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The aftermath of colonisation and imperialism of developing countries
around the world affected the media system of global news distribution.
This paper however does not only examine the factors and issues
surrounding the global news flow, but also expounds on the causes and
motives behind the Western world’s firm domination of the
international information flow. This investigation traces the history of
international news flow around the globe which led to the MacBride
report and the birth of NWICO (New World Information
Communication Order). The paper seeks to propose solutions that
would change the view of third World leaders on Western domination
and direct them to focus on what really matters for the development of
the nation’s media system. It is concluded that fingers should not be
pointed concerning the error of Western domination, but that a mutual
understanding and co-operative action be taken to solve the problem
through economic development.
Key words: Global news flow, international communication, media imperialism,
Western domination.
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There is undeniably an unequal flow of news and information around the various
nations in the world. A sort of imbalance exists in the way information concerning different
nations is disbursed to other nations around the globe. This unevenness has caused a distorted
picture of nations to be the thriving image which other related nationals view.
The consequence of this is as Chimamanda Adichie would coin , a ‘single story’
scenario, where all, and sometimes very little, of what is seen by one side or nation, is all that
forms the dominating image of the subject nation. Banerjee (1981) is of the opinion that the
news events in the developing countries make news in Europe and the USA only when they
are bad events”. It is argued that the majority of the western news and content regarding the
third world countries are composed from a narrow perspective; a perspective which forms the
publicly viewed image of the country.
The focus here is the dominance of global news flow by the Western nations over the
developing nations. Due to the advancement in technological facilities of the developed world,
an imbalance in the way news should flow internationally has been formed. This imbalance
functions in a vertical flow which entails the movement of news from the top to bottom. The
“top”, referring to developed nations, and the “bottom” referring to the less developed. News
flow in a Vertical flow system transmits information of the First World to the Third World in
a unidirectional manner. Like the one way flow of news, the information is sent from the top
to the bottom without a similar reply action from the bottom.
In this context, the third world is seen as the receiving end of the flaws of one-sided
flow of international information. The west dominates the world media system. Majority of the
news events about issues around the world is packaged and distributed by a set of Western
developed organisations occasionally termed the “Big four”. The system of international news
distribution allows for these organisations to have unhindered control and influence over world
news, through their advantage over the less developed nations.
This system and advantage has caused an unnecessary dependence of less developed
nations on the first world nations. It has led to an unequal representation of media content in
some sectors of international media. It has also led to the potential use of the media as a tool
for propaganda and influence.
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The quantitative and qualitative imbalance of news is an unfair concept for the Third
World nations. The argument by the developing nations is that the news representation of their
content in foreign media is small in quantity and negative in quality. The less developed nations
accuse the developed nations of under reporting and unequal flow of news in the international
news scene.
The dispute of western world domination of the international news flow stems from the
subject of colonialism and imperialism. Domination by first world countries began from a
change of national power from the colonial masters to indigenous leaders. Nationalism and the
fight for independence by some colonized countries, between the late 50’s and 70’s, did bring
about the craved independence, but led to another form of external domination neo-
colonialism. The First World nations still had control over major resources of the Third World.
Udeze (2005) was of the opinion that the newly independent countries still heavily depended
on their mother countries for so many things, including communication hard and soft wares
and even protection.
Flag independence as it may be termed, presented the colonised countries a pretentious
liberation. These countries had their independence, but not total freedom and control.
Communication was still largely influenced by their colonialists. First world nations had the
flow of national and international news of the third world in their hands.
This circumstantial control was not accepted by the Third World leaders. The demands
of these third World countries were articulated by the Tunisian Information Minister, Mustapha
Masmoudi with the main complaints as follows:
Owing to the socio-technological imbalance there was a one way flow
of information from the centre to the periphery, which created a wide
gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’;
The information rich were in a position to dictate terms to the
information poor, thus creating a structure of dependency with
widespread economic, political and social ramifications for the poor
This vertical flow (as opposed to a desirable horizontal flow of global
information) was dominated by the Western-based transnational
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Information was treated by the transnational media as a commodity and
subject to the rule of the market;
The entire information and communication order was a part of and in
turn propped up international inequality that created and sustained
mechanisms of neo-colonialism.
(Masmoudi, 1979: 172-173 as quoted by Thussu, 2000)
On the other hand however, the developed countries disagreed with these accusations,
pointing out that they also face the same issue as they are also under reported by the media of
the third world counties. They held that both worlds are guilty of an imbalanced flow of
international information and communication.
These arguments and opinions led to the creation of the Sean MacMride Commission,
headed by Irish diplomat Sean MacBride in Nairobi, 1976, which was powered by the
UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) during its 19
general assembly. The issues surrounding these arguments concerning quantitative and
qualitative imbalance, were to be revised, discussed and solved.
The commission was to study four aspects of global communication:
the current state of world communication; the problems surrounding a
free and balanced flow of information and how the needs of the
developed countries link with the flow; how, in light of NIEO, a
NWICO could be created, and how the media could become the vehicle
for educating public opinion about the world problems.
