Por Kuldip Rampal
At the dawn of the 21st century, serious questions are being raised
by governments, academicians and average citizens about the implications
of the Information Revolution for the worldwide flow of news and
information. For the world long used to an established and predictable
pattern of news and information mostly flowing from the developed
North to the developing South, the Information Revolution was expected
to serve as an equalizer in this unequal flow of information. After
all, the most revolutionary component of the new information technologies,
the Internet, was seen as a truly democratic medium, allowing anyone
to disseminate information worldwide with practically negligible
transmission costs. Six years after the Internet seeped into people's
consciousness across the globe, it is commonly recognized that while
it is greatly easier to transmit one's point of view to the other
end of the world, how seriously and credibly that point of view
is taken is an altogether different matter. In other words, the
mere availability of information previously not within reach is
not a sufficient factor for it to compete effectively with other
information on a common issue. The new information must also be
seen to be competing with existing information within the realm
of credibility before it can hope to make any significant impression
on the information consumer.
The same argument can be made regarding
the competitiveness of news and information purveyed by another
major component of the Information Revolution -- international satellite
television. The global popularity of Ted Turner's Cable News Network
(CNN) ever since its live coverage of the Gulf War in 1990 has spawned
scores of satellite television channels by many countries interested
in taking their view of events to people regionally and globally.
But does China's CCTV, seen in the United States via satellite television
dishes, carry the same credibility that, say, the BBC World does
across the world? Can the news service of the international channel
of Egyptian television compete well with the one provided by Germany's
Deutsche Welle TV?
Even when the political factor contributing
to credibility problem is removed, can we say that news programs
from satellite channels of two democratic countries -- for example,
the United States, a superpower, and India, a developing country
-- will carry the same credibility to the global audience? If the
answer to these questions were to be "no," then we have
to ask the question: What are the factors that contribute to the
appeal and credibility of information purveyed by international
news organizations? This chapter will address this question and
examine the implications of the new world of communication unleashed
upon us by the Information Revolution.
This revolution began with the introduction
of the fax machine in the early 1980s and has progressed through
the stages of cable and satellite television, cellular telephony,
and the desk top computer-based Internet, with its multi-media appendages
such as voice e-mail and digital radio and video. The European Union
has recently done one up on the Americans, the pioneers in information
technologies, by pushing forward to introduce Internet-protocol-based
devices such as cellular phones with screens and personal digital
assistants that, when combined with Internet access services, allow
users to effectively manage their communications any time at any
place. With the impending severing of the Internet umbilical cord
from the desk-top computer, the Information Revolution is about
to come of age.
The central proposition explored
in this chapter is that because of the ideological and economic
appeal of the North, and the established credibility of its news
organizations, the new information technologies will provide additional
"soft power" to the North to further its ideological objectives
in the developing South. This proposition will be examined within
the framework of the theories of international news and information
flow, and the factors critical to the credibility of information
in the international sphere. We will use the definition of "soft
power" provided by a Harvard University international relations
theorist, Joseph Nye, Jr., who says that "Soft power is the
ability to achieve desired outcomes in international affairs through
attraction rather than coercion. It works by convincing others to
follow, or getting them to agree to, norms and institutions that
produce the desired behavior. Soft power can rest on the appeal
of one's ideas or the ability to set the agenda in ways that shape
the preferences of others."1
Theories of International News
Several studies have identified
and explained the factors that influence the flow of news and information
globally. Galtung found that there is a "center-periphery"
pattern in the flow of international news. News, he noted, flows
mostly from the "center," or dominant countries, to the
"periphery," or dependent areas. He relates these theoretical
constructs to communication and cultural interactions between nations
and points to vertical interaction as the major factor in the inequality
of nations, a division reinforced by "feudal networks of international
communication" dominated by nations in the "center."2
A study by Kariel and Rosenvall
supported this theory by concluding that the "eliteness"
of a nation as a news source was the most important criterion for
news selection3. The authors referred
to Schramm's definition of elite nations as a "group of highly
developed countries which are also dominant in world politics."4
"Eliteness" was also seen as the relative standing of
a nation in the eyes of others5.
