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WORLD SOCIAL FORUM: ANOTHER MODE OF COMMUNICATION IS POSSIBLE

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ROME, Mar 1 2005 (IPS) - 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, writes Mario Lubetkin, director-general of IPS. 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, Lubetkin writes in this analysis. We must pay attention not only to media coverage but also to gaps in coverage caused by media policies, the author argues. 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. Lubetkin outlines three initiatives by World Forum on Communication and Information to address the situation: the creation of a world network to connect the media present at the forum; the organisation of a virtual global community of journalists; and the creation of a virtual university for journalists. One of the challenges presented by the WSF is to forge another form of communication which can give rise 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.

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 familiarised 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. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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