Assembly of Media Workers: About a dozen members of a group of media workers, and students of media and communications, including a wide range of the political spectrum, from the left to anarchists.
We want to occupy the media and use it for the movement
We occupied the offices of the Editors' Union of Athens Daily Papers. Our inspiration was the occupation of the General Confederation of Greek Workers in December. The idea was that we as workers in the media could occupy the office of our bosses.
Our group was started by students in the School of Mass Media and Communications. Within the school there had already been a room occupied for ten years now, that was used as a political gathering point and a foundation for our movement. As people finished school and were getting jobs in the industry they didn’t forget about their background; they kept coming back to the students here. So there was an osmosis between the students and the working people. This was especially important during the student occupation movement of two years ago. The workers started a group last year, that consisted mainly of a blog with writings about the media industry And we also started to go to the demonstrations of journalists, we met some people who were working as freelancers, started talking about the precarity of freelancers as a working problem. The idea arose to create a non-hierarchical, self-organised syndicate of freelancers who wanted something different. This failed. The fact is that freelancers in Greece do not work that way as a choice but the bosses want people to work as freelancers in order to have more flexibility. They don’t hire you as an employee, they make you do the same job as a freelancer. It’s a form of outsourcing. But in this case they don’t hire people from other companies, you’re just an individual worker, even though you’re essentially working for a specific newspaper or whatever. So you have to pay your own social security.
In December the media did an awful job, as always. They tried to divide the movement into the bad anarchists and the good students. After December the media used more aggressive tactics to scare people with the spectre of terrorism, to make them afraid so they would stay at home. But those of us who are in the movement and in the media have to point out some exceptions. There was one photojournalist who published the famous picture of a cop on the streets facing protesters and drawing his gun, just after the murder of Alexis. The journalist was fired for this photo. So we have to emphasise that what the media produce depends on what the bosses want, and what they want is to profit and to send the right political message.
Anarchists in Greece generally want no relationship whatsoever with the media or reporters. In the last ten years many photographers have been attacked by demonstrators and TV vans have been burned. And okay, the media have a central role in state propaganda today and in spreading fascism. They present anarchists as bad people wearing masks, the “known unknowns." There was a legend circulated by Greek TV in December that all the riots were provoked by anarchists. Their representation in the spectacle is as "the known unknowns" everybody knows them but nobody knows who they are, they’re an antisocial element that cannot be pinned down. So the anarchists respond ironically, "Yes, we’re the same 300 people since November ’73."
Since December they haven’t been using this term because no one believes it anymore. Now they say koukoulofori, the masked ones. The State’s main point is that these unknowns have names and addresses and we had better find them soon. The media and State cannot accept that there is anarchy in Greece and real people behind it. It is essential for them to make people believe that these anarchists are vicious criminals with ulterior motives. In their minds anarchists cannot exist, so it is obvious to them that they are manipulated by something. The Communist Party says they are police provocateurs, and nationalists say they are manipulated by some external element trying to destabilise Greece.
Our group participated in the revolt in December, in the occupations and mobilisations that were happening. At the first demo of the year, in January the cops were very aggressive and beat lots of people, including journalists and lawyers. This provided an opportunity to occupy the newspaper editors’ offices in order to talk about the labour problems of journalists, to criticise what the media were saying about the revolts, and to address the general precarity of all workers in Greece. The two main purposes of the occupation was to produce counter-information and to denounce our problems as workers, the firings, the precarity the aggressions of the bosses. The occupation lasted six days.
One of the main reasons we occupied these offices was because we knew that anarchists had no connections with the working class. The workplace did not play a large role in the rebellion of December and one main aspect of our action was our desire to get close to the working class, as we belong to it. We wanted to create some link or bridge, to show that these ideas are not opposed, that there is not such a big gap.
The movement received our action ambiguously. Some people said journalists don’t deserve to be a part of the movement and some people were more tolerant towards this occupation. The first two days were very complicated because people of the movement who had a bad impression of journalists came in contact with people working in the media who thought of themselves as part of the movement. The crowd there was very diverse. That was part of what made it unique but it also caused problems in terms of organising. People were trying to formulate different methods of organising because some people were really radical and others less so. There were two lines, one of people coming from the movement and another of people coming from the media. Some people came to the occupation because they wanted to work on counter-information, against the media and against the spectacle, and the people coming from the media wanted to do something against the bosses, and the job situation.
Counter-information is a key movement issue and we are a small part of that. Indymedia is another part of it, as are the people who publish magazines or newspapers. My personal view is that blogs and other forms of communication had a central role in December, facilitating instant reactions, instant responses to what was happening on the ground. Many people were trying to inform others and that worked really well in December. From the first night there were demos and attacks on police all over Greece because everyone knew what had happened in Athens. Due to the Internet and telephone and also the mainstream media the access to information was expansive. There were attacks in the most remote parts of Greece. I think high school kids saw it on TV so they got the idea to do it themselves. In a sense even the mainstream media has a positive role sometimes, in an impressionable kind of way: their coverage made an impression and some people wanted to know more. It’s not that they gave the rebellion and the attacks a positive spin, but it would have been worse if they had stayed silent.
But counter-information is necessary to actually produce discourse. And for this we employ classic methods, such as open assemblies, pamphlets, blogs, posters, demos, occupations.
Our assembly is now debating the role of the media. We don’t yet have a common idea on how to “despectacularise" the media. We believe in counter-information, we believe that the media uphold capitalism. Most of us want to occupy the media, or rather the means of production of the media, and use them for the movement. Indymedia is one direction. The other direction is, since we know from our studies how the public sphere is created and how the mechanisms of the State work, to expose the methods of brainwashing, of ideological suppression.
Another big discussion begun during the revolt centred around the use of videos. We don’t have an answer to this question yet. Some people said we must use videos, while others feel that they are a medium that creates the spectacle. The most obvious objection is that the cops will get hold of the images and get our identities, but it's more complicated. It also has to do with the fact that the videos are being edited by the TV channels so you can't be sure if it will be used in the wrong way People do not trust the medium of videos and audiovisual materials because it has been used primarily against us. As a squat we tried to make videos, one at the demo on January 16 and the other at the Patision Park. We also tried to work as a counter-information team at one demo. It was experimental. But some people strongly opposed us in this.
Then there is the debate about television. Is it possible to have a radical self-organised TV channel? It would be the same thing but with different political content. Some of us believe that within capitalism the media cannot be used to promote revolutionary ideas. There are some radio stations, but they are counter-information, pirate stations, they don’t have bosses, they self-organise with assemblies. I think the media industry is a capitalist machine that can’t be transformed within capitalism. But if we occupy them it can produce good results. During the revolt there was a group that occupied NET the national TV station. But this action was an interruption of the program, it was not a program promoting revolutionary ideas. I think that would have been a total failure.
TV is different from radio because you’re dealing with images. It would be propaganda on your behalf, using the spectacle to your benefit. But that’s a debate we haven't really gone into because it's so complicated. The TV is much more infused with the ideologies of state and capitalism than the radio or newspapers. Also the relationship you create with the audience; they are rendered more passive, it doesn’t matter if they're watching a demonstration or a football match. It’s naturally reactionary. To perceive yourself as a viewer means you are not an actor. In capitalist society we are alienated and we become spectators of our lives, our lives become strange to us. For example I can't imagine someone who tries to shoot photos during a demo instead of fighting with police.
These are some of the problems we are wrestling with. Journalists questioning their role as journalists. It's pretty self-annihilating but also creative if you think about it.