Sunday, 17 February 2008

International Communication-NWICO

The great debate of New World Information and
Communication Order (NWICO)

With the end of cold war conflict of ideologies and Third World position of collective bargaining sharply eroded, the post cold war information and communication order by and large is negation of what was pleaded in the numerous formulations of previous concept of the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO). The flow of information news and information form developed to developing countries has intensified and world is witnessing a new scenario in which small and weaker cultures are finding if difficulty of ward off the information and cultural onslaught that has been unleashed through new channels of communications. With advances in communication technologies and advent of information revolution, the one-way flow of information has tremendously intensified.

In the wake of MacBride Commission Report (1980), strong differences arose on “balance versus free flow” of international news and information. The free flow doctrine was essentially a part of the liberal, free market discourse that championed the rights of media proprietors to sell wherever and whatever they wished. As most of the world’s media resource and media-related capital, then as now, were concentrated in the West, it was the media proprietors in the Western countries, their governments and national business communities that had most to gain.42

There were differences between notions of "press freedom" or "free flow". Western countries were not sensitive towards imbalance in the flow of information and news and the kind of distorted images it was generating.

The NWICO ideals were collective right to communicate, the rights of sovereign entities to protect their cultures, and the concept of a plurality of information sources. The essential criterion of information freedom resides in the plurality of sources and in the free access to these sources and to all kinds of opinion. The conflict between North and South over the dissemination of news is more intractable than any other contemporary debate over the unfair distribution of earth resources. The flow of news is vital because it is dominant channel that help people to form perceptions and images of world. The news intrudes into the very culture societies. The Western concepts that governed selection and dissemination of news had resulted into creation of negative images of developing countries. Images of Western audiences have become conditioned to a view of the Third World which is founded upon selective, wrong or ill-judged information and which can be characterized as "exploitive, patronizing, and distorted." Moreover, because of the vast market for news and increasing commercialization of news media, it remained difficult to provide a balanced view of the Third World. Almost all major global news organizations are controlled by a few Western nations; the third world perspectives and alternative visions are almost missing.43

Information users in the developed countries interpret, process, and act upon this information, redistributing it in turn to the client states, along with more information about their own activities, cultures, and politics. Thus, the Third World nations come to be viewed through the eyes of the information interpreters of the developed nations, whose organizations control both the finances and infrastructures of the distribution system, while the developing nations never quite receive the latest information, nor the latitude of interpreting it to their own advantage. As well, in terms of pure volume of information produced and consumed, the developing nations lag far behind.44

Struggles over communication policy have emerged as central in the post war system of international power and the communications industries as among the largest stakeholders in the public choice model. However, the problem is that these international information processes are in integral part of the dependency relations that determine the economic, political, and cultural organization of the current international order. In conjunction with the economic expansion of Western capitalism, Western techniques, symbols and social patterns were exported to the colonized territories.45

Thus, as Hamid Mowlana states, ``communication study is largely the outcome of global and national forces that have propelled the communication process to the centre of domestic and international attention and concern.''46

At the beginning of the 1980s as the information revolution began to unfold, many Third World nations realized the need to design and implement national information policies. MacBride Commission also stressed the need to develop comprehensive national communication policies linked to overall social, cultural and economic development. It was also the period when neoliberalism started to dominate US and UK policies- domestic and foreign as well. The new era set in and the predominance of neoliberalism negated the gains of Third World what ever they were. This resulted into the process, by which the existing policy and institutional framework for international communication has developed, only facilitated the corporate dominance in the creation of global civil society, and the surplus of communicative rights enjoyed by corporate speakers. The corporate mass media play a vital role in creating and channeling consumer demand to fulfill corporate marketing needs and objectives.''47

In the 1970s movement of Third World nations to establish a New World Information and communication Order (NWICO) in conjunction with a New World Economic Order, got wide support. It was widely accepted that there is need to rectify the imbalances built into the global political economy after four centuries of imperialism. The movement was squashed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was adamant opposition from corporate media and the U.S. and British governments. Indeed, the United States and Britain both withdrew from UNESCO in the mid-1980s in large part to express their dissatisfaction with that group's alleged desire to interfere with the operations of the global commercial media corporations. The aftermath of the NWICO defeat has seen the thoroughgoing demolition of anti-imperialist sentiments in the third world. In their place is the doctrine of neoliberalism, which calls for the fullest possible integration of national economies into global market system.48

