The Cost of News
In India, there may just be half a dozen newspapers that have correspondents abroad, mostly in London and Washington. The other newspapers use the Big...
In India, there may just be half a dozen newspapers that have correspondents abroad, mostly in London and Washington. The other newspapers use the Big 4 material (the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters and Agence France Presse), whose reporters have a history of misrepresenting the non-western world and projecting the interests of their countries and of justifying their misdeeds
With print media fortunes on the decline, leading newspapers and other media in the world are recalling their foreign correspondents home and relying increasingly on the Big 4 news agencies -� the Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters and Agence France Presse -- for foreign news. News agencies generally do not figure in public discourse because the conventional belief is that they are impartial and unbiased collectors and distributors of news. In India, there may just be half a dozen newspapers that have correspondents abroad, mostly in London and Washington. The other newspapers use the Big 4 material. By buying news from news agencies, newspapers strengthen, the myth that agency news is objective.
Though India has PTI and UNI, their presence is limited to a small part of the world. As a result Indian print and broadcast media rely on the Big 4 for news from other parts of the world. This reliance determines the nature of information that is published in our media and conditions the cultural attitudes and perceptions it creates among their consumers.
Indian newspapers have no foreign correspondents in continents like Africa, Australia and South America besides continent-size countries like Russia and China. In countries like Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad, and Seychelles, inhabited by large Indian populations, Indian media have no visible presence. News about them comes from the western Big 4 whose reporters have a history of misrepresenting the non-western world and projecting the interests of their countries and of justifying their misdeeds. The Big 4 opposed the liberation struggles of the people of the nonaligned world and political and economic systems that have an orientation different from the western model.
The foreign news agencies have invented the arbitrary and arrogant vocabulary the colonisers had fashioned to classify the people of the colonies by complexion like black, brown, yellow; by geography like east, west, far east; by progress like north-south, developed, developing and under developed; free world to refer to themselves; third world to refer to the nonaligned countries, immigrants and natives for the sons of the soil, vernacular to refer to oriental languages etc. The writer apologises for repeating that very vocabulary for achieving communication.
By assimilating messages Big 4 supply, we are internalising a worldview manufactured by them. That is how we subscribed to the view that Africa is a dark continent and the Soviet Union an evil empire. MV Kamath asks, 'Do we have to depend on foreign agencies like Reuters, Associated Press (AP), UTI, Agence France Presse, DPA and even the Soviet TASS and the Chinese Xinhua, each of which can only present news as seen through their own nationalist eyes?' The Hindu is shortly sending a correspondent to Addis Ababa. The best alternative for the Indian media is to launch a co-operative foreign news agency of their own along the lines of AP. But I see no push in this direction.
About objectivity of information relayed by the Big 4 John Pilger, an Australian journalist based in London, says that for the Big 4, "Terrorism is almost never associated with the West, only with the Third World. It is not important that the US Government trains terrorist armies and its agents run death squads. The State of Israel is not described, like the Libyan regime, as a sponsor of terrorism: only Arabs are terrorists."
An aspect we have never discussed is the role Big 4 play in acting as a cartel in the globalisation of western political and economic perspectives as if they were universally valid. This foreign news monopoly transmits more often than not North American or West European voices. "After a brief flurry of aggressive journalism in the 1970s, the mainstream U.S. press has grown steadily more tame, transforming itself into what might be called the government's "semi-official" news agencies," says media critic Jeff Cohen.
An undeclared goal of the Big 4 is the promotion of free market, which opposes nationalisation. History will tell you that Britain and the US had ousted Iranian Prime Minister Mossadegh in a coup because he had nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. When the west stopped the funding of the Aswan Dam construction Egypt's President Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal. Soon Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt. When Chilean President Salvador Allende nationalised copper, the CIA engineered a coup to depose him.
Cheddi Jagan of Guyana had to go because Britain and America suspected he was moving closer to the Soviet bloc. In all these conspiracies the Big 4 supported France, Britain and America. The Big 4 glorified dictators like Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines, Ngo Din Diem in South Vietnam, Syngman Rhee in Korea and monarchs of Iran and Egypt, all of them oppressors of their own people..
These news agencies hid from public knowledge the My Lai massacre by American troops, the Hiroshima genocide despite the Japanese offer of surrender; the US air attacks on withdrawing Iraqi troops in the Gulf war while highlighting Soviet excesses in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
The Big 4 achieve their goal of keeping the world safe for free market by spreading negative images of the socialist world and trumpeting the successes of capitalism. Generations in India have been fed on this gruel and digested it blindly because they had no Indian journalist posted abroad, except in western capitals, or a foreign news agency of their own to present an objective worldview. Information is to the mind what food is to the body. It is na�vet� to believe that a government sold on globalisation would spend a miniscule part of its budget to fund a foreign news agency of our own and save future generations from ideological indoctrination and becoming latter day-lap dogs of western dogma.
(The writer is a senior Indian journalist who now lives in the US [email protected])