Communication: From Confrontation to Reconciliation

by Carlos A. Valle

The Rev. Carlos A. Valle is General Secretary of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), 357 Kennington Lane, London SE11 5QY, England.

This speech was presented at the Annual Meeting of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), held in Cape Town, South Africa, June 23-28, 1999.


We live in a world of confrontations in need of reconciliation. What are the grave problems that beset us? What are the possible ways of resolving them?

We live in a world of confrontations in need of reconciliation. What are the grave problems that beset us? What are the possible ways of resolving them? Is reconciliation a realistic, adequate, viable solution? Does communication have anything to contribute along the proposed road from confrontation to reconciliation?

Let’s begin by pointing out some of the most obvious signs of the current malaise in our world. After the Second World War, more than 100 conflagrations have taken place at different levels.1 Europe, that prided itself on celebrating 50 years of peace in the region, will end the century submerged in the horror of the war in the Balkans. Africa greeted the independence of many of its nations with hope.2 Everything indicated that it was the end of a stage of colonisation and oppression. Today, many of those nations have faced tragic experiences like Rwanda, Angola, Sierra Leone,3 and find themselves in a growing spiral of economic dependence with external debts that will not be wiped out even after several generations.4 In Latin America, after repeated and ever more brutal dictatorships, an era of democratic processes began, the majority of which today are bogged down in a general dependence on the centralised countries never seen before.5 The noise of conflict in the Middle East still falls on deaf ears in the heart of the UN, not merely of those affected but also of those who carry decision-making powers in that high-ranking body.6

It is said that the greatest cause of world loss in bio-diversity is due to human activity. Among other things, this is caused by the growing demand for natural resources, increases in population, and economic developments, but also to the excessive and indiscriminate use of resources and a lack of government policies to protect the environment and use it rationally.7 The crises facing the environment, which affect vast regions of our world, have made themselves felt with particular intensity in the Pacific. Nuclear tests have been repeatedly carried out by powers foreign to the region. They argue that the tests carry no danger, but nevertheless they don’t do them on their home ground. Death, illness, degradation of nature and the lives of its inhabitants are some of the most obvious effects.

To this list can be added other situations that have a global dimension, such as that of refugees and forced immigrants, which it has been estimated affects one in 60 inhabitants of the world;8 the problem of poverty, the abuse and sexual exploitation of children;9 the problem of AIDS, the upward trend in the use of drugs and the ever active market for buying and selling arms.

How did we get into this situation?

Much of what today affects life in our world originates in decisions taken after the Second World War. Since the 1930s, the world economy has been sinking into increasing deterioration. World commerce has decreased, the cost of raw materials has fallen sharply and unemployment has grown massively. The agreements reached during this time, instigated in particular by the United States and Great Britain, sought to co-ordinate an international financial and commercial system. This was the origin of the World Bank, the World Bank for Reconstruction and Development and, most recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF).10

This liberal paradigm of free trade and markets, it was imagined, was going to be of general benefit. However, it didn’t happen. The richest countries benefited and they did so to the detriment of the poorest. Many of the latter were limited to producing raw materials and buying manufactured goods. In time one constant has recurred: the price of raw materials fell and those of manufactured goods rose. In both cases the prices are set by the centres of world power. Today it is estimated that the central countries provide, at the world level, 80% of manufactured goods and 40% of primary goods.

Hopes of radical change encouraged many initiatives in the 1960s and 70s. The majority was cruelly cut short. Many military dictatorships, installed under the flag of radical nationalism, opened their economies to the high winds of liberalism. At that time, the rich countries had enormous sums of money which they made available to recently liberated countries. It was supposed that these loans would be used for development. Regrettably a great deal was pilfered for the good of a few, for the acquisition of superfluous and useless goods and to buy armaments. In a short time this resulted in indebtedness far greater than the ability of those countries to repay. The huge external debt acquired, increased by the substantial addition of interest and the deadlock facing Third World countries, produced a marked distortion in the economy that led to a crisis in the 1980s which only got worse in the 1990s.

