Television and Religion: The Shaping of Faith, Values and Culture by William F. Fore
William F. Fore received a B.D. from Yale Divinity School and Ph.D. from Columbia University. A minister in the United Methodist Church , he was Director of Visual Education for the United Methodist Board of Missions, then Executive Director of the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches in New York City. From 1989 to 1995 he was Visiting Lecturer in Communication and Cultural Studies at Yale Divinity School.. His publications include Image and Impact (Friendship Press 1970), Television and Religion: the Shaping of Faith, Values and Culture (Augsburg 1987, currently reprinted by SBS Press, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511), and Mythmakers: Gospel Culture and the Media (Friendship Press 1990).Published in 1987 by Augsburg Publishing House. Used by permission of the author and copyright holder.
Chapter Eleven: U.S. Media: The Whole World is Watching<
Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one.
Between the weak and the strong, it is freedom which oppresses and the law which frees.
A friend of mine arrived in New York City to take a job with the American Bible Society. He had come from Vancouver. Although he was very media-wise, the communication scene amazed him. "Half the people in New York City are doing nothing all day but producing, moving, or working with information," he said. "It`s incredible!"
He was speaking the literal truth. Today more than half of the total labor force in the United States is involved in the production, dissemination, or use of information in its various forms. Almost half of the U.S. gross national product is generated by information-related activities.
The same thing is happening worldwide. The amount of raw information in the world now doubles in less than a decade. The Wall Street Journal today uses satellite to transmit its pages to seven regional printing plants throughout the United States, and it prints its Hong Kong edition the same way. The International Herald Tribune daily transfers its pages via satellite from Paris to its printing plant in Hong Kong and at the same time prints identical pages in London and Zurich.
Media and the New Colonialism
The significance of this shift from a society that is commodity-based to one that is information-based is far more than that it allows us to buy the same newspaper almost anywhere in the world. It means that we already have moved into an age where information is power -- economic, political, and social power.
Of course, information always has been power. Two thousand years ago the Roman roads throughout southern Europe gave the emperors the information and transportation they required to hold the empire together. A thousand years ago knots tied in strings carried by runners along the Andes Mountains enabled the Incas to run their domain. A hundred years ago the lines of international communication closely followed the lines of the North Atlantic empires. The cartel of European news agencies divided up the world according to the political and economic spheres of influence. Transoceanic cables and later radio frequencies provided the links of empire 50 years ago.
Even when the post-World War II national liberation movements changed the political alignment of the world, the old structures of economic and information dependence persisted. As the Third World nations threw off political domination, the First World nations simply substituted economic and media domination. In fact, as the production, control, and use of information has become increasingly important during the last few years, information dependency in the Third World has actually increased.
Where and how does this dependency take place?
First, it occurs in the press. Two U.S. news agencies dominate the entire world`s daily output. The Associated Press puts out 17 million words overseas daily, serving 108 nations with 559 foreign correspondants and 62 foreign bureaus. United Press International operates in 92 countries including 2,246 subscribers outside the United States, plus 36 national news agencies, produces 11 million words and 200 news pictures daily, and gathers its foreign news with a staff of 578 overseas and 81 foreign bureaus.
All other press agencies -- AFP (France), Reuters (United Kingdon), Tass (Soviet Union) and a half dozen other national press groups -- taken together, issue some 3 million words daily -- about one-tenth of the output of the two U.S. agencies.
Second, there is dependency in radio and television. All broadcasting is controlled to some extent by governments, partly because the frequencies are limited and must be regulated to avoid chaos, but more importantly because radio and television are such powerful agents for shaping culture.
But again, U.S. broadcasting dominates the world scene. UNESCO estimates that the number of hours of American TV programs exported each year ranges up to 200,000, or more than twice the number of hours exported by all the other nations combined. Anyone who has seen "Kojak" and "The Bionic Woman" in Hong Kong, or "Peyton Place" and "The Flintstones" in Latin America knows what this means.
