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BELEM VS DAVOS: ECONOMIC ESTABLISHMENT STEALS LIMELIGHT DESPITE CULPABILITY

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ROME, Feb 9 2009 (IPS) - The media gave ample coverage to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, attended since its beginning in 1971 by the same politicians and businessmen who have sustained for decades that financial capitalism was progressing towards a certain and every more generous prosperity and who now promise that they will revive it without offering any plausible explanation for the current catastrophic recession.

The same media barely covered the parallel, rival World Social Forum (WSF) held in Belem, Brazil (both ended on February 1), whose participants have argued since their first meeting in 2001 that the financial capitalist system, which has deteriorated since the wave of deregulation in the 1980s, was heading for disaster. It seems they were right.

WSF participants comprise a wide range of progressive and leftist positions, and although the myriad proposals put forward to reform the economic system and create ”another possible world” can seem in part utopic and contradictory, it is undeniable that the criticism generated by the Forum was on the mark. Accordingly, it seems reasonable that the international media would show greater curiosity about the diagnoses and prescriptions formulated at Belem.

This is particularly true given that this year the WSF, which had considered itself only a clearinghouse for debate and critique, adopted a set of objectives and mobilisations that will make the news in the near future. Observers have agreed that in Belem the Forum became a source not only of resistance but also of proposals. This was already the case with the first Global Thematic Forum and its approach to the problem of the Amazon.

Attended this year by five presidents (Evo Morales of Bolivia, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay, and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela), the Belem Forum was remarkable in both quality and size (more than 100,000 participants). Latin America today is the most leftist region in the world, and this, according to its leaders, is partly the result of the WSF.

So why has press coverage of the Forum dwindled in recent years? Blaming ideological decisions of the major media seeking to set the international news agenda is valid only in certain cases. And it doesn’t explain why the same media gave broad coverage to the Forum in its first years.

One of the reasons may be that the Forum still doesn’t have the appropriate instruments to promote its activities with a greater international impact. This theme was taken up at the Forum on Free Media, and is one of the subjects that the WSF has yet to address. Another factor is the limited amount of attention that was paid to the journalists present, as well as technological shortcomings.

Although many argue that the WEF participants should have been given less media attention because of the fact that they are responsible for the financial cataclysm (“I’m not going to go listen to a litany of self-criticism,” Lula said, regarding his absence at Davos.) there is another factor to consider: the expectation of hearing how the pilots who caused the shipwreck plan to save the vessel, and how the deregulators now plan to regulate the derailed financial system.

Because it is a fact that throughout the western world, the politicians and financiers who gutted regulation of the financial system -with few exceptions- still have their jobs and are now preparing to save themselves with taxpayers’ money -which the WSF has denounced.

The best example of this is the economic team of president Obama, whose victory meant a movement of the US electorate towards less conservative positions, socially and politically. But the two figures dominant on the economic front are Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and the chief White House economic advisor, Lawrence Summers, both passionate deregulators until very recently -the former as president of the New York Federal Reserve and the latter as treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

The participants at Davos represent the economic establishment and its undying instinct for preserving power. They remind one of the famous line from The Leopard of Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa: “Change so that everything can remain the same.”

At the WSF we know that while this year the programme and mobilisations decided on in Belem will begin to unfold, in 2010 there will be various decentralised initiatives instead of a Central Forum. To prevent the Forum from getting short-changed by the press, a strong and careful media campaign must be launched for the 2009 and 2010 initiatives, particularly with an eye towards January 2011, when the next WSF will be held in Africa. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mario Lubetkin is Director General of IPS news agency.

 
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