Advice from Aga Khan; A new start for the third world's press
Many of the grievances and aspirations expressed by UNESCO (regarding third-world news coverage by Western media) are sincere and perfectly valid. But this does not imply that I am willing to underwrite all solutions proposed by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization).
Some of them have clearly been motivated by ideology and by an entirely different concept of the press as it is understood by most democracies. To me, many of the arguments set forth in the UNESCO debate's resolutions and declarations are not related to the practicalities of producing newspapers, radio and television programs, books and other forms of communications in the developing world.
Whatever has happened to this debate, the problems that originally provoked if have not gone away. The frustrations of the third-world nations are still there, and in many cases growing.
If for many of you the present UNESCO approach is unpalatable, and you are convinced that acceptable solutions cannot be worked out in that forum, then it is imperative that you develop a practical alternative.
How then do we create this new beginning? We must try to isolate the political conflict which always arises over different forms of ownership. I am myself a private newspaper owner, and I believe that disciplined, mature, and recognizable private ownership is the most effective means of managing a newspaper.
What matters is that the organization, whoever owns it, develop sufficient resources and be committed to creating quality newspapers that are responsible, reliable, and readable.
Second, I think we need much more coherent and comprehensive action by the media and governments of the industrial world to make their managerial and technological know-how available to the developing countries.
Third, we all should accept the need for a structured exchange of editorial expertise. The developing countries can make a contribution which is just as important as any of the industrialized nations.
Our fourth task is to make journalism a profession in the truest sense, to give it a status and a level of remuneration appropriate to its enormous responsibilities.
We have all heard of twin cities, why not twin newspaper companies and news organizations between the industrial world and the developing world? These could provide mutually beneficial exchanges of managerial, technological and editorial experience and news.
The press and governments of the industrialized nations could show their commitment to communications development by quickly making the relevant new technology available for credible projects in third-world nations. This should be available under the same preferential financial conditions as any other nation-building programs.
The time of reconditioned teleprinters and secondhand printing presses is over. I am talking about modern plants that can be established with a real chance of commercial success.
It is imperative that standards of reporting be elevated as well. A complaint that the North reports the South superficially, condescendingly, sometines inaccurately, and without proper social, cultural, economic, and political background, often has real validity.
This is what brought the third world together in the first place.
As a Muslim, one of 700 million, I live in daily astonishment about the incomprehension of Islam and its peoples. Some Western media have perpetuated misconceptions which stick like shrouds to the bones of historical skeletons, but in most civilizations the dead are buried. There is, therefore, a need to rethink how we select and train the all-important foreign correspondents and foreign editors.
This new approach must demonstrate to the developing nations that the media and governments of the industrial world are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of many of the third-world complaints, that they are ready to reexamine their own performance and to respond in practical terms to the needs of the press in dev eloping nations.