Third, there is dependency because of advertising. By l970, only 2 of the top 25 U. S. advertising agencies did not have overseas offices. In Peru, for example, more than 80% of the advertising carried by Peruvian newspapers, radio, and television is channeled through big American advertising firms, such as J. Walter Thompson, McKann Erickson, Grant Advertising, and Katts Acciones, Inc..
One of the most serious problems created by First World domination of advertising is that it tends to create consumer demand in the Third World for luxury products. Disposable diapers, cosmetics, and soft drinks are pressed on the population in nations which desperately need to promote the basics of good health and consumption of simple, nutritious foods.
Consider one example. In the early l980s Nestle ads widely circulated in Africa showed a "nurse" urging young mothers to buy and use powered-milk formula (a major Nestle product) for their children. As a result of this advertising campaign many mothers shifted from breast feeding to bottle feeding. When mothers discovered they could no longer breast feed their children they had to rely totally on the Nestle product. But since most of the families were desperately poor, mothers began to water down the milk. As a result, some babies died because of unsterile water, bottles and nipples, and many others simply died of starvation, while parents looked on helplessly. Churches in Europe and North America negotiated with Nestle to get them to withdraw the ad campaign. Nestle refused. The courts proved to be useless because Nestle had operations so in many different countries, outside the jurisdiction of any single legal system. So the churches launched a boycott of Nestle products which, over a three year period, resulted in Nestle finally withdrawing the ads. This is one of many ways that media domination results in advertising which benefits the industrialized western nations at the expense of the poor.
Fourth, media domination occurs in data flow. This is the least understood, yet potentially the most important aspect of information dependency. During the past 30 years the world`s basic industries -- textiles, steel, automobiles, and rubber -- have slowly been replaced by new industries -- electronics, space, biochemistry, and exploitation of the seas. All these new industries depend heavily on the processing of information. Cees Hamelink of the Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands estimates that 70% of the costs of industrial production today are devoted to the processing of information -- market exploitation, advertising, research and development, and intracompany communications.
These new companies are multinational; they are not "located" anywhere. They place their various production, distribution, marketing, and finance centers anywhere in the world which best suits them. The corporation was an economic and legal concept invented in the 19th century to avoid the problem of personal accountability. Its creation facilitated the accumulation of capital which resulted in the economic system we know today. The successor to the corporation is the multinational corporation, which was developed after World War II and soon emerged as an ingenious way for individuals to avoid the problem of any accountability, since it stood outside the jurisdiction of any single nation.
Multinationals transcend national boundaries and therefore are mostly outside national control. They exist beyond the laws and regulations of state and federal governments, which until mid-century were used by states and nations to curb the excessive power of huge business enterprises. But the computers, data banks, terminals, programs, and software of multinationals provide them with the power to move money, labor, parts, and natural resources in ways to emphasize profits without consideration of the welfare of any nation, especially the new Third World nations and their peoples.
Finally, there is media dependency in satellite transmission and sensing. Satellites are the electronic highways which make the other information technologies possible. Worldwide news services, television programs, and data flow would be impossible without the satellite. And whoever controls the satellites controls the world`s information flow.
For example, a major international bank located in New York can keep watch on crops and shipping, the mining of resources, weather developments, and many other aspects of business in most of the nations of the world -- daily, hourly -- right from their offices in Manhattan. If the Landsat Satellite picks up a different color in its pictures of the coffee plantations of Columbia, the banks`s specialists may determine that this indicates a blight on the leaves which will result in serious crop failure. This information then allows their investment department to buy and sell coffee futures that day on the world`s markets with information that even the coffee growers in the plantations in Columbia may not yet have! This is what it means to say that knowledge is power today.
In theory, anyone can purchase those pictures from the Landsat Satellite, though they are costly. But to have the computer lines and terminals, specialists in image analysis, specialists in food production, geology, land management, ocean ecology, investment specialists, and, finally, to own the worldwide satellite facilities to move the information instantly -- such capability can be achieved only by very large, multinational corporations.
