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December 31, 2010


Potential of Alternative Media

college_shiraishisan.jpg Copyright JFS

Lecturer: Hajime Shiraishi, Director of non-profit organization OurPlanet-TV

What are Alternative Media?

I work for a Japanese non-profit alternative media group (webcast station), OurPlanet-TV, which was established in 2001. The definition of "alternative media" is widely interpreted; however, we consider it to be a way of communication in which the people concerned cover the various events happening in a society through transmitting information from an individual or local point of view.

Our mission is to resolve issues common to all people on Earth by sharing information with other people or places through the medium of video images. We distribute videos about topics or people, particularly focusing on the efforts of non-government and non-profit organizations, which are generally missed by the mass media. Many of the content providers are non-professionals, such as students and working people.

Here, I would like to introduce some of the content we recently transmitted. An Ordinary Life was made by a person who has been assisting people with disabilities. She filmed her work place, and the assistance of a woman with cerebral palsy through the eyes of people involved. This film was highly acclaimed, and was shown abroad with English subtitles. Salud! Havana focused on the management of chemical-free vegetable gardens or farmer's markets in Cuba, where organic agriculture in cities is very popular. Other content includes a film of people in Kamagasaki, a flophouse area in Osaka Prefecture, Japan, and the story of a person who had served prison time and experienced assaults while in prison, Nagoya Prison Scandal.

If we look back the activities of Japan's alternative media, small activities gradually started from mid-1990s in various locations in Japan. However, the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 was their significant event.

Nagata Ward in Kobe City, Hyogo Prefecture, one of the worst hit areas of the event, was a multilingual society with many people who had foreign nationalities. Radio FMYY Inc. was established to transmit vital information in multiple languages, and it has since continued as an FM broadcast station in 11 other languages. At the time, it operated part-time on the fringes of traditional broadcasting, due to a lack of necessary information on existing media, but the broadcast station was officially approved by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications in January 1996, one year after the earthquake, and has now operated in the area for 15 years, inspiring the founding of other local media groups nationwide.

As the Act on Promotion of Specified Non-profit Activities was not established at that time, Radio FMYY is a stock company. In 2002, FM79.7MHz Kyoto Sanjyo Radiocafe was established in Kyoto Prefecture as the first non-profit broadcasting station in Japan, inspired by Radio FMYY. They have very unique activities, including a program called Bonze Cafe, as Kyoto is well known for bonze (Buddhist monks), and Nanmin Now! (refugees now), which provides weekly updates on refugees, similarly to a weather forecast. There are now over 10 non-profit broadcasting stations nationwide.

Other non-profit media are gaining popularity, including Musashino Mitaka Citizens Cable TV. With regard to Internet radio activities, there are programs such as Radio Purple, which transmits the voices of domestic abuse victims and members of the LGBT community, and Allneetnippon (all neet nippon), which is broadcasted by the so-called shut-ins and "NEETs" (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training). There is a unique online video community for video media, Union Tube, on which people mainly belong to independent labor unions, including a "freeter (part-time workers)" union and Tokyo Managers' Unions, and they can upload videos focusing on labor issues.

Appropriate to Access to Media

I worked in mass media for about eight years before I started working for OurPlanet-TV. Works in the mass media are very systematic and speedy, and a lot of money is spent. However, from employee's point of view, these organizations are often vertically integrated.

For example, I had to accompany government officials, including the Prime Minister, and record a session of the Diet. When I sent the videotape to the company headquarters using a motorcycle delivery service, my work was parted from me, and I had no idea what the program was going to be about until it was on the air.

Since then, I had a desire to be part of the whole production process, and I got a job at Tokyo Metropolitan Television Broadcasting Corp, which started broadcasting in 1995. At that time, the company was different from traditional TV content producers, but it utilized a method of video journalism in which one person was in charge of creating a program from videotaping to editing and narrating. I thought this was very interesting, and for the first one or two years, I actually selected themes, covered stories, edited them, and then created programs.

However, there was a problem; because the company dealt with documentaries and news, it could not gain sponsors. The programming gradually shifted to TV shopping, cartoons and sports events, and I moved to the digital broadcast promotion office to survey the world media situation. As I believed there was an imminent shift to Internet-based media, I established OurPlanet-TV to transmit videos online.

