A third-world view of 'new information order'

From remarks to the Rotary Club of Guyana by a cabinet minister of that country with experience in journalism and broadcasting. Let me begin by stating what the New International Information and Communication Order is not.

It is not an argument in favor of authoritarian or dictatorial control of information or for the restriction of the free flow of information. It is not an argument for state or government-controlled information delivery systems. It is not a conspiracy between the second and third world to use UNESCO to restrict the press of the first world.

Now let me say what the quest for a New International Information and Communication Order is.

It is an argument that the West dominates and controls the direction, flow, management, and content of information internationally. It is an argument that the flow of information is virtually all one way - from North/West to South and that that is wrong and unacceptable. It is an argument that the West uses that control to influence world opinion and to isolate its own people from the realities of the world of developing nations. It is an argument that the present international communication system is unbalanced and unjust and that those concerned with freedom ought to be concerned with justice, as freedom and justice are indivisible. It is an argument that freedom should not be a condition dependent upon wealth and power, and if it is then it is not freedom. It is an argument that the present structure and order of the world communication system must be reformed and changed in favor of a just and balanced flow so that voices of the people of the developing nations, who are the majority of the people in the world, have at least an equal opportunity of being heard internationally.

The argument offered that the Western press is ''free from control,'' meaning governmental control, is misleading and simplistic. Mass media empires, especially in the United States and United Kingdom, which own, control, and dominate the press and broadcasting throughout the Western world, and internationally, make a mockery of Milton's plea in his ''Areopagitica'' for a ''free and open encounter.'' These empires represent the very antithesis of the idea of ''press freedom'' offered by men like Descartes and Locke.

It is true that most third-world media organizations, as is the case in Guyana, are owned and financed by their governments. Most third-world countries are at a stage of economic development when there is often no other alternative, unless it be foreign ownership. But there is no logical argument as to why commercial control of the media is inherently any less evil than political control.

Nations like Guyana are struggling to escape the narrow economic bonds placed upon them by a colonial or imperialist past and we are faced with the need to bring about rapid economic and social development. Almost overnight, our people are expected to be receptive to ideas of cooperation, self-reliance, to work for national effort devoid of short-term tangible rewards.

In this context, information is a valuable resource. The media have a responsibility to educate, to persuade productive attitudes, to raise the national conscience, and then to entertain. If the media misinforms, however, it will lose its credibility and its purpose will not be served.

If, for the first world, information is an entertainment and commercial commodity, and for us a developmental tool, it should not be grounds for conflict.

What does matter is that two-thirds of the world's transmitted information originates directly or indirectly in the US followed by the UK, France, the Soviet Union, and China; that there are roughly 25,000 television transmitters in the world and 24,000 of them are in the industrialized world; that nine-tenths of all foreign news transmitted around the world is accounted for by four Western news agencies.

The first world currently exercises an international information dictatorship. It cannot be represented as free.

Progress will be made only when first world media owners, their editors, and their governments are themselves willing to face the issues and apply internationally the standards they advocate domestically.

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