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The asymmetric internationalization of mediaactivism

Benjamin Ferron - UPEC Cditec (France)

In the last 20 years, the Global Justice Movement 1 contributed to reactivate or built numerous
transnational networks of activists2. Some alter-globalization activists, in a book published in 2003,
felt confident enough to speak about an irresistible rise of global anticapitalism. They claimed with
pride: we are everywhere 3. From its birth, commonly associated with the Zapatista uprising in
Mexico in 1994 and the anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999, to the last World Social Forums which
took place in Tunis in 2015 and in Montreal in 2016, alter-globalization organizations have produced
an injustice masterframe4. They generally take for granted the global and expansive nature of
their movement.
Countless academic studies conducted on these transnational networks. But those investigating the
detailed sociology of its actors have shown the importance of the territorial anchorages of these
rooted cosmopolitans5. On the one hand, the structure of their networks is characterized by their
polycentric concentration in the countries of the Global North, in many cases at the expense of the
representation of activists from Southern countries6. On the other hand, these surveys reveal the
greater chances for activists coming from the urban middle and upper classes, rather than from
popular and rural classes, to undergo an international career of activist7.
In other words, to take over the linguists vocabulary, the conditions of felicity8 of the famous
slogan think global, act local are strongly conditioned to social factors 9. By the way, after a period
of expansion (mid-1990s-mid-2000), the movement of movements faces internal disputes and a
relative retraction of its networks (mid-2000s-mid 2010s). However, these trends vary strongly from
one country to another, and from one group of activists to another. This reinforces the
methodological advice which consists in relocalizing the study of these asymmetrically

DELLA PORTA Donatella (ed.), The Global Justice Movement. Cross-National and Transnational Perspectives [2007], New York,
Routledge, 2016.
we can quickly define TNAs as moving and informal structures through which NGOs, social movements activists,
governmental leaders and professionals from international institutions can get in touch and help poor resources
national actors to reinforce their political weigh within their own society (TARROW Sidney, La contestation
transnationale , Cultures et conflits, 38-39, 2000, p. 204-211).
NOTES FROM NOWHERE (ed.), We are everywhere. The irresistible rise of global anticapitalism, London, New York, Verso, 2003,
p. 228.
SNOW David A., BENFORD Robert D. , Framing Processes and Social Movements: An Overview and Assessment, Annual
Review of Sociology, 26, 2000, pp. 611-639
TARROW Sidney, The New Transnational Activism, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
See for example FILLIEULE Olivier, BLANCHARD Philippe, AGRIKOLIANSKY Eric, BANDLER Marko, PASSY Florence, SOMMIER Isabelle,
Laltermondialisme en rseaux. Trajectoires militantes, multipositionnalit et formes de lengagement : les participants
du contre-sommet du G8 dEvian , Politix, 17/68, 2004, p. 13-48.
See for example for the countries around the Mediterranean sea: CULTURES ET CONFLITS, Altermondialisme(s) oublis(s) ,
2008; and for the African countries: SIMANT Johanna, POMMEROLLE Marie-Emmanuelle, African Voices and activists at the
WSF in Nairobi the uncertain Ways of Transnational African Activism, Journal of World Systems Research, 2010, vol.
XVI (1), p. 82-93.
AUSTIN John, How to do things with words, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1962.
BOURDIEU Pierre, Langage et pouvoir symbolique, Paris, Points-Essais, Fayard, Le Seuil, 2001.

internationalized networks 10 . Under which conditions can they help poor resources groups especially those who are nationally and internationally dominated - to reach international political or
media arenas11?
The asymmetric internationalization of media-activism
Within alter-globalization transnational networks of activists, divided into several thematic and scales
of representation, the groups who focus specifically on information and communication issues are
probably among the most predisposed to share the belief in the global dimension of the
movement. Media issues have nurtured ongoing political debates within these networks: the
journalistic non- or mis-coverage of protest events; the democratic threat posed by the
concentration of private capital in the media industry; the role of the State in the media system; the
defense of the freedom of expression and the rights to inform or be informed; the autonomy of
social movement organizations own communication and information networks, etc.12 The facilitated
access to online technologies, since the mid-1990s, strongly contributed to strengthen a belief in the
global, a-territorial dimension of the so-called global mediascape, reactivation of the macluhanian
myth of the Global Village13.
In 1996, during an international meeting in Chiapas (Mexico), the leader of the Zapatista Army of
National Liberation, the SubComandante Marcos, proposes to launch an intercontinental network
of alternative communication . It aimed at reinforcing the ties between the many movements of
resistance to neoliberal globalization in the world and to facilitate exchanges of information and
ideas between them14. In 1999, a group of activists funded the first Independent Media Center
during the anti-WTO protest in Seattle (USA) 15 . This online and participatory platform called
Indymedia is self-depicted in these words:
From Seattle to South Africa, Chiapas to Croatia, a radical and democratic peoples
news network for the world has spread like wildfire, recklessly endangering the
corporate medias monopoly on information. Known as the Independent Media Centre
(IMC, or Indymedia), this network enables hundreds of alternative media organizations
and thousands of activists to collaborate through the internet in a joint effort to
democratize the media16.


SIMEANT Johanna, Localiser le terrain de l'international , Politix 4/2012 (n 100), p. 129-147. For an illustration of this
methodology, see SIMANT Johanna, POMMEROLLE Marie-Emmanuelle and SOMMIER Isabelle (eds.), Observing Protest from
a Place The World Social Forum in Dakar (2011), Amsterdam University Press New Protest and Social Movements
series, 2015.
BOB Clifford, The Marketing of Rebellion. Insurgents, Media and International Activism, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
MCCHESNEY Robert W., NICHOLS John, EHRENREICH Barbara (ed.), Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against
Corporate Media, USA, Seven Stories Press, 2002.
MATTELART Tristan, Demystifying the empowering virtues of the new digital world information order, Javnost: The Public,
22/3, 2015, pp. 240-251.
FERRON Benjamin, Des mdias de mouvements aux mouvements de mdias. Retour sur la gense du Rseau
Intercontinental de Communication Alternative (1996-1999) , Mouvements, n 61, janvier-mars 2010, p. 108-120.
SMITH J., Globalizing Resistance: the battle of Seattle and the Future of Social Movements , Mobilization: An
International Journal, 6(1), 2001, p. 1-20.
NOTES FROM NOWHERE (ed.), We are op. cit., p.228

Indymedia became a model for mediactivists around the globe17. It led, in the following years, to the
creation of a global network which counted 139 collectives in 2013 18. Ten years after the creation of
the Indymedia network, in 2009, a group of NGOs and journalists launched in Belem (Brazil) the first
World Free Media Forum. They started to elaborate a World Chart of Free Media which has been
signed during the WSF in Tunis (Tunisia), in 2015. The words World and global appear 24 times in
the text and the signatories come from 4 different continents 19.
The dedication of some activists and organizations on these topics participated in the emergence of a
specific sector of mobilization. Some have called it, with a risk of a certain naturalization of the
phenomenon, informational mobilizations or media-activism. This expression is a contraction of
the two words media and activism . It can be defined as progressive social mobilizations
which shift their collective action toward the critic of mainstream media and/or the creation of
alternative devices of production of information 20. Since the publication of the MacBride Report in
198021 to the launch of the previously mentioned World Chart of Free Media in 2015, informational
mobilizations have strongly contributed to build a public faade of their mobilizations. They stress
not only how worthy, united, numerous and committed 22 they are, but also how they mobilize
their activists constituencies on a transnational or global basis.
This global framing can be found in the numerous academic studies dedicated to these mobilizations.
This is especially the case of those focusing on alternative, radical, community or citizens
media. An international network of researchers and activists called OurMedia has been created in
2000 to work on that topic. It organized several international conferences 23. According to Clemencia
Rodriguez, one of its founding members:
Citizens media have mushroomed in all kinds of different social, cultural, political, and
historical contexts, and therefore should be considered important protagonists in the
global mediascape 24.
For John Downing, another of its founding members and editor of a voluminous Encyclopedia of
Social Movement Media (2010):

