This condensed reportback from the World Social Forum is organized in 3 points:
1. Communication Rights at WSF overall
2. WSIS/CRIS/Alternatives workshop.
3. Next Steps/Followup
My comments of course are not meant to be comprehensive - there were about 100,000 people, 1,200 workshops, panels, testimonies, roundtables, conferences, conferences-within-conferences, etc, and even the tiny fraction of rights/info/com discussions I was able to attend might be interpreted differently by others who were also there, but it's important that our discussions around WSIS take into account the diversity of ideas and motion emerging from WSF.
1. Communication Rights at WSF overall
Speaking very broadly, communication rights, media democracy, and the wide cluster of themes bridging information and communication to human rights and the broader global justice movement have all been steadily gaining prominence within the World Social Forum over the past 3 years. Apparently there were only a few workshops and panels in this area during the first WSF, followed by an increase during the second WSF and during recent regional Forums. This time, Media, culture and counter-hegemony was one of the 5 main thematic areas. There were workshops focused on most of the themes that have been advanced by the WSIS civil society working groups and caucuses and by the CRIS campaign. There were larger (250-500 person) panel discussions on Globalization, Information, and Communication; Strategies for Democratizing the Media; New Technologies and Strategies for Digital Inclusion; and a huge 'conference' in gigantinho stadium (8-10,000 people?) on Media and Globalization with Ignacio Ramonet, Eugenio Bucci, Susanna George, and Sally Burch. In general, there was a great deal of energy in this area and a lot of interest in advancing both the human right to communicate and linking to other aspects of the social justice movement by
framing communication as a public good that, like water, health, etc. is being eroded and privatized under neoliberalism, and militarized and surveilled under US imperialism.
2. WSIS/CRIS/Alternatives workshop
Day 1: On Saturday the 25th, from 8h30 - 12h at the University, we had a WSIS/CRIS workshop. We began with a brief recap of the WSIS process to date, and a long discussion of the various concerns about exclusion of civil society and hijacking of the Summit by the Bush administration and the corporate sector. We heard from the OpenWSIS initiative. We then moved from a discussion of process to a quick goround on the work that people are already doing and the themes that they are most concerned about or would like to see incorporated into the WSIS agenda or into the broader communication rights agenda.
An abbreviated list of issues that the organizations in attendance were working on:
Human Right to Communication as a framework; Antiprivatization as framework; Public domain; Intellectual Property; Software, Free and Open; Public ICTs like water, electricity; Privatization and Regulation; Media diversity and Concentration, Ownership; Only Tech Vs. Rights; Media and Political Power; Media Convergence; Media Monitor (MediaWatch); e government,ICTs and democracy; Gender; 'Habeas Data'; Counter-Cyberterror.
At this point the discussion moved back to process, and to the question of whether Civil Society participation should continue inside WSIS, outside, or both. A general consensus emerged to work both within and outside the official WSIS process. There was agreement that an alternative of some kind is important. As we ran out of time, the organizers of the Counter Media
workshop generously offered us one of their two reserved rooms for the next morning workshop sessions and we agreed to continue the discussion the next day.
Day 2: On Sunday the 27th, from about 9:30 to noon, we picked up where we left off the previous day. We began with an hour for more input from Brasilian and other Latin American organizations, especially the Forum for Communications Democracy, a nationwide network that has been policy focused in the past but is currently trying to deepen ties to the social movements.
We then broke into two smaller groups to discuss how to advance the themes generated the previous day, one group strategizing for inside WSIS and the other for outside. The 'outside' group discussion was as follows:
- There was agreement that an alternative to WSIS will be important. There were differing opinions as to what form it should take; whether it should be a parallel summit meeting in one location (Geneva? elsewhere?), seperate meetings tied together, a walkout of WSIS to an alternative venue, etc.
- suggested strategies and tools included the abovementioned alternative summit formats (single summit, parallel linked regional meetings) as well as walkout, street protest, protest online, webblackout, web satire, webstrike, online collaborative document, series of communiques, ads, a team to feed documents into distribution inside WSIS and to the press, etc
- suggested names included World Forum on Communication, World Summit on Information and Communication Societies, CounterWSIS, WASIS (World Alternative Summit on Info/Com Societies) Forum for Another Communication
- Most felt that civil society must define a clear agenda; no use having an alternative process if it's unclear what is being demanded. Others suggested that it would be more important to provide a symbolic alternative space with agenda truly open to all comers, or with a very broad organizing principle (human right to communicate, communications democracy, communication as a public good). Some thought it important to leave the agenda open but the framework explicitly opposed to the forms of communication advanced by neoliberalism.
- It was suggested that the alternative process should be organized in working groups of
- Concretely, participants in the discussion on alternatives indicated that they were prepared to contribute the following resources/organizational ties:
Swiss unions, online labor forum, list translation, radio internet (FIRE), a visual symbol, slogans, translation of technical terms, links to social movements in brazil, a group of academics who can analyze WSIS documents and propose alternatives, a FAQ, indigenous movement and radio, content analysis of the WSIS documents, a parody site, Italian student networks, mediachannel can provide a links page and list page
The two groups (inside/outside) came back together to share strategies. The importance of an organizing concept was reiterated, with the Human Right to Communicate the foundation of policies and institutions to protect communication as a public good.
3. Next Steps/Followup
All participants wanted to be added to crisinfo list, where followup would be conducted. No 'official' structure or organizing body for the alternative summit emerged, but it was suggested that a listserv be started ASAP to develop the coordinating body.
The list firstname.lastname@example.org has been created for this purpose.
The homepage for the list can be found at
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