Argentina’s alternative media have commonly limited their role in the social movements to informing the public about corporate media’s misinformation and providing proof of state repression. Developing a role beyond responding to the monopolization of corporate media and integrating into social processes has been a constant challenge for most of Argentina’s alternative media. The bulk of the social movements—the unemployed workers’ or piqueteros movement, the popular assemblies and recuperated factory movement—are in crisis; a crisis marked by drops in participation, increased fragmentation and an inability to identify political objectives. Many blame President Néstor Kirchner’s seemingly progressive discourse for having a paralyzing effect, while making few if any concrete improvements. Nonetheless, from within social organizations, media makers are beginning to harness alternative media in a way that drives and revitalizes their movements.
Grupo Alavío is one media collective that is directly challenging the traditional role of alternative media by producing audiovisual materials that promote action, organization and a new working class identity and consciousness for the piquetero movement. Grupo Alavío along with other organizations from the social movements—primarily piquetero groups—developed a declaration: “It’s immediately necessary to tell the history of struggle with a media belonging to the organizations in order to combat corporate media’s censorship and misinformation.” The declaration was made at the first meeting of the Popular Workers’ Front on August 30, 2003. The meeting was held to build unity among unemployed workers’ organizations that demand more than just unemployment subsidies and other short-term Band-Aid solutions. Grupo Alavío and the Popular Unity Movement-December 20 (MUP-20), a piquetero organization based in several neighborhoods in the Buenos Aires province, began working together to launch media projects. From this collaboration, a new and powerful organic media alternative was realized, TV-piquetera.
Media activists Enrique Carigao and Ricardo Leguizamon launched TV-piquetera in the aftermath of December 19 and 20, 2001, but the project did not take off until Grupo Alavío facilitated TV-piquetera’s first major broadcasting experience on September 25, 2003. It was during an ongoing piquetero road blockade at the Argentine transnational beer brewery, Quilmes, where protestors transmitted a live pirate television signal to a local channel. One of the objectives of the transmission was to counter the mass media’s criminalization of the action by informing the neighbors surrounding the factory about the conflict and explaining the piqueteros’ demands for jobs and dignified work. During the transmission, piqueteros expressed in their own words the reasons for the protest, gave first hand accounts of the action and described what it’s like to be a piquetero.
For the group’s third transmission on November 8, 2003, TV-piquetera’s makeshift operating studio was housed in MUP-20’s community center, a shack in the poverty-stricken neighborhood of San Martín, Solano on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. On the day of the broadcast the transmitter arrived as scheduled. piqueteros from MUP-20 and many other participants all lent a hand in various tasks—bringing in the equipment, setting up a studio in the shack, a screening room in the kitchen and raising the antenna on the rooftop. Although it was only their third transmission, everyone learned quickly and participated in every aspect of the community television experience. Participants eagerly took hold of cameras, quickly learned how to focus, pan and zoom, while nearly everyone took a turn introducing the programming and speaking in front of the camera.
The broadcast began at 3:00 p.m. and lasted until 10:30 p.m. The MUP-20’s print publication explained the motives behind the transmission: “[It] demonstrates that we do not need to depend on bosses and owners to make ourselves visible and communicate with our neighbors. To tell our story with our own media is to think with a logic different than that which the system imposes on us.”
The day’s programming also included pre-edited news pieces about the previous piquetero blockade, pollution of the local water supply by factories, struggles for political prisoners, Bolivia after the insurrection, resistance in Iraq, the Brukman factory recuperation, recent government attacks against unemployed workers’ organizations and MUP-20’s community projects—popular bakeries, soup kitchens for kids, gardens and sewing workshops. With the introduction to each news piece, participants related that as unemployed workers they are trying to build a better community while fighting for jobs, and pointed out that they, too, are mothers and fathers, not criminals or corrupt freeloaders as the mainstream press characterizes them. The wide-ranging content reflects not only the complexity and consciousness of the piquetero movement, but also the integration of local, national and international issues.
Making techniques and technologies accessible and available to exploited sectors by democratizing audiovisual production and language has been a priority of Grupo Alavío’s work. Says Grupo Alavío’s self-produced documentary, “In the context of mass media’s monopolization of information, we intend to make a space where the protagonist struggling can narrate his or her own histories.” From planning the content and the use of necessary technologies to direction of the studio, participants acquire skills that allow them to take ownership of the technology and put TV-piquetera on the air. Accordingly, the flyers posted throughout San Martín advertised the transmission with the slogan, “Programming from our neighborhoods and from our perspectives.”
For TV-piquetera, multidirectional media is the ideal, although all too often alternative media only reaches unidirectional or asymmetrical diffusion. A walk through the neighborhood during the broadcast, however, revealed that almost every television set was tuned to TV-piquetera. Into the late hours of the transmission, a few piqueteros went out with a camera and visited households viewing the program. The neighbors were asked their opinions about the programming, problems in the community and how they felt about the unemployed workers’ struggle.
The programming concluded by broadcasting these interviews—creating a kind of feedback loop—which were a symbolic example of what was accomplished during the transmission. “This broadcast was a gesture valuing the process of working class identity and a break with exclusion,” reflected Fabian Pierucci of Grupo Alavío. “By presenting people’s daily realities, it allowed neighbors to identify with one another and build solidarity to break the hegemony.” And beyond the broadcast, the experience opened a space for media makers and community members to engage in dialogue. During the broadcast, neighbors who were watching the program stopped by MUP-20’s location to see if the transmission was real and to comment on TV-piquetera. In the days following the transmission, piqueteros, neighbors, activists and media makers alike talked about what it meant to see themselves represented on TV and to be able to create their own imagery.
While many in the social movements and alternative media have shied away from self-critiques, TV-piquetera encouraged introspection. Many participants, for example, expressed frustration with the unemployed workers’ movement, citing discontent with piquetero bureaucracy. Since TV-piquetera is fully integrated into the movement, it is expected to discuss specific agendas and internal debates, and to point out contradictions within the movement. Grupo Alavío and participants in TV-piquetera recognize that dulling or transforming political content into a non-critical apology is not useful. Instead, their goal is to produce material that generates debates and critiques, thus promoting the growth and reproduction of the movement. Without integration, intervening and participating in internal debates is impossible, unwelcome or both, as other collectives like Indymedia-Argentina have discovered.
TV-piquetera’s objective is to transmit in different neighborhoods with the intention of ultimately building a network of community television stations that can function autonomously under a larger umbrella of collaboration and mutual support.
During the MUP-20 assembly following the transmission, members discussed the usefulness of the television experience and reflected on its significance. “Some ask us, ‘How is it that you are unemployed and have a television station?’ We say, ‘Who shouldn’t have access to their own media?’” said María Oviedo, a piquetera from MUP-20. “Our neighbors can get to know our struggle, not as the television networks show us, ‘lazy and violent,’ but as fellow neighbors with the same problems of unemployment and poverty. Maybe the neighbor who sees our broadcast will be affected and become a fellow activist.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Marie Trigona is an independent journalist based in Argentina. She is a part of Grupo Alavío and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.