Grupo Alavío - video & direct action




  ZNet Commentary: Alternative Media Debates










January 24, 2004

Alternative Media Debates

By Marie Trigona

"Through the recording and elaboration of audiovisual materials we are battling directly against the imagery of fascism. The camera is a tool, another arm, like a stick, molotov, miguelito or covering our faces," Grupo Alavío (direct action and video collective in Argentina). Argentina's alternative media has a long history with strong references to revolutionary cinema during the 1960's and early 70's, clandestine media during Argentina's military dictatorship (1976-83) and community media experiences during the deepening of neoliberalism in the 80's and 90's. There have been a number of alternative media experiences that emerged in the past years. Some of these older experiences and other more recent were responsible for the documentation and communication of what happened during Argentina's popular rebellion December 19 and 20, 2001. Waves of alternative media that grew in the past decades manifested during moments when there was an influx of street protest or phenomenal happenings making it even more inevitable to document what goes on in the streets. However, often when moments change, these groups making alternative media become lost. With the absence of "spectacular" happenings (massive protests, police repression, phenomenon in organizing) many alternative media collectives are faced with a lack of direction in the question of coverage and construction of projects.

This leads to a fundamental debate over the role of alternative media and how this should this role change. Media activists are constantly challenged to only present the surface or symbolic rather than breaking with fragmentation and presenting an analysis that allows audiences to process what they are seeing and break with exclusion. Analyzing media experiences aid in developing minimal criteria for activists to think about when building alternative media as a tool for struggle against exploitation-ownership, production, financing, content, participation, expropriation of technologies, horizontal and vertical integration in the content production, and integration into social movements and processes.

The adaptation and appropriation of technologies-originally targeted to improve capitalist production has been one of the most important tools for activists to develop new communication practices in the past decades. In the 80's in Argentina, as in the rest of Latin America, a wave of FM radio transmissions surged with various motivations: reclaiming freedom of expression after years censorship during the military dictatorship, outlets institutional leftist political parties discourses, developing community projects, and organs of expression for subcultures. All of these experiences had one commonality, they transmitted without any legal standing as "clandestine pirate radio stations." The constraints of legal norms, lack of access to funding, blocking the possibility of greater frequency reach, and pressures to end legal persecution obligated many of the stations to shut-down, submit to co-optation by the bourgeois system, change their content and accept precarious legal standing.

During the 90's Argentina's mass media was one of the most affected sectors in terms of concentration. Never in Argentina's history have so few companies controlled such a quantity of media outlets, maintaining oligarchic market control in communication. Today, two economic groups own the majority of national media outlets: Clarín Group and Admira Group (from the Spanish telecommunications company, Telefónica). The transition to democracy also meant changes in strategies for ideological control. While the dictatorship used terror (disappearing 30,000 men and women) to control "subversive ideologies", the new "democracy with conditions" increased media concentration to isolate dissent through market control and legal constraints.

During the epoch of intense privatization of television, radio, and telephone companies there was a boom in low-potential television stations (pirate TV). With the accessibility to home video equipment, a base knowledge of audio visual production, relatively simple technology and low costs multiplied the experiences in pirate television.

Utopia was a 24-hour television station broadcasting from 1992-1997 in Buenos Aires. The station's vision directly combated against the hegemony of neoliberalism during the epoch of ex-president Carlos Menem. Utopia never had any legal standing and repressive forces constantly persecuted this station and participants. Equipment was confiscated numerous times, but the station had been building transmitters allowing them to recuperate broadcasts. Often times while in the streets participants were arrested and police broke cameras. Within the collective they debated over legality vs. legitimacy, the need for self-defense, how to break with television's fragmentation of information, how to surpass the limits of audiences' participation and generate new forms of financing. Today, Utopia is a popular myth among activists, many talk of Utopia as an example of community media during the 90's. Of the dozens of low-reaching television experiences that existed in Argentina that survived legal persecution converted into organs of local political powers.

December 19 and 20, 2001 produced an explosion independent media and some alternative media experiences. Many individuals began to work in groups like Independent news agencies like Independent Media Center-Argentina and AnRed and counter-information collective Argentina Arde participated in the endless series of actions after December 2001, using their cameras to denounce mass media's misinformation and provide proof against state repression.

