Third world and the press

Americans need to know not only what is happening in their own country, but what is going on in other nations. The interdependence of the world's nations nowadays requires it. That is why it is so important that there be not only freedom of the press within the United States, but also a substantial degree of press freedom within other nations for American and other journalists.

This is a particularly urgent need in many third-world nations: As they mature politically, conditions often change rapidly. Americans, and others in the Western world, need to be apprised of developments so that they may understand these nations and America's relationship to each of them.

For these reasons a conference of a UN agency has wisely decided not to give in to demands by third-world and communist nations. The demands would likely have had the effect of severely constricting freedom of the press in developing nations, and, eventually, democracy there.

The third-world proposal would have supported the concept that governments could license journalists, define responsible reporting standards, and control the news that emanated from them.

Instead, UNESCO - the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization - approved a two-year study of the impact the media have on third-world nations and on international affairs.

It is important that nations that value freedom of the press, and the information it provides to their citizens, not let down their guard on this issue. For upon completion of the study those nations that had sought restrictions on the press may push for them again.

The US had threatened to end its financing of UNESCO - it provides 25 percent of the annual budget - and to withdraw altogether from the organization if the third-world proposal were passed this year. Continued American opposition to the concept can be expected. (The US has also threatened to withdraw over the increase in UNESCO's budget, since Washington pays so much of it.)

For years third-world nations have complained that too many Western news reports tell only of government unrest or disasters and do not sufficiently relate the progress those countries are making, or describe the challenges of leading, in this fast-paced age, nations so newly freed of colonialism. The complaints are understandable, and Westerners at times can see validity in them.

Yet the third-world proposal went much too far; its support by communist nations was indicative that the measure, far from promoting democracy, would have led to stifling it.

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