The scholarly study of the political economy of communication entails two main dimensions. First, it addresses the nature of the relationship of media and communication systems to the broader structure of society. In other words, it examines how media (and communication) systems and content reinforce, challenge, or influence existing class and social relations. Second, the political economy of communication looks specifically at how ownership, support mechanisms (e.g. advertising), and government policies influence media behavior and content. This line of inquiry emphasizes structural factors and the labor process in the production, distribution, and consumption of communication.49

"The Third World has accused the West of cultural domination through its control of the major news- collecting resources of the world, through the unstinted flow of its cultural products across the world, and through the financial power of its advertising agencies, its international newspaper chains, its newsprint companies, and its hold over the electro-magnetic spectrum on which broadcasting, navigation, meteorology and much else depend. The seeping effect of this vast machinery has transferred the social fabric of Third World countries as it has repressed its traditional cultures"50

The news imperialism

Anthony Smith (1980) argued that "news imperialism" obtained from bias in content as well as economic factors. Due to marketing practices, the methods of news collection, and the structure of news itself, audiences in both the producing and consuming states received a biased picture of world. Our mental media picture of the world is compounded of our Western interests within it and is supportive therefore of those interests. The struggle to escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stage in its struggle for independence."51

NWICO assumption that information plenty is concomitant to and predetermined of economic prosperity remains at least arguable. Smith's Geopolitics, focused almost exclusively upon the imbalance evidenced in the news media. The choice of focus is far from arbitrary, since Smith viewed this area as the most contentious. "The conflict between North and South over the dissemination of news is more intractable than any other contemporary debate over the unfair distribution of earth resources, for it intrudes into the very culture of Western societies."52

The neoliberal era had resolved the conflict by incorporating the “elites” of Third World into new global multinational corporate culture. The new corporate interests of information age have incorporated the ever expanding additional purchasing power segment of the developing societies-the thriving middle class-that is becoming increasingly dependent on the somewhat 'magical power' of the new and ever changing information technologies. The new information instruments that have emerged have been adopted by affluent societies and again partially shared with the affluent sections of the developing societies and thus a “partnership of interests” has been created. The information and communication technologies, the neoliberal globalization and the controlled information revolution has played vital role in creating this “community of interests” in the “corporate global village” that is governing class today in the new world order. As a logical result, it accelerated the lop-sided social development, which has the potential of generating a news kind of social unrest. The world order that emerged as aftermath of information revolution helped the process of increasing power to the indigenous elites in the third world countries that was ready to collaborate with the multinational. The elites are Western oriented and now major challenge before dominant world order to perpetuate the power of Westernized indigenous elites. Citing the case of the Philippine press, Smith contended that western liberal schemes, such as, bilateral grants, training, or skill-transfer programmes resulted in "transplanted journalism", and the formation of elites who were in effect "internal émigrés", divorced from their own cultures. The existing information order is "a product of and has itself extended the historical relationships between the 'active' and the 'passive' nations.53

The images of nations are primarily created by means of the news. That is how the North comes to know the South and the interests that control news are also in control of the images. Smith contended, the exporting nations reinforce their own cultural images in the client nations through many other "physical and cultural" exports. Films, tourism, and consumer products such as automobiles are possible examples. As well, journalists from those nations and abroad report frequently on activities in the developed nations. With the emergence of global media, the flow of news is controlled by few big news organization and they are in control of news flows in all directions. However, because of the way in which news is constructed and marketed, emphasizing the most violent or dramatic images, the media present a selective or distorted image of the less developed nations.54

