»We need to become more active …«

Interview with Anna of the Independent Media Center (IMC) Germany on the media coverage of the Residenzpflicht campaign.

What part did indymedia play in supporting the abolition of Residenzpflicht during the campaign for from 17 – 19 May 2001?

Anna: indymedia was at the Berliner Schloßplatz with publicly accessible computer terminals and bulletin boards with printed information. In addition, we covered the campaign ourselves – that is to say, there were several of us there who wrote, filmed, photographed and recorded (in audio) what was going on, in order to create publicity for the campaign.

How great is the necessity for independent reporting concerning political campaigns?

Anna: Great, obviously, as the concerns of the activists can be directly transported that way. But I see a difference between independent, in the sense of non-commercial, media in general and indymedia specifically. Our idea is that the people who make the news – by organizing or participating in activities and events – report on it. Of course, this challenges the »independence« or sought-after »objectivity« of the media, or rather it makes clear that we’re not interested in that at all. The separation between the people who do things and those who write about it should be done away with, so that the interests of the people responsible for the campaigns and other events are directly represented in the media. At the same time, we want to make it clear, directly or indirectly, that this independence doesn’t exist in the established media either. Indirectly, because it becomes clear that a lot of what goes on isn’t reported on, and directly, in that we criticize that and, of course, say that these media are commercial, that they’re used to make money, and moreover, that vested interests influence what gets reported. What’s more, the incredibly fast-growing interest in indymedia makes it obvious that this work is necessary, that there’s a need for it. Especially on behalf of the »non-activists« and even the so-called corporate media, or mainstream media, who in the meantime get a lot of their information from us.

What was special about the publicity work on the Campaign against Residenzpflicht?

Anna: That we were the only ones who provided regular and in-depth reporting on the campaign and who reported on the differing perspectives of the refugees, the people who actually initiated the campaign.

Why did the mainstream media almost completely ignore the Campaign against Residenzpflicht?

Anna: We don’t entirely understand that ourselves. There wasn’t previously much interest in the topic beyond the refugee organizations. And they weren’t very »professional« in their approach to journalists. Some of them, in fact, were quite explicitly uninterested in doing the media work necessary for such a campaign. The prevailing attitude was, "if it’s necessary to »cultivate« individual journalists, that is, to call them up and provide them with information, if they don’t have any interest in the issue anyway, we can do without them." And as there weren’t any German organizations or groups that had been covering the Campaign from the start, and as support in the time leading up the event was in very short supply, there was little awareness of and attention paid to the campaign. It was also significantly underestimated, as far as size and energy or strength go. At least by the media and, in the run-up to the campaign, also by the »responsible« groups. And so, for example, at the big Saturday demonstration – the biggest leftist demonstration in Berlin apart from May 1 – a newspaper that I know only sent someone to the initial rally and then wrote of »a few hundred participants.« But I should say that the preparation of the entire campaign was in the hands of only a few people, and the group that did the press work simply couldn’t keep up with the work. More energy in these areas would surely have led to more reports.

Why did you take over the public relations work for the campaign?

Anna: We didn’t take it over – the campaign had its own PR group. indymedia decided to cover the campaign. Because almost nobody else reported on it, it looked like we were doing the campaign’s PR work.

Does the internet play a special role in this context?

Of course. On the one hand, it’s simply faster and offers infinitely more space. On the other hand, it made it possible to set up computer terminals on the Schlossplatz, which people could use to immediately publish what they were experiencing – their comments on the campaign, but also daily life from the perspectives of the refugees’. Because internet access is particularly difficult for the latter, it’s especially important to enable this and to make the public aware of this reality.

What do you think – how can the media be moved to address issues by, about, with and for refugees?

Anna: By covering their events and campaigns, by taking their political activities seriously, but of course, also by groups of German or other antiracist activists approaching the refugee groups and supporting them, so that they are perceived as relevant by the media. The relevance is, of course, not generated by these other groups, but (in part) by mass, by taking up the discussions and goals of political activity. It is equally necessary that other social groups deal with the refugees’ situation. That is to say, they shouldn’t just talk about them – they should talk to the refugees and organize campaigns together. Activity awakens media interest, just like with well-planned events that attract attention. Independent media have a significant role to play here, of course. If the idea is not to want to be at all neutral or objective, then it’s even more important to give a voice and image to the those who have the worst chances [of being heard or seen].

How do you evaluate your own work on the Anti-Residenzpflicht Campaign and on future campaigns or events?

Anna: On the one hand, as extremely important, because there was so little media presence. On the other hand, there were various shortcomings. We were only able to reach in part the goal we set for ourselves of providing a forum for the activists. To an extent, our presence there was only passive, in the form of a tent with terminals. But we didn’t directly approach the refugees or other participants and encourage them to write reports or borrow cameras or minidisc recorders to make their own documentaries. The idea of indymedia is still not generally well-known, and in May, it was even less so, especially outside the community of internet-savvy radical leftists. We are trying now to make our concept better known, but there’s a lot of work to be done. If our goal is to make this medium accessible to migrants, then we need to better explain what we want. Distributing flyers in different languages and offering to help people. That only partially happened, which then led to the computers being used to check mail – which is ok, if the email is being used to pass on information, and considering that in refugee housing and with refugee allowances, they don’t often get the chance. Women didn’t participate almost at all in this. I personally approached people several times, tried hard to persuade them, to stimulate interest in possibility of the campaign being followed outside of Berlin. I only succeeded in getting them to publish something when I sat down myself at the terminal with them, sometimes even writing down and translating the report, or tried to convince them that articles in English or French were not only not a problem, but were, in fact, just right. People’s inhibitions shouldn’t be underestimated – almost everyone had them in the beginning and we forget them so easily. Especially in the middle of a very dynamic event, people don’t often feel the need to sit down, seemingly alone, at a computer. It’s more fun to talk to people, get to know people, take part in the event, etc. The fact is that we – indymedia – need to become more active. It’s a big mistake to simply set things up and assume that it’s natural to find the internet, computers and indymedia so attractive.

The interview was conducted per email. It reflects Anna’s own personal perspective, and not that of the entire project.

See also Video and audio streams of the Campaign

indymedia coverage of the Campaign:

Next article: Relevant links

Dossier #1: Debates, events and projects that deal with the so-called "Residenzpflicht", while exploring methods of media communication and networking.

  1. Freedom of Movement
  2. What is Residenzpflicht?
    (Anke Schwarzer)
  3. Resistance against Residenzpflicht
    (Anke Schwarzer)
  4. Residenzpflicht – no change in sight
    (Anke Schwarzer)
  5. Freedom of movement – an essential human right
  6. <type=radio~border=0>
  7. The Flüchtlings-Voice
  8. »We need to become more active …« (Indymedia-Interview)
  9. Relevant links
  10. Dates