Pirate TV: from Italy and Argentina to the US?

Free Radio Berkeley just announced their 2005 workshop schedule, which includes their low-power television session. While this may be the start of a new pirate TV movement in the US, pirate TV has been alive in Italy for several years and was used in Eastern Europe during Soviet times.

Demand Media directed me to a new short documentary on the Italian Telestreet movement. This video, which you can download at archive.org, takes you on a tour of an actual pirate TV studio.

Another longer documentary, called Ethereal Shadow Archipelago, can be watched at freespeech.org. This video puts the pirate TV into the larger context of Italian media consolidation, which is more severe and disturbing than even the US context, given that Prime Minister Berlusconi is also the nation’s biggest media baron. It would be as if Fox owner Rupert Murdoch were the US president.

It’s interesting that contemporary pirate TV seems to have taken root in Italy before the US. Tetsuo Kogawa, the father of mini-FM radio in Japan, which is the inspiration for micropower broadcasting in the US, found his own inspiration with the micro-radio stations used by the Italian Autonomia movement in the 1970s.

The piqueteros movement in Argentina has also been utilizing pirate TV, as seen in the documentary TV Piquetera.

As I mentioned before, the spread of pirate TV in the US may be limited by the dwindling number of people relying on over-the-air broadcast TV, although that population is arguably poorer and more in need of radical information.

Still, I think it’s worth trying. And perhaps something can be learned from the Italian and Argentine experience, both in terms of tech and tactics.

Live pirate broadcast of streaming radio reports from the streets have been very useful in actions from the WTO in 1999 to the RNC protests in New York City this past Aug.

Just imagine if it were possible to have a TV broadcast of live video of riot cops indiscriminately rounding up people on the streets during a major protest action. Or, one might even broadcast a live camera from the top of a tall building, giving an aerial view of protest zones. Then, just as protesters often keep a radio handy to hear reports from micropower stations, they could also arm themselves with mini portable TVs for a visual report.

Sure, we might soon see the ability to stream live video over Wi-Fi to enabled PDAs or cell phones. But can you buy a playback device on eBay for less than $20?

There are still many advantages to broadcast TV that is not tethered to a cable, internet, laptop or a satellite dish.