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IS THE WORLD SOCIAL FORUM ALREADY OLD NEWS

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ROME, Feb 2 2007 (IPS) - Despite the success of the seventh World Social Forum (WSF) held last month in Nairobi, media coverage of the massive event continues to wane, in sharp contrast to the prominence the event was given in its first few years, writes Mario Lubetkin, Director-General of the IPS news agency. In this article, the author writes that the decision to hold the next central forum in 2009 and leave 2008 for protest actions in various parts of the planet effectively postpones the work of building an image of a World Forum that generates serious, realistic alternative proposals in response to the major, dangerous problems that affect humanity. The silence that may fall over the forum for such a long period, despite the local and regional forums set for coming months and years, could aggravate this tendency and as a result generate even more disillusionment for many of those who are betting on the forum and its defiant motto: \’\’Another world is possible.\’\’

From its birth in 2001 in Porto Alegre and for the next two years, many media focused their attention on trying to understand the massive phenomenon of the WSF, which mobilised hundreds of thousands of people and drew the attention of millions of others through the internet or traditional or alternative media.

For some, the key was the emergence of an alternative to the World Economic Forum (WEF) held each year in Davos, Switzerland, while others sought explanations for why such a diverse array of individuals and groups –from the historic non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to the new movements that played a major role in Seattle and other cities where the G-8, International Monetary Fund, or World Bank met– found their way to a small city in Brazil to protest and formulate alternatives in many areas of development, human rights, and peace.

When in 2003 Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, an activist from the early days of the WSF, was elected president of Brazil, many media asked whether this would result in better coverage of the forum, given that among his most prominent assistants were not only ”alternative” or ”antagonistic” types but also figures who held positions of power in important emerging countries.

In the 2004 Forum, held in Mumbai, India, the amount of information on the WSF shrunk in Latin America and somewhat in Europe, though in Asia it grew in quantity and quality.

For many of the media who followed the forum from the beginning, the return to Porto Alegre in 2005 meant nothing new, while the decision to hold a poly-centric Forum in Bamako, Caracas, and Karachi dispersed the attention previously focused on a single event.

The knowledge that this year’s forum was to be held in Africa did not change this downward trend in coverage, despite the fact that in the Kenyan capital more than 50,000 people gathered in what was probably the most important event organised by civil society on the continent. In contrast, the coverage of the WEF remains consistently high.

Why this dropoff? Reducing it to ”ideological decisions” by the major media who help shape the international news agenda explains only a few cases. So does blaming the real lack of attention and assistance given to the journalists present at the forum or the technological limitations of transmitting from Nairobi.

This might also have influenced the diffusion of the messages and proposals that emerged from the debates, many of which were innovative and very interesting. All of these factors will certainly be taken into consideration by the International Council of the WSF and its member groups when they analyze the reasons for the waning of coverage.

The independent daily publication Terraviva, produced by the IPS global news agency at the major meetings of the United Nations and civil society, noted in one of its issues from Nairobi, that in sharp contrast to the demands of the participants, communications were not one of the priorities of the forum, despite the existence of a commission specifically formed and funds made available to advance them.

The fact that the Second Forum for Communication held parallel in Nairobi repeated the same proposals agreed and unfulfilled years before at Porto Alegre –the creation of a network of journalists who would cover the forums in their respective media– estimated at about 6000 professionals, and of a network of the thousands of commercial, cultural and alternative media, shows the limits of the WSF’s actions in this area. Other proposals on courses and seminars between civil society actors and communications media met similar fates.

For many observers, Nairobi closed a phase in which the WSF succeeded in demonstrating its multiplicity and its capacity to bring together multitudes and organise in any area of the South.

The decision to hold the next central forum in 2009 in a place yet to be determined and to leave 2008 for protest actions in various parts of the planet effectively postpones the work of building an image of a World Forum that generates serious, realistic alternative proposals in response to the major, dangerous problems that affect humanity, generating powerful expectations among the millions who have followed the forum from the beginning.

The silence that may fall over the forum for such a long period, despite the local and regional forums set for coming months and years, could aggravate this tendency and as a result generate even more disillusionment for many of those who are betting on the forum and its defiant motto: ”Another world is possible.” (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

 
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