By Sabina Zaccaro
“The journalists who turned the world upside down. Voices of another information” is the title of a book published recently in Italy telling the story of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency.
It is a patchwork story told by over one hundred journalists and key global players of the last 50 years. Long-time IPS correspondents, Heads of States and Nobel Prize Laureates among others give personal memories of the distinctive story of IPS, which today is the world’s leading news agency on issues such as development, environment, human rights and civil society.
When it was established in 1964 as a non-profit international cooperative of journalists by the Italian-Argentinean economist Roberto Savio and Argentinean political scientist Pablo Piacentini, IPS’s clear goal was to fill the information gap between Europe and Latin America through a snail?s pace mail-borne feature news service.
As it grew, IPS acquired a new mission: act as the bearer of the hopes of Third World countries and peoples for a new international economic order and, as a consequence, a new international information order within the framework of the United Nations.
In what many external observers saw as a utopian initiative, IPS made it possible for the voice of the voiceless to be heard.
IPS has always believed in the role of information as an agent of change and as precondition for freeing communities from poverty and marginalisation. Its historic mission has been to act as a communication channel that privileges the voices and the concerns of the poorest and creates a climate of understanding, accountability and participation around development, and between the South and the North.
“Since the invention of the telegraph, global news agencies have oriented – and conditioned – our own vision of the world, and their vision was a reflection of the interests of the powerful nations,” said Roberto Savio. “Following the Second World War, in fact, 94 per cent of the stories on foreign affairs came from four sources only: Associated Press, United Press International, Agence France Presse and Reuters. Their coverage was mainly limited to the Cold War dualism, with no editorial space for the new emerging realities resulting from decolonisation.”
Since those days, IPS journalists have been reporting the processes behind the facts, offering a privileged window on the changing global scenario.
Ignacio Ramonet, a long-time friend of IPS and Editor-in Chief of Le Monde diplomatique from 1991 until March 2008, has defined the news agency as a valid and original voice in the current media upheaval. “This demonstrates that, even in this new context of the digital information, such form of resistance is possible,” he said.
Much has changed in IPS?s half century, but not the inequalities and imbalances that gave birth to the agency. New media and new forms of communication are bringing not just new dangers of alienation and discrimination, but also new opportunities for making the process of communication a truly horizontal exchange among peoples and nations.
“IPS has always privileged the view of civil society rather than the big personalities and powers, but now more than ever the way we see (and read) the world is horizontal,” writes Mario Lubetkin, IPS Director-General since 2002. “We do not consider communication and information as a simple relation between the message’s sender and those who receive it, it is rather an interactive circulation of communication, which is now even more immediate thanks to the internet.”
According to Lubetkin, IPS?S challenge ahead is to adapt to a changing information world while keeping the values of its original mission, well reflected in the book’s cover which represents the world upside down.
The book was launched in Florence in November, and electronic versions in English and Spanish are being prepared for the coming year.
Today, IPS tallies 50 million page views each month, and distributes its services in 21 languages reaching more than 5,000 media worldwide. (end-2011)