A great number of studies have been published on this network, among others: KIDD Dorothy, A New
Communications Commons, in Martha McGaughey and Michael Ayers (Eds.), Cyberactivism: Online Activism in Theory
and Practice, New York: Routledge. 2003, p. 47-69, DOWNING John D.H., The Independent Media Center Movement and
the Anarchist socialist Tradition, in Nick Couldry, James Curran (eds) Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a
Networked World, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003, p. 243-257, JURIS Jeff, Indymedia. De la contra-informacin a
la utopa informacional , in Vctor Manuel Mar Sez, (coord.), La Red es de todos. Cuando los movimientos sociales se
aproprian de la Red, Rompeolas, Editorial Popula, Madrid, 2004 p. 154-177, SALTER Lee, Indymedia and the Law: Issues
for Citizen Journalism, in Stuart Allan, Einar Thorsen (Ed.), Citizen Journalism. Global Perspectives, Peter Lang Publishing
Inc., New York, 2009, p. 175-185.
Inactive since November, 2013, the Indymedia Global website ( counts 53 groups in Europe, 52 in the
United States, 19 in Latin America, 10 in Oceania, 4 in the Middle East et 1 in Asia many of them are not still active.
WORLD FREE MEDIA FORUM, World Chart of Free Media, Tunis, 2015
CARDON Dominique, GRANJON Fabien, Mdiactivistes, Paris, Presses de SciencesPo., coll. Contester , 2010, p. 8.
THE MACBRIDE REPORT, Communication and Society Today and Tomorrow, Many Voices One World, Towards a new more just
and more efficient world information and communication order, Kogan Page, London/Uniput, New York/Unesco, Paris.
Unesco, 1980.
TILLY Charles, Social Movements and (All Sorts of) Other Political Interactions - Local, National, and International Including Identities , Theory and Society, 27(4), Special Issue on Interpreting Historical Change at the End of the
Twentieth Century, 1998, p. 453-480.
23 - I went to two of them in Ghana, 2008, and Colombia, 2009.
RODRIGUEZ Clemencia, Fissures in the Mediascape. An international study of citizens media, Cresskill, New Jersey,
Hampton Press Inc., 2001, p. xiii

The flourishing of social movement media is crucial because they are pivotal vehicles
within which global civil society can collectively chew on solutions, float and discard
them, track their trajectories, and evaluate them, from the most local and immediate to
the international and long term 25.
We can wonder if the publication of articles and collective books comparing these media throughout
the world and history 26 did not contribute to give a scholar approval to this spontaneously
cosmopolitan vision of informational mobilizations shared by the activists, or at least some of them.
But does the insistence of certain actors and observers to stress the strong internationalization of
these informational mobilizations reflects an intrinsic dimension of their culture and practices an
hypothesis that would imply a process of objectification with in-depth empirical fieldworks and a
rigorous comparative methodology or does it reveal a strategy of symbolic rehabilitation of a
scientific object, which is doubly dominated on the market of media and academic goods 27?
Thinking about these media in international terms supposes, in fact, a set of cognitive and normative
operations which are rarely an object of critical analysis. What symbolic benefits can be gained, by an
activist organization or a researcher looking for academic legitimacy, when one mobilizes a discourse
on these informational mobilizations that postulates not only their consistency and their
ontological differences with mainstream media practices and values, but their comparability and
internationality? Does the idea of a trend convergence of the media-activists of the planet in their
collective effort toward a democratization of public spaces rely on a detailed observation of their
economic and cultural conditions of access to international arenas, the kind of transnational
interactions they eventually experience between themselves, their allies and opponents? Or is it the
product of the conversion of an activist slogan we are everywhere - into a seducing research
This paper aims at understanding the mechanisms which underpin the social and geographic
polarization of many of these transnational networks of media-activists between the centers and
peripheries of the World-Economy29. On the basis of empirical fieldworks (134 semi-conducted
interviews, ethnographic observations, archives) realized in the past 12 years on the national and
transnational communication strategies of alter-globalization movements carried out in Mexico,
Israel-Palestine and France, this paper analyzes the opportunities and constraints they find in
internationalizing their cause from local spaces: the urban context of big metropolis in times of
neoliberal globalization30.


DOWNING J. D. H. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media, Sage Publications, Reference, Thousand Oaks, London,
New Delhi, Singapore, 2010.
COULDRY Nick, CURRAN James (eds) Contesting Media Power... op. Cit., GUMUCIO-DAGRON Alfonso, TUFTE Thomas (eds.),
Communication for Social Anthology: Historical and Contemporary Readings, Communication for Social Change
Consortium, Inc., 2006, DOWNING John D. H. (ed.), Encyclopedia..., op. cit.
BOURDIEU Pierre, Mthode scientifique et hirarchie sociale des objets , Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 1/1,
1975, p. 4-6.
For an analysis of such a process of academic legitimization, in the case of another media-activist slogan, see FERRON
Benjamin, Giving Voice to the Voiceless? The ambivalent Institutionalization of Minorities Alternative Media in
Mexico and Israel, in I. RIGONI, E. SATTA (eds.), Minority Media in a Globalized Public Space, Palgrave, 2012, p. 135-152.
WALLERSTEIN Immanuel, Geopolitics and Geoculture. the changing world-system (1991), Etudes sur le capitalisme
moderne/Studies in Modern Capitalism, Cambridge University Press/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'Homme,
DAVIS Mike, Evil Paradises : Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism, The New Press, 2008, ACTES DE LA RECHERCHE EN SCIENCES SOCIALES,
Centres-villes : modles, luttes pratiques , 195/5, 2012, WACQUANT Loc, Marginality, ethnicity and penalty in the