Disaster-oriented journalism

In interpreting Third World events for domestic audiences, Western journalists apply their own standards of propriety. The very concept of event to qualify to be newsworthy has to be “interesting” and “eye-catching” has resulted into what is termed as ‘disaster-oriented journalism’. The process of information gathering and dissemination that is involved in practice results into selection of only or mostly negative events and thus create only negative images. And, here lies the crux of media bias: "It is what the agencies and Western journalism does inadvertently which is the trouble. We think of the price of motor cars as necessarily rising through no one's fault; we think of the price of petrol rising as a direct result of the 'greed' of a few Arabs."55

It is widely known that almost over 90 percent of global flow of news (the "hard news"-the events of the day and the first report generally became trend setter in rest of coverage of the event) is controlled by Western news agencies. These agencies control even domestic distribution of news in developing countries through exchange arrangements with domestic news agencies. The Reuters of Britain, United Press International (UPI), Reuters, Associated Press (AP) of USA, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) of France and DPA of Germany are major players in global news market that now control domestic markets in context of international news. These news agencies are the primary producers and controllers of news.56

The issues of cultural domination and the concept of national sovereignty got new meaning in the wake of collapse of Soviet model and world becoming unipolar and with the intensification of neoliberal globalization. In addition to being material "have-nots", inhabitants of the ‘periphery’ nations have become "know-nots" when it comes to possession of important decision-making knowledge, since raw data is increasingly processed into knowledge in the ‘centre’.57 With the end of Cold War, the Third World of the 1990s finds itself with only one ideological pole toward which to turn, and with the United States as the major viable source of economic assistance. It would seem that the basic NWICO assumption that information plenty is concomitant to and predetermined of economic prosperity remains at least arguable, if not dead.58

The Western/American domination over information and images has on the one hand let the western cultural domination of the world and at the same time it generated strong reaction and the burns of backlash are also being felt as domination does not allow “dissent’ and alternative visions or the gap between the dissent and alternative visions is not compatible any longer and the democratic institutions are failing to work as outlet of people anger and frustrations. The ‘rejection’ in the absence of ‘democratic outlet’ is heading in different directions. The resistance of negative dimensions of the new order is increasingly getting manifested in negative forms in the absence of any genuine ideological alternative. The most dominant form of negative rejection is religious fundamentalism that has become focal point in the wake of 9/11.The religious fundamentalism may not be creation of new order but is drawing a lot of strength from the new situation.

Threat to cultural identities

The threat to cultural identities is finding manifestations in various forms and in Islamic world dominantly in religious fundamentalist form and hardened attitudes in certain circles in the West. “That tells me that they see our culture as alluring but poisonous — the Ayatollah Khomeini used the word in Farsi that I am told — I do not speak Farsi — that translates as "West toxification," literally like they are being poisoned by the West. Apparently there is a big "Baywatch" cult in Iran, and can't you just see the Mullah saying, "We want to watch it too?" The only way to stop this temptation is to destroy the source, the West. I don't think you can have a dialogue with people like that.”59

Ideally speaking, new efforts might consist of developing better ways of exporting information from the rich nations of the North and West, to the poor ones of the South and East, and of importing knowledge of developing countries through development education activities.60 But it is not so. In the wake of emergence of new order as key product of information revolution, the intense public relations campaign of North American researchers, economists, and sociologists - supporters of free informatics, the free flow of information, private corporate enterprise, and the status quo - demonstrates the attempt to legitimize as a universally valid doctrine what is obviously an economic and ideological offensive. What makes the reordering of information flows all the more urgent today is that they have become, in just a few years, the common denominator of economic, political, cultural, and social activity at global level? The indispensable need for fundamental change is not solely due to the value assigned to information as a factor in development. The control exercised by a few elites over communications channels, and the storage, processing, and distribution of date and messages make these mechanisms one of the principal components of the dominant system.61

Due to marketing practices, the methods of news collection, and the structure of news itself, audiences in both the producing and consuming states received a biased picture of world. Our mental media picture of the world is compounded of our Western interests within it and is supportive therefore of those interests. The struggle to escape from our bad image of the Third World is an essential stage in its struggle for independence."62

