The Independent Media Center (IMC), or Indymedia, is an Internet-based network of more than 175 media outlets situated in various cities around the globe; each branch manages its own finances and makes its own editorial decisions. Positioning itself as a counterbalance to the “corporate media’s distortions and unwillingness to cover the [progressive] efforts to free humanity,” IMC professes to offer “radical, accurate, and passionate tellings of the truth.” Toward that end, it serves as an information clearinghouse of commentary, announcements, updates, and live coverage of events of interest to left-wing activists.
With no centralized organizational hierarchy, IMC derives its content entirely from the collective input of hundreds of independent, volunteer, freelance “journalists offering grassroots, non-corporate coverage.” Though IMC’s “open publishing” policy permits anyone with Internet access to post virtually any type of “news” to its online newswire, the Indymedia homepage restricts the content of its center-column feature articles to material selected by a special editorial “collective.” The oversight of this collective ensures that Indymedia represents an invariably leftist, anti-capitalist, anti-America perspective. Further, IMC is a key source of news content for Free Speech TV programming.
IMC was established in 1999 by various independent and alternative media organizations and activists—most notably the longtime left-wing activist/protester Sheri Herndon and Seattle attorney Dan Merkle—who were upset by the mainstream media’s unfavorable coverage of the street rioting that took place during the World Trade Organization (WTO) protests in Seattle that November. Through its website, the Center provided up-to-the-minute reports, photos, and audio and video footage of the mayhem. In turn, the Seattle IMC used the collected footage to produce a series of five documentaries and distributed them to public-access stations throughout the United States.
Four years later, in November 2003, the Austin (Texas) IMC published an article calling on everyone “from anarchists to family farmers” to stage yet another round of “defiant” anti-WTO demonstrations in Miami, so as to “derail” a series of free-trade talks slated to take place there. Advocating “alternatives to corporate globalization,” the article urged readers to remain mindful of the fact that “another world is possible.”
Indymedia frequently blurs the distinction between creating and covering a news story. Individuals claiming “journalistic” status in IMC’s name are often active participants in the very demonstrations about which they report. And while Indymedia’s independent centers “have explicit policies to strongly deter reporters from participating in direct actions while reporting,” IMC states that “[e]ach Indymedia reporter/organizer must make [the distinction between ‘journalist’ and ‘activist’] for him/herself.” In many cases, Indymedia press “credentials” serve as nothing more than entry passes for active protesters to areas otherwise reserved for legitimate media representatives, and are generally available to anyone for a nominal fee. In 2005, an online solicitation for the purchase of an IMC press card stated: “If you use the card and meet resistance, have the authorities involved call our [Indymedia] office … We’ll be more than willing to verify that you are who you say you are.”
Among the more common themes running through IMC’s news and commentary is an extreme animus directed against the United States and Israel. Comparisons of the U.S. to Nazi Germany, links to websites supportive of Palestinian terror, and shrill manifestos against American imperialism are commonplace on Indymedia. Equally common are posts condemning Israel’s “occupation of Palestine”; characterizing Israel’s 1948 creation as a “catastrophe” for the Arab world; equating Zionism with racism and genocide; likening Jews to Nazis; and advocating boycotts of Israeli products.
In a 2002 op-ed, Naomi Klein—herself a harsh critic of Israel—denounced Indymedia for publishing a preponderance of “Jewish conspiracy theories about 9-11 and excerpts from the Protocol of the Elders of Zion.” That same year, the organization Aktion Kinder des Holocaust sued the Swiss edition of Indymedia for publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon depicting modern-day Israelis as the moral equivalents of Nazis who had once terrorized Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. In early May 2003, Google, after receiving numerous complaints about IMC stories that referred to Israelis as “Zionazis,” identified that term as a “degrading, hateful slur” and temporarily stopped including some IMCs in its Google News searches.
Indymedia portrayed Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 2008-09 war against Hamas in Gaza, as a brazen attempt to “destro[y] the elected government” of the region, which was in Hamas’s control. Rather than provide some context for Israel’s military incursion, IMC made no mention of the more-than-5,000 rockets and mortar shells that Hamas and its comrades had launched into southern Israel with impunity between 2005 and 2008. Moreover, Indymedia portrayed the Israeli Defense Forces as ruthless barbarians who deliberately targeted civilians and children in residential areas while waging a “war on democracy.”