Today, many of those countries are suffering under restrictions of all kinds imposed by international organisations such as the IMF, owing to enormous external dependence, the breakdown produced or provoked by national or revolutionary experiments, the power of local élites, and massive corruption. The same scenario is repeated in each country, whether in Africa, Asia or Latin America. Any help offered is conditional upon the introduction of harsh measures regulating the internal life of the country. These are generally called adjustment or austerity plans. They impose privatisation of national businesses and their services, the majority of which are acquired by international corporations; they decide levels of taxation with the aim of assuring repayment of the external debt; they make labour laws flexible to the detriment of the worker thus increasing exploitation; they redesign the State to adapt it to the new global economy; and they drastically reduce expenditure on social services and, at the same time, the responsibility of businesses.

It is said that in the 1970s the key word was deregulation because the intention was to eliminate all State controls and regulations over areas such as transport, communications and finances. From the 1980s people began to speak of world-wide extension or, better still, globalisation, based on the growing internationalisation of commerce, the concentration of businesses and capital into what today seems to be turning into a single global market.11 The disintegration of the Soviet Union, the development of the European Community, the growth of ‘new’ Asian countries – even though many of them today are facing serious problems as a result of this new economic configuration – the incipient democracies in various countries of the Third World, are some of the factors accelerating this process.

When the media are at the service of the market

Without doubt this huge development counted on the indispensable support provided by development of transport systems and modern communication technologies.12 It is nothing new to recall the close relationship that exists between the media and communication systems and the broader structure of society. Development of all the modern media proceeded hand-in-hand, especially after the Second World War, with expansion of the economy and concentration in the ownership of goods. That’s why one cannot speak of communication, or wonder about their role today, without considering their place in the broader framework of the world situation.

One clear example is advertising, which has given maximum support to the development of the media and which greatly influences their content.13 In the ever more deregulated world of communication this relationship has grown and become ever more sophisticated. It is well known that certain companies need to know the content of publications or radio and television programmes before deciding if they will publish or broadcast their adverts.14 As Schiller reminds us, in order for advertising ‘to fulfil its systematic crucial role’, it must take a consistent form and throughout reaffirm ‘that consumption is the definition of democracy’ and that, therefore, this means ‘the transformation of the press, radio, television, cable, the satellite and, now, the computer into instruments of marketing.’15

Market concentration is strongly correlated with the concentration of media ownership and the emerging global commercial media system. Today we can list no more than ten enormous conglomerates, a product of the merging of various businesses for multi-million figures.16 This concentration reinforces the fact that for much of this century the international market in films, television programmes, music and books has been dominated by Western firms generally based in the USA. In turn, these new corporations are more and more often tending to set up joint ventures, so that the competition that lies at the heart of the free market is reduced to an agreement between friends. In addition, about 90% of technology today is concentrated in the USA and Europe. This is just one more example of the growing inequalities in the world, which make up a serious source of conflict.17

For Alan Touraine, thinking about contemporary society is governed by two main facts. In the first place, ‘ the increasing dissociation of the instrumental universe and the symbolic universe, of economies and cultures and, secondly, the ever more widespread power - in a social and political vacuum that is increasing - of strategic actions whose goal is not to create social order but to accelerate change, movement and the circulation of capital, goods, services, and information.’18

The economy’s effects on communication

Expanding the economic system of the free market has a number of direct effects on the development of democracy and on the very nature of communication practised in it, which itself becomes a source of confrontation.

In the first place, the number of decisions taken by a few in the name of many is ever increasing, for which they rely on apparent participation by the people. The taking of decisions passes progressively into the sphere of those who hold power. They consider that they always have to face situations that require ‘executive decisions’ that only have to be justified later. Communication becomes instrumental, channelled and exempt from participation. When NATO began bombarding Serbia, a reader wrote to an English newspaper: ‘We are asked for donations to save lives in the Balkans. Our taxes are used, without reference to us, for weapons to kill in the Balkans. Shouldn’t it be the other way round?’19 The letter is short, but it doesn’t lack sense. It was clearly seen that for charity his active co-operation was sought, but for questions of life and death others would decide what action to take and how to make use of taxes. At the time the letter appeared, the figure for voluntary donations reached 20 million dollars, while the cost of the warmongering had already gone beyond 3,000 million. Probably the reader’s question received no reply and, possibly, no one would have thought it necessary or relevant.