The result is that in this increasingly technological era communications is benefiting the rich nations at the expense of the poor, and within a given nation, the rich people at the expense of the poor. This raises some important moral questions. By what right do some get to benefit from the new technology at the expense of others? If the technology depends on the use of scarce spectrum which belongs to all nations equally, should not all nations benefit equally from its use? And if taxes pay for the research and development that makes the new communication technology available, should not all taxpayers have a say in how the technology is to be used?
A New World-Information Order
As nation after nation in Asia and Africa gained their independence in the l950s, it became apparent to these newly "free" nations that the old political colonialism had largely been replaced by new economic and information colonialism. In l956 the leaders of most of the former colonies of the world met in Bandung to organize a "nonaligned" movement which established their group as a buffer between the proponents of capitalism (First World) and those of communism (Second World). This Third World group, interested in neither capitalism or communism so much as in the opportunity to develop their own nationhood, began to press for a new economic independence from both First and Second Worlds. The United Nations was their forum.
By l970, the l6th General Assembly of UNESCO had defined the concept of a New International Economic Order which stated that the emerging nations would not be able to develop until they decreased their economic dependence on the First World. By this time the members of UNESCO were aware that the economic well-being of the Third World also depended upon a new kind of information flow. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in San Francisco at the time of the founding of the United Nations, stated the goal in Article 19:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.1.
In l974 the nonaligned nations started their own News Pool, an attempt to redress the imbalance of news about the Third World. Charging U.S. news agencies with intentional bias and systematic distortion, Rafael Caldera, former President of Venezuela, said: "Perhaps the phrase `no news is good news` has become `good news is no news.` Only the most deplorable incidents, be they the work of nature or man, get reported." Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez agreed: "The big press of the big countries does not report about our realities, our struggles and our goals. . . ."
In l976 a UNESCO conference outlined the basic proposals of a New International Information Order: greater public access and participation in the media, regional cooperation in news flow, and agreement on a "free and balanced flow" of information.
It was this last concept which became the center of debate in the West. At present, the nations of the world are divided on how information should be treated. There are basically two views. One view, supported primarily by the United States, Great Britain, and most of the European nations, calls for a "free flow" of information, that is, virtually no governmental restrictions except technical ones; in effect communication flow exists for those who are willing and able to pay for it, and who claim it first.
The second view, supported primarily by the new Third World nations, questions this de facto dominance of communication by the West, and calls for a "balanced flow," which means that laws would establish a greater balance between the interests of the First World and Third World. For exampoe, Tunisia`s Ambassador Mustapha Masmoundi`s in l980 called for the establishment of national communication agencies which would be responsible for "formulating overall communications policies" to promote national development. He urged information professionals to draw up a "code of ethics governing the conduct of all communicators," including the requirement "that the events be reported in their real context," and to provide for recourse and "the right of response to and correction of misstatements."
But when UNESCO agencies began to talk "balance," Western news agencies, and especially U.S. news agencies, began to cry foul. Time magazine carried an essay entitled "The Global First Amendment War," saying that "at stake, ultimately, is the right of readers, radio listeners and television viewers everywhere to be properly [sic] informed about the world around them; for the developing and industrial countries alike to learn about one another without hindrance."2. To this Urho Kekkonen, President of Finland, replied:
"Freedom of speech has also become in practice the freedom of the rich."
To complicate matters further, the communist bloc has supported the "balanced flow" position in UNESCO. But media "balance" within these nations in practice usually means whatever the government decrees, and there is almost no opportunity for the presentation of other views to help provide balance. Thus the Second World support for "balance" is little more of a political ploy to appear to be aligned with the Third World nations than it is genuine support for the concept of open communication.
The issue of "free flow" versus "balanced flow" is perplexing, particularly for Americans with our belief that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is essential to our system of governance. Many would say that there is no principle more central to our liberty than the freedom of citizens to communicate with one another, and that this freedom must never be encroached upon by government for any reason, no matter how benign.
