later developed their own software to suit local needs. In the 2010s, the number of centers declined. Reasons for the decline included the growth of corporate social networking sites, the institutionalisation of the global justice movement and state repression. Several centers have been raided by law enforcement in the United Kingdom, United States, Italy and Germany. A slogan of the network was "Don't Hate the Media, Become the Media!"
According to the umbrella homepage, "Indymedia is a collective of independent media organizations and hundreds of journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage." It aims to be an alternative to government and corporate media, and seeks to facilitate people being able to publish their media as directly as possible.
The origins of Indymedia can be traced to the global justice protest Carnival Against Capital, which took place in over forty countries on June 18, 1999. Activists had networked globally using the internet, and had seen its publishing potential. Events could be reported as they happened, unmediated and without the need for the traditional news outlets. Plans came together for an Independent Media Centre to cover the upcoming WTO meeting in November 1999. The open publishing software used by the centre was developed from that used to report the carnival in London and Sydney.
In late November 1999, the first dedicated Indymedia project was ready to cover the protests in Seattle, Washington. The first post was made on November 24. It read:
The resistance is global ... The web dramatically alters the balance between multinational and activist media. With just a bit of coding and some cheap equipment, we can set up a live automated website that rivals the corporates'. Prepare to be swamped by the tide of activist media makers on the ground in Seattle and around the world, telling the real story behind the World Trade Agreement.
When the protests began, one hundred videographers were on the streets filming, joined by photographers and journalists, all working as volunteers.:251 The center acted as an alternative news source publishing up-to-the-minute reports on the protest days. Additionally it produced a newspaper and five documentaries. Alongside other groups, the center produced Showdown in Seattle.
After Seattle, the network spread rapidly. Local collectives were formed, which were run autonomously, with common rules including openness, inclusiveness and diversity. Local political context determined to a great degree the focus of the individual centers, which were each situated in differing socio-cultural milieus. However, it was a core theme that centers would have both an open publishing structure to which anyone could contribute and an open archive.:252 Editorial policies, locally chosen by any Indymedia collectives often involved removing articles which are believed to promote racism, sexism, hate speech, and homophobia. A clearly stated editorial policy is expected to be available on collectives' websites.
Centers tended to be set up in response to meetings of groups such as the World Bank or G8, to world forum events, or to party conventions, such as Democrat or Republican meetings in the US.:243 By 2002, there were 90 Indymedia websites, mainly in the US, Canada and Western Europe but also Australia, New Zealand and Latin America.:243 There was also a Palestine center. The number of centers continued growing, especially in Europe, reaching 142 in 2004 and 175 by 2010.:426
The Indymedia movement reached its peak in the mid-2000s.:423 Centers in the United States began to atrophy around 2008, and by 2014, the global network had declined significantly, with the number of active sites down to 68.:426 A number of reasons for the decline have been put forward. In February 2013, Ceasefire magazine had noted a decline in the use of Nottingham Indymedia, stating that activist usage of commercial social media had increased. The poverty of activist collectives to invest in resources was contrasted with the massive investments made by corporations such as Facebook and Twitter.
In an article published by the journal Convergence Eva Giraud summarised some of the different arguments that had been made by academics and activists, which included informal hierarchy, bureaucracy, security issues including IP address logging, lack of regional engagement, lack of class politics, increase in web 2.0 social media use, website underdevelopment, decline in volunteers and decline in the global justice movement.
The events calendar, Alternative Bristol, pointed to security reasons for the decline. It stated that since server seizures, Indymedia UK had been used less and less, with on average only one new posting per week. It added activists were moving to other alternative media content providers and more secure methods since the Snowden leaks. Corporate Watch saw the rise of social media sites and the normalization of 'open publishing' as recommodifying Indymedia's key innovations for the cultural industry.
On the 20th anniversary of Indymedia, April Glaser reflected on the movement in an article for Logic magazine. In the article, Glaser suggests that factors such as volunteer burnout, lack of resources, lack of centralized accountability, lack of leadership development, and the waning of the anti-globalization movement all contributed to the decline of Indymedia.
Police and legal action against IMCs
Bristol server seizure 2005
Servers in the UK were seized by police in June 2005. An anonymous post on the Bristol Indymedia server came to police attention for suggesting an "action" against a freight train carrying new cars as part of a protest against cars and climate change in the run up to that year's Gleneagles G8 summit. The police claimed that the poster broke the law by "incitement to criminal damage", and sought access logs from the server operators. Despite being warned by lawyers that the servers were "journalistic equipment" and subject to special laws, the police proceeded with the seizure and a member of the Bristol Indymedia group was arrested. Indymedia was supported in this matter by the National Union of Journalists, Liberty, and Privacy International, along with others. This incident ended several months later with no charges being brought by the police and the equipment returned.
