News Agencies And Information Imperialism

An editorial in London Sunday Telegraph, while talking about news agencies, once said, “…like the air we breathe, it is nowhere, but it is everywhere. It is shapeless but shapes men’s thoughts. It has no policy but policy can not be made without it. It is journalism, at its most self-effacing, yet at its most essential.”

The news agencies wield tremendous power in news media space. Many news vehicles depend on them for their daily dose of national and international news. The news agencies are the media of the mass media. A news agency is to a mass medium, what an apex bank is to commercial banks within a nation’s financial system. If the media are the agenda-setters, then news agencies are super agenda setters.

But how desirable is the power that these wire services enjoy? Reuters, Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP) are the top three agencies of the world. They dominate the news flow not just in their home markets, but across the world. Many developing countries are dependent on them for world news. These news agencies are very efficient in their news gathering as well as presentation of news. This has helped them to consolidate their market positions.

Everybody is not happy about this domination though. People accuse these wire services of furthering western interests and imposing western culture on poorer countries. Reuters is headquartered in England, while AP and AFP in USA and France respectively. In the AP’s recent History book, Breaking News, CEO Thomas Curley writes, “The news agencies are attributed with global issues such as: the reduction of the world to a “global village”, cultural imperialism, ethnocentrism, media imperialism, media dependency, global agenda-setting and the imbalance in world information order.”

News Agencies

McBride report says, “These agencies have a particularly wide international reach due to the size and technological strength of their systems of collecting news and distributing it in many languages all over the world.”

In the amount of news that is supplied by top agencies, most of it is about developed countries. Developing countries make up only small percentage of the overall news coverage. Also, this coverage is primarily about various crises (like earthquakes, floods, tsunami, etc) or political upheavals.

Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere once noted sarcastically that the inhabitants of developing countries should be allowed to take part in the presidential elections of the US because they are bombarded with as much information about the candidates as are North American citizens.

Every news agency serves as a major selection screen for the foreign news which is made available to the country’s media. Through the amorphous machination of news agencies, Euro-American ethnocentrism has become prevalent across the length and breadth of this world.

To counter this hegemony of news agency moguls, Non-Aligned News Agencies Pool (NANAP) was started in 1970s. NANAP was a product of Non-Aligned Movement which was started in the wake of cold war. It was an arrangement for exchange of news among the agencies of the non-aligned countries who were for long victims of imbalance and bias in the flow of news.

At a conference of ministers from the non-aligned countries held in New Delhi in July 1976, the concept was developed further. The declaration adopted at the conference stated that the present global flow of information was characterised by serious deficiencies and inequalities…. In a situation in which the means of information are dominated and monopolized by a few agencies to spread information as they wish, at the same time the rest are denied the right to inform and be informed objectively and accurately.

Press Trust of India (PTI), India’s premier news agency, was incorporated with the same spirit, though a bit earlier. PTI, owned by a cooperative of leading Indian newspapers, with 450 domestic newspaper clients, was founded in 1949. The agency distributes services internationally to the US, UK, Australia and UAE. It distributes international news in India from AP and AFP, as well as AP Photos and International Commercial Information.

PTI had a stiff competitor in the form of United News of India (UNI) since the time it was launched in 1961. UNI was a major player in India’s wire services since its inception, but started losing ground since mid-nineties. It has lost many of its prime subscribers since then. Once having a first-rate team of journalists, the agency is now struggling to survive. The decline of UNI has helped PTI to establish its monopoly.

If we are talking about the limited point of views in news media landscape, Japan’s media scene calls for an interesting study. Japan is a media-saturated nation where the level of consumption of both newspapers and television is extremely high by global standards. Its media sector is dominated by its five large conglomerates. They are present in multiple media channels, including newspapers and news channels.

Japan is different from most Western countries both in acceptance of government intrusion into the reporting process and in the concentration of print and broadcast journalism in media conglomerates. Japan has a unique system of press clubs. Press clubs comprise a select group of newspaper reporters with exclusive access to a designated facility provided by a specific government office, corporation, or other organization; they play a key role in shaping daily coverage of events, particularly on political and governmental matters.

Media organizations receive financial and operational support from the government, guaranteeing a level of success if they follow informal guidance and honour implicit understandings. Arguably the most important news source, the NHK, has an ambiguous relationship with the government despite being formally autonomous.

In this complicated world scenario, where the only purpose of news media industry is to maximize profits and where they have so many vested interests, it becomes a puzzle for a lay reader to decide which news is authentic and which is not.

(This post was part of my college assignment.)

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