We focus on the asymmetric internationalization of three media-activists groups. The first one is
the pro-Zapatista Free Media movement in Mexico, its relationships with the Zapatista
communities in Chiapas, and support groups in North America and Europe. The second one is the
anti-occupation media network in Israel and its relationships both with its Palestinian and
international components. The third one is the French Permanent Coordination of Free Media, and
more specifically the relationships between activists from the Province and Paris, and with
transnational networks of media-activists, including the French NGO that launched the World Chart
of Free Media. Lets explain quickly the theoretical framework which supports this comparison
before presenting our three cases.
International capital as retribution of transnational media-activism
Our thesis is twofold. On the one hand, media-activists localized in global urban context have more
opportunities than others to mobilize through and for alternative media and gain material and
symbolic benefits on different local, national, regional or transnational scales. On the other hand, the
benefits they can gain from these investments, especially what well call international capital, are
very unequally distributed among media-activists. They strongly depend on their national and social
resources. Adopting such a thesis need an explanation of two concepts: the retributions of activism
and international capital.
The French political science researcher Daniel Gaxie shows that the engagement of activists within
political parties, trade unions or non-for-profit NGOs can be explained less by ideological motivations
(the defense of a cause) than by the existence of systems of material and symbolic retributions these
organizations are susceptible to offer to their members. According to him, the official rhetoric of
disinterest hides the existence of multiple retributions of activism (honorific positions, autodidact
learning, social capital, etc. and sometimes a job) 31. This thesis can be applied to many forms of
activism, including media-activism which is generally explained through the vocabulary of the
motivations of its actors (democratization of public space, empowerment, etc.). Yet, among the
mechanisms of retribution that this kind of activism can offer to its participants, it seems that the
chances to accumulate what well call an capital international is a strong explanatory factor of the
conversion of agents to media-activism at the condition of not isolating this factor to other social
and spatial conditions of engagement.
As shown by recent studies in critical sociology of international relationships and globalization 32, an
international culture is not a spontaneous creation. It is both a set of symbolic goods unequally
distributed according to the social and national properties of the members of a group. And a set of
rules, practices and collective beliefs variably interiorized, according to the specific logics of a field of
activities (and the relationships of power between the organizations which are structured by this

neoliberal city: An analytic cartography, Ethnic & Racial Studies, 2014

GAXIE Daniel, Rtributions du militantisme et paradoxe de laction collective , Revue Suisse de Science Politique, 11/1,
2005, p. 157-188.
COHEN Robin, KENNEDY Paul, Global Sociology, New York, Palgrave, Macmillan, 2000, Actes de la Recherche en Sciences
Sociales, Sociologie de la mondialisation., 151-152, 2004, BAYART Jean-Franois, Global Subjects [2004], Cambridge,
Polity Press, 2007, WAGNER A.-C., Les classes sociales dans la mondialisation, Paris, La Dcouverte, Coll. Repres ,
2007, LECLER R., Sociologie de la mondialisation, Paris, La Dcouverte, Coll. Repres , 2013, SIMEANT Johanna, Guide de
lenqute globale en sciences sociales, Paris, ditions du CNRS, 2015, BIGO Didier, BASARAN Tugba, GUITTET EmmanuelPierre, WALKER R.B.J., International Political Sociology: Transversal Lines, Routledge, Routledge Studies in International
Political Sociology, 2016.

field and structure it in return). For Anne-Catherine Wagner, it is generally easier for the members of
a privileged group (in term of economic, social or cultural capital) to reinvest in international arenas a
symbolic capital accumulated in a national space, than for those who have structured a symbolic
capital in strongly localized networks of exchanges 33.
When it circulates from a national field to another, the international capital is produced and
reproduced more easily when the agents are mutually predisposed to know and recognize its
exchange value on an international market of signs of prestige excellence and distinction 34. But
such a disposition is only possible when the agents share a homologous habitus, defined as a
structure of incorporated social dispositions 35. In contrast, it is more difficult to monetize on an
international market an autochtonous capital . It is indeed structured by a system of knowledge
and recognition of its value in a local or peripheral field of power. There is a law of cumulative
inequalities in the globalization process: the nationally dominated agents have much more chances
to be internationally dominated, and vice-versa36.
However, we can wonder if, in some spaces of activities such as global metropolis, these
relationships of domination can be mitigated or partially reversed, given the many social and
professional opportunities given by urban life. Pierre Bourdieu stresses that the historical genesis of
the State is a process characterized by a concentration of resources, not only economical or political
ones, but also cultural ones like informational or linguistic resources. This process of concentration
operates in urban zones and is correlated with a process of hierarchization of national spaces:
establishing a city as the capital, a place which concentrates all forms of capital, means establishing
the province as dispossession of capital 37. These spatial hierarchies are reproduced within city
spaces, as shown by many studies in urban sociology38. Sociologists of social movements show in
parallel that the historical emergence of a national and autonomous repertoire of contention within
social movements, in the context of reinforcement of the capitalist mode of production and the
construction of the nation-state, is strongly linked with the displacement of mobilizations from rural
and peripheral areas (first-generation repertoire) to urban centers (second-generation repertoire),
which also condition the access to international arenas and the media (third-generation repertoire) 39.
Finally, the media repertoire of social movements, whether it is to attract professional journalists
attention or to create autonomous networks of information and communication, is also strongly

WAGNER Anne-Catherine, Les classes sociales... op. cit., p. 43.

BOURDIEU Pierre, Les conditions sociales de la circulation internationale des ides (1989), Actes de la Recherche en
Sciences Sociales, 145, 2002, p. 3-8.
The concept of habitus refers to a principle of generation of distinct and distinctive practices what the manual worker
eats and especially the way he eats it, the sport he practices and the way he practices it, his political opinions and the
way he expresses them which is systematically different from the corresponding acts of consumption or activities of
the industrial manager ; but also of different classificatory schemes, principles of classification, principles of vision and
division, and tastes. They make the difference between what is good and bad, fair and unfair, distingu or vulgar, but
they are not the same. Thus, for example, the same behavior or the same good can look distingu to one, pretentious to
another one, vulgar to a third one, etc. (Bourdieu P., Raisons pratiques. Sur la thorie de laction, Paris, Le Seuil, 2001,
p. 23).
WAGNER Anne-Catherine, Les classes sociales... op. cit.
BOURDIEU P., Sur lEtat. Cours au collge de France 1989-1992, Paris, Seuil, 2012, p. 162.
For case studies on the social geography of inequalities in Mexico, Jerusalem and Paris, see: CHEMILLIER-GENDREAU Monique,
Jrusalem, le droit international comme source de solution , Confluences Mditerrane 86/3, 2013, p. 57-69, PINON
Michel, PINON-CHARLOT Monique, Sociologie de Paris, Paris, La Dcouverte, Repres, 2014, RIBARDIERE Antonine, Valette
Jean-Franois, volution de la division sociale de l'espace urbain Mexico. Approche partir des structures
dmographiques et de l'accs au diplme (1990-2010) , Problmes d'Amrique latine, 90/3, 2013, p. 99-126.
TILLY Charles, Spaces of Contention, Mobilization: An International Quarterly, 5/2, 2000, p. 135-159, MILLER Byron,
NICHOLLS Walter, BEAUMONT Justine (dir.), Spaces of contention: Spatialities and Social Movements, Routledge, 2013.

conditioned by the geographical proximity of press offices in the cities, especially international press
agencies or groups40 and, more generally, by the concentration of multiple forms of capital in the
Capitals, which contribute to facilitate synergies between activists and media-activists41.
Understanding these mechanisms implies an in-depth survey of the fields of relationships and spaces
of localization within which they operate. Lets show it with our three case studies.
Case study 1. Gringos and Chilangos for Chiapas: the pro-Zapatist mediactivists network
Our first case study is based on a fieldwork made between 2005 and 2010 alongside activists of the
Mexican extra-parliamentary radical left, close to the alter-globalization movement and the Zapatista
Army of National Liberation (EZLN)42. Five methods have been used: a regular watch of 15 websites
of the medios libres network43; a campaign of semi-conducted interviews, lasting an average 1h and
dealing with the internal organization of collectives or NGOs and the biographical trajectories of the
activists (n=39); sequences of participatory observations during a three month stay in Mexico city
and Chiapas in 2006, especially in the Centro de Medios Libres of Mexico ; the distribution of a
directive questionnaire (n=11) and the consultation of paper and online archives between 1994 and
2006 (around 300 documents such as press articles and releases, video documentaries, radio
programs, websites, etc.).
The Mexican Free Media network has roots in a long-term history of informational mobilizations in
Mexico44, but it arises in conjunction with the pro-Zapatista and alter-globalization mobilizations
after the uprising of the EZLN in 1994 and the upsurge of national and international solidarity it
received in the following years, including from professional journalists in Mexico and foreign
countries45. At a national level, the maintenance of the Zapatista army as an offside player in the
national political field, especially during the different phases of negotiations with the government
(1994-2001) had effects on the collective action repertoire and political discourse of not only
indigenous movements in rural areas46 but also part of urban popular movements, especially in
Mexico city47. At an international level, the pro-Zapatista networks follow an upward trend in 199440