Although I was not observing the international scene at the time, I recently found out that Japan is quite unique. Many Japanese people consider commercial broadcasting stations and the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, which is Japan's sole public broadcaster and is known as NHK, as the standard for TV; however, in the rest of the world, this actually is not the case.

Since the 1980s in the USA, there have been public access channels, which allow local residents to create and broadcast programs with public access rights, and it has become popular. Pirate radio or "free radio broadcast" has developed in France and Italy, and numerous communities have their own radio stations.

Germany used to have only public broadcasting until the 1980s. However, when they began commercial broadcasting, it was decided that if companies could broadcast, private citizens also had to be able to broadcast; thus, "open channels" on which everyone could participate were established. Two percent of the fees collected for public broadcasting is used for citizens to create programs.

In Asia, South Korea is far ahead in this field. Despite having no free speech for a long time, democratic movements gained momentum, and when the broadcasting law was revised in 2000, public access was institutionalized. The Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea's public broadcaster, similar to NHK in Japan, opened some of its channels to citizens and various programs have been broadcasting, including programs on nature conservation and programs made by individuals with physical disabilities. Amazingly, they also established media centers throughout the country, and this has garnered worldwide attention; however, a new media law came into effect in November 2009, and these centers are currently being scaled back.

Media Centers as Citizen Transmission Bases

Media centers are places where people can borrow equipment or obtain information on how to transmit content, and they are also now increasingly considered important in Japan. OurPlanet-TV established a media center known as Media Cafe in order to provide opportunities to teach people how to make videos or to transmit information.

A media center was used in a relatively large capacity for the G8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit, held in 2008. Various organizations, including OurPlanet-TV, cooperated to establish a media center for citizens, the G8 Media Network, in Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture. This helped to deliver news about the summit from the viewpoints of citizens, as well as non-government and non-profit organizations.

Although mainstream media officials were able to use the large international media center, people who were unable to go there packed into the smaller media center to hold press conferences and live broadcasts across the world, and to transmit information via the Internet.

Using the media center were approximately 200 to 300 people from not only the Sapporo area, but also from Tokyo and other areas, including about 100 of those from other countries in Asia, Africa, North America, and Central and South America. Much news was transmitted from the center, and because there was a lot of access particularly from abroad, the G8 Media Network had more hits than government websites during this period in response to Google searches containing the term "G8 Summit."

Individuals met at the media center, covering each story and broadcast, and enjoyed the communication there. This probably represented the first such experience in Japan. I believe the fact that we enabled such activity in Japan demonstrates that alternative media activities have been taking root in Japan.

Acquiring Media Literacy

The more common alternative media groups become and the more people who transmit information, the greater the diversity of opinions being expressed in society. Among the mainstream media, the news being posted on the top of the page can differ completely depending on the individual organization. As a result, we are only able to learn more about what the companies are currently focused on. Good media literacy is therefore required in order to seek out important stories.

In order to enhance media literacy, I recommend you to rank the information of the day. Considering the information from different media sources, including the Internet and word-of-mouth, as well as newspapers and TV, you should think regularly about the most important information. When you encounter media sources, for example, watching or reading news, you should think about whether the issue should be covered more widely, or whether it should be relegated to off the front page. When you interpret information more critically, you can spot inaccuracies and falsehoods, and will identify a set of values you can respect.

Passing on information received from friends or email newsletters from non-government organizations is also a very significant form of information transmission. If you disseminate the information you feel is important, even if the mass media does not cover it, you begin playing a significant role in the media. Constantly fostering your thoughts of "This is an important topic" is the one of the ways to develop media literacy, and this is the foundation of your role as an information sender. I hope that you all start trying to think this way tomorrow.


Hajime Shiraishi, Director of non-profit organization OurPlanet-TV
After working for a TV production office, Ms. Shiraishi joined a broadcast station in Tokyo, Japan. She engaged in news documentary production as a video journalist and became a freelancer in 2001. She established the Internet-based broadcast station OurPlanet-TV in October 2001, and is currently the Director of the organization. She is also a visiting associate professor at the Institute for the Study of Global Issues at Graduate School of Social Sciences, Hitotsubashi University, and is a lecturer at the Graduate School of Journalism at Waseda University.