On the other hand, as Third World leaders point out, the l8th and l9th century laissez-faire concept in economics, which encouraged Europe and America to act in any way that favored their own self-interest, clearly resulted in massive injustices throughout the world. This same big-fish-eat-little-fish morality has also been at work in the field of communication. Could laws and international agreements help to restrain unfair media competition?
The current debate on this question is full of ironies. Many of the Third World nations most vocal in calling for "balanced" information are themselves dictatorships or oligopolies which use information to further the interests of a tiny power elite. Korea, much of the Soviet bloc, and many nations in South America and Africa use the press mostly as a propaganda tool. On the other hand, the United States, the loudest voice calling for "free flow" maintains such a thorough domination of many foreign markets that a genuine free flow of information there is impossible as well.
In l978 UNESCO established an International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems. This 16-member body, with representation from First, Second, and Third World nations and led by former Irish Foreign Minister Sean MacBride, made its report in November l980. The MacBride Report challenges the thesis held by many in the West that technology is neutral, and notes that usually technology is part of a system which favors the most power groups in any given society. It suggested that some technology ought to be delayed or even indefinitely postponed if it clearly fails to further the needs of humankind.3.
Unfortunately, the MacBride Report as a whole failed to provide any definitive proposals to meet the demands of either side. On one hand, editors of the New York Times were upset because the report seemed to suggest some kind of government intervention to achieve balance. On the other hand, Third World nations regretted that the report provided no clear call for laws or international agreements to end the present economic domination by First World nations.
The Issues: Freedom, Justice, and Profits
What are the issues involved that cause such strong reaction from the communication industry as well as nations of First and Third world? They are freedom, justice, and money -- as viewed from the different perspectives of the First and Third worlds.
Our First Amendment guarantees of a free press and free speech are among the most cherished rights in America, and for good reason. One has only to live a few months in a country whose press is dominated by government edict to recognize how stultifying and repressive it can be. The Western tradition of press freedom is indispensable to individual well-being and to the democratic process.
In recent years, however, there has arisen a kind of mystical attraction to the principle of free speech, an awe and obeisance which society normally reserves for its objects of worship. It is as though "free speech" were a kind of first principle -- self-evident, self-validating, deserving of unquestioned loyalty. But surely it is dangerous to deify any ethical principle, even one so important as the idea that speech ought to be unequivocally free.
There are three reasons why it is dangerous to absolutize free speech. One is that free speech is not an ultimate good, but rather an instrumental good. James Madison, that staunch advocate of free speech, insisted that the right of people to speak and to listen is not an end in itself, but is a means of achieving "popular government," by which he meant the democratic process whereby people have the opportunity to take a real part in the decisions which affect their lives.
In some cases, as was pointed out in Chapter 10, an absolute right to speak could actually subvert and defeat the democratic process, such as the "right" of an advertiser to misinform the public, or the "right" of a broadcaster to attack someone without allowing an opportunity for that person to reply. Truth in advertising laws and broadcast regulations have been enacted that make these "rights" illegal -- and these laws were enacted to further the intent of the First Amendment, not to defeat it. When tested, such laws and regulations have been declared constitutional by the Supreme Court. Free speech is important, but not absolute, because it is merely instrumental to the higher good of democracy.
Second, the right of free speech should not be absolutized because it then becomes self-contradictory. Constitutional lawyer Ronald Dworkin points out that "every extension of the First Amendment is, from the standpoint of democracy, a double-edged sword. It enhances democracy because public information increases the general power of the public. But it also contracts democracy because any constitutional right disables the popularly elected legislature from enacting some legislation it might otherwise wish to enact, and this decreases the general power of the public."4.
Dworkin argues that the support of free speech as a requirement for democracy demands, by its own logic, "some threshold line to be drawn between interpretations of the First Amendment that would protect and those that would invade democracy." This, he believes, is what the Supreme Court does when it describes, in general terms, "what manner of invasion of the powers of the press would so constrict the flow of information to the public as to leave the public unable intelligently to decide whether to overturn [any particular] limitation of the press by further legislation." To absolutize the right of free speech would prevent the Supreme Court from ever drawing the line between invasion of necessary rights and the protection of democracy, and thus would make it self-contradictory.
