Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2439

Article | Open Access

Media Activism as Movement? Collective Identity Formation in the World Forum of Free Media

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Abstract:  More than simply tools used by social movements to reach other substantive aims, media are increasingly becoming subjects of activism. This article contributes to advancing understanding of such media-focused activism through a case study of the World Forum of Free Media, a thematic forum for media activists and media advocacy organisations linked to the World Social Forum. Based on qualitative research conducted between 2008 and 2016—including participant observation, in-depth interviews and textual analysis—the article critically explores the extent to which the World Forum of Free Media can be considered a ‘free media’ movement in the making, and examines some of the challenges and contradictions that such a movement-building project entails. Drawing on social movement theory, specifically the concept of collective identity, it analyses efforts by forum organisers to mobilise a very diverse range of actors—from alternative media activists to policy- and advocacy NGOs—around a plural and inclusive ‘free media’ identity. While the World Forum of Free Media has to some extent succeeded in facilitating convergence around a set of core principles and ideas, it has so far struggled to develop a clear outwards-facing identity and mobilise a broad grassroots base.

Keywords:  alternative media; collective identity; communication rights; FMML; media activism; media democracy movement; social movements; World Forum of Free Media; World Social Forum



© Hilde C. Stephansen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.