Archive | April, 2005

Low-Power Radio in New England and Mexico

The Boston Phoenix features a an overview of some low-power stations, licensed and unlicensed, that have operated in New England over the last ten years or so, including Radio Free Brattleboro and the recently departed Allston-Brighton Free Radio.

Volunteers from RFB were on the radioshow back in Oct. 2003 and Jan. 2004 when they started building strong community support and facing heat from the FCC.

The Phoenix article even includes links to the ‘geek, DIYmedia and the site for Michael Lahey’s documentary Making Waves (an interview with Michael can be heard on the Nov. 12, 2004 radioshow).

Moving our focus to Mexico, Jacobito posts about his visit to unlicensed Radio Zapote in Mexico City:

Radio Zapote is a pirate radio station broadcasting out of ENAH, the School of Anthropology and History. This station started when the Zapatista Caravan came into Mexico City to confront Presidente Fox and the Mexican civil society about the situation in Chiapas. Well, where did the thousands of Zapatistas and companeros stay when they got to Mexico City? At ENAH! So students and community members started Radio Zapote in solidarity with them. After the caravan left, they thought to themselves, “Hey, let’s keep this station going!” And so, they’ve been broadcasting for over 3 years now inside the school, on 94.1fm and the internet.

Unfortunately the station is facing eviction from the university administration.

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Innovation and Tactics in the Indie Media World

Rabble has some incisive thoughts comparing Indymedia and Guerilla News Network:

In general it was interesting to look at the differences between GNN and Indyemdia. Both organizations are about radical media production, and both started with about the same number of people 5 years ago. GNN had 4 people, indymedia 8 attending meetings but a core of about 4 people. The visions were drastically different. Today GNN is 5 people who are doing very high production value work which focuses on entering american pop culture and injecting political messages.

Which leads him to ask the question: “They [Ourmedia] are building second generation open publishing tools, not indymedia. GNN is also building them, but why not indymedia[?]”

I have a couple of answers. The first is that it’s easier to move 5 people than 500, and that it’s a trade off, of sorts. The small group can be more innovative and take more risks, but is more likely to dissolve through attrition or failure. Indymedia retains a sort of structural integrity that means it’s harder to attack and destroy outright, even if it takes longer to introduce new methods.

Another answer has to do with money. The Indymedia network contains a plethora of conflicted ideas, opinions and feelings about money. Some of the differences are regional, some of them are between groups and individuals. The network as a consensus doesn’t know if, how and when to bring in money and to spend it.

But, in any event, most of the technologies and innovations that efforts such as GNN and Ourmedia roll out require some kind of funding to sustain.

Even if the code that underlies publishing tools can be written by a base of volunteers, hosting all the media is not inexpensive.

I suspect that when Indymedia was 8 people, it was easier to reach a consensus on where to turn for money and how. Now, stretched over nearly every continent on Earth, it’s not so easy to find that consensus network-wide.

Ourmedia, at least, is not concerned with creating media, or facilitating its creation — just storage and distribution. Innovation is easier when it has a clear and certain trajectory.

Indymedia, by comparison, is very fundamentally concerned with creation. And not just providing tools, but training and means. That’s harder, I’ll argue, especially as Indymedia tries to bring the means outside of the western middle-class.

In the bigger picture, what’s important is that these varying efforts and orgnanizations remain collaborative and open, and not competitive. Indy media makers can benefit from the bandwidth offered by Ourmedia without having to forsake working with Indymedia. Similarly, GNN and IMCs can work together and do — at the U-C IMC we lent use of our equipment to a GNN reporter doing interviews in Urbana last year.

Cooperation and a diversity of tactics will make independent media a strong force. That isn’t to say Indymedia shouldn’t innovate or try and find broad consensus on issues like funding. Rather, perhaps some innovations by other groups means Indymedia doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel and can focus on things that a world-wide network is better suited for — whatever those things may be.

