Paradoxically, just as history is proving the World Social Forum (WSF) right in many of its predictions and analyses, the major media, those ‘shapers of public opinion’, are not increasing but in fact sharply decreasing their coverage of it. This silent treatment is a clear obstacle to the expansion of the WSF and a cause of real concern for many of its innumerable organisers and participants.
This situation was recognised in the Feb 10 declaration by the Social Movements of the WSF, which concluded that the forum must undertake “a battle of ideas, in which we cannot move forward unless there is a democratisation of communication”.
It is curious that ten years ago journalists from around the world flocked to Porto Alegre to cover the WSF debates, which were given broad coverage in print and on television.
It could be argued that this was simply a result of the novelty of the forum and its flood of activists proclaiming, “another world is possible” while the rest of the world careened blindly towards disaster.
The surprise was greater still when the following year, in 2002, certain members of the WSF, where attendance rose steadily, were elected presidents of their countries.
But these developments, it would seem, were moving contrary to the currents of history. In the same period, with the exception of certain slips capitalism, and especially financial capitalism, was charging full steam ahead. It outstripped the real economy, swelled the Gross World Product and international trade, and generated massive earnings for its businesses giving the impression that the good times would never end.
From its first years the WSF denounced with tenacity and rigour the elements of the reigning neoliberal ideology that would lead to global disaster: the so-called Washington Consensus that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was imposing on countries of the South, extreme liberalisation, blind faith in the market as the ideal arbiter of the economy, rejection of any regulation especially of the financial firms which were conducting massive levels of speculation. The ruin that resulted is plain to see all around us.
One might think that, since history proved the WSF right, the media might have grown curious about the prescient arguments and predictions of the Forum. But the opposite happened: in recent years, particularly since the global depression struck in 2008, the presence of media at the forum has dropped continuously.
What was more logical was the parallel decline in the media’s coverage of the World Economic Forum, which saw its fundamental postulates proved terribly wrong.
Of course, part of this contradiction has to do with the characteristics and errors of the WSF itself. The analysis of this matter is important given that the Forum constitutes the largest agglomeration of civil society in the world. Four aspects deserve close study:
- The structure of the forums consists of numerous simultaneous meetings on different themes. Thus the journalists must choose which they would like to attend and may find it difficult to make an assessment of the forum as a whole. This is accentuated by the organisational problems of the forum, which were particularly evident in the last meeting in Dakar. This dispersed nature of the event can thus distract attention from the ideas that it generates, including the best suggestions for solutions to the world’s problems.
- In general the journalists who cover the forum are inadequately prepared. Providing good coverage of specialised debates requires a high level of expertise on fields ranging from ecology, finance, minority rights, and philosophical, political, theological, sociological discussions.
- The WSF has thus far lacked a true communications strategy. Despite its extraordinary capacity to draw people from civil society, its management and organisational staff is limited and lacks resources. It could produce better results if it recognised the importance of having and implementing a communications strategy.
- The operation of the mass media has changed dramatically in this decade and requires a rethinking that factors in the new modes of exchange made possible by the internet and electronic devices, social networks, and major alternative media like Al Jazeera and blogs like the Huffington Post, which have shown serious interest in this subject.
The coincidence of the Dakar Forum and the toppling of the regimes in North Africa has charged the debate and all groups linked to the WSF and challenged them to demonstrate the power and potential of those proposing to build ‘another world’ using new forms of organisation and communication.