Video Activism and Online Distribution in Post-New Order Indonesia

By Ryanne Turenhout

Ferdiansyah Thajib - 'A Chronicle of Video Activism and Online Distribution in Post-New Order Indonesia'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

On the second day of Video Vortex at the Trouw in Amsterstam, Nuraini Juliastuti and Ferdiansyah Thajib explored how video activist in Indonesia, appropriate a variety of distribution strategies. They began with a brief historical overview giving brief a historical overview of video activism in Indonesia. They continued with a mapping of video activism, the prospects and barriers and a brief exploration beyond activism.

At the early stage between 1970 and 1990s it began with an entrance through videocassettes. As explained in Juliastuti and Thajibmain’s book Video Chronic, the New Order saw the potential dangers of the cassettes and took measures to contain and control video practices. Nevertheless, film in Indonesia experienced several boosts, in the late 1980s the production and consumption was increased by the advent of private television stations, between 1991 and 1994 video production rose with fifty percent and in 1995 there was a rise in video piracy which extended the consumption beyond the economic class. This historical overview that they presented and is further explored in the book ‘Video chronic: video activism and video distribution in Indonesia’ shows that video practices in Indonesia are an interplay between production, distribution and consumption. They went on to show that at the end of Suharto’s New Order in 1998 a burgeoning of alternative media such as zines, mailing list and discussion platforms can be seen. These can be seen as alternative media outlets that form channels for discussion that could circumvent repression. According to Juliastuti and Thajib  two main ways of media participation can be observed in Indonesia. First there is the empowerment of marginalized communities. Secondly, media participation can be seen as a reaction to the more general exclusions created by capitalist media.


Nuraini Juliastuti - 'A Chronicle of Video Activism and Online Distribution in Post-New Order Indonesia'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Thajib and Juliastuti went on to explore the intersecting trajectories of video activist, consisting of grassroots-, tactical- and experimental video activism. Grassroots video activist work with specific communities. Online they highlight the ceremonial aspect of being together, they also need video to connect with other events that are going on nationally and globally. Tactical video activist are those who are flexible in the methods of distribution. They use online distribution actively and feel that the mainstream media are not the appropriate channel or means to attain their goals. Tactical activists also use specific sites for their videos, for instance Indymedia. Experimental video activist explore the potentials of video and do more than expire change and intervene. They see online and offline as another way to experiment, connect and as a means of developing themselves.

Despite the rise of the video activism there are still technical barriers to be overcome. The limited bandwidth, particularly outside urban centers, the high-cost of getting access to the Internet and the increasing size of video files are difficulties to be overcome. Not only are there technical barriers but also the public perception is a barrier as well. The moral panic among the aggressor community; fears of being exposed to pornographic materials are mentioned as reason for not installing internet facilities in villages. There is also a digital divide which is not so much about getting access to the tools but is more about how can the tools be used. Media literacy is more an issue than who has access to the Internet, which became evident during the panel discussion after the presentation. Furthermore, the video producers are also concerned with how the material is going to be used and don’t really see the use for putting it online. Most of the producers care more about watching and making the video’s in conjunction with the community and they are not sure how it is going to be perceived and watched online.

The last part of the presentation went beyond video activism. The ubiquity of mainstream video-sharing services opens an area where the non-activist video can be pushed to the public and old media are using more amateur content. Additionally, the police are increasingly using the video’s as evidence, for instance a video of violence on Java, and to identify the actors involved in the events. The question then remains what the activist can do with the videos. Ferdiansyah Thajib concludes the presentation by stating the audience must do more than just view and take action, and that the video’s must emphasize the social change content that already exists offline, this to ensure that the audience is more receptive to these video’s.

The research into video activism in Indonesia has been published as a book (pdf), which can be found on the following website.

About the author: Ryanne Turenhout is a master student of New Media and Digital Culture at Utrecht University.

Andrew Lowenthal on the Need for Indymedia Movements

By Ryanne Turenhout

Andrew Lowenthal - 'The Public, the Private and Media Autonomy'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

On the second day of Video Vortex at the Trouw in Amsterdam Andrew Lowenthal addresses the issues of how to use and distribute video politically and how do you do that independently and autonomously.

Andrew Lowenthal began by giving an overview of what EngageMedia has been doing over the past six years. They came out of the indymedia movement and are concerned with social and environmental issues in Asia pacific. At that time that they got started the tools needed for video distribution were not widely available. Media activist intervention was needed if the tools were going to be there. They’ve developed an online video sharing platform and their work revolves around how to use the tools that are out there for political and social impact. The literacy, skills building and generating ideas on how to effectively use the tools that are available.

