The Free Media Camp – Picturing Protest
Treitlstraße is a small road marginal to Karlsplatz, a Viennese square and at the same time a symbolic venue for the neglected promise of contemporary cultural diversity in Vienna. In 2003, on Friday, August 29, 20.00 p.m. the "tribunal of the free media" took place at Treitlstraße 4 in Vienna. Treitlstraße 4, a new postal address, had been created by five Viennese institutions.
The "tribunal of the free media" was part of the Free Media Camp program. Actor Hubsi Kramar and three by that time members of the t0 Public Netbase staff gathered as chairman, prosecuted counsel, assigned counsel and expert third-party to judge four politicians and administrators responsible for the media policies the Camp was protesting against. The hour that followed was funny, it was awkward, it was a different way to express all the reproaches the Free Media Camp was standing for. It was a performance, utterly symbolic. But from all the symbolic components the Camp provided during its existence in summer 2003 the tribunal was maybe one of the most effective. Whereas for example the symbolic act of disobedience of the campers that consisted primarily in the occupation of waste land next to the Kunsthalle Wien – project space was foiled with the Kunsthalle affiliating the Camp by listing it on the own website as a crossover project, the tribunal hurt: Christoph Chorherr, by that time Party Whip of the Green faction in Vienna and considering himself as well as his party as one of the proponents of free media in Vienna, felt personally offended finding himself being in the dock. Wasn't he one of the good guys?
CREATING A SPACE FOR CLAIMS
The Free Media Camp existed between June 27, and October 23, in the year 2003. MALMOE (an independent magazine), t0 Public Netbase, IG Kultur Wien (an umbrella organisation of Viennese cultural institutions), Radio Orange 94.0 (independent Viennese radio station) and PUBLIC VOICE Lab (at that time a Vienna based provider) were the carrier organisations for a platform of independent culture and media practice, many other institutions and protagonists of the Viennese cultural community and civil society joined and contributed to the program as well as to the idea of the Free Media Camp transforming the venue into a temporary setting for communication and critique.
Three containers, on top the media installation "MIR" by Andreas Braito, a military tent, skull and cross bones announced the land seizure. As well as visitors sitting in garden chairs, listening to discussions or sounds, eating, dancing, talking.
It was a mixture of campaigning, media tactics, discursive lines and party feeling. Though the issues that were raised covered topics being part of a critical cultural urban discourse in general the central focus was on media politics. In round table discussions (in as much as you can speak of a round table within the wasteland), interviews made public, but also symbolic components as a video of some the proponents claiming responsibility and last but not least the "tribunal" mentioned at the beginning politicians and administrators responsible for media politics were addressed. All these activities were made public on the Camp's website: The public should become aware of the fact that the basic conditions for free media – especially self-determination and independence – were under serious threat. And the politicians should become aware that the public was becoming aware.
Five demands were addressed to local and national politics. The aim was that they should build kind of a backbone for a broader Free Media Camp protest idea:
- The political independence and self-organization of free media must be guaranteed!
- Politics must ensure the basis of infrastructure and elementary work!
- Free media must be safeguarded through the creation of appropriate federal and regional media laws.
- A separate aid program for the financing of participative media work must be established!
- The potential of the third media sector must be integrated in media political decision-making processes!
In 2003, after almost three years of right-wing government, critical cultural projects and the independent media (in fact every project that was not intending to happily join the crowd of cultural entrepreneurs defined as state-of-the-art by the neoliberal cultural politics) suffered from lack of money and lack of political vision about the importance of a heterogeneous and independent cultural sector.
In Vienna, the leading SPÖ together with the Green Party had adopted a 23 topics programme after the local elections in 2001. The chapter "Culture and Media" was headed by a commitment to the promotion of "free media – radio, television and internet" and of "institutions and projects in the field of net culture". Two years later it turned out that nothing more than lip service had been paid. The planned non-commercial community television channel or the plan of ensuring the survival of radio station Orange 94.0? – Complete transmitter breakdown. The negotiations about a community television channel were stagnating after one year, in the case of the radio station the situation was desolate. It was obvious that a promised back-up was not for free but should be linked to the achievement of benchmarks as well as to certain dramatis personae to be chosen by the responsible politicians.
