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Cy Gonick in Brazil: Report on World Social Forum

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(By Cy Gonick) The 2009 World Social Forum officially opens today, January 27, with a march to the Opera House in downtown Belem. Belem was chosen as the sight of the 2009 WSF because of its location in the Amazon, one of the main focus of this year’s WSF being ecology, Climate Change and the destruction of the planet. In fact the second day of the Forum will be totally dedicated to the Pan-Amazon and its regional themes covering 9 countries ­ Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Equador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, Venezuela and French Guyana ­ and including both cultural and socio-cultural events.

A highlight of yesterday’s pre-opening day events was a panel discussion of the media and the crisis. A panel of 7 indy-media journalists and communications professors discussed how the media, particularly the Brazilian and Latin American media has covered the current economic crisis. The panel was comprised of 7 men and 1 woman, all from Latin America ­ Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. All were middle-aged and well-known professional journalists.

They all addressed the issue of the high concentration of ownership of media, a trend accelerated further by the acquisition and merger movement arising from the current economic crisis. They lamented the related trend of information as entertainment commodity and the devaluation of journalism as a profession. Where are the journalist heroes these days, one panelist asked. My answer: most journalists are embedded with the armies whose wars they are reporting, with the banks whose finances they are reporting, or the parties whose politics they are reporting. Can’t make heroes of these specimens.

In this context, the panel could find little positive to say about how the Latin American media covered the crisis. Reporters and columnists of a critical bent, those few that remain, were denied any space, all of which was monopolized by writers who repeated the lines read to them by politicians, civil servants and spokesemen of financial institutions and other corporate establishments. The Brazilian media prof went so far as to say that from the analysis he has done, the most critical reporting and analysis is found in the US media!!!

They talked about the mass media. role in using the crisis to support capital’s attack on labour ­ need for mass layoffs, deep wage/benefits cuts, etc. and their tendency of parroting the official explanations of the financial meltdown that blames it on the actions of a few excessively greedy CEOs. More interesting was a discussion of the role of indy-media in exposing the failures of neo-liberalism that was important in breaking down the rule of this decrepid political economy.

But the overwhelming appeal here is that in the real world, beyond the confines of the left, indy-media’s reach is far too limited. Again and again they called for the “free media” to challenge the “spaces” of the “hegemonic media.” “We can’t be content with smallness, of challenging from the margins.” In particular, there was no argument that the internet, however valuable to those of us on the fringes, is of limited value in countering the “hegemonic media.”

But there were only a few concrete ideas of how to “broaden our space for reaching more people” and most seem to be directed at pushing parties like Lula’s Workers’ Party to publish their own newspapers; or governments controlled by socialist parties to establish publically owned telecommunication systems that are more extensive than TV and radio stations. The only other idea that caught my attention is to build broad communication capacities within the population ­for example through public schools. Examples of this were cited for Equador and Paraguay. Worth checking into!

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