TUCHMAN Gaye, Making News. A Study in the Construction of Reality, New York, London, The Free Press, 1978, p. 15-38.
CASTELLS Manuel, The City and the Grassroots. A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements, University of California
Press, 1983, RUSSO Vanessa, Urban Mediactivism in Web 3.0. Case Analysis: The City of Chieti, in Recent Trends in
Social Systems: Quantitative Theories and Quantitative Models, vol. 66, series Studies in Systems, Decision and Control,
2016, pp 303-313
For a more detailed account, see FERRON B., La communication internationale du zapatisme, Rennes, PUR, Res Publica,
Among which the Centro de Medios Libres del Distrito Federal, Radio Zapote, or Radio KeHuelga in Mexico, Indymedia
Chiapas or Promedios in Chiapas, Radio Zapatista in Berkeley or Promedios France in Paris.
Including among others the marginal press (TREJO DELARBRE Ral, La prensa marginal, Segunda edicin, Mxico D.F.,
ediciones El Caballito, 1980), community and indigenous radio movements (CASTELLS-TALENS Antoni, RAMOS RODRIGUEZ Jos
Manuel, CHAN CONCHA Marisol, Radio, control, and indigenous peoples: the failure of state-invented citizens' media in
Mexico, in Development in Practice, 19/4-5, 2009, p. 525-537) or independent video production (MAGALLANES-BLANCO
Claudia, The use of Video for Political Consciousness-Raising in Mexico. An Analysis of Independent Videos about the
Zapatistas, Edwin Mellen Press, 2008).
TREJO DELARBRE Ral (dir.), Chiapas, la comunicacin enmascarada: los medios y el pasamontaas, Mexico, Diana, 1994,
FLORES Genoveva, La seduccin de Marcos a la prensa. Versiones sobre el levantamiento zapatista, Mxico, Humanidades
TEC, 2004
VELASCO CRUZ Sal, El movimiento indgena y la autonoma en Mxico, Mexico, UNAM, 2003.
BENNET V., The Evolution of Urban Popular Movements in Mexico Between 1968 and 1988 , in ESCOBAR A., ALVAREZ S.
E. (eds.), The Making of Social Movements in Latin America. Identity, Strategy and Democracy, Boulder, Oxford, 1992, p.
240-259. The Spanish word Chilangos refers to the inhabitants of Mexico City in Mexican popular language. Mexico city
if often called Chilangolandia.

1996 (before retracting after 1997 and even more after 2001) 48, giving birth to a countless number of
solidarity organizations in Chiapas and around the world49.
Within these networks, the activities dedicated to counter-balancing the decreasing and/or negative
mainstream media coverage of the conflict in Chiapas, or with the diffusion in alternative networks
of information and communication of the Zapatistas communiqus and human rights organizations
reports on the situation in Chiapas, were central for many individuals and organizations 50. In doing
so, they gained a functional place and legitimacy in the transnational networks of activists, especially
when the conflict in Chiapas lost its salience in the conventional press. According to our calculation,
there is a perfect correlation between the decrease of the external communication of the EZLN
(number of communiqus per month) between 1994-2001 and 2001-2006 (-71.5%) and the decrease
of the media coverage of the EZLN activities between 1994 and 2006 in the mainstream media (71.6%)51. Yet, this is precisely when the EZLN starts to lose its newsworthiness in the eyes of many
professional journalists, around 1996-1997, that its spokesperson, the subcomandante Marcos, starts
to be more and more critical toward them (he speaks about a treason by part of the journalists),
launches a call for the creation of the Intercontinental Network of Alternative Communication
(RICA) that we spoke about in the introduction, and deploy efforts to contribute to the autonomy
of the production of information in the Zapatista or pro-Zapatista media, through independent
newspapers and magazines, radio stations, video programs or Websites. In 2006, this process is
achieved when the EZLN commanding unit decides that only free and alternative media will be
allowed to cover the Otra Campana, a political campaign led by the Zapatistas in the country, in the
context of the presidential elections 52.
This process favored the emergence and specialization of media-centered political activists more
dedicated to build and maintain these alternative networks of information and communication than
to hit the mainstream media headlines53. But if the call was sent, as the EZLN usually does, to all
citizens of the world, only a few of them answered The RICA project was taken up in majority by
urban, politicized, graduated, young, cosmopolitan and polyglot activists from Western countries.


OLESEN T., International Zapatismo. The construction of solidarity in the age of globalization, London & New York, Zed
Books, 2005, BOB Clifford, The Marketing of Rebellion. Insurgents, Media and International Activism, Cambridge
University Press, 2005, KHASNABISH Alex, Zapatistas. Rebellion from the Grassroots to the Global, London & New York, Zed
Books, Halifax & Winninpeg, Fernwood Pub., 2010.
BARMEYER N., Developing Zapatista Autonomy: Conflict and NGO involvement in Rebel Chiapas, Albuquerque, University of
New Mexico Press, 2009, GLASSS P. G., Everyday routine in free spaces: explaining the persistence of the Zapatistas in
Los Angeles , Mobilization: An International Journal, 15/2, 2010, p. 199-216.
CASTELLS Manuel, Le pouvoir de lidentit. Lre de linformation [1997], trad. Anglais Paul Chemla, Paris, Fayard, 1999, p.
94-107, ARQUILLA John, DARQUILLA John, RONFELDT David (eds.), Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and
Militancy, RAND, 2001, p. 171-199.
Calculation based on the occurrences of the words <EZLN>, <AZLN> or <Zapatista> in eleven national and international
media and press agencies : 3 Mexican (Proceso, El Financiero, SUN), 5 in foreign countries (New York Times and
Washington Post in the US, Le Monde, Libration, Le Monde Diplomatique, in France) and 3 international agencies
(Reuters, AFP, AP). For more details see Ferron B. La communication, op. cit., p. 120-121.
OTHER JOURNALISM ABOUT THE OTHER CAMPAIN (THE), For Authentic News Reporting of the Tour by Subcomandante Marcos
Throughout the Mexican Republic , The Narco News Bulletin, Dec. 21, 2005. This principle has known several
exceptions, especially when Marcos goes in 2006 on Televisa and La Jornada after the repression of the movement
against the construction of an airport in San Salvador Atenco .
See for example about the print press and radioactivism: FERRON B., La communication op. cit., p. 155-158; about
videoactivism: MAGALLANES-BLANCO Claudia, The use of op. cit.; about webactivism: FROELHING Oliver, The Cyberspace
War of Ink and Internet in Chiapas, Mexico , Geographical Review, 87/2, Cyberspace and Geographical Space, 1997, p.
291-307, MARTINEZ-TORRES Maria Elena, Civil Society, the Internet, and the Zapatistas , Peace Review, 13/3, 2001, p.