GIVING CRITICAL CULTURE A FACE - FREE MEDIA CAMP METHODS
The Free Media Camp was a localisation of protest: The occupation of a small piece of land, the symbolic act of civil disobedience, the containers as contemporary urban nomad tents, evoking movement and manoeuvrability, music meeting discourse in the so called "sound-politisierung" (political grounding by sound), discourse meeting music at a place where the public space was transformed into a function room: The Free Media Camp tried to refine protest formats that rose in and after February 2000, when thousands marched up against the new right-wing coalition. It tried to regain the idea of a politically aware, creative, expressive multitude, working with collective authorship, connected and operating in an unpredictable way.
The Free Media Camp was visibility: Programmatic topics were displayed on the Camp's webspace. The website provided videos and sound bites of past events and listed those about to come. With graphic design, location design, succinctly worded slogans and its revolutionary attitude the Free Media Camp tried to create a brand that would maybe also work in the future, at other places and within different circumstances: The critical culture movement is fast, mobile, inventive, solidly united, that was the message.
The Free Media Camp was a get-together: Almost 100 events took place at the Free Media Camp, hosted by the carrier organisations as well as dozens of other institutions or theorists, artists, DJs etc. Though being conformed to the neoliberal logic by having to "create" events and attracting as many visitors as possible, the idea was too attractive to be dropped: A bunch of people reclaiming public space and gathering, visibly for those not within the crowd, in order to change the system (or at least criticise it). The site next to Kunsthalle Karlsplatz - project space was not only exposed to the public (one of the arterial roads crossing Karlsplatz was next to it) but allowed contextualising the Free Media Camp within the field of art in public space, understood as experimental set-up dealing with society and politics.
The Free Media Camp was vigorous: Part of the Camp's strategy was a vigorous policy towards the politicians related with Media agendas. The aim was to get binding statements regarding Viennese media projects.
THE MULTITUDE AND ITS NEEDS
Apart from the five demands it was a variety of concerns that moved and filled the Free Media Camp. And along with these concerns went the desire for many different forms of organisation, some of them being mutually exclusive. Some participants who saw the Camp as a venue for the civil society found themselves in a setting not open enough. They felt a lack of continuity regarding discourse fields apart from media politics. Shy ones presumed sectarianism, cautious ones monopolization, overcautious ones started to mull over an actionism led by t0 Public Netbase and the institution's strategically led focus on Karlsplatz. Others found too little effectiveness, not enough of rebellion, out of different reasons, them being either a lack of unpredictability or a lack of occupancy gesture.
"WHAT BECAME OF…?" / THE SUSTAINABILITY-ISSUE
Indeed it took months until the three containers triggered off a reaction by the executive authorities: The eviction of the Free Media Camp was being prepared. The Camp's protagonists decided to withdraw.
Seen from the distance it has to be assumed that none of the five demands could be de facto realised (even though the Camp's protagonists had created more conflictual situations in the second half).
The non-commercial television channel is reality, and certainly the process was pushed forward by the Free Media Camp. But in the developing process the authorities would not accept any other steering committee than their own chosen one. The radio station Orange 94.0 still exists, but would not exist, if the radio's steering committee elected in 2003 hadn't been cooperative.
Public Netbase t0, not generally known as very cooperative, had to end up their activities.
The idea of the local politicians to simply give net culture protagonists some money to distribute it among the community ended up in predictable chaos and unconscionability.
Karlsplatz up to now did not become a symbol for anarchic coexistence. On the contrary: An exclusion zone was installed to ban junkies from the surrounding area of a Karlplatz based school. The website of Kunsthalle Wien lists "public space karlsplatz" as one of the institution's venues: "Karlsplatz is being captured by Kunsthalle Wien", the Kunsthalle proudly states.
While the Camp as a pressure group failed or due to the logic of politics had to fail, it worked well as an experiment for an ephemere alliance lumping together what the involved institutions are standing for. The Free Media Camp tried to expose the sustainability of an institution, paired with the manoeuvrability of a demonstration.
Searching the address Treitlstraße, 4 you will still find it on the vitual roadmap hosted by the city of Vienna, annotated with the add on "Kunstpavillon".