From: Inter Pres s Service Harare <email@example.com>
Subject: INFORMATION: Role of Western Media Still Questioned
NEW YORK, Mar 23 (IP S) - Twenty years after developing countries first called for a 'New World Information Order' (NWIO), Western media are still being faulted for distorting and ignoring much of the world around them.
Even as Western media have bolstered their domination of global news, Western news content seems less and less informative, according to critics, who range from Sebiletso Mokone-Matabane, Co-chair of South Africa's Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) to U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.
Speaking at an international media conference here this week, Boutros-Ghali noted that press freedom should remain a priority for the world body, but he pointed to serious shortcomings in international media coverage.
In Angola, where the United Nations has been trying to end a bloody civil war, more people have died than in all other current U.N. operations around the world combined. Yet the Western media have all but ignored the African nation, he said.
Similarly, El Salvador was covered extensively when its own civil war was raging, but ''not much is reported on the (peace) achievements since then,'' according to the U.N. chief.
While criticising media coverage of U.N. operations, however, Boutros-Ghali was silent on the behaviour of member-states like the United States, which virtually strait-jacketed the international media during the U.N.-sanctioned Gulf War.
Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who also spoke at the Columbia University Conference, agreed that press freedom is essential. but, like much of the Western media, he added that a free press can only co-exist ''with a free market''.
Not so, said fellow Canadian Gertrude Robinson, A McGill University professor, who said she found this rhetoric about free markets ''intensely troubling.''
''How can this one prescription fit the whole universe of different realities in other governments?'' she asked. Market criteria cannot fulfill the requirements of representativeness, balance and social good, Robinson said.
Robert Macneil, a prominent news anchor for U.S. public television, also said that market-driven owners of news organisations do not uphold the public trust.
He decried the ''increasing blurring between entertainment and news'' in commercial television. This is a direct consequence, he said, of ''increased competition in the marketplace,'' where people's appetites for gossip and speculation have made entertainment -- not information -- the big money earner.
However, Macneil stayed away from issues of bias and prejudice in the western media, which have been documented even in his own news programmes by media watchdogs like the New York- based Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.
These issues were raised forcefully, though, by speakers like the IBA's Mokone-Matabane, who is also a member of the African National Congress (ANC).
The Western media used to label the ANC and the Palestine Liberation Organisation as ''terrorist organisations,'' although that label seems to have suddenly disappeared, she noted.
Fumio Kitamura, managing director of the Foreign Press Center in Japan, also agreed that labeling by Western media causes many problems and that, as a result, many developments in Asia and other regions are ''widely misunderstood'' by the West, he said.
For instance, during his posting in the Middle East, Kitamura noticed that the Palestinian organisation Hamas originally began as a grass-roots charity organisation, but the ''sheer brutality'' of the Israeli forces led it to adopt different tactic.
This chain of events is not adequately represented in Western media, he said.
Much heated debate also revolved around the perceived role of Western media organisations, given their global clout and reach.
Joseph Mehan, a former UNESCO official, criticised them for not actively supporting principles like global peace and cooperation which were part of a call by developing nations in the 1970s for a NWIO to help bring about a more balanced and representative global flow of news.
''This was widely misunderstood and condemned by the West, and even today the arrogance of the Western media has not changed,'' Mehan told IPS.
Western media's attempts to ''export'' their model of organisation to other non-Western cultures -- a growing portion of dwindling foreign-aid money, was also troubling to many panelists from developing nations.
Despite the domestic problems that many developing nations face, their people still hate being preached to by Western nations, said Tunji Lardner, a journalist from Nigeria.