By Luísa Gockel
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL, 31 July 2006
With the objective of producing and disseminating relevant content on the Latin American reality from civil society’s perspective, Rits, in partnership with another eight South American organisations, is launching the Social Mosaic information portal. The initiative is part of the RitsLAC project, which is aiming to form a regional network of entities working towards integrating and strengthening civil society in the region. The site was officially launched on July 5.
According to Rits’s executive director, Paulo Henrique Lima, the RitsLAC project was a result of contact with Latin American entities, and international appreciation of work carried out by Rits through the Third Sector Review (Revista do Terceiro Setor –Rets). “We see that Rits’s experience in processing information was well received by civil society representatives from other countries. As a result, we are starting to participate in networks that are not solely Latin American, but international, such as APC (Association for Progressive Communications), and we are sharing Brazil’s experience with other Latin American countries,” he says.
At the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, the idea was presented to the Kellogg Foundation, who supported the initiative. The formation of a network of South American entities and the joint production of a site with civil society-oriented content is part of the consolidation of the first phase of the project. “For the second phase, we are seeking the support of entities whose objective is regional integration of Latin America, so as to be able to integrate Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico in the project,” states Paulo Lima.
Moreover, according to the Rits director, securing new supporters will ensure the organisation of events such as seminars to enhance the development of the young journalists from these countries. “We are presenting the project to other partners, so that in the future we can hold meetings that will strengthen the Latin American tradition of social journalism,” Lima plans.
The tradition of critical or social journalism, according to the site editor, Beatriz Bissio, dates back to the journal Cadernos do Terceiro Mundo (Third World Notebooks). The journalist was one of the founders of the publication, which has been in circulation for three decades in dozens of countries, and related stories that were neglected by the major newspapers. Beatriz emphasised the need and hope that the portal would acquire character, and become a reference for civil society. In essence, the two projects – Cadernos and Mosaic – do have similarities, but according to her, there are many differences. “The internet requires that we work with proper criteria, with audio and video resources. Our priority will obviously always be the quality of written content, but we will seek to enhance the site as much as possible with multimedia tools,” she said.
All the South American representatives have journalists committed to the project who produce weekly content, which is decided in online meetings. The diversity of perspectives – that are spatially close, but often have striking cultural differences – is not a problem, according to Lima. He guesses that “it would be difficult to bring together all this diversity if we did not have someone like Beatriz who, through her experience, helps us ensure that the content is meaningful for all countries.”
Integration and identity
According to Lima, it is a new way of approaching regional integration. “Latin America is experiencing a moment of stability and we cannot miss the opportunity of discussing regional integration from civil society’s perspective,” he analyses. For Beatriz, two important aspects should be noted: the fact that relevant content for civil society does not get the space it deserves in the major newspapers, and that the production of this material comes from a section of civil society operating in various contexts and that, in the main, carries the banner for the fight to democratise technological tools.
The search for a regional identity that responds to numerous socio-political contexts in the region can help these entities to better analyse their local realities. “The Mosaic can help these institutions to determine their national issues from a wider perspective. As our representatives are from the whole of South America, and will soon be from all over Latin America, we are working on the development of Latin American citizens whose thoughts cover the larger area of common interest,” analyses Beatriz, emphasising the importance of this attitude of thinking locally and regionally from a block perspective, as per the world trend.
According to the publisher, the objective is not to propose an agenda that corresponds to subjects covered by the major newspapers. “We are going to create our own debate agenda, ever mindful of important topics that may be neglected by the media or by national political agendas,” she adds.
As well as minimising the imbalance between the quantity of content produced in English and that produced in Portuguese and Spanish, the initiative strengthens regional integration and helps to lessen the idea of Brazil being a dislocated country within Latin America. “The idea to use this tool from a Latin American meeting filled an existing gap. The fact that it was Brazil who proposed it is interesting in itself, and demonstrates the new way of viewing the Latin American identity,” said the journalist. For Paulo Lima, in fact, Brazil had its back turned to Latin America for a long time, but this was the stance of all countries.
According to Beatriz, 30 years of work in the review Cadernos do Terceiro Mundo have helped to refine her perspective on these regional issues. “There is a Latin American identity. I felt this in the past and today, I feel it more concretely. In Brazil, there has been positive progress in this direction, as it is opening itself up to Latin America on all levels. And, in turn, other Spanish-speaking countries are starting to seek to hear more from this country with its different language and a history that often took a different path to theirs,” Beatriz analyses.