On the one hand West insistence on free flow doctrine has been created massive imbalance in the flow of news and information but on the other hand governmental dominance of news and information in most to the developing countries; too often has been the handmaiden of dictatorships, oligopolies and generally repressive regimes. Very few developing countries had free press to name. This provided substance to the argument of “free flow of news and information.” Many Third World leaders have a strong bias against free enterprise as the basis for maintaining the communication process that under girds their national destiny.63 The developing countries perturbed of what commercial media have done to the flow of news and information both within the United States and, to some degree, in their own nations. In the U.S. the broadcast and print media have increasingly turned viewers and readers into a product to be delivered to the real audience -- the sponsors. As a result, the mass media’s primary objective has changed: its goal no longer is to inform or enlighten or even to entertain, but rather to reach and hold the largest possible audience, regardless of the damage done to other journalistic objectives.64

During the past three decades, it has been suggested that an imbalance in information production and distribution might underlie uneven world economic development. Fraught with ideology, the debate about a New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), tended to focus upon media ownership and upon the contending concepts of information as commodity and information as social good, upon the freedom of information as an individual versus a collective right.65

This discussion paper summarizes the debate, and suggests that the collapse of the Soviet Union might provide an opportunity to overcome past political differences and to get down to the real business of assisting developing nations. The NWICO debate flourished, or perhaps one might more aptly say, raged, throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s in the halls of the United Nations, and particularly within UNESCO. NWICO proponents and opponents alike accepted the premise of a link between economic progress and the availability of information.66

Liberal theorists maintained that national cultures and sovereignty were not threatened by information concentration, while structuralists and socialist analysts argued that they were. In particular, the NWICO proponents, mostly drawn from the ranks of non-aligned nations, claimed that Western ownership and control of both the news media and their distribution channels constituted a form of cultural dominance whose covert goal was capitalist economic expansion.67 The NWICO movement began as a protest over the concentration of print and broadcast media ownership among de facto cartels, and developed into an argument about the cultural dominance of poor nations by wealthy ones. However, even before the Soviet collapse, some NWICO proponents were beginning to suggest that the issue of news imbalance was a red herring, and that supplying developing nations with current banking and business information was more crucial.68 The Third World has accused the West of cultural domination through its control of the major news- collecting resources of the world, through the unstinted flow of its cultural products across the world, and through the financial power of its advertising agencies, its international newspaper chains, its newsprint companies, and its hold over the electro-magnetic spectrum on which broadcasting, navigation, meteorology and much else depend.69

What this depressing experience appears to have taught the leaders of the Third World is that independence, political, economic and cultural, is the crucial prerequisite for all forms of satisfactory growth and change. Without independence in information and culture the gains of political and economic independence are rapidly eroded. But as new technologies of communication inevitably spread deeper and deeper into the new societies it becomes ever harder to maintain local cultural autonomy. The paradoxes of dependence multiply and a political backlash results, of kind, which we are witnessing, today in international debate over the flow of news.70

As a result of the colonial past, the industrialized world is not only trying to impose its particular value-system and way of life upon other civilizations, it is also dominating and channelizing the flow of information from the developing countries to the outside world which reduces their chances to present their own views in an authentic way. The sophisticated infrastructure of information in the industrialized world prevents the development of alternative infrastructures in the Third World, which was perceived to be contrary to the principle of freedom of information.71

It was in this backdrop, UNESCO appointed a commission in 1976 to study communication problems under the leadership of Sean MacBride. The commission completed its work in time for the General Conference in Belgrade, October 1980. The report titled "Many Voices, One World" (UNESCO, 1980), supported the principles of free reporting of news, but it also encouraged state regulation of the media and suggested that UNESCO give priority to “the elaboration of international norms” in its communication programme.