Bristol server seizure 2014
In August 2014, Bristol Indymedia's servers were again seized by police after arsonists used the site to claim responsibility for a fire at a firearms training centre. Bristol Indymedia stated that they would not cooperate with the authorities and that they "do not intend to voluntarily hand over information to the police as they have requested".
On August 15, 2000, the Los Angeles Police Department temporarily shut down the satellite uplink and production studio of the Los Angeles Independent Media Center on its first night of Democratic National Convention coverage, claiming explosives were in a van in the adjacent parking lot.
Seizure of servers by the FBI 2004
On October 7, 2004, the FBI took possession of several server hard drives used by a number of IMCs and hosted by US-based Rackspace Managed Hosting. The servers in question were located in the United Kingdom and managed by the British arm of Rackspace, but some 20 mainly European IMC websites were affected, and several unrelated websites were affected, including the website of a Linux distribution. No reasons were given at first by the FBI and Rackspace for the seizure; in particular IMC was not informed. Rackspace claimed that it was banned from giving further information about the incident. Some, but not all, of the legal documents relating to the confiscation of the servers were unsealed by a Texas district court in August 2005, following legal action by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The documents revealed that the only action requested by the government was to surrender server log files.
A statement by Rackspace stated that the company had been forced to comply with a court order under the procedures laid out by the Mutual legal assistance treaty, which governs international police co-operation on "international terrorism, kidnapping and money laundering". The investigation that led to the court order was said to have arisen outside of the U.S. Rackspace stated that they were prohibited on giving further detail. Agence France-Presse reported FBI spokesman Joe Parris, who said the incident was not an FBI operation, but that the subpoena had been issued at the request of the Italian and the Swiss governments. Again, no further details on specific allegations were given. UK involvement was denied in an answer given to a parliamentary question posed by Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat MP.
Indymedia pointed out that they were not contacted by the FBI and that no specific information was released on the reasons for seizing the servers. Indymedia also sees the incident in the context of "numerous attacks on independent media by the US Federal Government", including a subpoena to obtain IP logs from Indymedia at the occasion of the Republican National Conference, the shut-down of several community radio stations in the US by the FCC, and a request by the FBI to remove a post on Nantes IMC containing a photograph of alleged undercover Swiss police.
The move was condemned by the International Federation of Journalists, who stated that "The way this has been done smacks more of intimidation of legitimate journalistic inquiry than crime-busting" and called for an investigation. Criticism was also voiced by European civil liberties organisation Statewatch and the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC). Mathew Honan commented in Salon that "This kind of thing doesn't happen to Wolf Blitzer". EFF attorney Kurt Opsahl compared the case with Steve Jackson Games, Inc. v. United States Secret Service.
Subpoena for IP addresses
On January 30, 2009, one of the system administrators of the server that hosts indymedia.us received a grand jury subpoena from the Southern District of Indiana federal court. The subpoena asked the administrator to provide all "IP addresses, times, and any other identifying information" for every visitor to the site on June 25, 2008. The subpoena also included a gag order that stated that the recipient is "not to disclose the existence of this request unless authorized by the Assistant U.S. Attorney." The administrator of indymedia.us could not have provided the information because Indymedia sites generally do not keep IP address logs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation determined that there was no legal basis for the gag order, and that the subpoena request "violated the SCA's restrictions on what types of data the government could obtain using a subpoena." Under Justice Department guidelines, subpoenas to news media must have the authorization of the attorney general. According to a CBS News blog, the subpoena of indymedia.us was never submitted to the Attorney General for review. On February 25, 2009, a United States Attorney sent a letter to an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation stating that the subpoena had been withdrawn.
In July, 2001 at the 27th G8 summit in Genoa, Italian police assaulted Indymedia journalists at the Armando Diaz School where Indymedia had set up a temporary office and radio station. Twenty-nine police officers were indicted for beating people, planting evidence and wrongful arrest during the night-time raid. Thirteen were convicted.
In Italy, the federal prosecutor of Bologna Marina Plazzi confirmed that an investigation against Indymedia had been opened because of suspected "support of terrorism", in the context of Italian troops in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The investigation was triggered after 17 members of the coalition government belonging to the right-wing Alleanza Nazionale, including Alessandra Mussolini, demanded that Indymedia be shut down. A senior party member and government official had announced co-operation with US authorities, and party spokesman Mario Landolfi welcomed the FBI's seizure of the Indymedia servers. Left-wing Italian politicians denounced the move and called for an investigation.
