This year's Media Democracy Day movement in Toronto is hosting a series ofthematic and skill-based workshops. Topics range from media criticism andexamples of truly independent media to training sessions on creating videosand podcasts.
A network of independent media organizations, advocacy groups and mediaactivists have come together under the umbrella of Media Democracy Day tohost more than a dozen workshops which are geared towards students,activists, community organizations and individuals who share a commoninterest in media democracy. This year's Media Democracy Day theme is"Missing in the Media."
Derrick O'Keefe, the editor of rabble.ca, is co-facilitating a workshop with Andrew Mindszenthy of the Housing Not War campaign with a title that he says is only slightlytongue-in-cheek, "Beyond CBC-Pravda," looking at media spin on Afghanistanas well as the coverage of the homelessness crisis.
Such media criticism, he argues, "is really not even hyperbole at thispoint. The coverage that The National in particular but the publicbroadcaster in general has been providing represents a major disservice todemocracy and public debate in Canada. Peter Mansbridge is, clearly,personally very committed to promoting Canada's war effort. In many ways,the anchor views himself, in my opinion accurately, as an important figurein the Canadian establishment."
So where can we get the real news on Afghanistan? The best monitoring ofmedia coverage of the war he has seen is by a Vancouver activist, DaveMarkland, who maintains a blog that draws from English language press worldwide,including stories of civilian casualties, which are rarely picked up byWestern corporate media, but are regularly documented by Al-Jazeera or inthe Central Asian press.
O'Keefe says, "The blog also keeps close tabs onwhat analysts across the political spectrum are saying about the war. Warhawks here in Canada, the stay-the-course jingoists, would do well to payattention to what a lot of frankly right-wing analysts are saying: in theview of many of these people the war in Afghanistan is a lost cause for theimperialistsâe"a familiar result for empires in Afghanistan down throughtime."
O'Keefe is also inspired by the example set by Amy Goodman and JuanGonzalez's Democracy Now! based in New York."On every international solidarity issue I have personally been involvedwith, whether East Timor, Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan, Democracy Now! hasalways been a vital source of real information and critical analysis. Andit's a daily program heard by millions. Canadian activists frustrated withour media definitely have to look closely at a success story like that andseek to emulate it."
The idea of the Beyond CBC-Pravda workshop is to share sources ofinformation and to strategize about doing a better job of disseminating thisinformation.
Darren Alexander, a professor with the University Partnership Centre (UPC)who contributed to the Indy Media Centre set up at the anti-globalizationprotests in Seattle in 1999, is organizing a workshop on the Open Sourcemovement.
Technologists and programmers who believe strongly in promoting democraticaccess to the new tools of digital technology are spearheading the movementto develop software products in the public domain and foregoing anycopyright privileges.
"This in stark contrast to 'proprietary' software products, stronglyperpetuated by the likes of Microsoft and other behemoth corporations, whoseproducts are often released at inflated, often inaccessible costs to theconsumer or end user," notes Alexander.
Virtually every digital product imaginable, from web browsers tospreadsheets, from content management systems to video games, currentlyexists in the public domain. Often times, these products are as good, if notsuperior, to their proprietary counterparts.
"Want another option to Microsoft Word? Check out Open Office. Analternative to Explorer? Check out Mozilla Firefox. Need a contentmanagement system that is freely available for download? Joomla and Drupalare two open source initiatives that immediately come to mind."
Net neutrality is essential to maintaining the democratic nature of theInternet. For example, peer to peer (P2P) exchanges allow international participantsto share information freely over the internet and bounce the products theyare assembling back and forth between them.
"P2P is contingent on the principles of net neutrality, whereby anyone can send or receive digitalinformation, in any form, without undue cost or discrepancy. Again,commercial interests have every reason to be concerned about this, as theywould like to be charging a price for every product, a tariff on everytransaction," says Alexander.
In his workshop, Alexander will also address the revolutionary media andcommunication potential of Web 2.0 applications.
What are Web 2.0 applications, you may be asking? They are the blogs,wiki's, twitter and media sharing sites, such as YouTube and Flickr, andscores of other examples of interactive sites winning usersregularly.
"What all of these applications have in common," Alexander explains, "isthat they insist on the user's participation in the media creation. Thisamounts to a fantastic subversion of the old consumer mentality that onceprevailed regarding media such as television and film and video. The bestpart is, you don't have to be a programmer or a technologist to participate!These applications are typically super user-friendly."
Participants in Alexander's workshop will have a chance "to roam the web andhave a look at some of the fantastic opportunities that are available to usall, via Open Source and Web 2.0 products and technologies."
Carmelle Wolfson and Susy Alvarez, locked-out volunteer programmers/hosts atCKLN, are organizing a workshop on "Campus community radio in Canada."
Wolfson says, "CKLN has a long history of social justice programming, a voicefor the voiceless for many marginalized communities."
The dispute over the control of the station means that "shows no longer being broadcast include apsychiatric survivor show, a First Nations woman show, a queer black womanshow and other queer programmers and programmers of colour, and a show runby the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, No One is Illegal, and twofeminist shows just to name a few."
The workshop will also include representatives from other campus communitystations facing similar problems, including CFRU in Guelph and theUniversity of Waterloo community radio station which recently lost theirstudent funding.
Wolfson and Avarez say, "The objective of this workshop is to address currentproblems and hopefully come up with possible solutions and strategies toreclaim and rebuild 'community' radio in this country."
Other workshop topics include: anti-oppression and the media, distorted mediacoverage of low income families, media and the case of the Cuban Five, theorigins of the Ryerson Free Press and plans to set up Free Press papersacross other campuses, a panel on citizen journalism, investigative onlineresearch, podcasting 101, and how to create and distribute on-line video.
The final plenary session will feature Maude Barlow, national chair of theCouncil of Canadians.
The day concludes on Thursday night with rabble.ca's re-launch party: apanel featuring Maude Barlow, Murray Dobbin, Duncan Cameron, Anne LagacÃ© Dowson and Jessica Yee, and then a party withmusical guests LAL and Maryem Tollar.
For all the details on Toronto's Media Democracy Day, check out http://missinginthemedia.ca/.
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