Give us a little background on Undercurrents as an organisation.
In London during the protests against the building of the M11 link motorway, Four people met in 1993: Two TV producers and two environmental activists. We all felt disillusioned and frustrated with mainstream news reporting of environmental issues. If they bothered to mention anyone taking action to halt the destruction of the earth it would only be to trivialise or ridicule them. Since we were all using domestic Hi8 video cameras to produce our own short programmes, we began producing an Alternative news video.
The goal would always be to use video as a strategic tool for activism. We are much more interested in what concrete results we achieve than how many docos we can churn out. We don't consider ourselves as filmmakers, we prefer to call our work video activism.
Now we have 2 workshops, in Oxford and Swansea, training people to be video activists. As only one administration person is paid a basic wage for three days, we tend to be very fluid, relying on self-motivated volunteers. Our Camcorder Action Network has 80 dedicated volunteers giving media support
to campaign groups.
Do you have members and how do you protect yourselves against self serving impostors?
Nope, we don't have members and impostors don't last long. This is hard mostly unpaid work and anyone who doesn't believe in social change will move on very quickly.
What is your main activity?
Training activists, reporting events which the mainstream media choose to ignore, challenging how the mainstream media reports issues, archiving video images, screening activist videos, updating and designing our new website.
Are you purely expressing political/social opinions and therefore take a stance on certain issues or are you looking to create an alternative media?
Both. We want to bring about real changes at a grass root level and we don't hide behind the myth of objectivity. We want to create a forum for people to be able to create and distribute and use their own news.
How broad is your focus politically and geographically?
Pollution has no boundaries and neither does Undercurrents.
Do you contract video journalists to cover certain events or are they mostly freelance video activists themselves?
We don't contract anyone - we've never have any money to do so. Anyone who gets involved does so on the strength of their beliefs. Sometimes we succeed in raising money for tapes and travel costs for people.
What risks are the filmmakers exposing themselves to?
If globalisation continues to run its current course then things are going to get riskier and more dangerous for everyone. History has shown that anyone standing up to create change has tended to be ignored, ridiculed and in many cases tortured.
The brutal raid on the Independent Media Centre during the G8 summit in July in a supposedly democratic country such as Italy made that perfectly clear.
How do both you and the filmmakers protect yourselves against legal actions brought against you?
We have been arrested dozens of times but have always been released without charge once news deadlines have passed. For 2 years we have campaigned against this censorship by stealth and are currently bringing court cases to stop the police arresting reporters (alternative and mainstream). We have succeeded in getting the national union of journalists behind our campaign for the right to report with out police intimidation, harassment and or threat of arrest. We have also produced an award winning doco, Breaking News, and wrote dozens of articles to highlight the issue. Our latest news feature about the issue will be Broadcast on Channel 4 at 7.30pm August 31 on ALTWORLD