In the second place, the commercial media tend to reinforce the depoliticisation of people. As George Gerbner once stated, the giant media conglomerates ‘have nothing to tell, but plenty to sell.’ The depoliticisation of people begins, firstly, with extolling an individualism that is usually particularised and linked together (what’s mine, my family, my people) as the central axis of life, which tends to categorise and isolate people. This leads to rejecting or ignoring everything that affects basic interests: the nation, if it affects my group; my group, if its affects my goods, and so on. Depoliticisation ensures that people measure the actions of governments and enterprises according to how they are affected by them.

In the third place, this system tends to demoralise and effectively to depoliticise people, making them give up all hope that change is possible and that it only remains to accept reality as it is. In the modern jungle the principal law is: ‘Save who can!’ Eduardo Galeano comments: ‘The system negates what it offers, magic objects that turn dreams into reality, luxuries promised by TV, neon lights announcing paradise in the city’s nights, the splendours of virtual riches: as the owners of real riches know, there is no Valium that can calm such anxiety nor Prozac capable of assuaging such torment.’20

In the fourth place, this system generates paradoxical realities. On the one hand, there is greater and growing access to the media while, on the other, the media are in ever fewer hands.21 The role played by global corporations in all spheres of life increases while the role played by nation-states decreases. The importance of freedom of information in the life of society is extolled – although what this means is differently interpreted – while, elsewhere, control and censorship are stressed. We are witnessing a growing concentration of power in many areas of life, and communication is one of the clearest examples, while elsewhere the physical centres of power are diminishing almost to disappearing point. Today it is difficult to determine where those centres lie. They have acquired a special mobility at the same time as they develop growing concentration of power. The gap between rich and poor is more marked at every level. Although the media are expanding globally, the information and resource rich are richer and the information poor poorer.22

Confrontation as non-communication

To speak of confrontation in today’s world and in relation to the world of communication is to speak of a much more complex reality than merely saying that confrontation is a face-to-face clash. Confrontation today is exactly the opposite; it is avoiding the face-to-face encounter. Face-to-face encounters oblige us to deal with confrontation. Today confrontation has at least three variations.

First, the intention not to communicate. Here confrontation is avoiding having to look at one’s adversary. The strategy for defeating him or her is to avoid looking at and being looked at, which is to say avoiding communication. Throughout history every imperialist adventure sought to conquer and dominate, to find riches wherever they may be and to use slaves as a work-force. Because they were not interested in people, they despised cultures, denigrated skin colour, sought religious reasons for finding those they conquered less than human. They saw them without looking at them, because they only saw them as objects. Many today are living in a new neocolonial era that has discovered new ways of exercising domination and furthering non-communication. The crisis facing the UN is a sign of that reality. Some countries persist in taking on the role of the righteous in this world and they do so selectively. They rose up against Hussein and Milosevic, but they stood on the margins of the tragedy in Timor. Nor did they respond to the cries from Myanmar or to the insistent and anguished calls for justice and peace of Aung San Su Kyi in the name of her people. Late, very late, they responded to the genocide in Rwanda and the massacres in Sierra Leone. The protests of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas have been reduced to romantic folklore in the person of Comandante Marcos.

All this and much more goes on in our world. But news about it generally becomes confused, fragmented and decontextualised. The interpretation of events and the actions that must be taken is always presented in such a way that one cannot avoid accepting them because they are inevitable, and denying them or questioning them is always suspect. It is very difficult to take a just position when things are presented in this way. Because how can one not deplore the atrocities committed by the Milosevics, the Pinochets and the Pol Pots of this world and hope for justice? But, how can one not ask oneself, alongside these people, about all the Sukarnos, Videlas, Strossners, Marcos, Duvaliers, Idi Amins who stained their countries with blood while the centres of power ignored them because it benefited their trade to do so? In this world of non-communication through confrontation, the media have often shown themselves to be aligned with the interested party or to keep complicitly silent. How to confront such situations safely is not easy, but there is no doubt that the ‘eye for an eye’ stance does not resolve the conflict. To break with non-communication, to find another way, requires an effort that is both arduous and difficult. To make it we have to consider that this challenge is not only necessary but also possible.