In the aftermath of the 2017 G20 Hamburg summit protests, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community banned a chapter of the network called Linksunten. This had been set up in 2008, in southwestern Germany. The ministry described the network as "the central communications platform among far-left extremists prone to violence" and stated that it was used to spread information about violent protest tactics. German internet service providers were ordered to block communication to the website, on which police were referred to as "pigs" and "murderers" and instructions for making Molotov cocktails could be found. The German police also raided the home addresses of several activists in the Baden-Württemberg region, seizing computers and weapons.
Brad Will shooting
On October 27, 2006, New York–based journalist and Indymedia volunteer Bradley Roland Will was killed along with two Mexican protesters in the city of Oaxaca. People had been demonstrating in the city since May as part of an uprising prompted by a teachers strike. Lizbeth Cana, attorney general of Oaxaca, claimed the conflict was caused by the protesters and that the gunmen who engaged them were upset residents from the area. The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, however, claimed the men may have been local police. Reporters Without Borders condemned the actions of the Mexican government in allowing the accused to go free. Protesters also allege that the men were police and not local residents. Associated Press alleged that the protesters also had guns, describing the conflict as a "shootout".
In April 2008, in Brazil, IMC and (posthumously) Brad Will received the Medalha Chico Mendes de Resistência (Chico Mendes Resistance Medal in Portuguese) from the Brazilian humanitarian group Tortura Nunca Mais (No more torture in Portuguese) for their contributions to human rights and a more fair society.
The Active software that was used as the basis for the first Indymedia centers' websites was written for Active Sydney. It went live in January 1999 featuring open publishing, calendars, events and contacts. In March, around one hundred Sydney organisations were listed. The Active software consisted of a number of scripts and used the LAMP software stack.
In June 1999, the software's news feed feature was used to published stories, pictures and videos from the Carnival Against Capitalism. The Active software was then further developed by an international collective of activists that included personnel from Active Sydney and Free Speech TV. It was readied to be used for the Seattle Indymedia center set up to cover the WTO protests that November.
In 2001, Matthew Arnison, one of the original authors of Active compared open publishing to libre software. The original Active software has been forked a number of times. Other Indymedia content management systems have been written from the ground up. By 2004, the most widely adopted CMS software solutions were dadaIMC, FreeForm, SF-Active and Mir (developed by Indymedia, not the later Mir display server developed by Canonical). Hyperactive was used by the London and Nottingham centers.
Some centers, such as Bolivia and Quebec Indymedia, use general purpose content management systems such as Drupal. Other notable custom Indymedia content management systems include Oscailt used by Indymedia Ireland.
Indymedia collectives distribute print, audio, photographic, and video media. They run open publishing websites which allow anyone to upload news articles. The content of an Indymedia collectives is determined by its participants, both the users who post content, and members of the local collective who administer the site. Centres worldwide are run autonomously, however they all provide copyleft content. This rule means content on Indymedia sites can be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes.
Content and focus
The origins of Indymedia centres themselves came out of protests against the concentrated ownership and perceived biases in corporate media reporting. The first Indymedia node, attached as it was to the Seattle anti-corporate globalization protests, was seen by activists as an alternative news source to that of the corporate media, which they accused of only showing violence and confrontation, and portraying all protesters negatively.
Reports between 1999 and 2001 tended to focus on up-to-the-minute coverage of protests, from local demonstrations to summits where anti-globalization movement protests were occurring.. In 2007, protest coverage was still being published. Indymedia also ran a global radio project which aggregated audio RSS feeds from around the world. A slogan was "Don't Hate the Media, Become the Media!":254
The Swiss edition of Indymedia was accused of anti-Semitism by Aktion Kinder des Holocaust in 2002, which unsuccessfully sued them for publishing a Carlos Latuff cartoon of a Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto saying "I am Palestinian". This was criticized by IMC as an attempt to stifle criticism of Israel in Switzerland.
Google temporarily stopped including some IMCs in Google News searches in 2003, due to the use of the term "zionazi". Marissa Mayer, at the time the product manager of Google News, explained the removal by describing the term as a "degrading, hateful slur" and refused to index the Bay Area IMC because it had appeared there. While SF Bay Area Indymedia agreed that it "could be considered hate speech", they considered this a double standard due to Google News indexing articles using language they considered racist and defamatory against Arabs and Muslims, such as the term "Islamofascism".
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