Kariel and Rosenvall found a statistically significant correlation
(0.586) between the amount of trade between two countries and the
number of news items about the two countries in each other's media.
They also found a statistically significant correlation (0.469)
between the gross national product of a country and the number of
news items appearing about that country in another country's media.
But the highest correlation (0.845) was found between the "eliteness"
of a country and the number of items about that country appearing
in the media of nations ranked lower on the eliteness scale. The
authors described this correlation as both statistically significant
and substantively important6.
A study by Hester concluded that
at any given time, the nations of the world have designated places
in an international pecking order. Perceptions of positions in that
order partially determine the flow, direction and volume of information.
This study also noted that strong economic relations or cultural
affinities increase the flow of news among nations, as does the
perception of threat between any two nations7.
Another theory says that news flow is vertical from developed countries
(North) to developing countries (South), with supplemental horizontal
flows within the North and within the South, although flow within
the latter is substantially lesser in volume. Also, while there
exists a good deal of news flow from South to North, it tends to
be significantly less in volume in comparison with the flow from
North to South8.
These theories would place the United
States, the major countries in the European Union -- Germany, Great
Britain, France and Italy -- and Japan as the elite countries for
political and economic reasons, among others, in the hierarchy of
nations. Keohane and Nye, Jr. say that ideological and material
success of a country makes its culture and ideology attractive9.
They note that America's popular culture, with its libertarian and
egalitarian currents, dominates film, television and electronic
communications. Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Japan reflect
the same attributes, although to varying degrees as compared with
the United States. When the "language" factor is added
to the factor of "eliteness," the United States and Britain
acquire particular significance because English is the most widely
spoken international language in the world, which would seem to
particularly facilitate and promote the spread of values and culture
from these two countries. It is not a coincidence, therefore, that
the standards and architecture of the new information systems, like
the Internet, are built around the English language.
The use of the French language in
several parts of the world would similarly enable France, another
of the elite nations, to spread its values and culture. The language
factor may inhibit the media "soft power" of Germany,
Italy and Japan around the world, something that at least Germany
is very much aware of in view of the fact that one-third of its
daily programming on DW-TV for the global audience is broadcast
Theory of Information Credibility
Much research has been
done over the years to determine the factors associated with credible
information. In more than 50 experiments done by Yale University's
Program of Research on Communication, several factors were identified
and explained toward understanding the issue of information credibility10.
They are: a) The communicator, b) The message, c) The audience,
d) The interaction. Some of the key findings are as follows.
A credible communicator is one who
is seen to be "trustworthy" and "expert." Communicators
or information sources perceived to be biased and unfair have low
credibility. A credible communicator is also a likeable one. A communicator
who is perceived to have had a history of providing credible information
will have an edge over a new communicator. In terms of message structure,
presenting both sides of an issue is more effective with those who
are well educated or initially opposed, and two-sided presentations
tend to inoculate against future counterpropaganda. Effectiveness
of a communication does not have any clear link with the order in
which the pro and con arguments are presented. Fears arousing and
threatening communications are effective only in cases when such
appeals are not too strong.
The studies of audience found that
it is easier to persuade individuals with high intelligence than
those with low intellectual ability. This is because the former
have more ability to draw valid inferences when exposed to persuasive
communications that rely primarily on impressive logical arguments.
At the same time, those with high intellectual ability are also
more likely to be critical of the arguments presented so there is
more of a challenge in persuading them. The research also showed
that audience interaction with the communicator is a much more effective
way of changing opinions than passive participation, such as merely
listening to a program on a radio or reading a news story or editorial
in a newspaper.
