Chile’s backyard

The changed political climate in Chile since Pinochet’s arrest has given birth to several new critical magazines enlivening the country’s news kiosks, and two new electronic daily newspapers, El Mostrador and Primera Linea, are providing online outlets for alternative voices. Chile’s National Network of Grassroots Video and Community TV also helps to keep these alternative voices alive with an annual film festival that is growing in popularity. Network founder Javier Bertin emphasizes that the strength of grassroots media has always come from its link to social movements.

The roots of the current movement date from the coup in 1973, when the military junta ordered opposition media to cease operation, confiscating their equipment and facilities, and the air force bombed the transmission towers of opposition stations. During the 17 years of military rule that followed, many journalists were killed, ‘disappeared’ or forced into exile as part of what independent video producer Augusto Gongora describes as the military’s ‘vast project to institutionalize forgetting, reinterpret history and erase the collective memory of the people of Chile.’

Blacklisted media professionals channelled their skills into underground information for the democratic opposition movement. Using a single borrowed video camera and recorder, in 1982 underground video group Proceso began ‘to record the popular memory’ of protests against the regime as a way of combating the military’s ‘project based on atomizing, destroying, taking apart and pulverizing the social fabric’. The grassroots video movement showed successful examples of organization and resistance, such as community kitchens pooling scarce food in poor neighbourhoods and illegal strikes by workers.

After the dictatorship ended in 1989 independent video-production groups in the poor urban neighbourhoods continued covering the unmet social needs of the inhabitants. Young people who had grown up viewing the grassroots videos circulated by the democratic movement began to receive training and access to equipment in workshops offered by Proceso. Their videos cover social issues from human rights and the environment to the growing problem of drug addiction among alienated youth, and are screened in public plazas and on street corners.

One such group, Channel 3, began to produce a regular neighbourhood news magazine for La Victoria, the shantytown that had developed from Santiago’s first land seizure by homeless families four decades previously. Channel 3 covered community events from soccer games to the annual celebration of the shantytown’s founding. Group member Evelyn Ojeda says that ‘the people laughed and felt good to see themselves on screen and to see what was happening with the mayor, the problems with the health centre or the schools.’

Video producer Arturo Quezada adds ‘we are proud of La Victoria even if the authorities don’t pay much attention to us. They have forgotten about the poverty here because it’s more important to buy submarines and planes’ and to ‘create the appearance abroad that this is a country with an advanced market economy with big businesses and buildings – although we don’t see those businesses and buildings here. We are Chile’s backyard.’

The link between grassroots media and social movements today is especially clear at the land seizure by homeless families in the Penalolen area of Santiago, where radio station The Voice of the Homeless broadcasts from a tiny rudimentary studio. Enthusiastic groups of school children fill the studio learning how to produce kids’ programmes. As the community organizes to defend itself against efforts to evict them from the land, a new generation of grassroots media activists begins its work.

New Internationalist issue 335 magazine cover This article is from the June 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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