• May 2007
    M T W T F S S


UPDATE: Community Media South West have published a new report:


An Enquiry into how companies in the Community Media Sector recruit and
retain skilled freelancersPublished by – CMSW / Blueboard – Jan 2007

Research by Ella Bissett Johnson

Edited by Shawn Sobers, and Steve Gear


This report is a timely and original development in the analysis of social interest creative practice. It takes the debate much further than merely exploring the merits of such projects, and directly provides an analysis of the economic and skills base for this area of work – the area of community media activity within the creative industries.

According to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the creative industries are now one of the fastest growing sectors in the British economy, and socially aware creative practice is now gaining a stronger profile and being taken seriously by a wide range of cultural agencies. We feel this report provides an important step in recognising not only the economic realities of these community minded organisations via case studies of the companies themselves and the freelancers they employ, but also charts the average skills contained in this community media/arts field of work, and highlights its future sustainability.

This report has been designed to be not only illuminating, but also be useful. It will be of interest to stakeholders of community based media & arts activity, including project facilitators, managers, funders and policy makers, and also for areas such as careers advice and academic fields such as media studies and social policy. Hopefully this report will provide a platform from which to make informed decisions with confidence, from which the sub-sector of community based media education activity can strategically grow and flourish.

To order from Amazon click here.To download full report as a pdf file click here.

Research funded by ABI Associates, University of the West of England and South West Screen

Supported by Calling the Shots and Firstborn Creatives

WiFi Radiation investigation – Response to Panorama, BBC1, 21st May 2007

Summary of programme: WiFi is bad for you. The radiation may give you cancer and is on par with mobile phone masts, but potentially more harmful due to plans to have WiFi in every school in the UK. Children’s skulls are softer and thus are more prone to serious harm. The government are ignoring research from WHO which suggests harm and are pressing ahead regardless.

– —
The War on drugs. War on junk food. Smoking bans. Binge drinking awareness campaigns. It seems whatever is bad for us that we choose to consume in our own bodies is being outlawed or stigmatised by government. But advances in technology that MAY also be bad for us, but are external to our bodies and that we have no control over, are being embraced, if not enforced by government.

We are discouraged to consciously consume harmful substances, but are being forced to unconsciously be exposed to potentially harmful radiation. There’s some tricky ethics at play there.

I use WiFi when I’m in the city centre, but I know for sure that the only reason I don’t have it in my house is because I was never comfortable about the levels of radiation. I didn’t ever know what the levels would be, but I knew I wasn’t comfortable with whatever they were. Of course I use a mobile, etc so am a hypocrite – but in this day and age all a city person living in the West could be described as someone just trying to juggle their lives as best they can considering the environment and fair trade and healthy eating and equality issues and work/life balance and ethical banking and free-range and all the other small print in modern living. We are all hypocrites, and it would be a hypocrite who says any different. It’s not really about our individual carbon footprints, as that is too selective. It really about our Footprint in totality, but that is too unwieldy and unpalatable to comprehend.

We love new technology because it is convenient and makes things faster. For example: MP3 players are popular because you can store your whole record collection on them and each new version of player allows you to access each track slightly easier/quicker than the previous model. Mobile phones, computers, digibox, HDTV, the list goes on. Once we’ve got them it’s damn difficult to give them up. So if mobile phones prove to be harmful. And WiFi, and bluetooth and Sky dishes and god knows what else is pumped across our airwaves. Who will be the ones to unplug, switch off and consign these “bright idea but harmful” gadgets into the locked drawers? And who will be the ones to continue using, in the same way that many still smoke, knowing it is bad for their health and others, but they like it and in it’s own way keeps them sane. If I didn’t have my mobile phone and email and the Internet I too would go slightly potty I’m sure.

Hypocrites the lot of us but what can we do?

1) Accept things as they are without questioning.

2) Embrace things (technology). All this talk is just scare mongering.

3) Pretend we’ve never heard anything and carry on regardless.

4) Move to the countryside and live like the Good Life.

5) Pray.

6) All of the above.

I don’t know where this article is going just in the same way I don’t know where I’m going.

Actually that’s a lie. No matter how much I love the Internet and other modern trappings, I now need to turn them all off and go to bed. When all said and done we are nothing but flesh and bone and are not invincible. We would do well to remember that.

See> Schools want urgent wi-fi advice

See comments and opposing opinions at Debate on Possible Health Risk from Wireless

If you missed the programme you can watch again here

Radio Salaam Shalom – Muslims and Jews talking together

Just giving a heads up to all at Bristol based internet radio station Salaam Shalom.


One of the dj and member of the steering group Adnan Ahmed was an original member of Channel Zero and I also taught him at the university. (He also sold me this broadband connection, but that’s another story!)

I interviewed Adnan for my PhD, and I’m more than proud to see what he’s doing now.

Big Up Big Ad!


Coming to a desktop near you……?

Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

Fpr your info, these are a list of guilty countries that filter (aka censor) the internet.

To read the full article click here.

Media Literacy and the Power of Institutions

10 days ago I went to the Houses of Parliament with my comrades Emma Agusita and Cathy Poole, for a seminar discussing Media Literacy, hosted Danny Alexander MP and the Associate Parliamentary Media Literacy Group. After introductions by Danny, Ian Hargreaves (Dir of Ofcom & Researcher at Cardiff Uni), and Peter Packer (Strategy Adviser to UK Film Council and UK Media Literacy Task Force), there followed presentations from young people involved in news production media projects with the BBC (School Report) and Channel 4 (Breaking the News).


The Houses of Parliament, yesterday.

Both projects and presentations were impressive, and demonstrated to the audience the great things that can happen when professional practitioners work with young people, and visa versa.

BBC’s ‘School Report’ involved 11-14 year olds from 120 schools to produce video reports about stories from their local areas and issues that effect their worldviews. This project was linked with Hackney’s City Learning Centre and Vivi Lachs, (who I first came across in 2002 at a FutureLab conference at the Watershed in Bristol named ‘Contagious Creativity’. I was immediately inspired by her back then and was pleased to see her still on the front line of media literacy education). The children talked about the video reports they produced, which ranged from Muslim children discussing their responses to feeling ‘British’, a report on the ‘true picture of Hackney’ (in response to a C4 programme naming the area the worst place to live), and the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They also interviewed Tony Blair and had 2 days support time with BBC journalists. Helen Shreeve from BBC said their aim was for this experience to be had by EVERY 11-14 year old at least once in every school across the country.

Channel 4’s ‘Breaking the News’, as described by it’s co-ordinator Adam Gee, involved 14-16 year olds from schools and community organisations to attend C4 news briefings to get a true behind-the-scenes insight, and they came up with alternative ways of producing news stories. They also set up parallel news rooms in various schools and set up an online editor which allowed the young people to edit stories in their own way. One of the big impacts of this project was the way it made the C4 producers such as Martin Fewell, (deputy editor of Channel 4 News) think differently about their audiences, and take them out of the comfort zone of always reporting certain stories in a certain way. (Time will tell as to how this will change on screen.)

In the Q&A session with the young people, the most common responses to the question, “what impact have these projects had on you?” were;

1) Self-confidence
2) Wanting to be a journalist
3) Ability to have own voice heard

Both BBC and C4 are rolling out their projects to be taken up by schools and other groups across the country, or actually anywhere in the world as the resources are web based.

There is no doubt that these were fantastic projects, though watching the presentations I had a strange sense of de ja vu, as they (especially BBC’s School Report) was identical to our (Firstborn Creatives’) 2003 – present project Channel Zer0. (Or to see the website for Channel Zer0 in text only version rather than Flash, click here) What I saw in these presentations in Parliament was Channel Zer0 again, though on a much grander and gigantic scale. Please know that with these comments I’m not being a jealous playa hata as I’m applauding them on their achievements. It was slightly strange for me though as I saw before me how an institution such as the BBC could (seemingly) effortlessly mobilise in 4 months a project that we have been trying to really galvanise over 4 years. Same with the Channel 4 project which was also quite similar.

channel zer0

And here in lies the opportunity for a more sustainable future for both BBC’s and Channel 4’s projects, that I fear hasn’t really been grasped as yet.

Both are relying on teachers, youth workers, etc, to visit & download their online resources and replicate the projects year after year. The BBC talked about this years schools becoming mentors for the news schools. Whilst knowing the BBC I’m sure they could make this happen, but really teachers are far too busy and already swamped by initiatives for a huge number of them to take it upon themselves to deliver an online media literacy project.

Here BBC & C4 are missing the opportunity to commission community media companies across the country to take these initiatives forward in the subsequent years after this initial pilot. Helen Shreeve quite rightly said they wouldn’t be able to give the same access tob BBC journalists, etc as they did this year, but contracting smaller media companies to take this work forward would allow access to media expertise. Here it might sound like I’m touting for work for Firstborn Creatives, which I very well might be, but much bigger than that is the unique opportunity for the big institutions such as BBC & C4 work strategically with the smaller community media companies to deliver an annual project that would have national impact, and a model globally on what is achievable in the name of media literacy.

To be fair both Adam and Helen did suggest they could link with community video outfits, but the emphasis and resources definitely were steering in the direction of their online resources. For starters, they are A LOT cheaper than getting funding to commission a load of community media organisations. Finance is obviously a huge issue here. But so is the opportunity. I’ll work my hardest to at least getting it discussed at a deeper, logistical level.

Watch this space.