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Indecency Makes for Good Farce

Salon’s Eric Boehlert does a nice job at outlining the unfortunate outcome of the mutli-lateral coalition that mobilized to help stop the FCC’s attempt to loosen media ownership rules:

What is surprising for free-speech advocates such as McChesney and Chester, who fear the effects the indecency reforms could have, is that when they look across the newly formed battle lines they see some of their closest anti-media consolidation allies leading the charge for new enforcement of content.

As I repored on last Friday’s radioshow, the most recent wacko salvo in the indecency crusade is House Judiciary Chair James Sensenbrenner’s statement to the cable industry last week that broadcast indecency ought to be enforced criminally, not with regulation.

For all the handwringing, I do wonder how far the indecency crusade can go. There are some very high-tension lines of power and money that risk being cut if indecency rules are pushed too hard, or into the criminal realm.

For instance, let’s recall that FOX is the recent recipient of a huge $1 million+ fine for an episode of its program, The Bachelor. FOX boss Rupert Murdoch is not likely to sit by too quietly and watch his FOXploitation profits get sucked down by government regulation.

It’s one thing when the crackdown targets just a few prominent, and not necessarily popular, scapegoats, like Janet Jackson and Howard Stern. It’s another when it threatens some of the most popular programming on television and radio. (And while Stern is tops amongst morning radio shock jocks, I would not classify him as widely popular compared to the top 25 TV prime-time TV programs).

As I’ve stated before, the crowd that is most concerned with indecency and so-called “values” often values effort nearly as much as results. All the jockying for position on the issue wins big points with the moralizers, even if very little change is effected, while unsuccessful campaigns fade out of the popular memory.

I don’t mean to wholly dismiss the gravity of the indecency campaign. Yet it’s getting so farcical and moving in so many different directions — enforce indecency on cable! no, make family tiers! no, let’s throw ’em in jail! — that it’s hard to see it as a coherent movement or campaign. Sure, the tenor and tone is pretty clear and scarily widespread in political circles, but it also looks like just a bunch of posturing and grandstanding.

I’m not going to cry over FOX, Viacom and Disney sweating bullets and bleeding money. Of course, the fear is that the same irrational “values” persecution will be levied upon community and college radio stations, too. However, while a multi-hundred-thousand dollar fine will is only a flesh wound for Viacom, it’s lethal to a non-commercial LPFM.

I’ve been mulling this over more than a year now, and I still stand by what I wrote back in Feburary 2004:

Yes, from a principled standpoint the daytime ban on indecency is wrong. But so is the enforced scarcity of broadcast licenses and the FCC’s and Congress’s refusal to open up the airwaves to more broadcast stations of all types, low power or high power.

The system of broadcast allocation and regulation is fundamentally flawed, unprincipled, inconsistent, and even corrupt. I’d argue there is no principled way to work within such a system to repair it or make it more just.

Most community stations are already very careful about indecency and probably toe a line much more cautiously than commercial broadcasters, since the stakes are higher for them. Many take advantage of the free harbor, moving their potentially indecent programming until after 10 PM, as a good compromise between avoiding fines, but still airing challenging content. Luckily, these days indecency is exclusively defined as sexual and excretory talk, and cannot be legitimately applied to muck-raking political reporting.

I’m not wishing for more indecency regulation, enforcement or legislation. But, frankly, I’m not wishing for much more media regulation or legislation in the first place, since most laws and regs are intended simply to provide an advantage to one industry or company at the expense of another. Very rarely does any law or reg actually protect any semblance of the public interest.

There is almost never any such thing as deregulation — just new regulations that hand over the prize to a different competitor.

The indecency spectacle will play out, and I’ll be glad to watch the broadcasters, cable operators, religious right, reactionary Democrats and sycophant Republicans all clamor and step over each other. It should make for good slapstick.

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The Power of Video

A remarkably uncritical article [bugmenot login] in today’s New York Times notes the role of video in the dimissal and acquittal of hundreds of people arrested during last year’s RNC. Simply put, the videos contradict police accounts of protestor actions:

Accused of inciting a riot and resisting arrest, Mr. Kyne was the first of the 1,806 people arrested in New York last summer during the Republican National Convention to take his case to a jury. But one day after Officer Wohl testified, and before the defense called a single witness, the prosecutor abruptly dropped all charges.

