Needed: A Global News Agency of the South
When the tart-tongued prime minister of a Southeast Asian nation was
once asked what the leading newspapers were in his country, he remarked
rather cynically: “We don’t have any leading newspapers because all our
newspapers are misleading.”
were “misleading”, he explained, because the local newspapers were
forced to depend on Western news agencies for their coverage of global
events, mostly lacking a Third World perspective.
Moreover, he said, the mainstream Western media rarely focused on
issues relevant to developing nations, including poverty, hunger,
population, health care, children, gender empowerment and the
As a result, there has been a longstanding demand for strengthening
national news services and regional news agencies in developing nations
— leading perhaps to the creation of a global network of news agencies
of the South.
But how far is this viable? At the 2005 World Summit on the
Information Society, held in Tunisia, the 130-member Group of 77 (G-77),
the largest single coalition of developing nations, expressed strong
support for a Plan of Action to strengthen information and
communications technologies (ICTs) in developing nations, and to promote
the use of information and knowledge for the achievement of
internationally agreed development goals.
A G-77 expert group meeting is scheduled to take place in Antigua
next week to discuss ways to strengthen South-South cooperation,
including in the fields of media and communications.
Ernest Corea, a former chair of the Commonwealth Select Committee on
Communications and Development in London and principal author of the
committee’s two reports, admitted that several attempts were made in the
1960s to set up news and feature services reflecting mostly the views of
developing nations, and responding to their people’s needs.
“A number of national and regional news agencies still survive in
Africa, Asia, and Latin America,” said Corea, formerly Sri Lanka’s
ambassador to the United States and a one-time foreign affairs
columnist, editorial writer, and foreign news editor of the Straits
Times in Singapore.
“But most efforts at building up transnational news/features services
reflecting the perspectives of the global South — such as DEPTHNEWS,
Gemini News Service, and the Non-Aligned News Agency Pool — failed,” he
In an interview with IPS Corea also said the reasons for failure
included governmental intrusion, inadequate resources and constraints on
news reporting, including censorship and intimidation in several
developing countries, and lack of support from editors and managers in
“It is too early to assess the newly-created Non-Aligned News Network
(based in Malaysia). The great success story of the South, of course, is
your own Inter Press Service (IPS) which has ‘stayed the course’,” he
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: Why should an alternate news
service succeed now when it failed earlier? Would the explosion of new
technology, including the Internet and online websites, which did not
exist in the 1960s and ‘70s, help in the creation of any news/feature
A: Conceptually, yes, using the Internet should give a
professional news/feature service a broad spread. In practice, however,
the imbalance in access to the Internet challenges the concept.
For example, “World Development Indicators 2007” shows that Internet
users per 1,000 people in the following countries are: Afghanistan 1,
Argentina 83, Bangladesh 81, Belgium 458, Botswana 34, Brazil 195,
Central African Republic 3, Germany 455, U.S. 630.
Q: Since some countries, particularly
in Africa, are lagging far behind other developing nations, particularly
in Asia, don’t you think it would be imperative to improve information
and communications technologies, including access to the Internet,
before launching alternate news services?
A: Yes, modern information technologies should be used as poor
people’s tools for empowerment, and not only as a preserve of the
Q: Do you think the creation of a
global news agency of the South or a network of news agencies of the
South is viable? Or is it more practical that, for starters, there
should be a concerted effort to build up South-South cooperation,
including training and capacity building, among news agencies and
newspapers in the developing world?
A: This is another version of the “chicken and egg” question.
Capacity building and institution building are both important. Let me
ask myself: Is a transnational news-features agency of the South
necessary? Yes. The best North-based transnational news and features
outlets write or broadcast with understanding and skill.
They are, however, conflict-oriented — “if it bleeds, it leads”, as
former U.N. Under-Secretary General for Communications and Public
Information Shashi Tharoor once said — and they neglect coverage that is
of specific significance to Southern readers/listeners/ viewers.
They also neglect trends in developing countries, as opposed to
“breaking news”, and they are not committed to enabling Southern
countries to understand each other better and learn from each other’s
Would such a service be viable? Yes, if it is adequately funded to
maintain professional staff in all departments, if governments do not
attempt to control it, and if media establishments in the South are
committed to using it.
An alternate source of information is always an asset. Does such a
source already exist? Yes, at the risk of embarrassing you, let me say
it’s your own IPS. Helping to develop IPS further as a global,
South-oriented service should be a great South-South project.
Q: As you know, the Group of 77 which
emerged from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has
been strongly identified with development issues. Do you think it should
also focus strongly on communications ?
A: To begin with, communications are an essential component of
development. Moreover, the G-77 was long convinced that the South was,
by and large, shoddily treated by the international news services and
Northern media in general.
In May 1974, a G-77 initiative resulted in the U.N. General Assembly
adopting a “Declaration of the Establishment of a New International
Information Order” (NIIO).
Subsequently, at the General Conference of the U.N. Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in October 1980, the G77
tabled a “Declaration on a New International Information Order” which
called for the elimination of imbalances and inequalities in the
dissemination of news and the removal of internal and external obstacles
to a free flow of news.
The Doha Plan of Action endorsed at the Second South Summit held in
Doha, Qatar in June 2005, emphasised the importance of increasing human
and institutional capacity in developing countries for information
Q: What was the result of the UNESCO
A: The initial outcome was a riposte from U.S. media. Time
carried a full-page commentary under the headline “The Global First
Of the 88 per cent of U.S. newspapers that commented editorially on
the UNESCO conference, 87 per cent opposed the Declaration, and 27
newspapers suggested that the U.S. should leave UNESCO if it attempted
to implement the Declaration.
Subsequently, a group of 100 media representatives from 21 Northern
nations, including the U.S., adopted the “Declaration of Talloires”
(France) which urged UNESCO to “abandon attempts” to follow through on
Finally, UNESCO, which was the Declaration’s “implementing agency”,
gave up the task which it was not suited to undertake in the first
place. International bureaucrats have no place in newsrooms.
Inter Press Service (IPS)