Secondly, the inability to communicate. The inability to communicate that is born of despising the other is a veiled form of confrontation. For example, Ralph J. Premdas has studied the role played in ethnic conflicts by some churches in Third World countries.23 According to him, in many cases the churches have made the conflict worse. The churches’ identification with a given community made it difficult for them to stand at a critical distance and they found themselves involved as part of the problem. Similar examples are to be seen in church declarations and sermons preached in countries caught up in the First and Second World Wars. The same might be said about the attitudes of some churches or certain hierarchies under dictatorial regimes or during recent warlike clashes.24

Gregory Baum believes that it is necessary to confront the enormous ambiguity of the biblical account when it refers to the attitude of the so-called ‘people of God’ and their relationship with outsiders.25 He finds few passages that refer to universal solidarity and many that restrict solidarity to the faith community. The ‘us-them’ equation is extensive, which ‘excludes "them" from participation and creates a negative rhetoric of otherness.’ The attitude of the Christian churches has been strongly influenced by this tendency. It has established an ‘us-them’ relationship that has tended, in some cases, to alienate or devalue those who don’t belong to the community, whether they are people who are not interested in religion or members of another church. In other cases, this relationship has been a cause of confrontation, condemnation, enmity. In the history of Christianity, the pages recounting the attitude taken to pagans and heretics are some of the most shameful. It is important to ask in what way the churches have contributed to propagating this distancing, this non-communication, among human beings thus negating their own reason for being: to be at the service of the whole human community.

Thirdly, the impossibility of communication. One of the worst forms of aggression that changes confrontation into an unequal and endless struggle is produced by the impossibility of communication, because huge sectors of the population lack resources of all kinds.

Today, the growing poverty of enormous sectors of our world is pushing them towards isolation, non-communication and extermination. In a world that has multiplied its riches, that has developed its industrial and technological capacity as never before, poverty is paradoxically flourishing like an exterminating plague. Its most obvious manifestation is the enormous burden of the swollen ‘external debt’ carried by these countries.

Let’s look at just a few facts that describe this picture of increasing poverty. To begin with, absolute poverty touches some 1,300 million people – more than 20% of the world’s population – who have to survive on less than one dollar a day. Hunger is today – more than ever before – what has come to be called the ‘silent bomb’, a bomb that is highly mortal: throughout the world 25 children die of hunger every minute, 13 million each year. Forty-one percent of the poor suffer some degree of malnutrition, which means that when their children develop they suffer not just a reduction in their physical but in their neurological capacities. Very probably those that reach adulthood will be physically and mentally disabled. Today millions of children are exploited in clandestine work in subhuman conditions. It is calculated that one million children less than 16 years old are sold every year on the prostitution market.26 The First World invests some $50,000 million annually in the developing countries but it receives profits of more than $500,000 million. Discrimination against women is growing. Of every 100 hours of work around the world, women do 67, but just 9.4% of income are in their hands.

Many voices have been raised against injustice. The ‘Jubilee 2000’ movement is today one of the biggest solidarity efforts to cancel the debt that afflicts so many countries.27 It has been welcomed by many churches and international movements. It is becoming a call resounding throughout the world that requires a swift response because we are at the point of no return. As a poet says:

The grandchildren of those who have no work will pay no debt.

Nor those who join together pieces of cardboard to make a shelter.

Nor those who scrabble in waste-bins to find a crust,

nor she who lacking bread becomes a whore,

nor he who reaches seven and is an idiot,

nor he who found life with its doors shut,

nor he who sees his skies invaded,

nor he whose sweat is not even his own,

nor he who sells his blood in the transnational blood trade

to buy a handful of rice for his children.28

The preservation of life and its development is a fundamental part of communication. The impossibility of communication carries the mark of extermination and death. This is perhaps one of the most atrocious forms of confrontation.

