I thought it had died years ago. But there it was, 30
years on, making a re-appearance last week under the auspices of the
normally sensible prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Badawi: a
proposal for a Non-aligned News Network.
Back in 1975 when NAM
(the non-aligned movement) was still a set of initials to be
reckoned with, it came forth with the idea of a non-aligned news
pool, to present the world through the eyes of Third World
journalists to counterbalance the political bias and cultural
prejudice of the Western wires and syndicated news services.
Those were idealistic
days and many a talented Asian journalist joined the bandwagon.
Newly independent and developing countries generally were not big
enough or rich enough to have their own international news networks,
so why not band together and provide their own news to each rather
than read the Western accounts of how backward, undemocratic or just
weird they all were?
It was a natural
extension of de-colonization. The Western media did ignore large
tracts of the world, or covered them only when some disaster struck
or Western interests there were in some ways affected. Bias was rife
and the media naturally catered in the first place to the news
interests of their Western clients rather than those of the
developing countries which had no alternative sources of
idealism foundered on the rocks of reality and cynicism. It spawned
a concept known as "development journalism," a kind of "good news"
journalism focused on progress, not disasters, and "development"
rather than political issues. This sounded nice and the advocates
were able to raise money from the United Nations and elsewhere to
further the cause.
authoritarian governments latched on to development journalism as a
way of diverting attention from politics and a free press which
"obstructed development." The Marcos regime in the Philippines was
The NAM also spawned a
"non-aligned news agency pool" in 1975 under the leadership of
Yugoslavia's Tanjug and including the likes of Malaysia's
government-controlled Bernama news agency. This was to be the news
part of the New International Economic Order.
The reality was that
Yugoslavs were no more interested in Malaysia than Malaysia in
Yugoslavia, and both were more interested in the United States. No
national agency had the capacity or competence to match the coverage
of major events provided by the developed country agencies. Worst of
all, the enthusiasts for the NAM venture were mostly states with
little media freedom.
Fast forward to today.
The Western media is often as prejudiced as ever, its focus on a few
issues and nations. Its bias is often glaring, especially in its
coverage of the Muslim world. But the new NAM network proposed at a
conference in Kuala Lumpur last week is no more the answer now than
it was in 1975.
the loudest voices supporting it last week were ministers from
Myanmar, Sudan and Syria, the countries whose news supply is least
likely to find takers elsewhere. Malaysia, which has put itself
forward to spearhead the new NAM news, has a freer media than
several of its ASEAN neighbors, but it still fails to reflect the
levels of education of its population or the competence of its
The bottom line is that
to be acceptable internationally, there must be some consistent
proof of independence from sponsor governments. The difficultly of
that is demonstrated by one example, the Asia News Network, which
provides a Web link to major Asian English-language papers.
It is a useful tool but
not credible as an entity because its participants range from
lively, independent papers in India, Thailand and Indonesia to
government mouthpieces of China, Vietnam and Singapore, where
officials boast of not having an independent press.
If the proposed
organization were to be an independent agency funded by NAM and
staffed by top journalists from NAM members, well and good. But it
will not be. It will be just another way of recycling propaganda
from state controlled entities.
What a pity.