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28 Jan, 2004

World Social Forum 2004 Report 2: Feeding The Hand That Bites It

Concern is rising about the consolidation of global media in the hands of a small group of conglomerates. This is unhealthy for global democracy as well as for the travel & tourism industry, which can play a major role in supporting the independent media that is struggling to emerge.

Imtiaz Muqbil was the only travel industry journalist to cover the World Social Forum 2004 in Mumbai.  Second of three exclusive dispatches on the WSF 2004.

Concern is rising about the consolidation of global media in the hands of a small group of conglomerates. This is unhealthy for global democracy as well as for the travel & tourism industry, which can play a major role in supporting the independent media that is struggling to emerge. This fightback was discussed in a number of seminars at the World Social Forum 2004. These stories look at prevailing trends.










A major issue of common interest between the travel & tourism industry and the civil society movement is the role of the media, especially the major international networks and websites.

The travel & tourism industry, one of the world’s biggest advertisers, regularly complains about ‘negative media coverage’ when crises (the latest one being the spread of bird flu) affect destinations and yet funds the same media when mounting recovery campaigns. Effectively, the travel & tourism industry is feeding the hand that bites it.

Similar complaints exist among cultural organisations, women’s groups and religious forums which fret about homogenisation, sensationalism and stereotype images. At the WSF 2004, about 25 panel discussions and seminars were devoted just to media issues and the search for alternatives, based on the WSF slogan, “Another World Is Possible.”

This search is gaining steam. As this dispatch of Newswire reports, independent media and publishers are banding together to counter the globalisation of media, which is increasingly falling into the hands of a few private individuals and corporations.

With its big budgets, the travel & tourism industry can play a major role in strengthening the independent media in order to act as a counter-weight to the forces of unbridled globalisation. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.



The WSF 2004 was attended by more than 2,300 media members from 644 media organisations in 45 countries. The Media Center, equipped with a complete network lab of 120 computers and 40 lap-top connections was maintained open and functional 24 hrs for the entire forum with free software! This was due to the dedicated effort of 50 Free Software Foundation (FSF) volunteers and members, most of them younger than 21.

Their enthusiasm and considerable knowledge helped in all technical aspects to make this first-time event a reality, living up to the reality of a youth revolution. The fact that there were no official complaints “showed the world that we do not need restrictions and privatization of systems of information, that knowledge and human communications are truly free and democratic.”

The software’s name? It’s GNU/LINUX and the initiative was taken by Dr Nagarjun G., and the board of directors of the FSF. Their message: “Free Software is not possible, but REAL!” For more information, visit GNU Web Site http://www.gnu.org.in/



Two independent media groups played an instrumental role in reporting news about WSF, turning out material in various languages and in far more detail than the global news outlets. They were Inter Press Service and Ciranda.net.

1) IPS, an international news agency, produced a daily newspaper called Terra Viva. Stories in the newspaper appeared in English, Hindi and Spanish.

The effort was funded by Oxfam International (http://www.oxfam.org/), NCDO (http://www.ncdo.nl/), The Commonwealth Foundation (http://www.commonwealthfoundation.com/) and Action Aid Africa (http://www.actionaid.org/). Panos West Africa partnered with IPS to provide stories in French to Terra Viva.

An Internet version of the stories is also available on: http://www.ipsnews.net/focus/tv_mumbai/index.asp

2) Ciranda.net was set up at the WSF 2002 in Porto Allegre, Brazil. It is an international independent form of information exchange, a copyleft (as against copyRIGHT) exchange among hundreds of journalists (reporters, broadcasters, photographers) and dozens of independent print and electronic publications from all over the world which attended the WSF.

The initiative gives publications the right to freely publish each other’s work, provided the source and the authors are acknowledged. During the previous two WSF’s, the information distributed by Ciranda over the web was reproduced by dozens of printed and other media throughout the world.

Already on board: Le Monde Diplomatique and Media Solidaire in France; The Nation and Zmag from the US; Il Manifesto, Liberazione and Carta from Italy; TaZ from Germany; One World from England; Rebelion from Spain; Focus on the Global South from Australia/Thailand and dozens of publications of Brazilian union and social movements among others.

Last year’s hits alone are claimed to total 60,000 a day. The initiative is designed to confront the increasingly evident association between media firms and political and economic power. It embraces the philosophy that information is a public service, not merchandise.

“To build another world, we need to make another media possible — a media that is not subjugated by the interests of corporate controlled media and one that operates outside the realm of market and financial considerations.”



