- Small Media, Global Media:Kino and the Microcinema Movement
At a 1991 conference on the future of the media in Québec, journalism professor Florian Sauvageau cited a prediction made a decade earlier by Gérard Barbin, president of Radio-Québec: "In the future, there will be very big media and very small media" (9).1 More than twenty-five years later, Barbin's observation seems prescient. For years, political economists have been warning us about the nefarious effects of a situation where fewer and fewer companies—in other words, big media—control more and more of the media content we consume (e.g., Herman and McChesney; Miller). They explain that capitalism is premised on growth, which leads media companies to take over competitors and seek out new audiences. The rise of global media, they contend, is the logical outcome of capitalism's need for expansion.
However, the idea of small media, though evocative, is rather ambiguous. It clearly stands in opposition to big media, but how? Writing about the role of technology in education in the 1970s, Wilbur Schramm distinguished between "Big Media" as "complex, expensive media like television, sound films, and computer-assisted instruction" and "Little Media" as "the simpler ones, which stretch all the way from slides, slide films, and projected transparencies to radio and programmed texts" (16). Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi, writing twenty years later, resituate small media within the political realm by asserting, "[W]hat has been crucial is a notion of these media as participatory, public phenomena, controlled neither by big states nor big corporations" (20).
These two conceptions suggest a wide range of definitions and contexts where we might encounter small media, which raises the question, is it possible to name qualities that distinguish big media from small? In his address, Sauvageau was talking about the shrinking role of government funding in Canadian and Québécois media. Commercial media companies were filling the gap left by the state, and local voices were struggling to find an outlet. Sauvageau's appeal to small media was really an appeal to community-run media (cf. R. Williams). But what about technology itself? Sreberny-Mohammadi and Mohammadi go on to describe how followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini used cassette tapes and mimeographed leaflets—small media technologies—to spread their message during the Iranian revolution. Then there's the question of who is producing media content: is it amateurs or other "everyday folks" (Grossman; Fox)? Media might also be characterized as small based on their distribution or exhibition networks, bypassing the networks controlled by large media companies (Bachar and Lagos; Naficy). Finally, there's the message itself: implicitly, it would seem, one quality of small media is that they allow people to say things that big media ignore, discourage, or outright disallow, making room for alternate [End Page 60] voices or counter-public spheres ( Jacobs; Millner).
We might refine these observations by identifying opposing traits that characterize the media that people would conventionally describe as "big" or "small":
|big media||small media|
|distribution||established networks||ad hoc/ |
It would be a mistake, however, to see these traits merely as diametrically opposed. Instead, we should recognize that they exist in dialectical tension with each other. With respect to globalization, for instance, Roland Robertson observes, "The global is not in and of itself counterposed to the local. Rather, what is often referred to as the local is essentially included within the global" (35). The same is true of the other traits listed here: the line between amateur and professional production, to give one example, is constantly blurring, especially as the price for technologically advanced equipment falls, and so-called amateurs—many of whom ably employ the conventions of commercial media—gain access to better established networks of distribution.
The point of this article is to examine a historical case study in order to shed light on the dynamic tensions that shape small media. Specifically, I am interested in the microcinema movement and, within it, the Montréal-based organization Kino. The term...