This presentation raises some important issues and reflects on the need for Indymedia movements for online video activism. One of the issues raised is that not only the number of hits matters but also who is watching matters. If your video gets 200 hits on Youtube and also 200 hits on for instance Engagemedia, who is watching is going to be very different. It is great if people watch the video on Youtube but getting the engagement that you need is a different question. Another issue that Lowenthal addressed is, how do you as social movement compete with other movements? This, for Lowenthal, remains an open question. He went on to discussing several projects that Engagemedia have been doing.

Lowenthal briefly touches upon web 2.0 and the decline of media activism. The contradictions that can be seen are now too difficult to ignore. Now with the advent of wikileaks and companies like Amazon and Paypal distancing themselves and pulling the plug, it is increasingly becoming apparent how much we depend on these kind of companies and how much we have under-emphasize the independent infrastructure that we need. Especially, according to Andrew Lowenthal, as social movements keep growing and conflict with the interest of these companies.

He further discusses the question of how do you distribute video politically. Open technologies and licenses are part of it but also important is how do you build new geographies across borders. Lowenthal sees video and the Internet as drawing new political spaces, that don’t actually have to conform to the traditional political terrain that we are often governed by. Shifting the political terrain is what they are trying to do. He goes on to discuss what is so special about video which is in his mind, the overcoming of otherness. Otherness, according to Lowenthal, often proceeds violence. In order to exclude someone, you have to ‘other’ them. With video you can overcome the otherness and build relationships between people and issues that are quite similar. EngageMedia is interested in drawing together the commonalities between the various issues. People often contextualize the issues just within the nation-state that they exist in even though these processes are beyond (or at least partially) the control of any one institution. The question than remains how do you build these cross-border and cross-cultural collaborations? Lowenthal believes that there is a huge amount of potential in the tools that are available, for instance universal subtitles project.

Lowenthal concludes with some interesting remarks. EngageMedia is interested in creating independent autonomous structures but also in creating spaces within the corporate spaces that have emerged, or the culture within them. He went on to say that people go to all sorts of lengths to get the content they want, upload it and find it. If they want the content, they will find it. Lowenthal concluded with the remark that the infrastructure is very important, but if you don’t have content that speaks to the aspiration and the needs of the people you can’t hit the mark.

About the author: Ryanne Turenhout is a master student of New Media and Digital Culture at Utrecht University.

Teague Schneiter on Preserving Indigenous Heritage with IsumaTV

Joanne Richardson - 'Making Video Politically'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

Teague Schneiter - 'Improving Access and Facilitating Use of Indigenous Content with Isuma's Hi-Speed MediaPlayers'. Photo by Anne Helmond.

In Friday’s first session called “It’s Not a Dead Collection, it’s a Dynamic Database”, media archivist and researcher Teague Schneiter (US/CA) took off with an elaboration about the ‘IsumaTV‘ project she’s currently working on. The people behind this initiative aim to set up an accessible infrastructure for streaming and uploading video content in indigenous subcultures. This is not only a technological challenge, but also requires a lot of media literacy within these communities. Other than with traditional heritages, it doesn’t focus on the long-term storage but instead prioritizes the accessibility of the users.
When it comes to the technological part of accessibility, the project would require a solid approach to work for the across different communities. Since the Inuit areas are largely isolated from ‘regular’ broadband services (the costs / bandwidth speed ratio is one of the aspects that widens the ‘digital divide’), the organisation introduced special media boxes into these indigenous communities. Through this local server network, the IsumaTV network performs much better than mainstream platforms like YouTube or Facebook would have. Moreover, having a stand-alone video platform overall increases the feeling of (reclaiming) ownership, “it helps with having a good relationship with the users.” Even though the technological trade-off is that the network updates with a delay of about a week, this is still acceptable for a project with a goal to preserve cultural heritage.

In the end, the project seems very worthwhile. Especially in the “era of of rapid change, [in which] indigenous groups seek to preserve their subculture”. Since the project started in 2008, over 2000 videos in more than 41 languages have been uploaded as well as pictures and text. Content-wise, it proves to be valuable to have the locals themselves act as curators, instead of having slightly related ‘outsiders’ maintain the archives. The fact that the communities rely mainly on verbal communications is another point that video creates a lot more insight into the different cultures.

Future plans with this initiative are to attract more sponsors like repositories, institutes, museums and participatory media (especially now the Canadian government has cut the budget), as well as to add crowd-source (subtitling or voice-over) features as well as further improving the network its accessibility.