How To Organize a Demonstration

Depending on how well it is organized, how many people participate in it, how convincing its message is and how much coverage other media outlets devote to it, a demonstration can be an effective tool of media activism.

When and where to demonstrate
Make sure you have a convincing case of media bias– unfounded accusations serve only to delegitimize your cause as well as future attempts at media reform. Also ensure that all other avenues have been exhausted, i.e. phone calls, letters and meetings have not worked. The best place to demonstrate is in front of the media outlet itself. Choose a time that makes it convenient for as many activists as possible to attend, and when most employees at the media outlet can observe the demonstration (e.g. early morning, lunch time, late afternoon).

Try to allow at least a week to publicize your demonstration. Advertise through flyers, local community forums, newspapers and radio stations, and other activist groups and newsletters. (Community radio stations like the Pacifica affiliates will often announce demonstrations.) Include a name and number for information about last-minute changes.

Placards and signs
Distill the gist of your case and recommendations into a few pithy phrases and slogans. Most passersby do not have the time or inclination to chat with demonstrators, so it is important that your placards catch their attention and convey the message. Once you have their attention, they are more likely to take your fact sheets and other information.

Press packets and information sheets
Make sure you call the press well in advance, so that your demonstration gets reported. Prepare a detailed documentation of your case (e.g. photocopies of articles, letters to the editor, and the editor’s replies), along with some recommendations (e.g. an apology from the editor or director, an expanded and more diverse panel of experts). Also include a one-page cover sheet which briefly summarizes the main points of your case. Remember: Don’t burden the press with excessive information, but make sure your allegations are backed up with sound evidence. Give copies of the one-page cover sheet to passersby as well.

Slogans and chanting
To draw attention to your demonstration, you may want to chant catchy slogans. Try not to sound belligerent—think about the impression you are making on the targets of your demo and on passersby. Make your point in mainstream language that gives the greatest number of people the opportunity to agree with you. You want to show that you are the reasonable and principled side. Keep in mind that you are not calling for media censorship, but constructive reform.

Other details
You should brief one or two of your more articulate activists to be spokespersons to the media when they seek interviews. Be clear on what your main message is and make sure everyone who is interviewed stresses it. If you have planned a sufficiently large demonstration, you might want to include a few speakers too, so you may have to plan for a public address system, a podium, more information packets, a facilitator to conduct the event, etc.

How to Promote Programs onto TV

Gather information about your local TV stations. Find out which are commercial and which are public broadcasting (PBS) channels, and which have programming styles more amenable to suggestions from the public. Decide which program(s) you want to air, on which channels and when.

PBS stations
Approach the station staff members in charge of programming. Explain why you feel the program needs to be aired. Explain your position in terms of program content, awards, cast, publicity, etc. Bring along local representatives or well-known figures in your meetings with TV staff.

If they agree to air the program, try to get a written commitment. Leave nothing to chance– make sure they can contact your group easily and quickly, and remember to monitor the situation regularly. If they are resistant, find out if they have aired a program with the opposite slant on the issue, and discuss the benefits of airing the program in terms of PBS’s mandate to provide balance and diversity of views.

If they say no, you can demonstrate community support for the program by organizing letter-writing and phone campaigns, demonstrations or educational pickets. To increase publicity, contact sympathetic TV writers for your local daily or weekly. You might also launch a public education effort to point out the conservative talkshow line-up on PBS and the need to offset it with programs that include progressive and public interest voices.

Be persistent
In San Francisco, a coalition of groups including Paper Tiger TV attempted to get the Gulf Crisis TV Project aired during the Gulf War. It took weeks of phone calls and meetings before it was accepted by a local PBS affiliate.

Besides cable access and PBS stations, committed and resourceful activists sometimes have luck airing their programs on independent commercial and cable local origination channels. For an in-depth guide, contact: The Video Project, 5332 College Ave., Suite 101, Oakland, CA 94618 415-655-9050 and ask for “How to Get Environmental and Peace Films on Local TV.”

How to Get a Video on Cable Access

Airing a program on your local cable public access channel is one of the easiest ways to promote alternative programming in your community. Whether you air a video by a nonprofit organization or produce your own show, the unique aspect of the cable access medium is that you control the program content.

Why use cable access?
Public access stations make airtime available to the public for free. By having your local station air a program, you educate your community, build support for your cause and help spur people to action.

People watch cable
According to surveys, about 60 percent of the average community is reachable by cable. A survey by the National Clearinghouse for Community Cable Viewership found that 50 percent of cable subscribers had watched a program on a community access channel in the previous two weeks. And cable access viewers are more politically active: One survey found that 80 percent of access viewers had voted in a recent election, and were more likely to be involved in community issues and to volunteer time or money to causes they care about.

To find your local access channels, call your cable company. Not all cable systems allow public access; in fact, as cable monopolies become entrenched, they are increasingly trying to replace access channels with more profitable programming.

You must be a resident of the station’s service area to air a program. You can create your own programming or air a pre-produced video, many of which are available from alternative TV organizations. (Paper Tiger Television, for instance, has an entire library of programs that activists can air on cable access. You can contact them at 212-420-9045, or write to 339 Lafayette St. NY, NY 10012. Free Speech TV provides weekly progressive programming for cable access channels: Call 303-442-5693, or write P.O. Box 6060, Boulder, CO 80306.)

To air a pre-produced video, simply call your local public access channel and ask for program submission forms and guidelines on programs from outside sources. Contact the program director, access coordinator or station manager. Explain why the program is important and how it is of interest to the community. Outline your plans for publicizing the telecast, because the people who manage access channels are probably interested in the possibility of increased viewership.