This is the case of Elliott Y., a gringo54 born in 1967 in New York and, in 1995, PhD student in history
at the University of Austin Texas, close to the Autonomous Marxist groups, who spent several
months in Mexico city. His linguistic skills (he speaks both English and Spanish), the fact that he has
his own personal computer connected to Internet, and free time at his disposal, brought him quickly
to become a kind of news disseminator who translate and provide to North American activists
information coming from Chiapas and Mexico in general 55. He is not an isolated case: thousands of
North American and European activists came in Mexico and/or Chiapas to give support to the
Zapatistas, very often playing a similar role in the transmission of information.
This networking process is accelerated, at a national level in Mexico, during the student strike of the
National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1999-200056, when the media bad treatments of the
movement are denounced and become a political issues for part of the activists who launch radical
campus radio stations such as KeHuelga radio57. After the end of the strike, several other radio
stations are created such as Radio Zapote in the National School of Anthropology and History, during
the Zapatista walk on Mexico city in 200158. If the KeHuelga radio appears to be initially a response to
the bad mainstream media coverage of the strike, Radio Zapote is created as a way to anticipate such
a coverage and offers to the journalist the activists version of the event. When the Centro de Medios
Libres is launched in 2005 it is, again, a new configuration: a movement now recognized by prozapatista networks as the Mexican Free Media movement is mandated by the EZLN to cover their
alternative political campaign. In other words, if we reconstruct the history of the Free Media
movement in Mexico, it appears that mediactivism is step by step transformed and identified as a
relatively autonomous microcosm, which is quite homogenous in terms of its agents collective
practices and representations and their social properties and trajectories. In 2006, I had no major
difficulties to find groups who defined themselves as free or alternative media and to contact
dozens of persons who knew very well each other, expressing similar concerns, in cooperation or
sometimes rivalry between each other.
During intense times of mobilizations, at the beginning,, and then on a daily basis, some activists
start to subjectively perceive themselves (and be perceived by their peers, the groups they publicize
or some media professional they interact with), as a differentiated category of activists within the
pro-zapatista and alter-globalization networks. This increasing autonomy brings them to question the
frontiers which separate their activities from those of professional journalists, especially when the
later accuse them of illegal exercise of their profession. An activist from the Centro de Medios Libres
explains me in an interview that, when she goes from Mexico to rural areas to make a report, she
often has to explain what an alternative media is 59. While some of them tend to give preference to
a strategy of professionalization (this is for example the case of an activist who join Amarc-Mexico as
a salaried person), others prefer a strategy of legitimization of their media work within activists
networks which imply to remain lastingly in an amateur position. This is typical of a field logic, but a
very heteronymous field which principles of organization and legitimization come mainly from

Gringo is a Spanish word that, in Mexican popular language, refers to United States citizens. The United States are
sometimes ironically called Gringolandia.
Skype interview, 10/12/2009.
RAJCHENBERG Enrique, FAZIO Carlos, UNAM. Presente y futuro?, Mexico, Palza & Jans, 2000.
Interview, Mexico, 14/5/2006
Interview, Mexico, 12/2006
Interview Mexico, 28/2/2006.

But in both cases, internationalization appears to be a scarce an unequally distributed resource

among the Mexican mediactivists. Some of them speak English or French, spent a year or two in a
foreign country for their studies or for holidays, where they sometimes have friends and comrades
with which they occasionally organize political events (like a legendary radio transmission between
Mexico and Toulouse by Radio Zapotes team, a campaign for the liberation of Mumia Abdul Jamal in
the Centro de Medios Libress website, etc.). Activists from North America, Europe or Latin America
come to visit their Mexican counterparts, and sometimes when they get back to their country create
their own Zapatista collective (like Zapatista Radio in Berkeley, USA, or the French antenna of
Promedios). Exceptionally some Mexican activists participated to protests in the US, like Fabian, a
videoactivist who created in 2002 a group called Accion Informativa en Resistencia, who has an
opportunity to join a protest in San Francisco. But for most activists who dont have the resources
and the skills to keep up such an international social capital (and the symbolic benefits that go with
it), their international experience has principally consisted in participating to the few counterforum organized in their own country like the anti-WTO protest in Cancun in 2001, the protests
organized during the UN conference on Development in Monterrey in 2002, the second anti-WTO
protests in Cancun in 200360 or the Latin America-Caribe/Europe conference in Guadalajara in 2004.
The poor international experience of Chilangos activists contrast strongly with the great experiences
of their Gringos comrades who more regularly cross the border, generally by plane, from North to
South of the Rio Grande. But both for Chilangos and Gringos, their implantation in urban zones
facilitates synergies and international opportunities, even at home. This has nothing to do with the
lack of social and geographical mobility chances offered to the Indigenous Zapatista communities in
Chiapas: when some of them go to the United States, it is generally more for economical than
political reasons, even if their political commitment to the Zapatista cause is not without effects on
their new life61.
Case study 2. Dissent from Within: The Anti-Occupation media network
Our second case study is the media strategies of the transnational anti-occupation network, in the
context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This network is born in the 1970s, after the occupation of
the Palestinian territories (West Bank and Gaza) by the Israeli army. Its members generally claim that
the application of international law is the best solution for the conflict62. The Palestinian activists
from the civil resistance benefited, especially since the mid-1980s, from the support of foreign
solidarity groups, including Europe and North America, as well as part of the Israeli pacifist
movement63. Yet, since 1999-2000, some of them (such as the Israeli-Palestinian NGO Alternative
Information Center) tried with a variable success to voice their concerns in alter-globalization forum
and arenas and to import locally the critical discourse on neoliberal globalization, as shown by the


FERRON B., Le journalisme alternatif entre engagement et distanciation. Les stratgies mdiatiques des mouvements
sociaux dans la Bataille de Cancun contre lOMC (2003) in D. Ruellan, S. Lvque, Journalistes engags, Rennes, PUR,
Res Publica, 2010, p. 109-126.
MORESCHI Alejandra, Des luttes indiennes au rve amricain. Migration de jeunes zapatistes aux Etats-Unis, Rennes,
Presses Universitaires de Rennes, coll. Des Amriques , 2014.
AVRAN Isabelle, Isral-Palestine : les inventeurs de paix, Editions de l'Atelier, 2001.
About solidarity groups in the United States, see: NORMAN Julie, The Second Palestinian Intifada. Civil resistance, London &
New York, Routledge, coll. Studies in Middle Eastern Politics , 2010. For an example in Europe, see: HECKER Marc,
Intifada franaise ? De limportation du conflit isralo-palestinien, Paris, Ellipses, 2012. In Isral: LAMARCHE Karin, Militer
contre son camp ? Des Israliens engags aux cts des Palestiniens, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, coll.
Partage du savoir , 2013.