Third, free speech ought not be absolutized because the First Amendment basically protects, not the right of the press to speak, but the right of every citizen to know. The courts have made this distinction clear. For example, Byron White, in his opinion on behalf of a uninimous decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark Red Lion case, said that "It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount. . . . It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee."5. That is, the First Amendment gives the broadcaster only a derivative right to communicate, a right derived from the right of the citizen to know.
This is one of the best kept secrets in American broadcasting: if, in exercising his or her rights, the broadcaster violates the First Amendment rights of the viewers or listeners -- their right to know, to receive information, to have access to a diversity of viewpoints -- then the viewer`s or listener`s rights come first.
Of course, the newspaper trusts are not subject to the same restrictions that apply to broadcasters, because they are not licensed to use a public resource. However, it can be argued that if a "free" press were to become so economically or poltically powerful that it could actually withhold or distort news and information to such an extent that citizens no longer could participate as equals in the process of governing themselves, then citizens should expect their government, acting through the courts or the legislature, to take steps to create new sources of news and information and to curb the monopoly power of that so-called "free" press.
Howard C. Anawalt, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Santa Clara, studied the MacBride Report and concluded that the proposals of the Commission were consistent with the U.S. Constitution:
The Commission approach offers both a physical foundation and a set of protective principles for development of a worldwide communication freedom. It passes the basic test of compatibility with United States constitutional norms. Informed United States criticism should therefore take the tack of seeking to improve the proposed new order, rather than rejecting it altogether.6.
A second issue has to do with justice -- in this case, justice for the emerging new nations of the Third World. How is it possible to get genuine communication flowing where there is very little of it to start with? This is the dilemma facing the Third World countries, many of which have no indigenous press at all, but only a remnant of colonial news sources -- perhaps a small news and information outlet in the capital city for the urban elite, plus incoming shortwave broadcasts from the superpowers available to those with batteries and radios.
Frank Campbell, information minister of Guyana, has responded to Western charges that the new information order would give UNESCO jurisdiction over the news media:
The issue is not UNESCO controlling the media. The question is [how] to have a basis of communication other than a purely commercial one and communication ethics based on something other than ethnocentricity and historical arrogance. We are not saying UNESCO should issue a license saying you must have so many stories coming out of Guyana, Tanzania or India, and what these stories must say.7.
First Amendment advocates in America must face the fact that imposition of our highly industrialized model of big press as a check on the excesses of big government has very limited relevance to many places in the Third World where there is little literacy and practically no economic market for news which could help create a large mass press. Furthermore, our insistence on absolute freedom or a "free flow" of information is seen by the developing nations as the freedom of the fox in the chicken coop.
Campbell speaks eloquently for the Third World:
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.8.
It is difficult for people in the United States to understand that government can have a legitimate role in communication. In Western Europe, however, almost every nation has a long tradition of government-related broadcast organizations, most of which are highly respected. The BBC was established by Parliament and depends on its levy of a set tax. Its news service is widely respected throughout the world. Severiges Radio in Sweden has a similar governmental tie. Broadcasting in Germany is the creature of the individual Lander (states). Japan has a mix of commercial and noncommercial broadcasting, and Japan`s NHK, one of the most-respected news organizations in the world, was created and is sustained by government edict.
Of course, governmental dominance of news and information too often has been the handmaiden of dictatorship, oligopoly, and general repression. There is a great deal of hypocrisy among many leaders of the Third World and the U.S.S.R. in calling for a free and balanced flow of information when there is a nonexistent flow of news and information between the power elite and the masses in their own nations. Certainly UNESCO must be as critical of political constraints as it is of economic and cultural constraints on news flow, and the MacBride Report makes these dangers abundantly clear. But to insist on rigidly applying our own historically derived concepts of press freedom to the Third World, and to reject out of hand any possible role of government insuring the free flow of news and information, is in fact unfaithful to the principle of democracy which underlies our own First Amendment.
