« Clashes over censorship | Main | The view from the top »

01 November 2006



I don't know about you guys, but whenever I hear of recommendations for freedom of expression in countries with authoritarian governments, i.e. Third World countries, I am reminded of the Big Stick historically wielded by Western journalists and editors to beat Third World journos with.

Now that we are all well past the Cold War years, I think journalists from developing countries should cast their collective critical eye on the Western media, including the US and British media, and explode this great myth that the media in these countries is free, or even freer than the rest of the world's.

A mature public debate needs to happen on the Western media - and now is as a good a time as any.

Sure, local content needs to be encouraged, but a whole lot of websites in non-European languages is surely not the answer to anything...

Rather, alternative content - i.e. a new kind of journalism - is what we have to aim for. At a time of increasing commercialisation and Murdochisation of the media, perhaps all journalists need to be sceptical about the values of Western journalism. And in 'all', I include Western journalists.

Jonathan Marks

I would argue that any good journalist retains a sceptical eye on the media and programmes are naturally slanted towards the background of the writer. So words like "free" and "truth" are very much in the eye of the beholder.

I do believe that countries with a freedom of the press have a better chance of tackling problems of corruption and governance in the mid- and long term. I think there are great examples, like Benin, where journalist organisations are independent of government and act as their own watchdog in the profession. I think the public has a right to know against what sort of charter a programme or article has been written and what sort of voice they have if they want to complain.

I see many community stations in places like Burundi or Latin America doing a fantastic and courageous job to uphold those principles, often against a lot of odds. Because they don't speak English, there is currently very poor coverage of these activities in the "Western press".

Murali Shanmugavelan

I agree with Jonathan's comment that greater press freedom leads to better journalism. In some countries the English-language press tends to have more analysis and opinion, and is often read by more privileged groups. But such analysis is less common in local languages.

Thinkers and journalists from countries with authoritarian governments or repressive regimes may be inclined to publish in English outside their national borders in order to garner political support. Some even live in exile. This invariably effects local content creation. That was my point.


Ah, but Murali your assumption here is that authoritarian governments and repressive regimes are peculiar to non-English-speaking countries, countries where to quote you "English is often read by more privileged groups."

Being a professional journalist from a developing country, I have a problem with this train of thought, because you have excluded at one stroke any discussion on the Western media. Are you arguing that the Fox-dominated US media or the BBC-dominated UK one is freer or better at journalism than any in the developing world?

I read somewhere (McChesney?) that more than 90% of US cities are single-newspaper cities. What does that say for 'local content' or pluralism? The same probably holds for cities in the UK.

I believe this debate on so-called local content needs to be thought through a bit, and academics need to talk to journalists to make sense of what is really going on. At a time of increasing commercialisation of the media, many media outlets are saying the same thing - in different languages.

We also need to get away from simplistic analysis of what is 'repressive.' Being forced out of a country for your opinions, is similar to being McCarthy-ised out of a newspaper... also for your opinion! While you may find isolated examples of the former in certain countries, the latter is a widespread trend in so-called developed countries with press freedoms, and is directly related to the commercialisation of the media.

Davis J. Weddi

All the comments here are great. But the issue of local content is really very important and technical and needs to be given deeper focus.

For example now that you talk of local content, some people start thinking in technological terms. Some people may think it is about local information including news and features written froma local perspective. In technology I think one might be referrign to the means to transmit local information in the most effected manner for the local consumer. It may be a local software programmed in a local language, or customised/localised to meet the requirements of local consumers.

In fact some new (infant) IT companies in my country (Uganda) have become alive and prominent or were formed after creating an object of local content.

Well, Local Content really need to be simplyfied or rather demystified for Journos. In how many forms can we read or write about local content?... What it is, where it can be found, what is involved and who is involved in the creation of local content. Too much. This was just to add yet another angle to the ideas that have already been raised over local content from a Journalistic perspective.

Good day

The comments to this entry are closed.

The i-Witnesses

  • This blog is written by Murali Shanmugavelan, with help from the i-Witness team (Victoria Room and Nicky Lewis).

    It's a place for journalists - particularly in developing countries - to read commentary and share insights about the information society, what it means for ordinary people in the global South, and how it can be reported in a meaningful way.

November 2007

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30  

i-Witness resources

  • Check out Panos London's i-Witness microsite, packed with reporting tips, topic briefings, background information and links, and experts for interview...
    > i-Witness microsite

Small print

  • Panos London is not responsible for the content of external websites. This blog presents the personal views of the author, which are not necessarily shared by Panos London.