slogan a Middle East without wars and oppression is possible 64. Some activists and journalists
mobilized in these networks try to weight on the dominant media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict at a national and international level, denouncing its journalistic reduction to religious or
security dimensions65.Thus, they build up, in the continuity of alter-globalization counter-forum,
means of information and communication which, like Indymedia Israel or Indymedia Palestine, aim at
proposing alternative framings and at placing the struggle against Israeli occupation at the heart of
public debates66.
During two surveys conducted in 2005 and 2007, I discussed with and observed the activities of
Israeli, Palestinian and International activists working on the production of alternative
information on the conflict in several organizations67. Fieldwork researches have consisted in two 6weeks stays in Israel and the West Bank. After preliminary research on the Web, I mainly used
methods such as semi-conducted interviews (n=49) and participatory observation: a doctoral
professional practice at the AIC in West Jerusalem and Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. At last, I made a
quantitative and qualitative analysis of a corpus of press articles, documentary films, radio programs
and web pages (around 350 documents). The survey reveals the differentiated logics of
internationalization of the groups inserted in this activist network. A comparison of the Alternative
Information Center and Indymedia Palestine (IMCP), in this perspective, is enlightening.
Founded in 1984 by Israeli activists from the Revolutionary Communist League (previously MatzpenJerusalem) and Palestinian leftwing activists from the West Bank, the AIC is a joint Palestinian-Israeli
non-governmental organization (NGO). It "engages in dissemination of information, political
advocacy, grassroots activism and critical analysis of the Palestinian and Israeli societies as well as
the Palestinian-Israeli conflict" (Mission Statement). According to Michel Warschawski, one of its cofounders - and a well-known figure of the anti-colonialist movement in Israel - the AIC is alternative
in two senses68. First, it publishes dissent points of view and critical information, on issues not
covered by the mainstream media in Israel and Palestine, for instance in News From Within, a
newspaper launched in 1985. This information must help the Palestinians to understand the internal
evolution of the Israeli society, and the Israelis to understand the Palestinian society. The AIC is also
alternative in the sense that it aims at constituting a common political space for Israeli and
Palestinian activists, for the building of expanded Israeli-Palestinian partnership69. This partnership
is not a mere cooperation, but a political commitment to reinforce the National Palestinian
Movement and the Israeli Organizations in their concrete opposition to the Occupation 70. This
political dimension is also revealed by the numerous connections established between the AIC and
the left-wing social movements in Israel, the OPTs and at an international level especially the



Title of a seminar organized by the AIC on August the 29 2003.

WOLFSFELD Gadi, Media and Political Conflict. News from the Middle East, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1997,
BERRY Mike, PHILO Greg, Bad News From Israel, London, Pluto Press, 2004, DOR Daniel, The Suppression of Guilt. The Israeli
Media & The Reoccupation of the West Bank, London, Pluto Press, 2005.
ARMON Roni, From Seattle to Tel Aviv , News From Within, XVII/2, march 2001, p. 25-28.
For a detailed account of this survey, see: FERRON B., Linternationalisation asymtrique des mdias des mouvements
sociaux : le cas de linformation alternative sur le conflit isralo-palestinien , in J.-B. COMBY (ed.), Linternationalisation des
biens mdiatiques et culturels. Hirarchies sociales et concurrences symboliques par del les frontires, Rennes, PUR, 2017
Interview, Jerusalem, 26/9/2005.
WARSCHAWSKI Michel, The Alternative Information Center : 20 Years of Joint Struggle, The Alternative Information Center,
Latin Patriarchate Press, Jerusalem, 2006.
ibid. p. 36.

Global Social Justice movement in the 2000s. 71. The physical spaces of work located in urban zones
facilitate daily interactions between Palestinians, Israelis and foreign visitors. The co-presence of
these protagonists maintains collective rituals, codes and exchanges which favor the internalization
of a cosmopolitan habitus.
But within the organizations which compose the Palestinian civil resistance , it was quite harder
than in Israel to find ones which defined themselves as alternative media . While the expression is
quite frequently used by Israeli activists, it seems absent from the semantic equipment of their
Palestinian counterparts, who more easily speak about independent media, on the one hand
(professional press firms which are not dependant from the Palestinian Authority funds) or
grassroots, citizens media, on the other hand (which are in general NGO financed by foreign
funds)72. Indymedia Palestine seemed to be, in this media landscape, an exception.
The IMC Palestine is a collective of Palestinian and international activists and journalists, created
at the end of 2001/beginning of 2002 with the purpose of diffusing information on local realities in
the context of the second Intifada, following the working principles of the Indymedia global network.
The project has is not initiated by Palestinians, but through discussions between members of the AIC
in Bethlehem, in 2000, while the Jerusalem office is already bringing a material and logistic support
to Indymedia Israel 73. However, the project really begins in the framework of the Campaign
Grassroots International Protection for the Palestinian People. A small team gathers, at the AIC
office in Beit Sahour, compounded of International volunteers and Palestinians. At the end of the
process, the IMC knows a certain success: new volunteers come, the Internet site is more and more
visited, the team expands and deepens its relationships with professional Palestinian journalists or
foreign correspondents, and they benefit from a financial support, by part of the AIC among others. A
peak of activity is reached in April 2002, when the Israeli army starts the Defensive Shield military
operation and reoccupies the West Bank.
But internal disagreements within the Indymedia Palestine collective appear after some month of
activity. They quickly become an open and virulent fight between two main factions. The first one
wants to maintain a strong interdependency between the AIC and the IMC Palestine, while the
second wants a complete independence for the IMC. In the first group, we find a majority of
international activists, members of the AIC team (Israeli Jews or Arab Palestinians) and Palestinians
from the OPTs. In the second group, we find a majority of Palestinians from the refugee camps. The
first group tends to legitimize the activities of Indymedia Palestine in reference to the principles of
professional journalism. It condemns the confusion between information and political propaganda. It
also tends to celebrate the international dimension of the production of information, especially the
capacity of the online platform to reach Western audience. On the contrary, the second group tends
to legitimize its role in reference to political activism, especially the Palestinian movement of national
liberation. It condemns as a form of comfortable intellectualism the fact to product information for
itself. It also gives value to the local effects of the content published in Indymedia on its public, in
particular poor people living in refugee camps.


FERRON B., Alternative Information Center , in J. D. H. Downing, Encyclopedia op. cit., p. 12-13.
HANAFI Sari, TABAR Linda, The Emergence of a Palestinian Globalized Elite. Donors, International Organizations and Local
NGOs, Jerusalem, Institute of Jerusalem Studies, Muwatin, The Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy, 2005.
That is why it is initially called Indymedia Jerusalem (AIC, [Imc-East.-Mediterr.] [IMC-Process], The AIC and Palestine
Indymedia , 11 septembre 2002, 23:15:41).