(Thussu, 2000:45)
A final report was submitted to UNESCO in 1980, titled “Many Voices, One World:
Communication and Society Today and Tomorrow”, after the submission of an interim report
in 1978. The report asserts that there is an imbalance in the world information system and that
the proof of the proposition is the cultural domination that is evident in the Third World nations,
according to Ekeanyanwu (2008:120-121). The report clearly stated that media domination by
more technologically advanced First World nation did exist and that efforts needed to be taken
towards solving the problem.
The product of the MacBride report was totally rejected by the Western World after a
meeting in Tallories France to discuss the issue. It was argued that the report was in
contradiction of free press, free market and individual human rights. This disagreement led to
the withdrawal of the United States of America, Britain, and Singapore Form UNESCO.
However, this withdrawal of the USA, which funded 25% of the organisation, did not
force UNESCO to relinquish their stand on the issue of imbalance. UNESCO held its position
on the features of free press, and individual human rights as ‘freedom and liberty should not be
the monopolies of any group’ Ekeanyanwu (2008: 121).
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The struggle for NWICO (New World Information and Communication Order) did
continue. The goal of its establishment was to institute a new, more just and more efficient
world information and communication order.
Western Media Domination: the “Big Four”
In the world of international news flow, there are four organisations which stand out as
the largest in the world. The organisations are duly respected because of their wide range and
competence in sourcing news around the world. These organisations include Reuters,
Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI), and the Agence France Presse (AFP).
Reuters is a transnational news agency which has its headquarters in New York, United
States and was established by Paul Julius Reuter in Britain, 1851. It was later acquired by the
Newspaper Proprietors of Britain. Reuters is a major multinational news agency as it owns
thousands of stringers and correspondents in over 180 countries around the globe.
The Associated Press is an American international non-profit news agency, based in
New York City which was established in 1849 by six newspapers. The Associated Press
operates 243 news bureaus, with networks in more than 120 countries.
The third news agency is the United Press International (UPI) which was established in
1907 by E. W. Scripps. United Presse International was a rename for E. W. Scripps’ news
agency after it absorbed the International News Service in 1909. The last news agency is the
Agence France Presse (AFP) which is the oldest news agency in the world, was established in
1835 by a Parisian translator and advertising agent, Charles-Louis Havas. Agence France
Presse (AFP) has its headquarters in Paris and has new bureaus in over 150 counties worldwide.
Other significant regional media organisations include the DPA (Germany), EFE (Spain),
TASS (Soviet Union), and Xinhua (China).
These Western multinational organisations make up the “Big Four” news organisations
that have the largest and most efficient resources for fast and accurate news reporting around
the world. They have stringers and correspondents in various countries and cities, coupled with
advanced technological tools for global news reporting. Udeze, (2005:42-46) says that Reuters,
AP, AFP, and UPI have clients who subscribe to them to get information which they cannot
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get on their own. Their vast reach and network enables them to source, extract, and package
and disseminate news in external countries even faster than the media of countries outside their
home base. It is important to note that popular and reputable cable networks like CNN, BBC,
etc. also subscribe to them.
There is however a clause to their efficiency. Their vast reach of news information
makes them a more effectual and dependable source of news, therefor leaving smaller and less
developed media outlets in the less developed countries do subscribe to their content. This leads
to a form of domination and control by these transnational news agencies over the content of
news around the world.
As Sunny (2005:21) asserts that, ‘Statistics show that 80% of the news of the World
comes from London, Paris and New York; the homes of the big four news agencies’. Media
content imbalance begins to take place in the global news flow as what id reported focuses
majorly on the events and happenings of the Western World which is where the Big Four are
Media imperialism and Western Media Domination
Media imperialism refers to substantial external control of the ownership, structure, or
content of the media of a less developed country by a more developed one. It can be seen as
the obscure dominating influence of a countries media by the media of a stronger county. Neo-
colonialism as a concept connotes ‘a complex device or method of indirect and subtle form of
domination by political, economic, social, military or technical forces within and outside each
African state’. (Ekeanyanwu T. N., 2007).
Media imperialism of the developing nations originated from colonialism which
metamorphosed into neo-colonialism. The colonial powers used neo-colonial tendencies to
perpetuate their domination of the mass media of the developed countries (Ekeanyanwu N. ,
2008). As developing nations depended on the colonial masters for communication software
and hardware, the more technologically advanced and developed colonial nations produced and
exported media content to their child nations. The consequence is an enormous cultural
alteration, where the culture and beliefs of the developed is unconsciously adopted by the
unfortunate underdeveloped nations.
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When the majority of media content available to one country is shaped by a different
and more dominant nation, it is suggested that the culture of that larger nation, along with its
interests, displaces that of the home country.
Scholars and critiques have argued that there is a high level of media imperialism in
Third World nations, especially in African countries. Over the years, the true African heritage
has been chipped away gradually by the foreign culture irrefutably by media imperialism.