The third major issue in the debate is profits. The commercialization of news and information is being seriously questioned, both domestically and overseas.
Many Third World leaders have a strong bias against free enterprise as the system to rely upon for maintenance of the communication process that undergirds their national destiny. This anticommercialism causes the U.S. media to see red: they are certain that behind the bias lurks the long arm of Soviet control or, at the very least, that it represents a tilt toward communism.
It is true that for many years the U.S.S.R. has used the communication issue to turn the Third World against the First. But this is only a small part of the story. The nonaligned nations themselves have seen what commercialism in the media has done to the flow of news and information overseas, what it has done in the United States, and what --to some extent -- it already is doing within their own countries.
They see that in the United States the broadcast and print media have increasingly turned viewers and readers into a product to be delivered to the the sponsors, so that the objective of news has changed from informing, enlightening and entertaining simply to reaching and holding the largest audience regardless of the damage done to other journalistic objectives.
They see in America the use of the sensational, the shocking, the titillating, the celebrity cult and the stereotype as a regular part of newscasts, because news is considered just one more audience attractor. They see that since audience attracting is paramount, there is very little real information available for American citizens about the poor, the elderly, and the Third World.
All of this comes naturally to a system which deals with news and information as a means to a commercial end, and the American public has become so accustomed to this narrow point of view that we simply so not see the distortions and the filtering out of "non-American" messages. But such systematic distortion, immediately recognized by people from the the Third World, is why they have pressed so hard for a document stating a preference for "noncommercial forms of mass communication," as they have done in UNESCO. Although the UNESCO statements make no mention of anticommercialism, the MacBride Report proposes in Recommendation #58 that "effective legal measures should be designed to: limit the process of concentration and monopolization; [and] . . . reduce the influence of advertising upon editorial policy and broadcast programming."9.
The strong reaction of the U.S. delegation to such proposals makes it clear what the real priorities of our government are with regard to scope, balance, depth, and fairness in news and information, on the one hand, and profits for business on the other. One of the main reasons for United States withdrawal of financial support from the United Nations was the concern of U.S. news and publishing interests over the growing momentum of the new information proposals, although there was scarcely any coverage of the information order debate in U.S. newspapers themselves.
When the State Department considers who it will appoint to international conferences that deal with such matters, it consistently turns to the representatives of the communication industry rather than to knowledgeable representatives from public interest groups. In fact, the government really has no communication policy in the sense of a position arrived at though elected representatives or referendums. Instead, the public is "represented" by the largest businesses which stand to make the most profit from those arrangements that benefit their special interests.
Some Guiding Ethical Principles
In dealing with a subject so complex, and being played for such large stakes, what guiding principles might we consider in moving toward a more just and equitable worldwide communication system? Again, some middle axioms are in order.
1. The basic objective of public communication should be to enable people to participate fully in their own development and the development of their nation. A structure or process which hinders that objective -- whether it is political, economic, ideological, or social -- should be rejected. Special interest control, whether in the name of capitalism or communism, supporting a monopoly or a dictatorship, reflecting the views of a single individual or a group -- must be weeded out in the interests of a maximum diversity of expression.
2. Government has a role in maintaining the rights of citizenship. The question of private versus state ownership and control must be secondary to the creation and maintenance of communication systems that facilitate genuine democratization. Every individual in every nation has the right to know. This means that every just society has the responsibility to create those conditions in which each citizen is able to take part in politics intelligently and as the equal of any other. People must have the technical means both to speak and to listen if they are to participate in the process of governing themselves, and a major role of government lies in securing and protecting these means.
3. Third World nations should be allowed to develop their own self-reliance in news, information, and entertainment, progressing at a rate and in a manner appropriate to their needs rather than in conformity to the marketplace needs of the industrialized nations. We ought consciously to reject the temptation to take communication models of the developed nations and try to make them "fit" the Third World. Rather, whole new forms of communication, appropriate for developing nations, need to be devised. We must ask: What are the existing communication processes in the nation, and how can they be improved and developed?