The relationship of the AIC and Indymedia Palestine teams to journalism and activism, on the one
hand, and to local and international scales of contention, on the other hand, is a similar concern but
refracted differently within each group. Both have common political stances toward for example the
Israeli occupation or the (bad) media coverage of the conflict. Both mediactivist organizations suffer
from a certain lack of financial and professional autonomy. Many of their members, whether they be
intellectuals, engaged journalists or political activists, find in the conventional press spaces of
expression and/or professional positions to express ideas which they can in parallel express in
alternative publications with smaller audiences. This porosity is the product of structural constraints:
the media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more regular, more important and provokes
more cleavages (including in foreign countries because of the dynamism of pro-Israeli groups74) than
the Chiapas one. As a consequence, if pro-Zapatista networks have more interest to develop their
own autonomous networks of information and communication when the journalists attention on
the conflict decreases (logic of compensation: the players play offside), activists of the antioccupation network have more interest in leading a double struggle for access and for meaning75
within the mainstream media (logic of counter-weigh: the players play downside). However, this is
much easier for the Israeli journalists and activists than for their Palestinian counterparts. In Israel,
there is a quite vigorous, modern, plural and autonomous journalistic field76, even if pro-Palestinian
positions are marginalized77. In the Occupied territories, there is no real historical differentiation
between political and journalistic activities, and Palestinian journalists are triply threatened by the
Israeli occupation, the authoritarianism of the Palestinian authority and the dependence of many
press organizations to foreign NGOs 78 . These contrasted situations explain why Israelis and
Palestinians have so different definitions of what producing alternative information means,
depending not only on their national position in the conflict, which put them in the strong or the
weak part, but also of what they define as mainstream media. For example, the Palestinians
journalists we interviewed tend to consider that a media is an alternative one when it supports the
Palestine cause and express hostile ideas to the Israeli occupation. On the contrary, anti-occupation
Israeli activists tend to adopt a more distanced position toward the polarization between proPalestinian and Pro-Israelis . According to them, a truly heterodox point of view would precisely
consist in getting out of such a Manichean opposition.
The actors of the anti-occupation media networks have conflicting relationships not only with
mainstream media, but between themselves. These associates/rivals relationships can be detected
through their ideological and strategic divergences (Israeli vs. Palestinians, radicals and moderates,
etc.) or the kind of device they give priviledge to (print press, audiovisual media, Internet, etc.). But
they are also determined by their social and spatial trajectories and properties. These mediactivists
networks rely on specific logics of recruitment and work, especially because of the rare skills required
by this type of activities: political ones (including capacities to collect and analyze complex
information, to theorize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to express strategic options, etc.), cultural

MEARSHEIMER John J., WALT Stephen M., Le lobby pro-isralien et la politique trangre amricaine, Paris, La Dcouverte,
2007, HECKER Marc, Intifada franaise op. cit.
WOLFSFELD Gadi, Media... op. cit.
CASPI D., LIMOR Y., The In/Outsiders: Mass Media in Israel, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, 1999.
DOR Daniel, Intifada Hits the Headlines : how the Israeli press misreported the outbreak of the Second Palestinian uprising,
Indianapolis, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2004, DOR Daniel, The Suppression of Guilt. The Israeli Media & The
Reoccupation of the West Bank, London, Pluto Press, 2005.
NASSER M. K. (1974), Along freedoms double edge : The Arab press under Israeli occupation, Columbia University, FERRON
Benjamin, Le journalisme palestinien : une dpolitisation en trompe lil , Savoir/Agir, 2014.

ones (high level of diploma, facilities in speaking and writing in one, two, three or sometimes four
languages) or technical ones (especially for audiovisual production or Websites management). On
top of that, the disposition to connect the local events with global trends is very unequally
distributed, depending on the social and economic capital of the agents. Few of them can reach an
international audience and enter a prestigious international career, like the journalist Michel
Warschawski, one of the co-founders of the Alternative Information Center 79. During an interview,
the director of the AIC, Connie Hackbarth (an American who emigrated to Israel), explains me that
there are big differences between international volunteers and local activists, but also between local
activists themselves:
The international volunteers primarily come from Europe. They've just finished
university, and for them this is their international experience, a Middle-East experience,
and it's important for them in the rsum. Many of them go back in their country and
try to find a job in government or in academia. So for them it's a very important time,
and they're very ambitious in their carriers [] They appreciate the opportunity to write
things, and in gaining experience. So most of them are very ambitious, and it's
something good for their career. The Israelis and Palestinians are different, because we
don't have such great carriers here. People are not thinking in their professional
advancement: they're here because of the politics. My Palestinian colleagues are very
exceptional, because for them it would be easier not to work with Israelis. So they're
really thinking in the long-term when they work for the AIC. And all of them have been
working here for three years and more. Palestinians come to stay. They don't intent to
leave. The Israelis... we have both: we have very committed people, and we have
younger people who are here for one year or two before they go somewhere else80.
We see that not only the capacities to manage all the skills required by transnational mediactivism,
but the chances to remain durably in this kind of activism is very unequally distributed among the
participants, depending on their social background and their nationality. In that sense talking about
mediactivism takes the risk of reifying and homogenizing a set of activities which is dynamic, varied
and invisibly hierarchized by the social and national inequalities between the agents.
Case study 3. Parisiens, Provinciaux and the limited internationalization of the French Free Media
Our third case study is the Free media network in France, and more specifically the Coordination
Permanente des Mdias libres (Permanent Coordination of the Free Media, now CPML) which has
been created a first time in 1999 and a second time in 2014. Three surveys have been conducted. The
first one in 2003-2004 was focusing on the relationships between the French local alternative press
and local power. I made 27 semi-conducted interviews, ethnographic observations in three
newspapers (Particule in Rennes, La Lettre Lulu in Nantes and Fakir Amiens), a research in archives

Michael Warschawsky is a Franco-Israeli Jewish activist born at the beginning of the 1950s in Strasbourg (France), where
he father is the Great Rabbi. He immigrates to Israel when he is 16 years old to follow Talmudic studies. But he quickly
joins the socialist anti-Zionist Israeli organization Matzpen in 1967, within which he is close to the trotskist current
(FERRON Benjamin, La transnationalisation de Matzpen, lorganisation socialiste isralienne (1962-2006) , Ple Sud,
30(1), 2009, p. 67-84). He co-founds the AIC in Jerusalem, before being arrested for giving services to an illegal
organization (the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PLFP). After his release, he remains active within the
AIC, publishes several books in French and English, including an autobiography (WARSCHAWSKI, Michel, Sur la frontire,
Pluriel, Hachette Littrature, Stock, 2002), travels a lot, and participates in the 2000s to the internationalization of the
AIC, especially toward francophone countries (interview, Jerusalem, 26/9/2005).
Interview, Jerusalem, 9/10/2005.

to rebuild the history of this press since the 1970s and a content analysis81. The second one in 2010
was analyzing through 10 semi-conducted interviews realized, in the framework of a collective
project82, on the precarious conditions of work of alternative journalists in several free media like
Indymedia Paris, Article XI, Bastamag, Fakir (which became a national newspaper in 2009), CQFD or
La Dcroissance. The third survey was led between june 2014 and june 2016 on the CPML. It
consisted in 22 semi-conducted interviews with activists and journalists from the Coordination, a
research on archives, as well as 3 sequences of ethnographic observations (a 2-days seminar of
reflection on the World Charter of the Free media in Paris, nov. 2014, a 3-days international
conferences on journalism in Tours, mars 2016, and a 3-days gathering of Free Media representatives
in Meymac, may 2016).
The French Free Media Movement has its historical foundations at the end of the 1960s with the
parallel press, the free radios movement, public access televisions struggle for recognition, social
cinema and webactivism83. The recent history of these mobilizations show their continuity and
transformations in the balance between activism and journalism, on the one hand, and local,
national and international scales of activity, on the other hand. The movement is polarized between
those who give preference to a radical critic of the mainstream media in order to change the rules of
the media game, and those who invest their efforts in the creation of alternative media. My survey
shows the existence of internal cleavages: do we have to transform the media from the inside or to
create autonomous spaces of mediatization? Do we have to privilege the activist or journalistic
dimensions of our activities? French free media are structured by the unequal distribution of capital
which allows some of them to occupy dominant positions. International capital plays a powerful and
invisible role in the relationships between the actors, especially between the Parisians and the
Provincials . This historical opposition between the Capital and the province is not specific to
France. As Bourdieu writes: establishing a city as the capital, a place which concentrates all forms
of capital, means establishing the province as dispossession of capital 84.
Created in 1999, the French Permanente Coordination of Free Media was initially a strongly Parisian
phenomenon led by activists with a background in social cinema and television broadcasting. As an
agit-prop structure, it helped the group to gain a legal recognition of public access television. They
made several spectacular actions, such as pirate diffusions of TV programs from the Eiffel Tower.
They also connected with many experiences of public access television, including in Latin America
and the United States. The social background of its leader at the time, Michel Fizsbin, explains this.
He is born in Paris in 1953, grows up in a communist family and is early involved in the Communist
Youth groups. After getting a degree in chemistry, in a Parisian school, he discovers the world of
media and communication during trips in foreign countries: he participates to a student radio in
Colorado, in the United States in 1977-1978, write his first articles for the print press during his
military duty in Egypt, work as a humanitarian logistician specialist in Afghanistan in 1980 for the