José María Pasquini Durán, the Argentinian political commentator, is convinced that this dominant process of globalisation has transformed the world into one of fragmentation, in which nothing is related to anything else. At the same time, it has abandoned politics to the lottery of the economy and society to that of the market. Human beings are ‘not masters of their destiny but obey intangible and superior forces.’ This world, which is directed by invisible forces, which cannot be controlled or managed, propels us towards inaction and submerges us in non-communication. Pasquini Durán also believes that ‘the irrationality of the one-way thinking of the "humanitarianists" of the First World takes humanity away from politics in order to justify an inhuman economy. For it to be untouchable, it was necessary to fragment reality, like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle that no one can put together again.’29

Is it possible to find a way out of this labyrinth? Does humanity have both the courage and the will to reverse a process that further entraps us every day? Does communication have something to contribute to breaking this overwhelming non-communication?

If there is a path to take to respond to this and other pressing questions, that path is the one from confrontation to reconciliation.

Why speak of reconciliation?

The idea of reconciliation is a central theme of almost all religions and today it has also taken on secular forms. It is intimately linked to the theme of guilt and atonement. According to religious tradition, when the relationship with the gods is broken, the only way of re-establishing it is to go through the rite of atonement. In this way one will succeed in placating the wrath of the gods and win their favour again. So that in many religions, such as the Greek or Judaic tradition, reconciliation means ‘a change of feelings in the angered gods produced by human atonement.’30

The gods of all times begin by setting out their demands and consecrating them. When an economic system, political movement, or a nation is consecrated, it becomes a god. The belief that punishment unfailingly follows guilt because it is necessary to placate the gods - whatever they are called - has throughout human history provided arguments for destruction, oppression, annihilation and producing total non-communication. As Richard Shaull says: ‘And anything that gives a sacred aura to structures legitimating the domination and exploitation of the weak by the strong calls for human sacrifices.’31 Shaull believes that when the ultimate purpose a social order is at the service of a few rich and powerful people: ‘such idolatry inevitably becomes antihuman and calls for major sacrifices.’ Those who control the IMF and many leaders are demanding sacrifices of people if they want to find prosperity. But they themselves are not ready to make those sacrifices nor do they ask others if they are ready to do so, but they impose them without mercy on the most helpless. The gods demand unconditional devotion, so everything that opposes them is an enemy that has to be eliminated. It only remains to offer them sacrifices of atonement, which will result in salvation for those who offer them and purification for the world.

The idea of guilt and punishment has permeated Christian thinking in different epochs. Reworked by Christian theologians, the idea of atonement and reconciliation came closer at various times to the old concept that someone has to bear the guilt, to be an expiatory victim, than to the central focus of the biblical tradition. There, atonement has a new meaning. God is not an angry god who needs human atonement, but is the one who offers restitution. God is not the object of atonement but its subject. Therefore, human atonement is not a requisite to achieve reconciliation. ‘God has broken the connection between guilt and disgrace... and has created the possibility of overcoming guilt by means of forgiveness.’32 In this way, no person, country, community, ethnic group can be considered or treated as a ‘scapegoat’, because God does not demand human sacrifices in order to live the reconciliation that He offers.

When the Apostle Paul refers in his letters to reconciliation, his main idea is precisely that God is the subject of reconciliation. It is striking that the word he uses for reconciliation did not at that time have any theological or cult resonance. It was a secular word whose basic meaning was change or barter. It had very little religious use and cannot be considered a technical term to do with atonement rites. It may be that, when Paul speaks of reconciliation, he wants to make quite clear that he is not referring to any human atonement. There are three main concepts. First, God is the subject of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5: 18ff), a reconciliation that God brought about when ‘we were still enemies’ and that, therefore, precedes any human action. Second, Christ is the true message of God’s reconciliation. Moltmann says so clearly: ‘God... is the one who suffers vicariously "for us" and "for many" as our representative... How does this happen? It happens because by "carrying" or "bearing" human guilt, God transforms it into {God’s} own suffering. According to the New Testament, Christ does not only become the Brother of the victims. He becomes the one who atones for the guilty too.’33 Third, the reconciliation offered by God is not achieved on the basis of confession of some fault or of the penitence deemed necessary to gain favour. Every act of confession is always a response to the reconciliation that God has brought about, the full stop to the enmity between God and human beings. To the reconciliation offered by God belongs the response of the ‘service to reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5: 19). This service is not a ritual service but a response of faith expressed in a reconciliatory action in the daily life of the world.