Black Audio Film Collective

Handsworth Songs, 1986, 16mm film Directed by: John Akomfrah

Last week I went with a group of young people from the Channel Zer0 media club and their facilitator Gary, to see the Black Audio Film Collective exhibition at Arnolfini gallery in Bristol. For me it is an important exhibition as Black Audio are part of the reason why I do what I (try and) do, which is makes films (particularly exploring Afrikan [Black] British stories) and support others to make work for themselves. I was already at film school (Newport) the first time I came across them, in the mid 90’s, but they definitely inspired me with confidence in two vital areas of filmmaking; 1) Be bold & inventive with your creative approach, and 2) Don’t hold back on what you want to say. ‘Handsworth Songs’ and ‘7 Songs for Malcolm [X]’ are an education in pushing the envelope in documentary production for anyone. Style and content / content and style. Hand in hand. Essential viewing. Those films restored my faith in not only endevour of making media, but also in the importance of getting hidden voices heard.

Another reason I hold Black Audio high up on my list of influences is because it was out of the film collective/workshop tradition, that also included London’s Sankofa Films, that inspired Black Pyramid Film & Video Project in Bristol; the only black production company in South West England. When I left Newport it was Black Pyramid that I began working for, and out of that came my longstanding working relationship with Rob Mitchell. We set up Firstborn Creatives 7 years ago and still going strong.

Anyway….that’s enough about me, what about the young people’s reaction to ‘Handsworth Songs’ and ‘7 Songs for Malcolm’?

“Boring…not as good as Spiderman…”

“All this history is draining me….”

These are two comments I heard. That’s not really fair as there were many (correction: many-ish) positive comments as well, but these two comments cut me deep and broke my heart, as these were mostly black young people not realising how important these works are to African British culture and what this movement represented – the first time en masse Black people had made media for themselves in this country. I had to bite my tongue and diplomatically encourage a conversation about their feelings whilst trying not to dictate or preach. I think I got away with it, but it wasn’t easy.

As Rob said knowingly when I told him about it, “Why should they know how important it is?”

And it’s true. What’s important for me doesn’t have to be for them, no matter what cultural background they are, but….

…and there is a but here…..

…for young members of a media club surely they SHOULD have an appreciation of such things, even if it wasn’t to their taste. I don’t like ‘Birth of a Nation’ and am not fond of its director DW Griffith due to him being a supporter of the KKK, but I still recognise the important impact he had on the development of filmmaking.

That’s one of the things with community media education projects. It’s informal. No one can be preached to and everyone’s opinion is valid, within reason of course. Opinion can be challenged, but I am not their preacher and they are not my flock. I guess the main thing is that they were exposed to that work. They now know it exists. They had access. Whether they choose to access it or not, whether they choose to try and understand it or not, and whether they choose to create their own works or not is entirely up to them. They are their own people and have the right to choose, but as facilitators the least we could do was make them aware in the first instance. The rest is their choice. That is one of the challenging things about democracy. We may not always agree with others’ choices, but have to respect them.

With hindsight I would do exactly the same again and continue to bite my tongue and try to be diplomatic. I’ve had my time and now this is theirs. I remember the first day at film school our enthusiastic lecturers took us to watch David Lynch’s EraserHead. I thought it was awful and had (and continue to have) no real idea what it is all about. That was 14 years ago. Last year I bought it on DVD for £5. I haven’t watched it since, but it’s still there.

Mainstream media underestimates African-British resistance

It seems the mainstream media completely underestimated the impact and importance of Toyin Agbetu’s actions on 27th March 2007 when he confroted The Queen and Tony Blair at Westminster Abbey. None of them were there to document the events of him answering bail. The only media there were a few of us with cameras. TRUE COMMUNITY MEDIA in ACTION. Mainstream media were unable to twist this spontaneous event with mis-representation. Hundreds of Black/African people were out in force, and IT WAS PEACEFUL!!! That’s not sexy telly news. But it is the truth. How ironic….

If this video doesn’t work (it has been playing up!!) then click this link to take you to Google video direct. http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=-2393402568525944108&hl=en-GB

With a few exceptions, Toyin’s protest in Westminster Abbey has largely been reported as the actions of a lone mad man, but THIS VIDEO shows the support that he has amongst fellow Africanists. Toyin is greeted as a hero by a growing crowd. The nature of the support takes the police by surprise who make an eventual and futile attempt to put down crowd control barriers.

Agbetu shares his views with his supporters before heading into the police station. A number of voices are heard from the supporters before Toyin returns to update them on the charges, or lack of them.

A month after his action on 27th March, it seems the BBC has still not sent the un-televised footage to the police. This would help the Met and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to determine his exact ‘crime’ and make charges. Unable to do this the law enforcers have to send him away until 30th May 2007, 1pm. Charing Cross.

On the steps of the police station Toyin responds to a now sizeable crowd that believes he has no case to answer. Agbetu comments on the games being played by the CPS with the arrest and charging situation, and then on the bigger picture involving pressure on African, and in particular Jamaican, young people in Britain. He urges his supporters to support their young people by instituting rites-of-passage as a necessary part of their growing up and self-discovery.

(Text written by Rob Mitchell)