World Forum of Free Media 2016: reawakening, pursuit and imagination

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“We must either invent or err” combatively claimed Venezuelan thinker Simón Rodríguez to inspire the liberators of the Latin American continent at the dawn of its first independence. This phrase gives a very clear idea of what awaits the hundreds of communicators, media, networks and activists meeting at the next World Forum of Free Media (WFFM), to be held in parallel with the World Social Forum in August 2016 in Montreal. In the face of a reality of communications that every day display a little more of the weight of mercantile and identitarian fundamentalisms, the Forum is inevitably called to deepen discussions and consolidate its roadmap.


Let us pause a moment on some media events that marked the last months and changed the interpretation of the battles underway in various parts of the world. In Brazil, a popular democracy in the heart of the multipolar alliance comprising the BRICS countries, the recent deposition of head of state Dilma Roussef was not prepared by a political opposition consisting of traditional parties in usual connivance with the North-American diplomatic apparatus. As this opposition does not really exist among the political parties, it has learned to rebuild itself within the space organized by media conglomerates, in alliance with certain financial and judicial sectors. The “media” Folha de São Paulo, Globo, O Estado de São Paulo, Isto E and Veja are the registered trademarks of powerful ideological media instruments, whose controls are operated directly by elites who now want to regain control of the Brazilian economy. This media-judicial-financial troika never ceased to destabilize the popular forces in the last decade; however, the novelty is that it has now moved to a greater degree of coordination and offensive. In most Latin American countries, the limits to deepen progressive projects are particularly related to the maintenance of this media superstructure that is beyond popular control and overlooks the political scene.


In the European Union, not just an electoral but also a social rise of the extreme right has found indirect support in emotional saturation and psychological spreading of fear by the media. The West as a whole has suffered a statistical 2% of global terrorism since 2001; we forget that these strikes occur mainly in Asia and Africa. But the hyper media coverage of incidents and the resulting pressure on public opinion in a Europe engaged in its identity force politicians to take reactionary U turns that ultimately deliver ready-to-use propaganda to the jihadists and the extreme right advancing on most European countries. As noted by journalist Martine Turchi, the overflowing of political groups of the left-right center by geopolitical realities directly paves the way of a strategy of communicational marketing for radical groups, against a backdrop of ultra-nationalism and dormant xenophobia. Civil rights and liberties then turn into commas in a prose considerably dominated by the return of vigilance and security.


In Africa and Asia, both factories of hope and of the new middle classes worldwide who sanction social networking, the latest report on freedom of expression by Reporters without Borders indicates an authoritarian hardening of political regimes towards the press and a growing influence of media monopolies. The attack which targeted the journalists of the popular channel Tolo TV in January 2016 in Kabul symbolizes perhaps more than Charlie Hebdo in France the risks of media activities when they are performed in an unstable global order, caught between the neo-imperialist maneuvers of the powerful and the socio-cultural pressures that modernity exercises on the societies of the South. The forcible entry in Western modernity (in the name of economic competitiveness) exacerbates identity, religious and ethnic tensions. The attack on Tolo TV in Kabul, unfortunately one among many others in the so-called emerging countries, is part of a growing movement of aggressions directed towards the information vectors that are identified as catalysts of a subversive energy rebellious against power.


Are these limited or momentary events? All indications are that like other issues on the international agenda, the arrogance of the ruling elites and major industrial states today prefer to plunge the world into a non-egalitarian warrior order rather than slow down the race and collectively study other possible outcomes. The media are obviously involved in the turmoil. They line up sometimes on the side of the offensive arsenal, other times on the side of the targets to be banned or discredited. Independent initiatives have a hard life. Popular and citizen journalism emerges or reactivates, yet with very few regulatory, legal and financial tools. The MacBride report “Many Voices One world” has not aged a day from when it called in the 80’s to argue over new information balances, muttering an alternative exit from the bipolar system of the Cold War. The world today can be proud to be moving to a multipolar order; however, it remains precarious, hegemonized by the traditional players of world power and dangerously left to random steering to say the least.


This most disturbing Gramscian chiaroscuro is not likely to extinguish the hopes and sink the struggles for the right to communicate into the same nihilism as the media-financial corporations. It is sufficient to observe the impact of Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and recently the Panama Papers (even if we know of their ambiguous extraction), or countless actions of popular communication, to understand that media power relations are no longer entirely established in a linear logic of accumulation. Of course, monopolies continue to be an existential limit to popular and democratic possibilities. That said, more media concentration is not proportionally equivalent to more power to convince the crowds. The diffusion of power is a fact and it was particularly well seized by influence marketers or saboteurs of emancipation movements. Within the World Forum of Free Media and elsewhere, we see a true spring blooming in favor of networked popular and citizen communications, powered by new wills and initiatives as well as by the new communication media and technologies. Whether bloggers, journalists, whistleblowers, activists, communicators, hackers or developers, there are many who affirm, in their own language and in their own way, not only their rejection of the status quo but also a need for decolonization and reinvention of communications.


The World Forum of Free Media has stressed the importance not just to formulate but especially to build, here and now, the foundations of another information order, respectful of cultures, of memory and of the identities of Peoples. In the World Charter of Free Media, finalized in March 2015 in Tunis, we stressed the commitment of independent media to promote other ways of living, other representations of the world, and encourage new forms of participation and political commitment. Ultimately, the debate is only just beginning within this large constellation of “free” media, being the adjective free still too simplistic to qualify the diversity of practices. We already see a thematic agenda and initiatives coming into place. And above all, great news, free and independent media coordination efforts are set up in various places, at national or territorial level, to forge a horizon of common understanding and action.


The common theme of this new stage in Montreal is clearly inspired by the previously mentioned points. Issues central to this agenda are, for example, the violence against media and journalists, the struggles for legal and democratic frameworks of communications, tools and viability of free media, rights and freedom of access to Internet, as well as technological sovereignty. Beyond this indispensable pragmatic agenda, we are also asked to go on the field of the transforming imaginary, so important given the current context. The Forum, not as an institution but primarily as history, agenda and social process, offers an unprecedented convergence at a time when connectivity defies borders and is organized at the transnational level. Can it be seen as a movement in motion, put in other way, a collective subject building a kind of “international front of emancipatory communication” as recently suggested by Mexican philosopher Fernando Buen Abad when denouncing the implementation of a new Condor plan for the media? (3) This is obviously venturing on a perilous path. However, the debate is necessary as the older cousin which is the World Social Forum and other initiatives are slow to bring about a consistent socio-political force against the advance of neoliberal globalization. The WFFM is unable to hold this debate alone; however, its polyphonic, multi-sectoral, non-dogmatic nature, straddling politics and social realities, puts it in a particularly appropriate place from where to provoke it.


- François Soulard, participant of the WFFM
Article published in
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