The Belgrade Assembly merely referred the MacBride Commission report to its member governments, without endorsing any of its conclusions. However, the assembly went on to produce its own shocks to the West. The Group of 77, a bloc of more than 100 developing countries, had come with a detailed description of a “New World Information Order.” After strenuous negotiations, the sections that were most offensive to the West were removed. These included “the right of peoples to comprehensive and true information,” “the right of each nation” to inform the world about its affairs, and “the right of each nation to protect its cultural and social identity against the false or distorted information which may cause harm.”72


Free versus balanced flow

The MacBride Report had been welcomed by the U.S. press with rage, panic and considerable bias. Joseph A. Mehan of UNESCO charges that “with amazing uniformity, U S. newspapers have accused UNESCO of encouraging censorship, state control of the press, licensing of journalists by the state, and, in general, of being the archenemy of freedom of the press.” The New York Times featured an editorial titled “UNESCO as Censor.” Time magazine issued a full-page editorial statement on “The Global First Amendment War.” Hundreds of newspapers carried stories similar to Editor and Publisher’s “Press Groups Denounce UNESCO Plan on Media.” On the other hand many Third World leaders see a chance for simple justice. 75 The New York Times featured an editorial titled “UNESCO as Censor.” Time magazine issued a full-page editorial statement on “The Global First Amendment War.” Hundreds of newspapers carried stories similar to Editor and Publisher’s “Press Groups Denounce UNESCO Plan on Media.” During the past year and a half there has flowed a small but steady stream of reports full of anger, fear and righteous indignation. For, in these actions the press sees mortal threats to its freedom -- while many Third World leaders see a chance for simple justice.73

This argument, played out in fora such as the Non-Aligned Movement and UNESCO conferences drew support from the Soviet Union, and hostility from Western administrations. It was partly due to fears of the growing "politicization" of UNESCO that the United States and Great Britain withdrew from that organization in the mid 1980s. Because many of these writers argued in particular against de facto media cartels, because of political problems within UNESCO itself, and because of the East-West rivalries of the times, the NWICO debate came to be treated as a confrontation between capitalist West and the Third World backed by Soviet communism. Opponents charged that the NWICO proposals were part of a larger communist agenda. The debate of "balanced flow of information" versus "free flow of information" was focus of the confrontation.74

And the heat was still on when the Western camp put forward its own agenda. In May 1981, some 100 representatives of print and broadcast organizations from the U.S. and 20 other nations met in the French Alps, where they adopted the “Declaration of Talloires,” calling on UNESCO to “abandon attempts to regulate news content and formulate rules for the press.” In June, Elliott Abrams, assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs, charged that UNESCO had “lent itself to a massive assault on the free flow of information” and challenged General Secretary M’Bow that if he did not remain “neutral” and avoid confrontation on the issue, he faced a battle with the U.S. “This is a war UNESCO cannot win,” Abrams declared.75

The insistence on absolute freedom or a “free flow” of information was seen by the developing nations as the freedom of the fox in the chicken coop. By a free press, in the West, you mean a press owned by a few people who have a commercial monopoly, really a monopoly of the conscience of mankind. They are “the good people” and they “know what is right.” A free press means, for you, that the owner of the press is free to prevent whom he wants from being heard. You don’t have a free press at all. You have a press imprisoned by commercial interests. A. J. Liebling also said it: “Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one.” 76

After the fall of Berlin Wall the UNESCO stance changed and so the attitudes of dominant Western powers. In new situation neither UNESCO nor the Third World was in position to offer any resistance to the New (extension of the old) World Order. The then US State Secretary James Baker announced that the United States would continue to observe the UNESCO. The main complaint for withdrawn was "politicization" of UNESCO but in new era the organization suffered political bias but that of the West. UNESCO remained excessively politicized. It seems clear, therefore, that the "politicization" of UNESCO was merely part of a broader phenomenon.

It has become a truism that present information flows are marked by serious inadequacy and imbalance and that most countries are passive recipients of the information disseminated by translational corporations controlled by the developed world and most of them in the United States. The new communication technologies have only serve to widen the gap between those who have access to information and the means of using it and influencing others, and those who do not have these capabilities. In a situation where access to information id dependent solely on wealth and income, no change in this current flow of information seems likely in the future.77

