A pre-forum forum: Another communication is also possible

2005-08-09 00:00:00

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

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.