Global/International

Another Communication is Also Possible (Toros, 2005)

Summary: 

Hilmi Toros writes about information concentration and the promise of independent media.

Article Text: 

If "Another World is Possible," as the slogan of the World Social Forum
goes, it has to be accompanied by "Another Communication is Possible"
--one that treats information as a right rather than merchandise,
breaks up media concentration and hob-knobbing between owners and
government. But can they be realised in a world in which information
moving with astonishing speed is "packaged" by media moguls almost
anywhere?

Those issues dogging small and big communities came to the
fore at the World Social Forum, a Civil Society jamboree for over
120,000 participants that also featured the first World Forum on
Information and Communication. Participants in the information and
communication parley --mostly seasoned journalists, academicians and
NGO crusaders-- assessed the state of global information and
communication as being in a sorry state. And journalists cowed down by
bosses. Says Ignacio Ramonet, President of Media Global Watch and of Le
Monde Diplomatique: "Media is the problem in democracy and it obstruct
the operation of democracy." He sees information as being treated as
merchandise moving along supply and demand and not according to need.
Information, Ramionet claims, has become "a show; it needs drama."

With
a handful of media groups controlling what people in many lands will
read, hear or see, the world is suffering from "information
insecurity," he says. According to Andrew Calabrese of the University
of Colorado at Boulder in the United States, de-regulation in the
United States, leading to bigger concentration of media ownership, also
ushered a quid pro quo relationship between media tycoons and the
government. Media bosses for fear of offending a government that, in
turn, helps big media owners get even bigger, discourage dissent from
the US policy in Iraq. "There is nothing genetically inferior with
Americans," he quips, "except the quality of oxygen they breathe in
information clouds their minds."

As to how best to fight news
domination by the few, Giulietto Chiesa, now a European Parliament
Deputy and also a veteran writer for the Italian daily La Stampa, sees
opportunities. One is forming an alliance with prominent personalities
in the entertainment world and literature, and recruiting them for the
fight against information concentration and manipulation. "We can
create a popular movement by using small radio and television stations
to show that privatisation is the end of pluralism," he told IPS in an
interview. Moreover, the field may be ripe for it, he says, noting that
some 600 regional television stations in Italy are short of programmes
and an estimated 3 million families saying they are willing to pay for
"different" television. He estimates that 3 million euro is enough for
a private national satellite channel in his country. Chiesa has even
harsher assessment of his profession. "The independence of journalists
has been destroyed," he claims. "They are told to lie. If they don’t,
they are fired."

With none speaking for the likes of media moguls such
as Robert Murdoch or Silvio Berlusconi, the consensus of the
information and communication forum is that there should be
"alternative" and "pluralistic" information flow in a New World
Information Order.

Sean O Siochru is coordinating a global project for
"communications rights," claiming: "Freedom of expression is not
enough. We need the right to information. Otherwise, the freedom of
expression involves only the rich." He asked for "robust" regulation to
break up concentration of information for the sake of the public good
–and goes as far as advocating legislation that would turn over some of
the advertising money from big groups to alternative information
providers.

In the developing world, participants note privatisation has
led to the break-up of the monopoly of the state in information, but
the private media is also in danger of serving the economic interest of
new owners. Still, the developing world holds promise for small
independent news outlets, particularly community radio stations and, in
rare cases, local television in parts of Asia and Latin America and
those just taking off in Africa. The number of community radios in Mali
is put at 150 by Diana Senghor of Senegal, but she also cites the high
cost of batteries and the fact that receivers are considered for men
only. If Internet holds promise in information and communication, Mavic
Cabrera-Baleza of The Philippines told the forum that the cost of a
month’s connection in the Pacific is more than a month’s rent and that
10 percent of Internet sales are sex-based.

Media and the World Social Forum (Lubetkin, 2005)

Summary: 

An analysis of the world media coverage at the Fifth World Social
Forum (26-31 January) and a summary of initiatives put forth by the
World Forum on Communication and Information (WFCI) to address the
information capabilities of the WSF.

Author: 
Mario Lubetkin
Article Text: 

Analysis of the world media carried out after the Fifth World Social Forum (26-31 January) showed that coverage of the Forum's activities has shrunk.

This had not happened with the four previous Forums, when coverage of the WSF was far greater, even equalling that of the parallel and antithetical World Economic Forum (WEF), held during the same period in Davos, Switzerland. WEF coverage, in contrast, remained at the same level.

This development seems to jar with the fact that the WSF is the largest and most representative forum of civil society, with higher attendance this year than ever -- about 150,000 -- as well as more than 4000 accredited journalists present from around the world.
There was concern that this might happen before the opening of this year's forum and a day before it began, the World Forum on Communication and Information (WFCI) opened with the objective of concentrating on communications, sending clear and forceful messages both to civil society and the international public.

The WFCI painted a critical picture of the information capabilities of the WSF, particularly regarding coverage of its programme, which includes thousands of initiatives and debates on a wide range of themes, which complicates the work of journalists covering the event.

The WFCI concentrated its attention on what to do and opted to carry out three initiatives, which were approved by consensus:

  • The creation of a world network to connect the media present at the forum.
    Permanent mechanisms will be put in place to allow media to access the information generated not only during the five days of the event but throughout the year, such as national, regional, and issue-based forums, which cover the principal areas of the debate and proposals that arise from this great ferment of civil society activists but which are very sparsely covered. In effect, the plan is to fill an important gap in coverage.
  • The organisation of a virtual global community of journalists. A total of about 10,000 journalists have attended the five Forums held thus far and constitute a very powerful potential voice which, however, is weakened because it is so spread out. Many of these journalists have familiarized themselves with the criticism, analysis, and proposals that circulate at the forums and are particularly well prepared to inform their respective audiences and engage in dialogue with WSF participants.

    In contrast to the world media network, the virtual press community would constitute an interactive space in which people could find the information they need and then contribute to the development of this space.

  • The creation of a virtual university for journalists. One theme that stood out in the WFCI was the importance of preparation and training necessary for the press to be able to better grasp the significance of the initiatives generated by civil society, their objectives, goals, operation, etc.

    Very few universities in the world pay attention to the subject of civil society in journalistic training. The new virtual system, with the support of outstanding universities around the world, can help fill this important need.

These three initiatives can help build another form of communication, one that can rise to the challenges of our age.

Other media initiatives have emerged from the vast process of the WSF, such as the World Media Observatory (WMO) created three years ago with the object of linking the media, academics, and media consumers interested in improving the quality of information in today's globalised world.

In this regard, we must pay attention not only to media coverage but also to gaps in coverage caused by media policies. It is a question of understanding who decides, and why, to limit coverage of the major themes of civil society, in particular those related to development, which though extremely important to the future of humanity are too often pushed aside by frivolous stories.

Only a combination of serious, creative, and participatory initiatives will make it possible to move from the simple assertions and critiques regarding what is covered badly or not at all to a process that provides citizens with the information they need to understand, make decisions, and act.

One of the challenges presented by the WSF is to forge another form of communication which can give rise in turn to another form of participation.

Without this, the objective of creating ''another possible world'' will never be more than a wish planted in the imaginations of millions and millions of people.

By Mario Lubetkin is Director General of IPS.

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