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‘It was argued by the third world leaders that through their control of major
international information channels, the Western media gave an exploitative and distorted view
of their countries to the rest of the world’ (Daya, 2000). As McQuail (2005:262) noted:
It was repeatedly confirmed that news (whether press or tv) in more
developed countries do not typically give a great deal of space to
foreign news (except in specialist or elite publications). Foreign news
is largely devoted to events in other countries that are large, nearby and
rich, or connected by language and culture.
There is a major issue in the way the Third World is underreported in the global news
scene. As said earlier, Sunny (2005:21) asserts that a majority of 80% of the news of the World
comes from London, Paris and New York which are the homes of the big four news agencies:
United Press International (UPI), Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Agence France Presse’.
These major world news agencies have all the necessary equipment needed to assess relevant
information about the issue and events happening around the world as they happen. These
organisations have stingers and reporters in various countries around the globe that enables
them extract news events from their original source. The facilities they possess gives them the
efficiency needed to even extract and report news events from different countries before the
home country reports the news. An example of such is as Sunny (2005:21) explains:
When general Sani Abacha, Nigeria’s erstwhile dictator died on July 8,
1998, most Nigerians got to know about it through Ted Turner’s cable
News Network (CNN). The same thing happened some days later when
the acclaimed winner of the June 12, 1993, presidential election, Alhaji
Abiola died. Before Nigerians in the rural are sheared about these great
news of 1998, in Nigeria, their relations abroad were aware of it.
The big international news agencies get first-hand information about international news
because of their more advanced technological and infrastructural facilities. This technological
advantage leads to a situation termed the one way flow of international communication in
which news flows from the top to the bottom without a reciprocal action. This flow functions
in a manner through which the developed First World nations send news information to the
developing Third World nations, without receiving feedback from the latter.
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The predominant message and content of news around the globe was that of the first
world nations, who through their technological and infrastructural development were able to
monopolise global news flow. A very small percentage of news in the developed countries was
devoted to the underdeveloped or developing ones. Even at that, the little that is discussed was
about the negative parts and aspects of the developing nation’s news events. Only the economic
or social problems inherent in the system of developing counties are published or talked about
in first world media. This could be a very huge international public image destroyer for
countries without the necessary infrastructure or technology to react and prevent such
occurrences. Ekeanyanwu T. N. (2007: 12-15) notes thus:
Since 1883, when the first newspaper was published, publication has
been dominated by the north especially the USA. Today, the USA has
over 25,00 periodicals; over1200 book publishers; over 10000 radio
stations; over 1000 television stations; and some 26 million other types
of (e.g. citizen band) radios. There is therefore a situation of media
monopoly by the North, not only in hardware, but also in software.
Third world leaders saw as unacceptable a situation where the west determines what
we see, hear and by extension our mode of life (Udeze, 2005). The first world nations inject an
enormous amount of foreign information into the third world countries leaving the citizens of
such countries no option but to read, consume and consequently think based on such
information, exclusively. Banerjee (1981:56) is of the opinion that 75 per cent of the news that
the four major western news agencies disseminate, originates from or is concerned with North
America and Western Europe.
The international media of First World impose their own perception and perspective of
the world upon the developing countries by exclusively transmitting news which they have
filtered, refined, and distorted. Thussu (2000):
Much as beauty lies in the beholder’s eye, “news exists in the minds of
men” whose attitudes and perceptions often tend to be shaped by
stereotyped or false information conveyed by educational text,
literature and other images to which children are exposed at an
impressionable age.
On the other side of the coin, the first world nations put forward their argument as it is
believe that both the first and third world are guilty of the accusation of the one-way flow of
international news. It is also alleged that third world media agencies also under-report the news
events in the first world. As Sunny (2005) deduces:
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The bone of contention according to the leaders of the third world
countries is that qualitatively, they are under reported in the western
world, and qualitatively, the little that is heard about them is the so-
called crisis news i.e. coups, earth quakes, famine, civil wars, and such
negative report. The first worlds on the other hand, are of the view that
they are also under reported by the media of the third world.
The argument here is that the south is also guilty. Leaders of the Northern nations also
believe the media of South under report the affairs of the Northern nations. According to Pratt
(1987:44) as quoted by Ekeanyanwu N. (2007:26), it was discovered through research that
Nigerian newspapers gave more coverage to local news stories at 76%, than they did to foreign
news items which was only 24% coverage.
The Western nations are of the view that news that is reported is dependent on the
relevance to the audience. They are also of the opinion that all that is reported in the media of
first World Nations is the truth about the state of the third world. The view is that the truth be
told objectively without bias. Thussu (2000:48) explains the perspective of the Western news
media thus:
The western news organisation stoutly fought any change in the old
information order. They maintained that they were only reporting the
reality of life in the third world political instability, economic
backwardness, human and natural disasters and that this objective
journalism was disapproved of by undemocratic governments in the
One point that must be made is that whatever is published by the first or third world, is
based on what news is, and what can be branded as news worthy. This is the point where the
factors of relevance, proximity, human interest, etc. come into play. It is where the criteria for
news selection and reporting in media become a stand point for national journalism.
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