FERRON Benjamin, La presse alternative locale en France. , Mmoire DEA, IEP Rennes, 2004
For a synthesis of this research see FRISQUE Cgolne, Cerner les formes demploi instable dans le journalisme :
questionnement et confrontation des sources , IN C. Leteinturier, C. Frisque (dir.), Les espaces professionnels des
journalistes. Des corpus quantitatifs aux analyses qualitatives, Paris, Editions Panthon-Assas-Colloques, p. 111-137.
Pierre-Jos Chadaigne, La communication alternative : la presse parallle en France des annes 60 la fin des annes 90,
Paris, Thse de doctorat en SIC non publie, Universit Paris II, 2002, Thierry Lefebvre, La bataille des radios libres,
1977-1981, Nouveau Monde Editions, Paris, 2011, Cahiers des champs visuels, La longue marche des tlvisions
associatives, Paris L'Harmattan, 2010, MOUVEMENTS, Quand la socit fait son cinma, 2003, Fabien Granjon, LInternet
militant. Mouvement social et usages des rseaux tlmatiques, Rennes, Apoge, 2001.
BOURDIEU P., Sur lEtat. Cours au collge de France 1989-1992, Paris, Seuil, 2012, p. 162.

French NGO Doctors Without Borders. He starts to be involved in the free media movement when he
gets back, and quickly becomes a leader in the struggle of the free radio, at the beginning of the
1980s. He then becomes an adviser in audiovisual broadcasting which will remain his main
professional activity. On a voluntary basis, he launches the first free television in 1982, and publishes
in several alternative newspapers. This accumulation of heterogeneous capitals allows him, at the
end of the 1990s, to maximize the political and media effects of the CPML. . It also explains why,
from de 2010 to 2014, the young generation of media-activists asks him to share his experience and
to advise them85.
This new network organizes its national meeting of the free media in a poor and rural area in the
center of France, the Corrze. Their relationships with their Parisian comrades, who runs media with
bigger economical and political resources, are recognized by professional journalists as serious
sources of information, are usually conflicting. But this generation is more dedicated than the old
one to the professionalization of their activities in free media. It explains why their older
counterparts criticize them from being not enough radical from a political point of view. On the other
hand, they lack international capital. A Parisian NGOs member of the CPML, Ritimo, has been very
active in the process of writing and diffusion of the World Chart of Free Media. But when they
propose to the members of the CPML to diffuse the Chart in their network, a journalist from a
provincial city, working for several local newspapers, answers her:
I dont know how this chart has been written out, but when you read it for the first
time, the insistent repetition of the word communication almost becomes awkward,
while we struggle to make the distinction between the com (propaganda, clouded stuff,
lobby bullshit etc.) and contradictory information, even if it doesnt pretend to the myth
of objectivity 86
The representative of Ritimo replies:
the word "communication", in an international context does not refer to the definition
you gave. Moreover, in the framework of the World Forum of Free Media, we work in an
international context, where the words we choose should make sense in different work
languages (French, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese and English). The more global question is
to know how this chart can be diffused and appropriated in the French context.
We see between CMPL1 in 1999-2000 and CPML2 in 2014-2016 a change in the system of
retribution: from activism and broadcast media to journalism and print/online press, from national
and international framing to local and national issues.
To conclude, we can distinguish two heterogeneous modes of aggregation of individuals to
informational mobilizations. The first one is related to the fields of relationships within which the
agents are positioned. In alter-globalization media-activists networks, this field is frequently
structured by (but not reducible to) a tension between a legitimacy defined in terms of journalistic
professionalism and a legitimacy defined in terms of socio-political effectiveness. The Indymedia

Interview, Chinon, 24/5/2016.

Email, 8/4/2015

global Website administrators explain that one of most frequently asked question about their
network is: are you activists or journalists? . As Chris Atton showed, alternative media tend to
operate as spaces of autodidact accumulation of cultural capital: an activist can practice journalism
and a journalist do activism, paying a relatively reduced cost of entry in the political and/or
journalistic fields in terms of acquisition of specialized skills or of respect of professional norms 87.
The second mode of aggregation is related to the spaces of localization within which these
mobilizations are though and led. The horizon of though and action of the agents strongly varies
according to the individuals and groups taken into consideration: a great majority is deeply rooted in
local rural or urban struggles and generally remain invisible in their own society and a fortiori at a
world scale, while a small minority is engaged in national or transnational networks of activists and
benefits from being under the spotlights to make themselves a name and in some cases a
prestigious career88. This is particularly true for those who have specific skills such as being polyglot,
able to manage the codified language of international arenas, to be at ease with ways of thinking and
framing their cause globally, or to have a transnational social capital due to previous experiences in
foreign countries.
As weve shown, some alternative media inserted into this transnational networks of activists
constitute spaces for heretical accumulation of international capital which help neutralizing or
sometimes reversing but they dont magically make them disappear the hierarchies linked with
national habitus and to favor the access of nationally and internationally dominated agents to some
public forums of debate and arenas of decision, where they can introduce new issues - or new frames
on old issues89. Actually, these media-activists networks cannot be reduced to mere technical means
for political ends: as cultural intermediaries between different fields of symbolic production, and
between different national spaces, these international brokers benefit from a privileged position
which allow them to code and decode the messages, and eventually to speak as informal
spokespersons for dominated groups with which they rarely share the life conditions, or become
professional entrepreneurs of the alternative media cause 90.
Many research on alternative media in the last 20 years, especially on digital media, are sharing with
the activists they study the myth of a de-territorialized global movement. This alternative-mediawithout-borders story, developed for instance by the Indymedia Network, prevented from taking
seriously into account the spatial constraints that media-activists have to face. A few studies
introduce this question, for example on the alternative local press 91, on national network of
community radio92, and some on the scales of activism especially webactivism - in transnational
protests and counter-forum93. Recent studies on the relationships between online and offline protest
reintroduce the spatial variable in the analysis, in a context of multiplication of movements which

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repertoire of contention is centered on the occupation of public spaces in big cities (Occupy Wall
Street in New York, protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, the Indignados in Madrid and Barcelona, Nuit
Debout in Paris, etc.)94. But the tension between international and autochthonous capital of mediaactivists has been ignored. This is the contribution this paper aimed to bring to the attention of
specialists of social movement media, the sociology of transnational activism and, more widely, the
sociology of international relationships.


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