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UD COMM 245 - Myths of the Global Information Village

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Article 20Myths of the GlobalInformation Villageby Claude MoisyThe question seems as old as theworld: Does progress make human-kind better? Applied to the field ofinternational relations, the questionof the day is whether global electronic con-nections make citizens more aware of worldproblems and more able to contribute to theirsolution.We should not delude ourselves. The In-ternet is a fantastic tool that makes life easierfor a lot of professionals. It is certainly greatfor global stocks and for global smut. But itrepresents in no way the miraculous adventof the much heralded “global village.” Fordecades now, hazy-eyed apostles of the com-munications revolution have prophesiedabout the coming of a world without bounda-ries where everybody will know everythingabout everybody else. Since knowing is un-derstanding, we were all going to share ourworries and unite in alleviating them.This dream world would of course be ofparticular interest to practitioners of intema-tional relations, whose craft would change inan environment where most citizens weregenerally aware of and concerned about for-eign affairs. The universal flow of informa-tion, bringing people closer together, wouldnecessarily make the conduct of foreign policymore open and more responsive to the desiresof the common man.CLAUDE MOW former chairman and general man-ager of Agence France-Presse, has spent almost 20years as an international correspondent. This ar-ticle is aakpted from a paper he wrote as a visitingfellow at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press,Politics, and Public Policy at the John E KennedySchool of Government, Harvard University.INFOFUHATION: MORE SUPPLY,LESS DEMANDSo much for the dream. A careful analysis ofthe current exchange of foreign news aroundthe world reveals an inescapable paradox. Theamazing increase in the capacity to produceand distribute news from distant lands hasbeen met by an obvious decrease in its con-sumption. This is certainly true for the UnitedStates, but it appears that the same phenome-non exists, to some degree, in most developedsocieties.On the supply side, an unending series oftechnical advances has transformed the pro-duction and distribution of news. Through theextensive use of computers and satellites,multiplexing and fiber optics, and digitaliza-tion and data compression, informationproviders can offer more news today-in text,sound, and pictures-than ever before. It canbe done quickly and cheaply and delivered tomore users. An irresistible policy of telecom-munications deregulation keeps acceleratingthe process by doing away with inefficientstate monopolies.This is, alas, no reason to fall for the bigclaim of the self-styled “global television net-works” that they can broadcast instantly toeverywhere the newsfrom everywhere. In fact,the largest global television network, CNN In-ternational, retains only 35 foreign correspon-dents in 23 foreign bureaus, compared withthe nearly 500 correspondents and 100 bu-reaus supported by each of the major wireservices-the Associated Press (AI’), Reuters,and Agence France-Presse (AFP) (see table onfollowing page). Nor should one believe thatall humankind is about to share knowledgethrough a “global network” of communica-tion. That capability does not exist any more110Reprinted with permission from Foreign Policy,Summer 1997, pp.78-87.81997Peace.by the Carnegie Endowment for International20. Myths of the Global Information Villagethan does the global village, and it probablynever will. CNN International reaches only 3per cent of the worlds population, four-fifthsof whom do not even have access to a televi-sion set. The number of people with access tothe World Wide Web through their individualcomputers may grow exponentially, but it iscertain to remain for a long time only a frac-tion of the 6 billion human beings who willinhabit the planet at the turn of the centuryVast realms of our world either cannot orwill not be covered by the news collectors be-cause of the high costs involved in news gath-ering and because many repressive regimeswill not let them in. There are large areas, par-ticularly in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East,where news within countries is severely con-trolled, and news from the outside hardlypenetrates at all. Even a well-informed citizenmost 40 years old now-part of the history ofcommunications technology. Most people losesight of the scope of this phenomenon. From1960 to 1995, the total circulation of Americandaily newspapers remained stagnant ataround 59 million copies, while the popula-tion of the United States grew from 180 mil-lion to 260 million inhabitants. That translatesinto a one-third drop in per capita readership.This attrition is likely to accelerate since the rateof newspaper readership is twice as weakamong those under 30 as among those over 65.As far as news content is concerned, theshift from the printed word to the moving pic-ture has turned out to be much more than achange of medium. We all know that televi-sion has progressively induced a ‘radicalchange in our way of reacting to events. Poli-ticians and diplomats have learned quicklyRELATIVE DIMENSION Of TtlE TtlREEGLOBAL NEWS WIRES AND CNN (1997)APReutersEmployees3,420 15,500Total bureaus237161Foreign bureaus93139Total journalists1,3121,960Journalists abroad 5201,040Source: Annual Reports and other company documentsAFPCNN3,1003,50018231176231,100 1561,04050in an open country like the United States islargely unaware of living conditions in manyother countries. The fact is that, contrary tothe myth of global communication, the worldis not fully wired, and our knowledge of it isspotty at best.Is this situation likely to change? The pub-lic’s capacity to pay attention to the outsideworld is normally enhanced by changes in thetechniques of mass communication. But otherfactors have also come into play some political,some social, and some psychological. And, forthe time being, they all seem to contribute to adecrease in the demand for foreign news.FEELING VERSUS THINKING: TVOR PRINT?The decline of the print media and the simul-taneous ascendancy of television as themasses’ favorite source of information is al-that television is an emotional medium andthat popular sentiment whipped up by tele-vision images can be an inescapable elementof foreign policy After Vietnam, military in-terventions abroad became highly vulnerableto the American public’s low tolerance forcasualties in foreign lands. A bloody


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