To show a video produced by a non-profit organization, you need consent from the producers;
make sure you have this approval, as well as a copy of the tape, well before the program is scheduled to be aired. The station may want to re-telecast the program on affiliated stations, so ask for permission for this as well.

Check the technical requirements of the station. Do they require 1/2 inch or 3/4 inch VHS? Note deadlines and what type of messages are prohibited. For instance, most channels will not allow programs to include any kind of fundraising pitch or message that could be construed as a commercial. Usually a program can include the name, address and phone number of the organization which produced the video or of a local contact. Some organizations even offer free organizing kits, prizes or other such gimmicks to increase their response rate. Producers can often add such a message at the end or cut out a fundraising pitch if they need to.

Publicize the program
List the program in mainstream and alternative newspapers, local TV or cable guides, and the cable bulletin board. See if you can get on a local radio show to discuss the program or call in to a local talkshow on a related issue. If you have access to a mailing list of people interested in the issue, send a postcard describing the program, mentioning the air date and time and encouraging viewers to call the station after the show to voice their appreciation. Remember: Begin weeks before the actual airing of the program, because TV guides and media outlets have their own deadlines to deal with.

Build participation
Arranging for group viewings of the program in people’s homes or a community hall can demonstrate community interest to the station, build support for your local group and spur people to action.

Monitor the telecast
Make sure there are no problems. Have the station number handy and call immediately if something goes wrong. Make sure someone is at the contact number the night the program airs to answer questions from viewers, cultivate their interest and recruit some of them to your cause.

Get viewers to respond positively as soon as the program is aired. TV stations like to know they have made a good decision.

If you are interested in producing your own program: Again, call the cable company and ask for their guidelines. Often public access channels will allow you to use their equipment or facilities to produce a program– though you may have to take a low-cost production class first.

Target your audience
Identify your target audience and keep them in mind when asking for a timeslot, naming and promoting your program. Build your viewership by involving the community in producing, airing or appearing as guests on the program. Develop a local angle or hook the program to a highly visible news event. If your program goes over well and you are part of a local group, you might want to explore the possibility of producing an ongoing series.

Many cable television systems have a community bulletin board or text channel that you can use to announce upcoming events, projects, organizational needs, etc. Simply call the access coordinator and ask for the form to post a message. Then mail or drop off the form. Ask how many times the message will run per hour-obviously, the more the better.

For a more complete guide to strategic uses of cable access, including case studies, how to produce your own program or weekly series, etc., see “Cable Access: Community Channels and Productions for Non-Profits,” from the Benton Foundation, 1720 Rhode Island Ave. NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20036, or call 202-857-7829.

Note: Cable companies receive franchises from local government. In return, they often have to provide access channels. Companies are fighting to revoke their access requirements. Let your legislators know you want them to ensure that cable companies continue to provide public access channels.


How to Hold a Video House Party

A good way to educate your community while raising money for FAIR or your local media activist group is to organize house parties or community showings of relevant programs. These can be either video screenings or group viewings of a program that people in the community have gotten aired on the cable access channel.

House parties can get more local people involved in getting public interest and progressive programming aired in your community, committed to participating in specific campaigns or activated on a particular issue.

Have everyone sign a sign-up sheet as they arrive. Serve refreshments, and let people chat. After the film, allow time for people to voice their reactions to the film and discuss what to do about the issues. Group discussions serve to move people to action as well as make the evening more interesting and fun.

Pass out pens, paper and envelopes. If you have watched a program airing on cable access or PBS, ask people to write the channels to voice their appreciation of the program. Depending on the issue, you might have them write their legislators, a television network or a specific program. Collect the letters and mail them yourself. Make a pitch for funding your group and pass the hat.

You have involved members of the community both in the process of supporting independent media as well as taking action on a specific media issue. Congratulations!

How to Organize a Speaking Event

A FAIR speaking event is a good way of initiating media activism in your community. It helps spread awareness, raise funds, create publicity and build grassroots media activism campaigns.

Choice of Topic and Speaker
FAIR provides experts for lectures and workshops on a wide variety of media topics (see partial listing of topics below). Local universities will often sponsor FAIR speakers. (You might try student activities committees, or journalism, sociology or political science departments.) With the college covering the honorarium and travel costs, FAIR speakers can then do separate events to benefit your local group. Universities usually schedule speakers well in advance, so plan the event early.

If campus money is not available, charging admission or making a fundraising pitch at the end can often cover your costs. Speakers are available on a sliding scale, plus travel costs. Contact Steve Rendall at FAIR for pricing and scheduling information.

Size of Audience
Roughly estimate how many people you expect to attend the event. Are you interested in a diverse audience, or do you want to target a specific constituency (e.g., environmentalists, women)? It is often difficult to predict the turnout precisely, so choose a venue that will allow for a larger or smaller audience.

Choice of Location and Timing
The larger the size of your expected audience, the more difficult it is to book a venue. So plan well in advance to ensure that the space is available when you need it. Pick a location that is easily accessible. Try to not have your event clash with other progressive/educational events in the area. Choose a day and time that is convenient for people to attend.

Publicize your event well in advance. Allow at least two to three weeks of publicity. Place notices in local dailies or weeklies. Submit PSA’s to community radio stations, list your event in the calendars of progressive publications and mail or post flyers. Call and confirm that your materials were received. Include a name and number where people can reach you for more information.

Other Arrangements
You also need to coordinate local press to cover the event, someone to M.C. the event, and, on occasion, modest accommodations for the speaker.