Media Constructed from Below
The fastest, most accurate, news agency in Venezuela has no profit motive
By Luis Gómez
Part II of Two
April 23, 2003
Read Part I of this Series:
The New Voice of the Venezuelan People
Martín Sanchez, 29, of the Aporrea news agency of Venezuela’s Popular Revolutionary Assembly, says that one of the principle successes of the news agency Aporrea.org is that it has become a vehicle “to offer a political line: Not because we have a specific one. Rather, because the popular movement, through us, gives its lines to other people, and we have become like an amplifier for political resonance.”
And Miguel Hernández, of the same news organization, adds: “We thus have to think differently about media, in who we have as a base of opinion and the interests of the workers and the people.”
“And this has converted Aporrea.org into, well, an instrument of articulation by the popular movement,” affirms Gonzalo Gómez, of the same collective. “We see the questions that are asked throughout the country and the activities of the movement, and we have defined three campaigns from that: To confront the Commercial Media, to confront the offensive of the business owners and lessen the cost to the workers of their pro-coup ‘strike,’ and, for example, events like the war in Iraq. Starting from there, documents began to appear, manifestos, proposals… But also instructions for public action.”
Narco News: And shouldn’t this be the role of a media organization?
Martín Sanchez: It is one concept of a media organization. It’s about not thinking, for example, about a television station that sends the predetermined information it produces to a static and passive viewer, but, rather, a mediation between the State and popular organizations that respond to the needs of the people, and who interact with the media organization.”
Narco News: Is that why you have become the best known alternative media in Venezuela?
Martín Sanchez: That’s not really fair to the other Community Media, in the sense that, say, a Community TV or Radio station do very similar work as what we do… It could be that they do even more than us. What is happening is that we have a media that reaches an international audience. The people of Radio Perola, for example… the region where they broadcast is limited to a certain area. And the other people in Caracas, and in the regions of the country, and in foreign lands, can’t really have access to the quality of content that they produce in Catia TV or TV Petare. The issue with Aporrea is that it is a media with a massive reach, and that is the difference. But in defense of the compañeros of the other alternative and Community Media, it has to be said that their work is just as important. One day there has to be justice and their labor has to be recognized.
Greti Richards: What we do is create a communications platform. Aporrea.org is the expression of thousands of wills. And we hope to expand to a platform in which we have the same technology and resources that those who have appropriated the means of production of commercial information. We want to have the communications platform that wins the media war… that buries its lies and its grand masquerade.
Iván Gil: The fact that every day the people have a synthesis of news and information on Aporrea has had a lot of impact. And if one wants to see the news, that’s where it can be found. They see us as an information synthesizer, as a guide…
Martín Sanchez: Many times I have written a news story at two o’clock in the morning; a story based on the TV news about any thing. And later I go to work, and turn on the radio (the station known as YVK Mundial), and I hear the announcer reader the same words that I wrote six hours prior, before going to bed. It is something that, in truth, drives you crazy… we are already in the Major Leagues. We have to be serious, to think about having people on the payroll, of professionalizing…
Narco News: And speaking of statistics, four million readers in less than ten months? What else?
Martín Sanchez: Well, multiply that by three or four…Because there are many mirror sites in Venezuela that reflect the page on a local level and serve the national audience… That’s why it is difficult to measure.
Narco News: And what comes next? What plans do you have now?
Martín Sanchez: It is basically to give space to all the popular organizations, and to the Community Media, that don’t have resources or the technological ability to be on the Internet. We give them complete access to the technology database, to the publication, to the software that we have so that they can publish their own news in an independent manner, and they can do it without our intervention.
This also serves to free us, a bit, of the job of having to cover every single thing, like the march yesterday against the war in Iraq, that we didn’t have time to cover… and many organizations did cover the event. If these groups had their own site in the Internet, they could immediately upload their photos and texts. The reason why we don’t do a project similar to Indymedia is due to the characteristics of the country… Here, there is a rightwing sabotaging many resources: The upper class has complete access to the Internet and has a fascist attitude of saboteurs… all the government Internet sites have been sabotaged… the President’s homepage was hacked… And, well, if we open a space so that the entire world can publish, they would immediately start posting pornography and all kinds of things.
The idea here is that there is a large number of organizations and Community Media to whom we give our technological capacity, and, look, there is an explosion of freedom of expression on the Internet.
Gonzalo Gómez: In fact, there is a very important organization that was very close to the fight against the April 2002 coup, and that has an internet page that is accessed through Aporrea, and we don’t say it publicly. But, yes, if we can offer this kind of service, we do it. We are also trying to reflect, also, the situation of the workers’ movement, of having a union news agency, of calling for solidarity, promoting the formation and education within the unions of information technology. For example, the unions have computers, web pages, their own domains and email addresses, they have their union correspondents together in a network. This decentralizes, widens, and permits the development of, initiative under its leadership, and we assume the articulating role, of offering basic political orientation… That is our project.