Two years later activists in Argentina are in a difficult time in terms of organizing. The bulk of social movements-the unemployed workers movement, popular assemblies and recuperated factory movement-are in crisis. This crisis marked by drops in participation and inability to identify political objectives. Consequently, many alternative media collectives are facing the same problem The immediate role of media activists to provide security during street actions is not as ever-present as president Néstor Kirchner softens state repression (using the court system rather than police batons). It would be interesting to revisit debates about the necessity for movements to create their own media. While there is an obvious challenge to overcome fragmentation among movements, there is an opportunity to regroup, construct new media projects and rethink about alternative media's integration into social movements, direct action, and audience participation.

TV-piquetera is one experience that has attempted to go beyond limitations that alternative media has self-imposed. TV-piquetera transmits live pirate TV signals during road blockades and from poverty-stricken neighborhoods on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Grupo Alavío and Popular Unity Movement-December 20 (MUP-20), a piquetero organization based in several neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires province began working with Enrique Carigao and Ricardo Leguizamon to launch media projects. From this collaboration, a new and powerful organic alternative media experience was realized, TV-piquetera.

The first major broadcast was on September 25, 2003 during a road blockade at the Argentine transnational beer brewery, Quilmes that protestors transmitted a live pirate television signal, orienting the antennas toward the blocks where the factory's workers reside. During the transmission protestors articulated their reasons for the blockade, expressed solidarity with the Quilmes' workers and described what it's like to be a piquetero.

TV-piquetera has since broadcasted in several neighborhoods, rotating transmissions and programming. During the transmissions in MUP-20's community center, a shack in the neighborhoods in Solano in the southern Greater Buenos Aires district of Quilmes, piqueteros from MUP-20 participated in every aspect of the community television experience-planning the programming, arming the studio, putting up the antenna, watching the programming in the screening room in the movement's kitchen and arming the especially prepared news pieces. The programming has included pre-edited news pieces about the Quilmes blockade which began by appropriating a Quilmes beer television commercial-the most expensive Argentine advertisement produced in years-to parody corporate representations of elite culture with footage of piqueteros blocking the beer factory. For the transmission, Grupo Alavío filmed and edited a piece about water pollution by factories in La Florida, Solano, the same neighborhood where TV-piquetero transmits. Other pieces included-struggle for the freedom of political prisoners, Bolivia after the insurrection, resistance in Iraq, and Christmas blockade in front of supermarkets.

MUP-20's publication explained the motives for the transmission, "It demonstrates that we do not need to depend on bosses and owners to make ourselves visible and communicate with our neighbors. To tell our story without own media is to think with a logic different than that which the system imposes on us." Like other pirate TV experiences that have existed TV-piquetera ruptures with dominant discourse and expropriates technologies originally aimed for ideological control. TV-piquetera is an attempt to use a media such as television and transform it into a tool for political organizing and liberation. Participants not only learn how to use technologies and audiovisual language but also form analysis of political and social conflicts (integrating local, national and international issues). TV-piquetera also facilitated multi-directional media, facilitating a dialogue with media and community activists and neighbors. While many in alternative media and social movements have shed away from self-critiques, TV-piquetera encouraged introspection. TV-piquetera transmitted live during MUP-20's end of the year festival, December 27. While the festival was winding down, police arrived to provoke a violent confrontation. Participants kicked the police out using sticks and rocks to prevent police from entering-the need for self-defense is ever present as with the road blockade.

TV-piquetera's objective is to transmit in different neighborhoods with the intention of ultimately building a network of community television stations that can function autonomously under a large umbrella of collaboration and mutual support. As media activists the debate of whether the reach of the camera is enough is an inevitable discussion. Making technologies accessible to exploited sectors by democratizing audiovisual production and language has been a priority of Grupo Alavío and TV-piquetera. Media can open a space to construct identity and thinking that reflects the interests and necessities of the working class and exploited sectors. What TV-piquetera is teaching Grupo Alavío is that it is sometimes necessary to put down the camera and adopt other roles along side those struggling. Activism can not be pushed into the singular role of filming with a camera or transmitting a TV signal, it is part of a demand for the right to organize: political formation of activists struggling, the right to self-defense and the creation of our own media.

If anyone is interested in collaborating or knowing more about the TV-piquetera experience please contact