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The WSF, free media and the challenge of communication

sábado 24 de dezembro de 2016, por , Rita Freire

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A history of construction within the WSF and the need to understand the new dimensions - digital - of social struggles. It had the collaboration Bia Barbosa e Erika Campelo. Translated by Fany Hernandez and Hilde Stephansen

In the last 15 years, many movements and social networks were formed, developed and strengthened within the World Social Forum process. The World Forum of Free Media (WFFM), a space for the articulation of international struggles for another communication, is among them. Born from the experiences of shared communication that developed within the WSF since 2001 with the struggles for the right to communication in all its dimensions – political, social, technological and cultural – the WFFM was first held in 2009 during the WSF is Belém.

It was a natural extension of collective efforts to promote media actions within the WSF. With the annual editions of shared coverage, which occurred in every edition of the Forum and which resulted in collective projects for written media, radio, TV and a hacklab, communication activists organised themselves globally and formed, within the WSF, a movement focused on the struggle for freedom of expression.

A year before, in January 2008 the experience of the Global Day of Action demonstrated the centrality of communication to the transformation so sought by the WSF. Without a physical centre, any possibility for convergence between struggles depended on virtual connections. The WSF communication commission and its shared communication projects launched a social network that proved extremely attractive. Hundreds of pages and a thousand stories with text, photos, and videos, as well as public discussion forums and thematic communities, we created and inserted simultaneously by initiatives from around the world, on a platform called fsm2008.net. The WSF dedicated infrastructure and resources to communication and the result was clear.

Unfortunately, the project was suspended afterwards to give space for new experiences. But this unique experience made it even clearer that it was not possible to give effective voice to those who struggle for another possible world without developing their own, free communication networks and confronting the large conglomerates that control the right to speak and the modes of production and dissemination of content in the different regions of the world.

Thus, the shared communication movement continued to support the coverage of the WSF’s actions, but went to look for autonomous spaces to discuss their political action. Already in 2008, during the 1st Brazilian Free Media Forum, which brought together collectives and independent media in the defence of public policy and sustainability for the sector, joined the proposal to organise an international seminar on shared communication within the remit of the WSF.

Together, these actors constituted the base for the birth of the first World Forum of Free Media, in Belém, two days before that edition of the WSF. It was a year of overwhelming global economic crisis, a crucial theme in that World Social Forum and the coverage thereof. And of dialogue with indigenous and traditional communities, denied virtual connections to the WSF due to lack of infrastructure but who gradually appropriated audiovisual production.

The continuity of the WFFM was proposed in a seminar held in Senegal, at the WSF 2011. The Convergence Assembly for the Right to Communication was concluded with the approval of the Dakar Charter, which was signed by more than a hundred organizations from around the world, reinforcing the importance of activists fighting for free media and freedom of expression to continue to organize internationally.

The result was the series of World Forums of Free Media in Brazil (Rio 2012), Tunisia (Tunis 2013 and 2015) and Canada (Montreal 2016), as well as various national forums and regional seminars in Brazil, Tunisia, Morocco and France to elaborate a World Charter of Free Media, launched last year.

The document, elaborated in a collective way, through free virtual platforms and face to face meetings with the participation of more than 30 countries, affirms the principles and strategies for the struggles around communication and their relation to the social progress we are looking for. It’s about a platform of common actions, a result of the connection between the World Social Forum and the World Forum of Free Media.

The next challenges

In their last meeting, organizations that comprise the International Council of the World Social Forum, proposed that the WFFM be in charge of the WSF Communication Commission – one of the instances suspended while the Council and the WSF itself were discussing their role, their impact and their future. A call to the WFFM coming from WSF universe, possibly means an important step for the reciprocal recognition of purposes. The WFFM is space of struggle for the communication of social voices.

But there is still an issue that has not been overcome in terms of the relations between processes of the WFFM and the WSF. It’s about the politicization of the communicative effort. The clearest efforts in this direction were made in 2005, with the choice of the WSF to migrate to free software, adding struggles for the free knowledge and against of patents to the other horizons toward another possible world.

The forms of privatization and control of information, knowledge and human opportunities have since then deepened, transforming personal data into abundant merchandise, developing increasingly sophisticated systems of surveillance and control of crowds, massifying mechanisms of collection and isolating people in their own media bubbles, inside a network that, in the beginning of the century, was believed to be essentially free.

Now its neutrality, the right to privacy and all freedom of expression are in dispute and seriously threatened. Corporations like Google and Facebook colonize the internet, domesticate and organize users and facilitates the flow of specialized data about behaviors, preferences, and vulnerabilities of the populations.

The struggles and global mobilizations dispute space in that batched scenario, in which the algorithms contribute to more or less political presence, independently of the legitimacy of claims in question. The ones who protest on the networks, talk for themselves. The echo of those voices is contained in virtual bubbles.

In more distant, or not economically profitable, places infrastructure does not arrive. Community voices are silenced by restrictive laws and state repression. In countries with a lower degree of democracy, traditional means of broadcasting exercise political control. This is the case in Brazil, where the networks and the mainstream media assured the public’s apparent adherence to an institutional coup against their own rights. Collectively transforming this reality is a priority of the World Forum of Free Media.

Meanwhile, the World Social Forum, which was born as a space of recognition among social struggles, synthesized in the face-to-face embrace of its editions, but dependent on the permanent interactions that make it a communicative process for another world, need to identify, internally and externally, what threatens its vocation. It needs to open ways of communication where these are stuck, and mobilize its forces in order to enable a broader interaction with society.

The WSF process is called at this time, after its 15 year long journey, to expand itself, and give visibility to the multiplicity of struggles that need a global connection of resistance.

These were the protests against the war in Iraq and then the uprisings of Tunisia and Egypt, and they are still today the screams of massacred Gaza, the current fights of the Kurdish people, the Saraui people, the women of RDC, the indigenous people of the Americas, the poor and black youth of Brazil.

The renewal of WSF process comes to be charged and debated by those concerned with preserving their relevance for the actors that advocate the social transformation all over the planet. One of the challenges of this moment is recognizing the new dimensions in which the struggles take place. It’s about stablishing a deep connection with free media, their alternative environments, autonomous networks, their community voices and expropriated knowledges, and contribute to current political challenges for democracy in the network, for participatory internet governance, for democratization of culture and digital infrastructure.

It is from this point that the WFFM also waves inside the process of WSF with the expectation of deepen in dialogue, to reinforce our common struggles.

This text integrates the publication FSM 15 Years, of the Brazilian Collective of the WSF. About the authors: Rita Freire is a journalist and represents Ciranda on the International Council of the WSF. Bia Barbosa, member of the coordination of Intervozes and FNDC, and Erika Campelo, responsible for international and digital projects from the Ritimo network (France), also contributed to this article. All are part of the international mobilization committee of the WFFM.

Ver online : FSM 15 Years