Communication in the service of reconciliation

Well now, the world situation today doesn’t give us much to shout about. New sacrificial altars are being set up on which the excluded of the world are immolated, ‘the earth’s damned’ (Frantz Fanon). Is there any way of changing this situation? What can communication bring to the service of reconciliation? There are at least three aspects of reconciliation that pose a challenge to communication.

First, because reconciliation means the opportunity to begin to travel the road to a genuine human community which is in solidarity. Reconciliation involves change and forgiveness. An encounter through reconciliation demands the courage and determination to establish communication that seeks change and forgiveness. This was what Bonhoeffer thought about the place of Christians in their struggle against Nazism: ‘We have been silent witnesses of evil deeds; we have been drenched by many storms; we have learned the arts of equivocation and pretence; experience has made us suspicious of others and kept us from being true and open: intolerable conflicts have worn us down and even made us cynical.’34 That’s why we have to begin by accepting that slavery of the oppressed is only one dimension of the slavery that oppresses them. When someone closes their eyes to their own or others’ injustices, or closes their ears to the cries of the needy, something human dies within them. Communication in the service of reconciliation must become a liberating force that breaks the chains of inhumanity that bind both those who suffer as well as those who make them suffer.

Second, because reconciliation means seeing the other as one’s neighbour. For this it is necessary to revise one’s own history together with the other. An old song recalls that if the winner writes history, this means that there is another history, of course, that of the loser. But one or the other is not, perhaps, the whole story. The arrogance of triumph or the bitterness of defeat will taint each one. Each one will tend to dehumanise the other. Could there be something akin to a common history, in which errors are confessed, a human face is given to the enemy, and paths towards an encounter are traced? Communication in the service of reconciliation is communication in the service of truth and justice. Truth and justice not as abstract values but as tools to destroy the prejudices that denigrate the human condition, to restore the human faces of so many whose dignity society has denied.

Third, because reconciliation means respect and care for the most helpless. In the film Come and See, by Elem Klimov, the young adolescent from the north of Ukraine who witnessed the Nazi extermination of the people of his village, empties his rifle at a picture of Hitler. In his despair, he thinks he sees Hitler’s life pass in retrospect. At each scene he responds with more anger and the more he fires his rifle. But, finally, when he sees Hitler as a little boy in the arms of his mother, he cannot continue. It is possible that in that one image he saw every defenceless child everywhere or even himself. His fury changed into a reverential silence, for fear of hurting that which should be protected. We are in need of communication that humanises: which speaks of persons not numbers, statistics, or percentages and which, if it must, doesn’t do so to justify the lack of feelings of those who have the power of decision; which speaks of people’s needs, their suffering, their dreams, which does not ignore or trivialise them or content itself with showing how bad they are in other parts. When communication acquires such a human face, that will be when it can lend itself to the service of reconciliation.

In various places there are growing signs of this spirit of reconciliation, of the search for restitution, that attempts to strengthen human dignity:

  • South Africa, after years of suffering and struggling for freedom, has provided an example with its ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ in which it is necessary and possible, in the words of Dullah Omar, Minister of Justice, ‘ come to terms with the past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation.’
  • In Kigali, a programme for orphaned children, survivors of the Rwandan genocide, is providing physical, emotional and moral help so that children can rediscover their smiles and, through song and dance, begin to heal their wounds.
  • Kurds and Berbers similarly affirm, in their claim for the right to express themselves in their own languages, whose use they have been unjustly deprived of, lies a fundamental value of human dignity.
  • Prisoners in Indonesia, taking part in a project to develop writing skills, are discovering new possibilities in life.
  • Communicators from different organisations in Latin America, that share a love of community radio and the right to communicate, work for an integrated community in dialogue, in which the media are at the service of that aim.
  • A programme against female genital mutilation in Egypt that stands up to a thousand-year-old tradition, strengthens the conviction – that women justly and insistently proclaim – that in restoring woman’s dignity lies the health of the whole community.
  • Networks working together, born of base groups and community service organisations, are using new communication technologies and demonstrating how these technologies can be placed in the service of community development.
  • Seminars, meetings, workshops, declarations, publications, research at various levels are becoming indispensable tools to understanding the problems facing communication, such as the growing concentration of media power; to sharing experiences of change and new and creative communication alternatives; to combine efforts to defend the right to communication and to denounce violations; to discover new paths in solidarity.

