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AHA MEDIA thanks Gary Shilling for his article “Tactics for Democratizing Media During the Olympics and Beyond” in Vancouver Observer

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

AHA MEDIA thanks Gary Shilling for his article below

Tactics for Democratizing Media During the Olympics and Beyond

Posted: Jan 5th, 2010
Hendrik Beune walks into the cafeteria at the Carnegie Centre in
Vancouver, scratches his cell phone number on his business card and
passes it over to me. The back of the card has an imprint: Bioluminous
Solutions = ethological reporting! (his exclamation mark). He explains
its meaning as, "Observing how something relates to its environment is
like finding sources of light in the dark." Beune and April Smith are
directors of AHA Media, self-described hyper local citizen
journalists. "My wish", Smith says, "is that AHA Media be a democratic
system that is made for messages from the Downtown East Side."

Smith and Beune have deep ties to the community in the Downtown
Eastside (DTES) of Vancouver. They believe that the democracy of
information, new media, and social media are good things for this
community of marginalized residents. "We can support each other by
showing what is happening in the DTES and broadcast it out on a local
level, national level, and to the world," says Smith. They both agree
that this is especially important during the Olympics. John Douglas, a
poet working with AHA Media doesn't have much faith in CanWest and
other mainstream media portraying what will be happening on the
streets of Vancouver during the Olympics. "According to them, the
'world is coming here to party'. My take on that as a veteran Single
Room Occupancy inmate is that the rich 5% of the world are coming here
to party."

Single Room Occupancy (SRO) accommodation in the DTES is in disarray.
Douglas explains that he lives in a building where there is no
security. Anything of value that is left in his room will be taken the
moment he leaves. Given the opportunity, he'd like to put his poetry
online, but he won’t risk having a computer. Beune sees bridging the
digital divide in the community a key for reaching those in SROs and
aboriginal youth.

The W2 Community Media Centre in the massive Woodwards redevelopment
is helping bridge the divide. The result of persistent of strong
community advocacy, W2 is poised to become a cultural hub for the
arts, community groups, and residents in Vancouver. Construction
delays have slowed the opening of the Centre in the heritage portion
of the development, and in the interim it operates out of a space
across the street. They're in the process of getting ready for the

"W2 is all about using intelligent tactics to provide a place for
Vancouverites to tell their stories", says Irwin Oostindie, executive
director. Although partially embedded in the Olympics in their
relationship with the Cultural Olympiad, they are comfortable with the
dialogue that will result from the games. "We're an independent
cultural institution that provides guaranteed access for its citizens
for training, access, broadcast, and sharing their stories," says
Oostindie. With partners in alternative, independent, and citizen
journalism, they expect to be here long after the Olympics leave.

Global marquee events such as the Olympics create complex tensions
within a host city such as Vancouver. This tension is manifest on the
streets of the city, within the venues of the site, and in the
critical and celebratory conversations that take place around the
event. Beune believes there will be demonstrations at the Games about
free speech, and media activist groups have plans to be there.

Franklin Lopez moved to Vancouver in 2005 just as he got a job with
Democracy Now in New York. But he fell in love with the mountains and
came back. He is helping organize people to cover the protests. Lopez
has ties into the activist community and experience at a number of
convergence type events such as the upcoming Olympics. He's involved
with the Vancouver Media Coop and is setting up media spaces to
support incoming media independents. "As part of the activist
community", he notes, "We have ties that have developed over the years
that connect us into what is happening on the street. Just like
mainstream journalists have relationships with the police, and

Lopez has mentored Smith and other members of the AHA Media Group.
She’s grateful: "Frank's been instrumental in us forming AHA Media. He
said get online, be independent, report on issues, and the stories
that you want to tell. And don't be afraid of what people say. It can
be good, bad, it can be ugly. If you get a reaction, it means you've
done your work."

In addition to his work with AHA Media, Beune sits on the board of the
Pivot Legal Society, and is part of the legal observer program created
in partnership with the BC Civil Liberties Association. There are
about 200 people trained to observe and record situations with video
and still photography. Besides supporting alternative media, Hendrik
sites another important task: "We have a particular interest in
looking out for 'agent provocateurs' as they are called. They are
people put into the protests to create a ruckus. Then the authorities
move troops in and create even more chaos derailing protest. So,
whenever they disrupt us, we are going to hold them responsible."

It's only natural to expect alternative media to emerge around the
Olympics, but community media is not a new phenomena. Sid Chow Tan has
volunteered within community television for nearly 25 years. According
to Tan, "Canada has played a central role in the development of
community television and is considered by many to be the birthplace of
community broadcasting." The Canadian Broadcast Act clearly states
that our broadcast system is to be composed of public, private, and
community elements—essential for maintaining and enhancing our
national identity and cultural sovereignty.

The community trust of the right to broadcast is currently under the
control of major cable operators in the country. Eight hundred million
dollars in public money has been handed out to cable companies over
the past 10 years, with approximately $60 million going to Rogers and
Shaw in Metro Vancouver. And yet, these companies have little
accountability to the community. Tan is dismayed, "There is no logic
when community programming produced by volunteers is only available by
subscribing to a corporate service."

Cultural institutions such as W2 are looking to fill the gap left by
the increasing corporatization of community media. When it opens in
the historic Woodward's building, the W2 Community Media Arts Society
will be operating a multipurpose multi-platform media arts facility,
including live performance, print, radio, television and new media.
"We're looking at building a media centre for the citizens of
Vancouver. We'll be here in 2010 and 2020 and beyond," says Oostindie.

As mainstream media focuses on counting gold, silver, and bronze
medals, community media in Vancouver looks to document the voice of
the people within their neighbourhoods. Beune cautions, "The IOC has
no responsibility to any legacy, they're not affected by the
neighbourhood and they don't value the assets of our community. We
want to stress the benefits of people working together. My philosophy
is be happy with what you've got. If you have enough be content. If
you have more — share." The stories gathered by the community will be
plentiful and shared with the world.