Also participating in the World Social Forum was the Alliance of Independent Publishers, a non-profit association based in France, set up in spring 2002 on the initiative of a small group of book professionals.

According to the group’s “Declaration of Unity,” independent publishers are suffering from heavy economic pressures, “due to the financial concentration in sector, which is increasingly being dominated by monopolistic groups resulting in predatory effects for local markets.”

Such pressures hamper their capacity to disseminate and debate ideas, values and proposals. Moreover, in many countries, their freedom of expression, of creation and of diffusion is limited

The Alliance says it will meet regularly and work together on publishing projects, as part of efforts to contribute to the circulation of ideas and the building of an international civil society. They will promote commercial agreements between members, in particular by developing co-publishing processes in numerous languages, French, Arabic, English and Spanish.

Says the Alliance, “Economic & financial globalization affects all human activity and daily widens the gap between the rich and the poor. The publishing sector is equally concerned with the logics of this dominance, although its essential responsibility is to disseminate ideas, analyses and proposals that help us to face the main challenges of our time.

“We are conscious of our responsibility, and we want to take an active part, at our level, to help create a world civil society, for an alternative, humane and solidarity-based globalization.

For further details, including a list of the members, please log on to www.alliance-editeurs.org. Note: The website is in French. An English version is under construction.



Source: Media ownership: Big Deal?

Excerpted from: http://www.crisinfo.org/live/index.php?section=4&subsection=2&doc=14

Media ownership has undergone a radical shift during the last decade. A handful of international and regional media corporations û AOL-Time Warner, News Corporation, General Electric, Sony, Vivendi, Viacom, Televisa, Globo and Clarn, along with a few others, now control vast sections of the media market. For example, close to 35% of newspaper circulation in the UK belongs to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Silvio Berlusconi controls three of Italy’s four private broadcasting stations and has recently appointed a friend of his to head the public broadcasting station, RAI. This trend towards media concentration is linked to the spread of neo-liberal economics, technological developments and the emergence of global and regional agreements on multi-lateral trade. In fact it mirrors the pattern of global economics in which 225 of the richest people have a combined wealth equal to the annual income of the world’s 2.5 billion poorest people.

What happens when media ownership is concentrated to this extent within and across media sectors?

The emphasis on profit-oriented, advertising-fuelled content has already led to a decline in the range of options available and a loss of space for informed debate. Media content, media channels and distribution systems are in the hands of a handful of corporations. There are threats to the current system that oversees ownership and allocation of Internet domain names. Even the audiovisual spectrum, which is public property, is under siege from commercial interests. As a result, ordinary people are denied access to independent media channels and alternative visions of economic, political and social futures.




By Dionne Jackson Miller

“The situation of the media has dramatically worsened for people who believe that media should be about democratic pluralism,” Roberto Savio told a Media Watch seminar at the World Social Forum 2004. Savio is Secretary General of Media Watch, a global media watchdog group, as well as the President Emeritus of IPS, which publishes Terra Viva. Commenting on the state of media in the United States, Savio noted that the increasing concentration of the media landscape is exemplified by the fact that the number of media tycoons in the US which, 20 years ago, stood at 400, has been reduced to 18 today. He also noted that the number of news agencies worldwide has been reduced from seven to (three), meaning that the media are now receiving news from fewer sources.

Similar views were stated by N. Ram, editor in chief of the Hindu, while speaking at a seminar on Media, Culture and Knowledge. “(Media) concentration is a direct threat to all that is democratic and progressive,” declared Ram.

He quoted experts who estimate that if the current pattern of conformity of ownership remains unchanged, there may be 5 to 10 global conglomerates dominating the media landscape worldwide. “Look at the coverage of the US war against Iraq,” Ram said. “We’re talking about the surrender of independence, truth-telling, commitment to justice.”

It was in response to concerns such as these that Media Watch was formed at the WSF 2002 to provide critical analysis of the mass media and to fight for ethical journalism by pulling together media professionals, media specialists and researchers and concerned individuals.

“We want to set up an international network of local chapters to analyse media and come out whenever you have manipulation,” says Savio. “We will come out and say, this is a case in which the media did not abide by its duty.”

A chapter of Media Watch was launched two weeks ago in France, but critics began to attack the organization even before it officially began operations, says Bernard Cassen, director-general of Le Monde Diplomatique publications in France.

“The criticisms were ‘you people are trying to censor journalists, you’re against freedom of expression, you’re attacking individual journalists’ ,” he says. “We will have trouble putting our message across, but it will succeed.”