All these examples and many more that could be mentioned show that the ways to reconciliation are diverse and require the participation of many people in building a new world. Communication has to work in order to reverse this fragmented, unjust and contradictory world and to toil for the right to communication in the context of reconciliation. Yet reconciliation is only a point of departure on the road towards the dream and hope of a united world in solidarity. Is this a utopian project? Someone said that utopia is not the finishing line at the end of the end of the road. It is a shifting point that moves forward while we ourselves move forward. Utopia is the incentive for continuing to move forward, because (as Paulo Freire said) ‘we exist by moving on’.




1. ‘Since 1945 there have been 133 wars world-wide. If the duration of individual wars is added together, then one arrives at the period of 369 years. Each of these wars lasted on average more than three years. On one day between 1945 and 1976, 11.5 wars were taking place simultaneously.’ Ulrich Duchrow and Gerhard Liedke, Shalom, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1987, p.33.

2. Between 1958 and 1963 the number of independent countries in Africa increased from 9 to 28.

3. ‘Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, about 14,000,000 people were sold by and to white men without Christianity being accountable. Between 1980 and 1990, our African governments restored the slave market by bartering their populations for absolute domination. They drove about 14,000,000 women, children and men from their homes, fleeing from the Cold War "National Security". In Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia and Southern Africa governments spawned millions of their own internally displaced. Churches preferred to cushion the crisis with prayer, charity and other mechanisms of conflict-avoidance.’ Timothy M. Noja, ‘The Church as a Global Society’ in Reform World, Vol. 48, No. 4, December 1998, p. 188.

4. According to global debt statistics, every African owes more than $300 at birth. Sub-Saharan Africa debt continues to grow and has already surpassed the region’s GNP (World Bank, World Debt Tables 1994-95, Vol. 2, Washington, USA, 1994).

5. Argentina, which in the first decades of the 20th century boasted an economy that placed it among the first 12 countries in the world, today finds itself with a debt of more than 100,000 million dollars, with interest repayments already close to 25% of its annual budget and unemployment estimated at around 20%. According to the World Bank, almost a third of the population are on the poverty line.

6. See The World Guide (TWG), 1997/98, Instituto del Tercer Mundo, 1997, pp. 315-18

7. TWG, p.66.

8. TWG, pp.45-46. UNHCR has shown that in 1991 17 million were being spoken of, in 1995 this was already more than 27 million, while other sources indicate even higher figures.

9. TWG, pp. 22-23 The First World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Sweden, 1996) reported it as an issue of global concern.

10. In 1994 the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was created to replace the GATT. WTO members have agreed to enter into ‘reciprocal and mutually advantageous arrangements directed to the substantial reduction of tariffs and others barriers to trade and to the elimination of discriminatory treatment in international trade relations.’ See, Communication Resource, Supplement to Action Newsletter, WACC, London, March, 1999.

11. The bibliography on globalisation is enormous. In relation to this theme, see Chris Arthur, The Globalization of Communications, WCC-WACC, Geneva, 1998.

12. One explanation for the accelerated pace of technological development lies in the enormous budget that, for example, the USA has assigned it since the Cold War. ‘By some measures the cold war was the best thing that ever happened to research. The exploitation of money, talent and tools far exceeded anything in previews years… over the decades (an army) of government, academic and industry experts made the breakthroughs that gave the West its dazzling military edge… Since 1955, the government has spent more than $1 trillion on research and development of nuclear arms and other weaponry.’ Quoted from Herbert I. Schiller, Information Inequality, Routledge, Lodon, 1996, p.62

13. On the US television network 4000 commercials per week in 1983 and 6000 in 1990 were shown.

14. The case of Chrysler and Colgate Palmolive has been reported, who demanded advance information on the content of radio, TV and several publications in which their adverts were to appear. It is understood that they didn’t wish to be associated with contents that would provoke rejection by the public, but economic pressure tends to have a decisive influence on content and the exercise of prior censorship. At the same time the rise of digital computer networks and the development of the Internet have pushed corporations to get involved in the production and control of content. For example, BT-MCI owns 13.5% of News Corporation and US West has a large stake in Time Warner (see note 21).

