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North News or South News?

Is the way the news is presented the preserve of the white West? Do we have a dominant paradigm of news, which discriminates, even unconsciously, against the poor, the south and/or the non-white?

The question came up yesterday, during a gem of a talk by James Painter, a Reuters fellow (and an Executive Editor, Americas and Europe, with the BBC World Service). He was speaking at the seminar which the Institute runs at Green College, every Wednesday during term. Yesterday’s was a high point: a talk based on James’ long paper on “Counter-hegemonic news services" – that is, the raft of 24-hour news stations which have recently been created in Russia, France and Venezuela. A Latin American specialist, James dealt mainly with Telesur – the Venezuelan channel promoted strong by President Hugo Chavez as an alternative to western, especially US, TV stations. It has an agreement to exchange content with Al-Jazeera – the most famous of these “counter-hegemonic" stations: the head of Telesur, Andres Izarra, has said his channel felt inspired by the path which al-Jazeera had taken to become a reference point in the Arab world. Its mission is to promote regional integration as well as to offer an alternative to US networks: It’s also backed by three other left-wing Latin American governments - Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay - and can be seen in more than 20 countries. James posed the question – are such stations (even including the new French 24-hour news station, backed by the French government and a pet project of President Jacques Chirac) offering a different kind of news from that offered by the BBC and CNN?

 

The respondent to James’ talk was Daya Thussu, professor of Global Communications at Westminster University – one of the few scholars to look at global trends and movements in the media. In the course of his response, Thussu (who was born and educated in India) said he watched channels like Al Jazeera and the some of the many Indian news channel because “I’m from the south". He and I had an exchange on this: I said news shouldn’t be of the “north" or the “south", because that would mean northern people like me would demand one kind of news, and southern people like him (though he’s a northerner now by adoption) would watch southern news, and we would be immured in our own news blocs, with less and less agreement between them. He said that this ignored that fact of western, American European domination of the airwaves.

 

I still think I’m right. I want news which tells me what’s going on, as truthfully as possible. I would, I think, share that view with many people of the south (I think Thussu would share that view, too). Another northerner, say an American republican, would want a news service from Fox which reflected more closely his views. I would have a different taste from my fellow northerner, but the same taste as many southerners. Thussu has a point if he means that people from, say, India want more news from India than they presently get on BBC, or CNN, or other “northern" channels: and they might like to see it presented by fellow Indians. But that’s a point about content and presentation, not about the way news is presented, or its purpose. The classic case for news is that it’s meant to inform, fully and fairly. Isn’t that a universal ideal, like human rights? What’s the difference, in this sense, between southern and northern news?

 

(These questions aren’t rhetorical, I hope: I’m asking Daya to respond. Since he’s genuinely, and almost uniquely, committed to understanding what’s happening to the world of news – a new book on “Global Infotainment" comes out later this year – he’s the man for the job)

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