The Internet offers an unparalleled chance to spread an alternative to the news served up by the mainstream media, the "second power" of globalization, affirmed the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre
The organizers of the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, were expecting 2,000 people to attend a debate on "another possible world" in the last week of January. To their surprise, this "anti-Davos" attracted 5,000 fans. So how did the organizers of the forum, who like to cast themselves as visionaries, explain their all too modest forecast? Why, the Internet of course: they had set up a website one month before the Forum. Although very basic, it spurred much greater interest than anticipated.
The unexpected turnout was one more feather in the cap of the anti-globalization movement. Activists had already spent much time pleading for communication in general--and the Internet in particular--to be considered a leading "issue in the fight against neoliberalism." As such, it deserved the same attention as the campaign for the Tobin Tax, the cancellation of Third World debt or the control of world financial organizations. If not, they argued, cyberspace would become their adversaries' haven. According to the conclusions of a Forum workshop on communication and citizenship, the Internet has already been instrumental in shaping the economic and "ideological" revolution that has marked the process of globalization.
An ideological machine
Workshop participants launched a stinging indictment: "If the first power is economic and financial, the second belongs to the media," declared Ignacio Ramonet, director of the monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, upon opening the workshop. "It is the ideological machine of globalization." Participants asserted that mainstream news "is essentially transformed into a commodity...that does not obey any rule except that of the market. It is uniform, one-dimensional and based on a single source." Continuing the attack, Ramonet asserted that the mainstream media strikes a tone that is "emotional," "impressionistic," "sensationalist," "rhetorical," "simplistic" if not outright "infantile," and which is dominated by a quest for "immediacy." In short, "the supreme criteria" of media "mega-groups" is not truth but profit. "They're selling consumers to their advertisers."
The organizations attending Porto Alegre decided that it was high time to take on this "ideological apparatus," using the Internet as their chief weapon. One strategy involves criticizing the news produced by the "mega groups"--criticism that must not only be systematic, but should also be diffused as widely as possible. A leading example is FAIR, the best known media watchdog in North America. The organization aims to show how the structures of media conglomerates dictate content: the topics and viewpoints developed are those of an economic and political elite because these media belong to multinationals and are financed by others via advertising.
According to Seth Ackerman, one of FAIR's staff members, the Internet boasts three advantages over other forms of communication, including the group's magazine quarterly Extra!. First, it provides instant access to a wide range of alternative news sources, allowing the network to pick up on important matters ignored by North American mainstream media or to reveal a fine-tuned understanding of biased coverage. Secondly, FAIR can dispatch to-the minute analyses at minimal cost to subscribers. Thirdly, it can involve subscribers in the organization's campaigns by encouraging them to email protest messages to media in FAIR's spotlight. "Thanks to the Internet, our activities made such a huge quantitative leap that they've also changed qualitatively," says Ackerman.
The second front that anti-globalization organizations are intent on opening is far more ambitious. The goal is to make the Internet the vehicle for a stream of "counter …