Director of the Panos Institute of West Africa, Diana Senghor said that there is a need for Media Watch to be established in Africa. Although the media landscape in Africa had been completely transformed in the nineties, the media are now at risk of reversing their progress, she said, noting that in the Ivory Cost many newspapers are either owned or funded by political parties.

In South Asia as well, there has been a systematic elimination of alternative viewpoints from the media, says Kamal Chenoy, a member of the India Organising Committee for the WSF. It is such concerns that organizers of Media Watch are hoping to address.

Apart from the chapter which now exists in France, a chapter has also been established in Brazil, and eight other chapters are being formed in Europe, Latin America and Africa, while Asia is beginning the process, according to Mario Lubetkin, Vice President of Media Watch and Director General of IPS.

“Some people believe that the media is the only institution that cannot be criticized from the outside,” says Cassen. “We do not believe that.”



The role of the media was discussed at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday 22 January. The following is a summary of the discussions, moderated by BBC News Presenter Nik Gowing, as posted on the WEF website: http://www.weforum.org/site/homepublic.nsf/Content/Annual+Meeting+2004%5CAnnual+Meeting+2004+Session+Summaries

The “media” has traditionally been associated with big organizations providing what they purport to be accurate and balanced information, said Nik Gowing, Main Presenter, BBC World TV, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), United Kingdom. But thanks to advances in technology and the popularity of the Internet, anyone with a US$ 300 digital camera or a Web log can become a one-person news bureau. The media is increasingly fragmented and the public no longer relies on a single news source, preferring instead to “graze” for information. In this “tyranny of real-time”, Gowing asked the panellists, what is the outlook for objectivity and impartiality?

Ethan Zuckerman, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Geekcorps, USA, a Global Leader for Tomorrow 2003, described the important role Web log authors, or “bloggers,” can play in providing news from places that the mainstream media fails to cover. The media is biased in what it does and does not cover, Zuckerman said, and its stress on infotainment often neglects important, but un-sexy, stories. Iraq, for example, completely shouldered out any significant coverage of renewed violence in the Congo last year. The problem with relying on bloggers to fill the gap, however, is that many are not trained journalists and may not be reliable. Eventually, Web logs that gain critical mass of readership may come to be regarded as authoritative.

News organizations face difficult decisions about which stories to cover, observed Eason Jordan, Chief News Executive, CNN News Group, USA. “We don’t do everything right. We make mistakes,” he said. But covering Iraq at the expense of Congo made sense: Iraq involved the world’s only superpower in combat and the Congo did not. Mass media don’t always fail to shed light on the plight of the forgotten, he added.

Media coverage of Somalia played a part in convincing the US to intervene there, and later media coverage had a role in convincing the US and the United Nations to withdraw. Yet no matter what story an organization covers, its bias is reflected in its choice and in the language it uses. As such, Eason said he finds objectivity and impartiality to be outdated, tired terms.

Ibrahim Helal, Editor-in-Chief, Al Jazeera Satellite Channel, Qatar, said the expanding choice of news outlets has made the public too discerning not to recognize propaganda. But all organizations are biased, in particular towards their own technology and infrastructure. Once infrastructure and technology were in place in Iraq, the tendency was to cover Iraq and not the Congo where reporting capabilities are limited. News organizations are also biased towards competition, he said. They tend to race for the same stories for fear of losing out to their rivals. “Competition is sometimes driving us to nowhere,” he said.

Mel Young, President, International Network of Street Papers (INSP), United Kingdom, lamented the tendency for journalists to interview other journalists as “experts”. The increasing concentration of ownership in the media is eliminating objectivity, he said. Laziness and shrinking budgets make it more acceptable to interview a colleague than to seek out genuine opinions or analysis. Jordan objected to this description, saying that CNN’s coverage is driven by journalistic not business considerations. While its objective is to make money, the business and news aspects are subject to a “church-and-state” division.

Several participants asked Helal to justify Al Jazeera’s broadcast of tapes made by Osama Bin Laden. He said the Osama tapes were news in themselves, proof if nothing else that Osama was alive at the time they were recorded. And Osama’s views, he said, are newsworthy because Osama is “enemy number one” to the United States and its allies. Airing the tapes also provides Muslims with a chance to judge his views. Often, supporters of Osama change their minds after seeing the tapes and reject him. In any case, had Al Jazeera not aired the tapes, its competitors would have.

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