During a recess, the defense had brought new information to the prosecutor. A videotape shot by a documentary filmmaker showed Mr. Kyne agitated but plainly walking under his own power down the library steps, contradicting the vivid account of Officer Wohl, who was nowhere to be seen in the pictures. Nor was the officer seen taking part in the arrests of four other people at the library against whom he signed complaints.

Of course, NYPD had their own camcorders, too, and in one case apparently didn’t feel shy about editing out parts where an arresstee acted peacefully and calmly submitted to arrest. That case was dismissed when a second citizen tape came to light that showed the missing pieced. The police response? Oops. Yeah, right.

The police try to spin it that the video record only shows their “professional handling of the protest” — whatever that means. But doesn’t a “professional” police department have a little less than 90% of their arrests dismissed?

As we saw even in little old Champaign, IL last year, keeping a video eye on cops, especially in protest situations, is very important and valuable. The thing we have to watch out for is a police backlash against camcorders, either through direct violence, or through pushing to get laws passed against their use.

In Champaign last year our slimy former state’s attorney tried to say that videotaping police in public was criminal eavesdropping under Illinois law. Even our conservative daily newspaper saw through that, and I believe the publQic response to his persecution of two African-American copwatchers contributed to his overwhelming defeat in elections last November. His successor has since dropped all eavesdropping charges.

It makes me think that one should never be out an about without a camera or camcorder in your bag at all times.

Update:I found out today that the National Lawyer’s Guild has just asked for footage shot by Urbana-Champaign IMC reporters during the RNC. They were arrested, too, and their footage directly contradicts police claims, and may also be helpful for other cases. Initially NLG told them that they already had more than enough video footage. I guess now that they’ve had some months to sift through their pile they’re ready for more.

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New Minidisc Units Starting Ship & Why Photo MD Is Just 1.3 MP

Despite the fact that I write about such potentially ire-raising counter-cultural things as pirate radio and express an anarchist attitude about media and politics, the thing I get more e-mail about is actually minidisc. Within the last few months I’ve gotten more than a dozen questions about the new Hi-MDs asking for advice on buying and using them. A good portion apperently come from people who’ve read my review of the MZ-NH1 2004 flagship model over at Epinions.

So I thought I’d alert everyone that the new and somewhat-improved 2005 models are starting to ship. The new ones have native MP3 support, which I reckon is their biggest improvement. My favorite on-line MD retailer, Minidisco, has in stock the MZ-RH910, the least expensive model with a microphone input. Apparently, they’ve already sold out of the next model up.

The new MD recorder with the built-in camera and full-color LCD, the MZ-DH10P, is reported to be shipping in May.

The MZ-DH10P only has a 1.3 MP camera, which I said earlier seems pretty paltry by todays mutli-megapixel standards. has a translation of an interview with three Sony minidisc engineers and designers who explain why only 1.3 mega-pixels:

There is a prevalent prejudice in maintaining existing size of the MD Walkman due to standards set by its predecessors. The MZDH10P unit that I could show at the end of 2003 was still a prototype with a 3 mega pixels camera then considered as a prerequisite. When you employ a higher mega pixels camera module, the size of the unit inevitably increases – thus, the tremendous size in comparison to existing MD Walkman. Although the concept of this new MD Walkman has the ability to take pictures it is not a digital camera, so to speak.

If you’re looking to move up to Hi-MD and also looking for a bargain, I would keep an eye on, which seems to get a lot of just-discontinued minidisc recorders these days. I’ve bought at least 3 from them in the last few years and been pretty satisfied with price and service, though service is not the best around. It’s an auction site, so all the usual caveats about auctions apply — don’t get bid up too close to what regular on-line sellers are pricing your item at. They also have a “buy it now” price which is sometimes pretty reasonable.

This isn’t a ringing endorsement or advertisement for Ubid — just a recommendation based upon bargain-hunting experience.

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