One of the misunderstandings which naturally arise among people of good will in the First World is that the problems of the Third World can be solved "if only we can get enough of the new technology." This is the fallacy of the "technological fix." In reality, advanced information technology is not the real solution to the current social problems of the Third World nations. Indeed, technical innovation must never be equated automatically with social progress.
The poverty and health problems in the Third World are not going to be solved by computers but by a different set of political, economic, and social structures. Alvin Toffler`s exuberant Third Wave prediction of a nirvana wrought by the new communications technology completely misunderstands the situation. He ignores the fact that technology represents power, and that existing power relationships will tend to be extended and further entrenched by multinationals and governments which control the technology. The real danger, as Amory Lovins suggests, is that it will be all too easy to spread darkness at the speed of light.
The real solutions are far more fundamental, and these are the solutions that the debate in UNESCO is all about, and is why the large information structures in the United States and the West generally are so upset about them. Unless the power structures themselves are changed, the technological innovations will only make the situation worse.
Simple, inexpensive media such as radio, local telephones, and newspapers may suit the needs of a developing nation far better than television, satellites and big-city newspapers. Our objective should be maximum participation from a maximum of diverse sources of information, not maximum profits for large communication conglomerates or maximum political control for a tiny power elite.
In considering its strategy for what would best suit the communication needs of the Third World (and much of the First and Second Worlds as well), the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) has concluded that "group media" must be given a high priority. Each year, the WACC, which provides funding for communication development worldwide on behalf of churches throughout the world, is channeling less of its funds into large shortwave services and large publishing houses, and more into the development of small printing presses, the production of audiocassettes, local drama and music groups, and the use of communication forms indigeneous to the village life, such as story telling, puppets and mime.
Group media played a significant role in the popular uprising against Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. The audiocassette and videocassette, small memiographed newspapers, local radio, and even printed T-shirts, arm and head bands, posters, streamers, confetti, and car stickers - all in yellow --were signs of group media at work. In the Union of South Africa, where the government has limited the access in the black townships to FM radio (which covers a small area and can be controlled by the government), the development of small local newspapers has been one of the few ways black citizens can "talk" to one another.
Studies have demonstrated that for many poor regions of the world, the introduction of a simple telephone into the village can result in major increases in income. Telephone connection to the outside world allows villagers to plan where to send their crops for maximum profit, to learn what are the going prices, and to arrange for transportation -- simple advantages which may spell the difference between profit and loss for the whole village.
In sum, just as there must come a new world economic order, there must come a new world communication order. Its goal will be to enable people everywhere to guide their own future. It will take time, but it will come. We are living in a world in which we become each moment increasingly interdependent, a world in which exploitation of others becomes increasingly self-destructive. Today there is no place we can run from the consequences of our actions.
If this new communication order is truly coming, then we in the United States must be in the forefront, making it happen. And even if it is not imminent, we must work toward making the goal a reality in the name of our own religious and political commitments to freedom and justice for all.
1. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," 10 December 1948, (New York: United Nations Department of Publication), p. 6. Nations
2. "The Global First Amendment War," Time magazine, 6 October l980, p. 63.
3. Report on a New World Communication Order, International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (the MacBride Commission) (New York: UNESCO, l980).
4. Ronald Dworkin, "Is the Press Losing the First Amendment?" New York Review of Books, 4 December l980, p. 49. Emphasis added.
5. Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. Federal Communications Commission, 395 U.S. 367 (l969).
6. Anawalt, Howard C. "Is the MacBride Commission`s Approach Compatible with the United States Constitution?" Journal of Communication, Autumn l981, p. 128.
7. Frank Campbell in "Debate Sharpens on New World Information Order," New York Times, February 15, l981, Sec. 4, p. E3.
8. Ibid., Sec. 4, p. E3.
9. Report on a New World Communication Order.