Communication Is Essential, Despite Shortcomings

Oct 28 2004

Mario Osava

SAO PAULO, Oct 28 (IPS) – The civil war in Colombia, the political polarisation dividing Venezuelan society, the poverty that limits public access to information, and heavy concentration of media ownership are major challenges faced by the media in Latin America.

These were concerns raised by a seminar of journalists that opened this week’s meeting of the Helsinki Process in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city.

The seminar pointed out that communication plays an essential role in the search for solutions to global imbalances, but faces its own serious challenges in today’s globalised world.

In Colombia, there are provinces where radio journalists are unable to report the news using their own undisguised voices due to the danger of reprisals by one of the armed factions, which include leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and government forces, involved in the country’s four-decade civil war.

In Arauca, a war-torn province where just 31 journalists work, four have been killed in the past 14 years, said Colombian reporter Constanza Vieira.

Colombia’s armed conflict also leaks over the country’s borders, causing further problems for journalists in Venezuela, who already face difficulties due to the deep political rift between supporters and opponents of left-leaning President Hugo Chávez. Nearly all media outlets are openly and fervently anti-Chávez.

One Venezuelan journalist and his family received threats after he reported on Colombia’s civil war. In Venezuela, many press workers learn how to protect themselves, by not putting their by-lines on their articles, for example, said Enrique Rondon, who writes for Venezuela’s most widely read newspaper, Ultimas Noticias.

André Singer, spokesman for Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, told the 23 Latin American journalists who took part in Wednesday’s Seminar on the Media that â€?Without freedom of the press, democracy is not possible,â€? because a â€?basicâ€? element for democracy to exist is for people to be able to freely choose their representatives, which means those running for office must have a â€?total guarantee of freedom of expression.â€?

Democracy is an achievement that was gained in a �slow process that required many social struggles,� said Singer, a political scientist and professor at the University of Sao Paulo, who noted that 120 countries today have democratic systems.

Universal suffrage is a recent achievement, he pointed out. In Brazil, women did not win the right to vote until 1932, something that occurred even later in a number of European countries, added Singer, who is also a journalist.

�Democracy of the masses� made communication indispensable as an instrument for shaping public opinion and building the social consensuses necessary for making decisions on complex current issues, which require �contextualised, pluralistic, objective and diversified analyses,� he said.

The journalists’ seminar was one of the events in the Wednesday through Sunday meeting of Track One of the Helsinki Process in Sao Paulo, which is discussing â€?New Approaches to Global Problem-Solvingâ€?.

The Helsinki Process is a joint initiative of the Finnish and Tanzanian governments that began about two years ago with the aim of â€?promoting democracy and equality in international relations,â€? said Ilari Rantakari, Finland’s ambassador to the Process.

The search for solutions for tackling global inequalities with a view to making the world a safer place is spearheaded by the Helsinki Group, which is jointly chaired by the Finnish and Tanzanian ministers of foreign affairs, Erkki Tuomioja and Jakaya Kikwete.

The Group’s deliberations are supported by talks broken down into three tracks: â€?new approaches to global problem-solvingâ€?, the â€?global economic agendaâ€? and â€?human securityâ€?.

The outcome of talks like those currently taking place in Sao Paulo will be used by the Helsinki Group to develop recommendations as to how governments and institutions that shape international affairs can do so in a way that makes globalisation more equitable.

The three tracks are holding talks to draft reports to be discussed at the Helsinki Conference scheduled for Sep. 7-9, 2005, where the organisers hope to create partnerships and coalitions for promoting the approved recommendations.

That objective is based on �building bridges� between leading actors in governments, international organisations, civil society and the private sector, and identifying common foundations in different international forums, like the World Social Forum, the World Economic Forum, and the United Nations.

In the opening session of this week’s Track One meeting, Brazilian Senator Eduardo Suplicy defended the â€?universal basic incomeâ€? (UBI) as a measure for combating poverty and inequality and fostering development.

He explained that the UBI is a mechanism for transferring wealth which, when fully implemented, benefits every citizen or permanent resident from cradle to grave, regardless of whether they live alone or with others, or have a job.

Suplicy, who belongs to Brazil’s ruling leftist Workers’ Party (PT), cited the example of the Alaska Permanent Fund, which pays every man, woman and child resident in the U.S. state of Alaska about 1,000 dollars a year.

Partial mechanisms are already applied throughout the United States, where minimum wage workers who support a family receive an average of 10,000 dollars a year in assistance, he said, noting that this involves around 37 billion dollars in aid that benefits some 20 million people.

In Sao Paulo’s poorest slum neighbourhoods, where wealth transfer mechanisms have been implemented, unemployment is four percent lower than in other shantytowns, and the murder rate, which was among the highest in the country, fell to 51 per 100,000 population, compared to 57 per 100,000 for the city as a whole, said the senator. (END/2004)

“Other News” is a personal initiative seeking to provide information that should be in the media but is not, because of commercial criteria. It welcomes contributions from everybody. Work areas include information on global issues, north-south relations, gobernability of globalization. The “Other News” motto is a phrase which appeared on the wall of Barcelona’s old Customs Office, at the beginning of 2003:â€?What walls utter, media keeps silentâ€?. Roberto Savio

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