15. Herbert I. Schiller, op.cit., p.61

16. Disney, Time Warner, Berteslmann, Viacom, News Corporation, TCI, Sony, General Electric (owner of NBC), Polygram (owned primarily by Philips) and Seagram (owner of Universal). Very recently Cable Company Comcast bought Media One for $60 billion. This was considered a very high price. Now, the number of its subscribers is over 11 million, very near to Time Warner (12.6 million) and AT&T-TCI (12.5 million). They are trying to dominate a business that is moving from traditional cable TV to high-tech products, including high speed Internet service and telephony. As part of its five-year programme ‘Communication for Human Dignity’ WACC has been organising, with several groups, regional workshops on ‘Media Ownership and Control’. See Media Development, 4/1998.

17. The 225 richest persons in the world together hold the equivalent wealth of 2,500 million of the poorest people - 47% of the world’s population. Two years ago 378 of the richest persons matched this percentage of the population. According to Time magazine (19 April 1999) ‘$4,566,000, (is) the amount (Bill) Gates made per hour over the last year. If his wealth continues to grow at such a rate he will become the world’s first trillionaire by 2004.’

18. Alain Touraine, ¿Podemos vivir juntos?, Fondo de Cultura Económica, Argentina, 1997, p.20.

19. The Guardian, London, 8 April 1999.

20. Eduardo Galeano, Patas arriba, La Escuela del Mundo al Revés, Catálogos SRL, Buenos Aires, 1998 p. 32.

21. A more recent example of concentration is the purchase of Media One by Cable Company Comcast, with which the number of subscribers reached 11 million, very close to Time Warner Inc., 12.6 million and AT&T, 12.5 million. So that now three cable companies concentrate 75% of the total number of subscribers in the US. USA Today, 23 March 1999.

22. "About 147m people are now wired to the Internet, almost half of them in the US. Japan has 10m users, Germany 8m, and the UK 7m. But whereas one in four Australians is now wired, in Africa the ratio is 1 to 4,000. China is expected to have more internet users than cars in 2002." The Guardian, 29 May 1999.

23. Ralph Premdas is professor of political science and sociology at the University of the West Indies, St. Augustine and Trinidad and Tobago, mentioned in Greogory Baum and Harold Well (editors), The Reconciliation of Peoples, WCC, Geneva, 1997, p.186.

24. During the 7th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (Canberra, Australia, February 1991) the so-called ‘Gulf War’ was taking place. WCC delegates from all parts of the world threw themselves into discussing different political and theological aspects of the war, which influenced the final approval of the controversial document ‘Statement on the Gulf War, the Middle East and the Threat to World Peace’, in Signs of the Spirit, Official Report, edited by Michael Kinnamon, WCC Publications, Geneva, 1991, pp. 202-216.

25. Gregory Baum and Harold Wells, op.cit., p. 186.

26. Figure estimated by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution in Asia Tourism), TWG, op.cit., p. 22.

27. As called for by the recent Christian Aid campaign: ‘End Third World Debt… and start to END the Third World.’

28. From ‘El Tayacán’, Nicaragua, a poem attributed to Ernesto Cardenal.

29. José María Pasquini Durán, ‘Fragmentados’ in Página 12, Buenos Aires, 24 April 1999.

30. H. G. Link, ‘Reconciliation’, in Diccionario Teológico del Nuevo Testamento, Vol.4, Ediciones Sígueme, Salamanca, 1987, p.44.

31. Ricard Shaull, Naming the Idols, Skipjack Press, Inc., Ocean City, Maryland, 1988, p.148.

32. H.G.Link, op.cit. p.45.

33. Quoted by H. G. Link, ibid, p.46.

34. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison. London: SCM, 1971, p. 16.