During the past three decades, it has been suggested that an imbalance in information production and distribution might underlie uneven world economic development. Fraught with ideology, the debate about a New World Information and Communications Order (NWICO), tended to focus upon media ownership and upon the contending concepts of information as commodity and information as social good, upon the freedom of information as an individual versus a collective right.78 The collapse of the Soviet Union might provide an opportunity to overcome past political differences and to get down to the real business of assisting developing nations. The NWICO debate flourished, or perhaps one might more aptly say, raged, throughout much of the 1970s and 1980s in the halls of the United Nations, and particularly within UNESCO. NWICO proponents and opponents alike accepted the premise of a link between economic progress and the availability of information. However, liberal theorists maintained that national cultures and sovereignty were not threatened by information concentration, while structuralists and socialist analysts argued that they were. In particular, the NWICO proponents, mostly drawn from the ranks of non-aligned nations, claimed that Western ownership and control of both the news media and their distribution channels constituted a form of cultural dominance whose covert goal was capitalist economic expansion.79

Death of an idea

With the death of the concept of NWICO the power of technology and those who control it became more severe from third world perspective. In the New Order the technology became the power and new technology acquired the status of untrained power. The new information technologies are unbalancing relationships in societies- globally strengthening some societies and rendering others weaker.80

The intensification of one-way flow of news and information (images of world) tends to support a global process of cultural synchronization rather than autonomous diversity. Information techniques facilitate the emergence of an oligopolized leisure market that defines and produces cultural services. This leads to a rapid loss of self-defined mechanism through which people cope with their environment: the core of cultural development.81

Joseph Nye argues that at this stage in history, it looks like as if globalization is Americanization, because the Americans are the dominant economy and so forth. But it helps to take history back a little bit and realize that cultures are not static. They are continually changing and the idea that it is all homogenizing is simply mistaken. So I don't see a world in which India is going to be like New York. In fact, New York is actually becoming more like India, which is good for New York. But I do think that it is a great mistake to take such a narrow slice of historical time as to think that globalization is Americanization. It is not.82

Samir Amin put is differently: socialization in the modern world is founded upon the expansion of capitalist market relations, which gradually master all aspects of social life and suppress, or at least largely dominate, all other forms of solidarity (national, familial, communal). This form of socialization “by the market,” even if has enabled a stupendous acceleration in the development of productive forces, has equally aggravated their destructive characteristics. It tends to reduce human being s to the status of “people” without identity other than that of being passive “consumers” in economic life and equally passive “spectators” (no longer citizens) in political life. 83

Undoubtedly intercultural interaction has been there for a long time but this age is witnessing an intense one-way information bombardment, which is creating a unique situation with all kind of complexities. Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” The intense one-way flow is virtually seems to be acquiring “blowing dimensions”. The media messages have become so complex by sheer quantity and quality that to comprehend their meaning has become beyond intellectual skills of man in street. The other challenge comes from globalization, which means the development of worldwide networks of interdependence, or sometimes, in shorthand, it has been called the "shrinkage of distance” which is largely facilitating massive and intense one-way information flow. The degree of interpretability of texts and the finite limits to consumer autonomy are still highly significant. Resistance by audience autonomy is frequently romanticized excess, and is, at most, some form of indirect autonomy over consumption, but never production.84
The free-flow doctrine simply "legitimates and reinforces the capability of a few dominant economies to impose their cultural definitions and perspectives on the rest of the world"85

The context of news and information is at least as important as content, since it allows the media to dilute and discredit information while still appearing to present it a fair manner. This is particularly problematic in media coverage of insurgency, war, and revolution since it means the public can be swayed to the needs of ‘national interests’ and policy. The justification for the Gulf War began with 'balance of power' in the region, then moved on to protecting national interests and the access to oil, and finally settled on protecting “democracy, our friends, and stopping a new Hitler and liberation of Iraq people from a ruthless despot”. And, the American and global media played merrily along. This is particularly problematic when coverage concerns insurgencies and the like, since the nuances of the language tend to lend legitimacy to which ever side is more beneficial to the West and demonizing the other side.

2 comments:

Jason Norin said...

The importance of communication has a broad scope. Here in Australia, companies acquire their 1800 numbers from an Australian telecom company of their choice to keep their businesses and customers connected.

Chandra Pal said...

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