Martín works in the development of the software, the programming, although it has cost him a lot because he has to split his time between this and his job. We can now do what we do thanks to his programming, because we don’t need to be webmasters nor experts in web design: He wrote us a formula, we put the information, and although we are neophytes, and even ignorant about the technology, we can publish.
Narco News: Martín, have you developed the software for the Aporrea pages?
Martín Sanchez: Yes, the page is completely built by scratch, by hand. We use free software with Linux servers, PHP language, and a MySQL database, that is a collaborative, gratis, and non-commercial effort by thousands of people. And, personally, I have collaborated in the past with suggestions for resolving algorhythms in the Linux language. I feel that this is what we have to use, to free ourselves from dependence upon commercial software. That’s why I have developed, from scratch, something called the “content management system,” so that the editors who don’t know html code can simply fill out a form and post news and opinion articles.
Narco News: Having the impact that you have, and the international presence, have you thought about widening your coverage to other languages?
Martín Sanchez: In fact, we have a small section in English, but due to lack of time we can’t update it. But the goal is to make a platform to manage content that will permit coordination of efforts: We have various compañeros who want to contribute as translators, but they send the translated articles by email and I have to put them into the English language section… If these people had direct access to the page in English, that would permit us to make it easy for everyone.
This is a big problem. We have a monster with a thousand heads that is difficult to coordinate… From there, there is a necessity for a second generation platform, of collaboration and coordination, to develop it, so that everyone who wants to participate can do so. They have to be able to post their news, their translations, that it be something they do themselves. We also have volunteers to translate work to French, to English…
Gonzalo Gómez: We have many collaborators in Italy. We receive many collaborations from Brazil. Sometimes we translate them and other times we publish them in Portuguese… I believe that, at least, we will be able to publish in Italian, Portuguese, and English…
On Saturday, April 12, there was a press conference at Miraflores Palace. The event was very different than the one that we reported to you that included Juan Forero of the New York Times: This time, the reporters from Community Media, from Venezuela and other parts of the world, had a dialogue with President Chávez. There, they expressed opinions, criticisms, and proposals, regarding the important work that these media do to strengthen democracy and public participation. It was more like an assembly than a press conference.
Martín Sánchez, “beating” President Chávez, “with goodwill and for the good of the revolutionary process,” during the press conference for the Community Media.
And as a result of these two hours of conversation, the president ordered a meeting between officials of the Communication and Information Ministry and the members of the Community Media to create a document that reflects everything that the Authentic Journalists of Venezuela expressed. That is to say, the construction of a defined policy, from below, that consolidates the popular newsgathering work in Venezuela. The audiotape of the event, made by members of Aporrea, can be heard at:
Thirty-nine minutes into the meeting, Martín Sánchez took the opportunity to address President Chávez. After recounting the brief history of Aporrea, Mártin left all shyness aside:
“I ask you, concretely, and running the risk that, I don’t know, I might become a prisoner, because there were people who told us ‘Don’t shoot at Chávez because this will cause us problems,’ but the matter has to do with… the slogan…”
“Beat on Chavez,” the president answered, laughing, using the verb “aporrear” to mean “beat.”
“Our slogan,” continued Martín Sánchez to the president, “is ‘I will beat you like y’all beat me,’ or, as you say to me, I will say to you. My question is about this World Gathering of Solidarity with the Bolivarian Revolution, happening this week in Caracas. We have conducted many interviews and spoken with many people. We are trying to focus on the people of the neighborhoods and the popular leaders… Now that we have more equipment, a digital camera, and a tape recorder, we are arriving… and the feeling that many people have is that they feel excluded from the events that are being held at the Caracas Hilton.”
“People have told us, ‘Look, we feel we have to hold other events, in other parts of the city, because we feel excluded.’ The people feel that the anniversary April 13th, 2002, was a popular event, from below, and it seems that in these events priority has been given to foreign intellectuals and not to grassroots groups, like the Bolivarian Circles, the popular assemblies, the public networks, who fought the battles last April 12th and 13th… And there were people who I told, ‘There’s a good thing going on at the Hilton.’ They wore clothes of the poor and they said to me, “I do not enter the Hilton!’”
“Thus, my concrete question is: Do you know about this situation and are you thinking about corrective action so that in the future more of the grassroots people, the true actors of this process, will be included so that the truth about their actions will be seen? Because I think there is a consensus that international support is necessary, but an event like this could have been done at any other time and this could have been a popular celebration, like something in which the people from the barrios who made it possible could express their realities and what we are living at present…”
Thanks to the work of many, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela is, today, a true democracy. And Martín was not taken prisoner or kicked out of the Palace. Hugo Chávez applauded the courage of the Authentic Journalist and, for almost twenty minutes, offered his response… He did not deny the errors, and he promised to do better in the events to come.
That’s how it is, kind readers, when you want to know the truth about what happens in Venezuela, and have some fun with it, remember the continuous and reliable job that is done by the members of Aporrea.org. They are a good example of working together with the masses, of Authentic Journalism… They are the voice of the people that continues in a wartime footing to defend their democracy.
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