Freedom News

Mutu Network challenges media moguls

Anarchism is such a good idea. Why hasn’t it caught on? What media can anarchists use to engage greater numbers of people? 

I discovered anarchism later on in life. For around 20 years, I’d been involved in all kinds of social justice activities, from Stop the War marches to Palestinian Solidarity actions, from protesting the G8 to the G20, from No Borders to No Sweat, anti-austerity and anti-fascism. Like many activists, I knew what I opposed but never easily defined what I stood for

Then came Corbynism and the seductive optimism of democratic socialism, a doomed movement that ultimately led so many people, like me, to understand the contradiction of “representative democracy” and the realisation that the state never has – and never can – liberate all of its people from oppression. That is when I became a libertarian socialist or an anarchist. I’m almost embarrassed I did not have this epiphany sooner. If only someone had explained it to me in simple terms! 

Nonetheless, I proceeded to learn more about anarchism – as a world without leaders, states, or borders, a world that opposes hierarchical structures, a world without desperation, crime, police, prisons, or powerful institutions, where people’s needs are met through the principle of mutual aid, alongside community support systems, conflict resolution, restorative and transformative justice, consensus decision-making and direct democracy. While capitalism has brought us corruption, climate crisis, and chaos, anarchism offers us order without power. The word “anarchism” itself derives from the ancient Greek word anarchia, which means “without leader” or “without authority.” Words are the means to meaning – as the protagonist of V For Vendetta tells us – and can be powerful when understood.

I have remained amazed that even more people haven’t caught on to the idea in this time of crises. After all, such principles are essentially based on inclusion and care. Yet, as innocuous as they seem, those of us who promote and participate in them are often demonised by the media and targeted by the state. So incredibly threatened power itself is by such programmes’ immense potential to de-legitimise, undermine, and even replace the state itself. It’s why the rise of fascistic right-wing violence is greatly ignored. It’s why, instead, peaceful campaigners can be called “domestic extremists,” and cute bookstores can be considered “hotbeds for terror plots.” It’s why the free breakfasts the Black Panthers provided were considered a “security threat.”

So instead, in the media, it is anarchism – and not capitalism – that is portrayed as the harbinger of devastation, despite all the evidence to the contrary right before us, all around us. So it isn’t just a lack of articulate, simple messaging from the anarchist movement that is to blame. The more significant obstacle is media ownership and control. From where are we getting our information? What spaces are we relying on and therefore legitimising?

With the development of the World Wide Web, there were, of course, high hopes for unprecedented dissemination of ideas and exchange of information that establishment media might not cover in the pages of newspapers and television news programmes. 

“Don’t hate the media; become the media!” That was a key slogan of the IndyMedia centres many of us recall emerging out of 1999’s WTO protests and the Stop the War movement in the early 2000s. “The web dramatically alters the balance between multinational and activist media,” declared an opening statement of the first IndyMedia centre. “With just a bit of coding and some cheap equipment, we can set up a live, automated website that rivals the corporates.”

Indeed, the IndyMedia project started promisingly, enabling us to report on radical actions in minutes, uploading content freely and easily, including images, which I contributed to the Sheffield site. But without better defined standards or enough editorial oversight, it eventually collapsed under the weight of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitism, having already been weakened by the rise of “Web 2.0”, where activists were suddenly using their own social media profiles and pages to report on developments, with some pursuing their careers that way.

For years, the British media landscape has been increasingly dominated by a concentration of private interests such as the Murdochs’ News UK, the Rothermeres’ Daily Mail Group, and Reach, and perhaps not coincidentally, trust in the press has remained low, with the illusion of public broadcaster the BBC as representing more than merely state-controlled media being shattered as well.

With falling faith in established media and rising internet use, “alternative” media websites emerged in the early 2000s to fill the vacuum in a pattern reminiscent of public-access cable stations in the 1970s and 80s – and, sadly, with similar misinformation as part of the package. Many of these sites capitalised on the anti-war movement and anti-imperialist sentiments in the West at the time, yet often became apologists for the Russian and Syrian states

There have been other “alternatives” too, like Byline Times or Novara Media – usually limited companies with directors, often led by renegade media personalities overseeing teams of ambitious journalists who, in turn, gain exposure on Establishment media such as The Guardian or the BBC. Granted, some are more non-hierarchical, like The Canary, who ousted their management and became a workers’ cooperative. I have even been involved in setting up non-profit media companies over the years, fighting for funding and attempting to develop revenue streams, before I realised the futility of it: They have all existed in silos, all competing against each other for clicks, all ultimately lost in a sandstorm of “alternative” media. While many do have their place – and provide examples of quality journalism – avoiding the commercial aspect altogether (and the clout-chasers that come with it) is useful to developing our guerrilla media on the ground – and from the ground up. 

As anarchists, we frequently cite mutual aid’s importance in overcoming socio-economic barriers. So why is information rarely included in these dialogues? After all, information is the oxygen of social change. 

So, in this spirit of mutual aid, imagine an online space that you could visit daily to not only receive the latest news about actions in your locality but also share information about campaigns or events – without going back to Elon Musk’s Twitter/X or Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook/Meta, with social media in crisis as everything comes full circle and many people return to newsletters and web pages, or the original egalitarian principles of the web reflected by the emergence of the decentralised, non-profit Fediverse servers. 

There is a real opportunity now to develop an interconnected network of websites that people can visit to find out what’s happening in their area and report on actions in the vicinity. Indeed, information as part of mutual aid. 

This is not a new concept. People have engaged in “citizen reporting” for years. The term “freedom of the press” was not initially used to describe the commercial media marketplace at all, but literally, the freedom to publish using a printing press.

Few have symbolised that spirit like Freedom Press itself. Founded in 1886, the anarchist publishing house gave us the UK’s only anarchist national newspaper, a crucial tool in battling against establishment media, and continues to provide quality resources to this day, while other “alternative” news sites have come and gone. Freedom News is an anarchist info centre that citizen reporting across the country could be built around and inspired by.

Just before the Covid-19 pandemic, a report on Freedom News offered insight into the French-language Mutu Network. With mutual aid inspiring its name, Mutu provides an ideal example of an interconnected network of local websites that offer ways for activists to share information about events and campaigns, from striking workers to occupying students and other intersectional working-class struggles – all via a collective interface, with participatory publishing content going through a transparent editorial process before going live on the sites, thus avoiding the fatal errors of the old IndyMedia.

That report became a talking point for many media activists in the UK. Could we replicate the Mutu model here? Could we develop a network of local autonomous media sites for Sheffield, Bristol, Manchester, Norwich, Liverpool, and so forth? If so, how? It was time to reach out to those behind Mutu in mainland Europe.

Some of us held what turned out to be informative and inspirational video meetings with those activists involved with the Mutu Network – one that now consists of around 20 different websites across France, Switzerland, Belgium and Austria. Mutu emphasises French-language sites, but its activists have been enthusiastic about helping sites in other languages develop from their framework before branching off to form their own.

There are no rules and no masters. We will have to work together to figure out how to create something similar to the Mutu Network here in the UK. Some of us are discussing what we’ve called Local Autonomous Media (LoAM) and how we can realise such a radical news network in Britain.

Some have suggested simply connecting a series of WordPress sites; others have recommended the Reddit-like Kbin corner of the Fediverse, with its magazine format. There are many options ahead for making this happen. It is clear that, however it takes shape, the time for anarchist media in the UK is now: a site for every town in the country, all connected, all built around – and perhaps feeding into – the inspiring example of Freedom.

~ Jay Baker

To get involved, email

Image: Liam Huang / CC BY 2.0 Deed / Artificial Neural Network with Chip

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