A Reflection on Media in the Third World


This article originally appeared in Issue# 9

Outside the United States, everyone knows the U.S. is the most influential country in the world. Its economics, education, politics, technology, science, and culture, just to name a few areas, color the world's every socio-economic fabric.

Inside the U.S., what Americans know about the rest of the world is disproportionate to the influence they wield. A misguided rule of thumb for foreign correspondents covering the news of the world is: "All anyone cares about is coups and earthquakes."

But most Americans get their foreign news from television, which is the least effective in communicating in depth news and knowledge because of its sparseness and distortions.

If numbers mean anything, even newspapers and journals are not doing the job of making Americans aware that they have much to learn about other countries, particularly the newly developed ones. Many average-sized newspapers publish less than 1,000 words a day of foreign news, discarding most of the 100,000 furnished by the news agencies and syndicates.

There are probably less than the estimated figure of 430 full-time correspondents for U.S. news organizations abroad serving the U.S., far fewer in any case than the 2,500 who were at work at the end of World War II.


Everyone knows information is a form of power. The Third World countries now know this more than ever. That is why they are calling for the establishment of a new international order of information. They feel this is just as urgent as the establishment of a new international economic order.

The newly developed independent countries, once believing they had emerged from colonialization, realize their development remains in jeopardy. Without a substantial change in the world system of disseminating information, their demands for a new economic order will go unheeded. Worse, in my opinion, their cultures will erode and become homogenized into the drab oneness of Holiday Inns, McDonalds, and Levis.

American communicators have a serious obligation to make the American public more aware of the rest of the world and the influence we have on it. Americans will never understand the negative criticism that comes more and more from around the world unless they begin to see how life is really lived on the other side of the fence.

American media, particularly, are highly influential. "The popular press, feature films, hit parades, and commercial TV were all invented in the USA, then imported, and copied, by all other nations," writes Jeremy Tunstall. Just a handful of Anglo-American news and news film agencies select the images for the world's perception of international political information.

If information is no longer to be treated as a "commodity" and become instead a "service" at the disposal of all humankind, and if a new world order in the field of information is to be established, the Third World countries must consolidate their information media and the Western highly developed technological countries must assist.

Author Bio: 

John Mitchell is the former executive secretary of UNDA/USA. He has also worked in communications and media for many years in Asia.