LoAM - Local Autonomous Media

Theory And Analysis

12th May 2023
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Inspired by France’s Mutu Network, a group has formed with a view to creating Local Autonomous Media here in the UK. There has perhaps never been a better time.

Weeks ago, SubMedia joined the likes of Crimethinc and It’s Going Down on the ban list of Twitter, whose censorship of antifascist and anarchist groups has picked up pace under the ownership of Elon Musk, joining Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook in the increasing assault on radical media (1). These internet entities were never “platforms”; never “town squares” – because they’re companies, not communities.

We should not have been surprised when, under capitalism, digital spaces were subjected to the same ruin as our physical spaces – virtual landowners controlling large swathes of space and polluting them with advertising, treating those of us using those spaces as mere target markets. With city councils and companies alike relying on Facebook or Twitter pages, so many more of us followed their lead as journalists portrayed them as the forum of key discourse.

While the “Fediverse” has offered alternatives to such social networks – decentralised, open source instances such as kolektiva.social – media in general has lacked similar offerings, beyond excellent efforts such as kolektiva.media, a video-sharing site built on PeerTube (an alternative to Google’s YouTube).

With faith in established media falling, and as internet use has risen, “alternative” media websites emerged in the early 2000s in a pattern reminiscent of public-access cable stations in the 1970s and 80s – and, sadly, with similar misinformation and conspiracy theories. Many of these sites capitalised on the anti-war movement and anti-imperialist sentiments in the West at the time, yet often became apologists for the Russian and Syrian states (2).

There have been other “alternatives” too – usually limited companies led by renegade media personalities overseeing teams of ambitious journalists who, in turn, gain exposure on establishment media such as The Guardian or the BBC. Granted, some are more non-hierarchical, even workers’ cooperatives in a few cases. But they all exist in silos; all competing against each other for clicks; all ultimately lost in a sandstorm of “alternative” media. Rejecting this commercial aspect is useful to developing our own media on the ground – and from the ground up.

Now, imagine an online space where you could go to not only receive the latest news about actions in your locality, but also share information about campaigns or events, without giving the surveillance capitalists more clicks.

People have engaged in “citizen reporting” for years. In fact, the term “freedom of the press” was not originally describing the commercial media marketplace at all, but literally the freedom to publish using a printing press (3).

Those of us who remember IndyMedia will recall that it started out fairly promising – enabling us to report on radical actions in a matter of minutes, uploading content freely and easily, including photos and videos. But without better defined standards or enough editorial oversight, IndyMedia eventually collapsed under the weight of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism that have no place in antifascist media by and for the people.

In France, Austria, and Switzerland, an actually effective media began to emerge. Covering striking workers, occupying students, and other intersectional working class struggles, it was called the Mutu Network – an interconnected series of radical media sites disseminating information with core values of anti-authoritarianism and mutual aid (hence the name).

The Mutu Network’s media model has succeeded perhaps because of its passion to “push forward emancipatory ideas and practices...and anti-capitalist ideals” alongside shared technical resources for all of its local websites via a collective interface, and the fact that participatory publishing content goes through a transparent editorial process before going live on the sites – sites that are not owned by any one particular group (4).

With shared resources, they are able to “fight the hegemony of big groups that control the mass media, and therefore to build our autonomy in times of social movements and react against the offensive of far-right media.”

Those of us residing in the UK will undoubtedly recognise the need for something similar here, since just 3 companies dominate around 80% of British news media – the Murdochs’ News UK, the Rothermeres’ Daily Mail Group, and Reach (5).

The last few years has seen Mutu receive significant attention and admiration over here, with an article on both Freedom (6) and Libcom (7) sparking much interest in developing a comparable media model in the UK just before the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic at least highlighted the importance of mutual aid to much of the population, as is often the case in times of significant crisis.

Now, in recent months, momentum has been gained, with more activists coming forward to share ideas on how we can replicate the Mutu model with our own Local Autonomous Media that can develop separate from – and in fact complement – those pre-existing, proven resources such as Freedom, Libcom, and others that perhaps exist on a broader scale rather than just a localised level.

“Website collectives in every major town and city could act as vital infrastructure for local struggles while also serving as an entry point to radical politics which we’re sorely lacking,” the aforementioned article stated. “Rather than having to navigate various blogs and social media accounts to find out about local activity, there could be a central resource for people interested in their area’s social movements.”

With some digital infrastructure now in place via Organise itself – with the potential to be scaleable and adaptible – anti-capitalists across the UK have the opening to step forward and get started with their own local contributions to such a network, becoming the media we wish to see, bit by bit, town by town; building a new media world in the shell of the old.

With “solidarity not charity,” this Local Autonomous Media sets itself apart from other regional media in that it isn’t a private company fighting for clicks – rather, non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian, it is to be run in the spirit of mutual aid.

This model is different to anything else, able to emerge beyond the sandstorm of what we’ve come to expect from “alternative” media. This is true radical media

We can make it happen, together! ■

To get involved, email loam (@) riseup.net or join us on Discord.

1. https://crimethinc.com/2020/08/19/on-facebook-banning-pages-that-support-crimethinccom-and-the-digital-censorship-to-come

2. https://www.bellingcat.com/news/2019/09/30/pro-assad-lobby-group-rewards-bloggers-on-both-the-left-and-the-right/

3. https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/217205355.pdf

4. https://reseaumutu.info/Presentation-of-the-Mutu-Network-004

5. https://www.mediareform.org.uk/media-ownership/who-owns-the-uk-media

6. https://freedomnews.org.uk/2019/06/15/mutu-rethinking-our-radical-media/

7. https://libcom.org/article/mutu-rethinking-our-radical-media

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