Existence becomes resistance for community media when the state puts continuous barriers, threats and attacks in their path. L'Aigua de LaTele.cat writes from the Americas...
Just arriving in Mexico City DF and a call to demonstrate against the new Telecommunications Law arrives in my Facebook feed. Meanwhile, an *urgent* call for support arrives in my inbox from LaTele.cat, the self-organised television channel of Barcelona which has been hit with a fine of 500,001 Euros by the government of Catalonia. I head to the demonstration in Mexico City and I'm struck by the resonance between community medias on either side of the Atlantic.
Symbols of Corruption and Resistance
In reality, the demonstration is an “Informative Meeting” (Assemblea Informativa), co-organised by several media collectives in the city. The meeting is being held at the feet of a strange towering sculpture called the “Estela de Luz” which cost the city millions of dollars, and which has not only become a symbol of political corruption, but also a symbol of resistance as protests increasingly gather there and the pavement has been imprinted with names of people disappeared in narco-conflicts. The “Informative Meeting” is being re-transmitted through the airwaves by Radio Ajusco, a community radio in the southern outskirts of the city which was created in 2012 to inform the people of Ajusco village about the Presidential elections in July that year.
At the meeting, people from the organising groups speak before sharing the microphone with the crowd. In less than a month, the new Telecommunications Law will come into force, despite significant social mobilisations and criticism nationally and internationally. Organising around the hashtags #EPNvsInternet and #MarchaContraElSilencio, a viral protest has already warned that the law will enable government and corporate control and surveillance of the internet, phone use, and media in Mexico. An activist from CODEC (Collective for the Right to Communicate / Colectivo por el Derecho a la Comunicacion) explains their indignation to the meeting:
“The government, WITHOUT any judicial order or regulatory framework, will be able to access all our data from one year ago until the present day. Telephone and internet companies are obliged to store all your data so that any authority can request your data at their convenience.
… What most bothers us about the law is the issue of social media and community media like Radio Ajusco. One of the principle ways to democratise a country is to ensure that there are a diversity of voices. Which doesn't mean that they open another channel and another businessman gives his vision of the world through this channel. That is no way to ensure a diversity of voices in the media. Diversity means that each different sector of the society has the possibility to participate in the media, articulate their reality, communicate it to the world, and receive, and receive and receive information.”
An activist from YoSoyRed (I Am Network/Internet) analyses the Mexican mainstream media's relationship with social media, drawing conclusions for ways we can work together:
“I believe that Televisa, Carlos Slim and TV Azteca* think that with this law, they can oblige people to watch a certain media content. However, what we have realised is that the social networks belong to us. Read Televisa's reports for the first quarter of 2014, and see how they blame social networks for a 35% loss in their audiences. That means that the internet, social networks, videos, the things that we share in the internet, really are weakening them, and this is the way that we really can beat them. We just have to communicate better, use networks, go beyond talking amongst ourselves. The idea for this meeting, together with CODEC, is that we start to talk about proposals... My proposal is that we create a kind of Wiki where we can connect with people from other states, and from there we can collect signatures and start to offer workshops so that people can create blogs, strengthen campaigns that already exist, and support organisations that are already doing something... Lets unite in a battle for the freedom of expression.
Summarising, we have to have signatures from 50 senators in order to make a constitutional challenge against the Telecommunications Law. And the other way, the harder way, the way that Televisa is really scared of, that the traditional media is really scared of, is the network. Lets occupy the internet, publish good work through online networks, because that is the way they are losing money, because that is why they made this law, and if we carry on using networks without fear, this is how we are going to win.”
Diversity of Voices
As explained by the CODEC activist, “diversity” means that each sector has it's own media, and this is the legal struggle that LaTele.cat in Barcelona finds itself in. LaTele.cat is a self-organised television channel in Barcelona which started online in 2003 as part of the mobilisations against the Iraq War, going on to broadcast in analogue before starting to broadcast on our digital channel from 2011. Many times in the meetings of LaTele, we comment that making our own community media makes us stronger, and we've been learning and doing collectively for 12 years now.
This summer we received a letter outlining a fine of 500,001 euros from the Director General of Communication Media of the Catalan Government. Our email list quickly started spreading the word, and we put ourselves on alert. Although many of us are not in the daily running of LaTele at the moment, although some of us have crossed the Atlantic and are roaming the Americas, we are many those who will step forward for LaTele. This is the second time that the Catalan government has started a disciplinary procedure against LaTele, trying to fine us. The first time was in July 2007, when they wanted to fine us 60,000 Euros. Now, seven years later, with a strong sense of deja vu, we receive another threat, 8 times bigger, and we begin another fight against what we consider to be an illegitimate disciplinary procedure.
Spanish and Catalan law says that we DO have a RIGHT TO EXIST (as a media of the “third sector”, not public, not private). However, we are still waiting for the procedure that will allow us to apply for a licence. And yet they hit us with this enormous fine. As in 2007, we hope that our collective strength will stop the fine.
Against the Silence - The Right to Exist
In Barcelona, the Catalan government tries to silence the ONLY non-profit television channel with a fine. In Mexico, the new Telecommunications Law directly empowers the state with the ability to block telecommunications in any area at any time they consider it necessary: the so-called “zones of silence”. Keeping up the theme, the wide-ranging powers in the Telecommunications Law which allow your data to be accessed, searched and sold, have all the ingredients to create a climate of fear and self-censorship, an insidious form of silencing which has deep effects on the heart and soul of a people.
Bloggers in Mexico are working against the silence. Wryly noting that “they like it when you get indignant in private and you keep quiet in public”, they are articulating the sadness and indignation which the new Telecommunications Law has induced, asking “Why? Why is the government practically spying on us? Why attack the Mexican people, who have already been hit hard by the economy? Why go further and take away their internet.. their free-time, research, fun, activism, support...?” Working against the silence on the other side of the Atlantic, LaTele.cat continues to struggle for our RIGHT TO EXIST, and that's why we continue to broadcast without a licence.
Existence becomes resistance. That's why LaTele and all other community media want to, and HAVE TO, keep broadcasting, keep writing, keep making videos, keep meeting, keep listening, keep speaking. And that is how we build our strength.
Y ¿QUÉ TAL TU LIBERTAD?
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FIRMA AHORA VS LA CENSURA EN LA RED
*Televisa and TV Azteca are two commercial TV channels which dominate Mexican media. Carlos Slim is the richest man in the world, and chairman and chief executive of telecommunications companies Telmex and América Móvil.