Never before in
Ãgora TV is a community television production collective that currently broadcasts over the internet. The project reaches a global audience of grassroots activists and citizens tired of status quo media. The site features video productions from all over
Today’s video activism has deep roots in the cinema and arts movements in
The dictatorship used disappearances not just to terrorize the opposition but also to guarantee the political conditions needed to impose the current neoliberal economic model. Lack of restrictions on media ownership and the death of public policies to promote media diversity have led to today’s virtual media monopoly. Less than a handful of media conglomerates now control most of the nation’s media. ClarÃn, TelefÃ³nica, and Telecom are the largest conglomerates and between them they run television channels, news publications, cable, internet, telephone, and radio.
Corporate groups have profited from this law and homogenized much of the nation’s media coverage. Former president Carlos Menem privatized public or state-run radio and television stations in 1990, granting the newly privatized stations rights to broadcast until 2005. Several single economic groups have acquired more than 24 licenses; although the law states that an individual economic group can only possess a maximum of four licenses. In 2005, President Nestor Kirchner sanctioned the Menem decree 527/05 by renewing licenses for media conglomerates for an initial grace period of 35 years. The nation’s top three stations will remain in the hands of major economic groups: Daniel Hadad, the right-wing media tycoon will retain Channel 9 until 2019, ClarÃn group will own Channel 13 until 2025 and the Spanish company TelefÃ³nica will hold on to TelefÃ© (Channel 11) until 2025.
Utopia never had any legal standing and the police constantly raided the station, located on the 21st floor of an apartment building in the neighborhood of
With such a bleak legal horizon, many groups have found little incentive for building a community television station, even though activist circles and working class neighborhoods have expressed a desperate need for autonomous media to publicize and unify their struggles. A citizen-run TV station strengthens civil society by coordinating efforts, sharing knowledge, and improving the self-esteem of the citizens participating in it. Ãgora TV is doing just that—building a space for exhibition and interaction to motivate organizations and social movements to tell their own stories with video.
Alternative Agenda: A Working Class Point of View
Ãgora TV is an alternative community television project that is currently broadcasting through the web site www.agoratv.org. Video collective Grupo AlavÃo built the site as an initiative to start up a city-wide television station in
Ãgora TV comes from the Greek word agora which originally meant an assembly of the whole people, or public plaza where the people meet to practice direct democracy. Grupo AlavÃo currently administers the site, but Ãgora TV is an open space for video collectives and groups to put up their own videos. The idea is for social movements and video producers to use Ãgora TV as a space to make their voices heard. The basis for the project is to adapt internet technology and put it to use for the benefit of the community. Grupo AlavÃo is working to socialize skills training for groups to produce their own audiovisual materials and to transform viewers from passive consumers to critical spectators. Ãgora TV is a window for liberation creating a new imagery that reflects the specific interests and needs of the working class and other exploited sectors.
The logic of Ãgora TV online is simple: a viewer needs a wide-band web connection and Flash, a program that can be downloaded for free, to watch videos online. The website’s main page features a list of the latest productions that rotates weekly. Viewers can also pick videos by campaigns (the safe return of missing witness Jorge Julio Lopez, Freedom for Political Prisoners, and End to the Israeli occupation of
For more than 15 years, Grupo AlavÃo has participated in working-class struggles and dedicated efforts to supporting them with social and political documentaries. Making technologies and skills accessible and available to exploited sectors by democratizing audiovisual production and language is a priority of Grupo AlavÃo’s work. Through Ãgora TV, Grupo AlavÃo is proposing a radical change in how media is created, managed, and distributed.
Legality vs. Legitimacy
Despite the dictatorship-era law, groups like Grupo AlavÃo are fighting to build experiences of community television. The idea is to establish legitimacy and then fight for legality. The logic of community television organizers is quite similar to the logic of
Aside from Ãgora TV, a number of community television broadcasts have sprawled out throughout the Greater Buenos Aires suburban belt, including TV Piquetera, TV Claypole, and TV Libre from Matanza. TV Claypole and TV Libre have acquired low-powered television transmitters and broadcast within a specific territory, but without legal recognition. TV Piquetera transmits live pirate TV signals during road blockades and broadcasts from neighborhoods in poverty-stricken areas. TV Piquetera began in 2001 in working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts of
Skills Training and Popular Participation
Pirate television technology is relatively simple, comparable to pirate radio. But unlike radio, television demands a high level of production quality to catch the eyes of viewers. Aspects of documentary filmmaking and editing need to be incorporated into the production. Learning how to tell a story through audio and video images is the greatest challenge for community mediamakers.
