A couple of weeks ago I attended the Rebellious Media Conference in London. The conference was initiated by Peace News as part of its 75th anniversary celebrations and was organised by a coalition of radical media groups. It was held over two days with Saturday’s events taking place at the Institute of Education, moving over to nearby Friends House on the Sunday. On the Saturday night I stayed in Streatham Hill, a seven mile cycle ride each way. I have been snowed under since the conference but finally have time to blog about it. I won’t go into loads of detail, just a few brief notes on the sessions I attended. It is worth noting that the conference was originally to be called “Radical Media Conference” until an advertising agency called “Radical Media” issued a legal threat based on the frankly ridiculous claim that they control the phrase “radical media”. But the law is an ass and not wanting to risk punitive damages the organisers came up with the alternative (and I actually think better) name. So, here we go.
For most of the conference there were numerous parallel sessions but on Saturday morning everyone was together (or in an overflow hall with a video link) for the keynote speaker, Noam Chomsky. I was of course aware of Chomsky’s formidable reputation but I had never actually read any of his books or seen him in person. He clearly has many ardent followers though and I even overheard someone excitedly telling their friend that they had been waiting their whole life for this moment! They had to wait a little longer though while Milan Rai of Peace News welcomed people to the conference and introduced the session, which was called “Radical Media, Radical Priorities”. Chomsky was then introduced by long-time friend and colleague Michael Albert of Z Communications. Chomsky (perhaps predictably) chose to talk about Occupy Wall Street and it was interesting to hear his perspective on it. He argued that some of the more concrete demands of the protest are not very radical at all, while some of the more radical ones (an end to capitalism) are clearly unachievable, at least without the backing of a strong and organised labour movement which no longer exists in the United States. He then took a fair number of questions and provided generally sensible answers. Perhaps you can tell that I was not overly impressed, but then he does have the sort of reputation that must be very hard to live up to.
For lunch I lead a small group to nearby Planet Organic where we got food to take away and eat in Gordon Square. After lunch I attended the session called “Whose Internet is it? Are We Loosing the War?” with a panel of experts including Hamish Campbell of visionOntv, Becky Hogge (former excecutive director of the Open Rights Group and author of “Barefoot into Cyberspace: Adventures in search of techno-Utopia”) and Bill Thompson (veteran Internet and technology commentator/journalist/critic). Douglas Rushkoff who teaches media studies at New York University was supposed to be appearing remotely but in the end we just got to see video which he recorded specifically for the conference. The session was OK but I knew a lot of the stuff already and in retrospect I should have gone to something else.
For the final session on Saturday I chose to attend “War and the Media” and was glad I did because there were three excellent speakers. The first was Mark Curtis, author of “Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam”, who spoke about how the UK supports autocratic regimes in the Middle East. He also said you have to be careful about what you read on the Internet and ridiculed a few conspiracy theories, including the one that “9/11 was an inside job”. In the question and answer session he was challenged by a woman who said that she does believe that particular conspiracy theory and was offended by his off-handed dismissal of it. She got some applause but Mark got a lot more when he stuck to his guns and called it a ludicrous theory with no supporting evidence. The second speaker was Greg Philo of the Glasgow Media Group who spoke about how mainstream journalists (particularly in the BBC) are afraid to report truthfully on the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The final speaker of the session was the renowned journalist John Pilger, author of “The War You Don’t See”, who talked about how the mainstream media fails to report wars objectively. He impressed me more than Chomsky.
On Sunday morning I arrived a bit late and joined the session called “Escaping the Hamster Cage: Practical Alternatives to the Corporate Net”. It was advertised as a geek-friendly session, aimed at geeks and the geek-interested rather than a general audience. There were a couple of people who seemed to be leading the session but basically it was an open discussion and there were a few people present who I knew through the Internet but had never met before in person. Hamish from visionOntv was using his laptop to make notes on the Rebellious Media Interactive website that he had set up – if I make any more notes on the session I will do so over there. This was undoubtedly the most useful session I attended and I came away with a copy of Tech Tools For Activists.
After the morning break I attended “Open Data: Information for Activists” facilitated by Javier Ruiz of the Open Rights Group. There were three good speakers; Martin Keegan of the Open Knowledge Foundation, Chris Taggart who spoke about OpenCorporates, and Judith Towend of Hacks/Hackers who talked about what can be achieved when you get journalists and open data hackers together to work on projects. It was interesting stuff but by this point I was suffering from information overload and couldn’t take it all in properly.
I loitered around for a while, got some food from the Veggies vegan catering stall out back, chatted to a few people and then decided to head home. It seemed to me that the conference was a great success and certainly gave me lots to think about.