Inexpensive digital cameras and an upcoming generation of media savvy activists have led to a boom in video activism. As
Grupo AlavÃo has focused efforts on workers and participants in social movements, rather than film school students. AlavÃo has held video workshops for years in different barrios and diverse organizations. The objective of these workshops is to create video collectives within social movements, so they have the autonomy to narrate their own stories. Filmmaking is not a science. In general, if a worker has a clear idea of what he or she would like to say, learning how to use a camera to tell that story isn’t going to be much of a challenge. In 2006, AlavÃo held a series of workshops at the BAUEN hotel with workers from the hotel, representatives from unemployed worker organizations, and workers participating in union conflicts. The training was a success and several participants have begun producing videos autonomously. However, they are not simply filmmakers observing the movements, but active participants using the camera as another political and organizing tool.
The workers at the Zanon ceramics plant in the Patagonian
Ãgora TV has compiled an extensive list of materials to guide future video producers in filmmaking, camera operation, sound, editing, montage, and exhibition. All of these materials are available in Spanish online.
Aesthetics and Content
Aesthetic consideration is another priority for AlavÃo. The search for aesthetics is a never-ending learning process, requiring creativity and experimentation. AlavÃo is constantly experimenting with cinemagraphic techniques to find unique ways to tell a story. The work is sometimes criticized for having a linear narrative or having urgency, which is often an outcome of producing a film out of dire necessity. In film school, students are taught industrial filmmaking: never present a video until it is finished—which can sometimes take years—and then premiere it in a commercial theater. AlavÃo has found that public exhibitions of their films in working class barrios, land squats, union organizing spaces, or factory takeovers have enriched the films’ content and aesthetic reach. Together with the protagonists, the filmmakers learn what should be changed or improved. The final product doesn’t end with the final edit, it continues with the distribution and exhibition.
Grupo AlavÃo, promotes self-management of media, meaning that community members make their own decisions regarding the planning and production of the media. How to finance a media project is a clear worry for most activists. Mainstream media is financed via paid advertisements and broadcast time. Selling airtime as regular merchandise puts limits on freedom of expression, content, and editorial decisions.
This is the main reason AlavÃo promotes self-financing media projects. Like worker organizations, media can also be self-managed and self-financed. Volunteer work and activism is the keystone. For more than 15 years, AlavÃo has produced over 100 documentaries without funding from private foundations, governmental institutions, or non-profits. The group finances productions and Ãgora TV through donations from activists and the sale of videos on a sliding scale. A percentage of paid work from renting out collective equipment is put back into the group’s collective fund that is used for buying cassettes and other operational costs. The idea is to generate genuine support that won’t condition any aspect of production or exhibition.
Local-Global Linkages and Limits of the Internet
The Internet has a limited reach due to unequal access. Many of the sectors that would benefit the most from community projects have the least access to technology and resources. AlavÃo is aware of this limitation and continues to build alternative distribution circuits for their videos. While Ãgora TV is currently broadcasting over the internet, the long-term project is to build a citywide station with support from
The Ãgora TV website is transforming into an important tool for coalition building and mutual solidarity. Grupo AlavÃo opened an office space inside the BAUEN Hotel in 2007, which has allowed the group’s work to grow exponentially and become part of a shared larger struggle, in an institutionalized way. On a local and global level, Ãgora TV has become a catalyst for other groups to produce short documentaries knowing that they have a viable space to exhibit their work.
Nearly every day, representatives from human rights groups, unemployed worker organizations, environmental rights struggles, independent union organizers, and workers from recuperated enterprises stop by the office to request copies of available DVDs to screen during public talks or small meetings. In a number of cases, for example, teachers who view a video on Ãgora TV request copies to use in the classroom. A wide secondary distribution circuit has grown out of the website.
What is most exciting are the global linkages Ãgora TV has created. Videos from around
Another international initiative has been training and consulting groups in
In response to misinformation in the mass media, citizens have created alternative media networks that play a fundamental role in today’s