Other research has looked into the
issue of medium effectiveness and found no consistent pattern of
advantage in one medium over another. Klapper, in his study on the
effects of mass media, concluded that all face-to-face contact is
more persuasive than radio, which, in turn, is more effective than
print. Television and films probably rank between face-to-face communication
and radio, but this latter point has not been empirically demonstrated11.
Eliteness, Credibility and Media
It is easy to understand
within the framework of these news flow theories and information
credibility factors why dominant media players in the world have
been, and continue to be, from the major Western countries. The
eliteness of the United States, Great Britain and France is clearly
a factor in the global dominance of print, audio and video news
services from these countries, but what needs to be explained is
why other elite nations -- Japan, Germany and Italy -- do not have
international news organizations with a similar level of presence.
After all, Japan and Germany are stronger economically than Britain
and France when measured in per capita income levels, and Italy
is economically strong enough to be a member of the G7 group of
One explanation to this anomaly
in media presence could be offered within the context of one measure
of credibility discussed earlier -- that a communicator with a history
of providing credible information will have an edge over a new entrant
in the marketplace of ideas. Japan, Germany and Italy had controlled
and officially directed media systems, which were known more for
the quality, or lack of it, of their propaganda activities globally
than for any credible journalistic endeavors. It was not until these
countries became democracies at the end of World War II that media
were freed of the governmental stranglehold and allowed necessary
freedoms to process news and information accurately and objectively.
The United States, Britain and France, on the other hand, have had
long-standing pluralistic democratic political systems predicated
on the values of rule of law, human rights, and religious freedom,
among others. The media systems that emerged within the framework
of these values were bound to show commitment to the journalistic
values of accuracy and objectivity sooner rather than later, thus
having a head start toward consolidating their credibility. In the
United States, for example, journalistic objectivity has been a
tradition for almost 150 years. Amidst propaganda from fascist and
Nazi movements in Europe, John Reith, BBC's first director-general,
built this world news service in the late 1920s under tenets of
objectivity12 that in early
2000 would be termed as "Britain's gift to the world"
by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Anan.
Since the eliteness of a nation
combined with the perception of credibility of a media organization
from that nation are the necessary factors to the attractiveness
of that news organization globally, we can see why Western news
organizations are dominant while those from other major countries
are only marginal players. It will take a long time for the media
of Russia, a one-time elite nation in the form of the Soviet Union
because of its superpower status, to get over the legacy of Marxist
propaganda that was the hallmark of the Soviet media, including
TASS, its global news agency. China may be an up and coming economic
power, but its media are still state owned and used to purvey only
the government version of domestic and world affairs, just as the
media did in the old days of the Soviet Union. Democratic India's
media are doing much better in the realm of objectivity, but India
is a developing country so its media do not yet have the appeal
or financial resources to compete with the news organizations of
"elite" states. Indonesia, another large country, has
only recently emerged as a democracy from more than 30 years of
authoritarian rule, so it will be a long time before its media make
an impression globally.
Indeed, even as the democratic wave
has spread around the world since the collapse of the Soviet Union,
less than half of the world's nations had democratic political systems
in 1999. The New York-based Freedom House, which annually publishes
a report on the status of civil liberties and press freedom around
the world, said in its 1998-99 report that 88 of the world's 191
countries (46 percent) were rated as "Free," meaning that
they maintain a high degree of such freedoms. Although this is the
largest number of free countries on record, the remaining 54 percent
continued to deny or substantially limit political and civil rights,
and personal and press freedoms to their people13.
Given that educated people around
the world are interested in accurate and reliable information on
domestic and international issues, they are likely to turn to international
news providers when their domestic news organizations cannot provide
such information because of limited news gathering resources or
government controls. Keohane and Nye, Jr., say that news organizations
in the United States, Britain and France have capabilities for collecting
intelligent information that dwarf those of other nations. "Information
power flows to those who can edit and credibly validate information
to sort out what is both correct and important
. Brand names
and the ability to bestow an international seal of approval will
become more important."14
As we will see, Western news organizations have both the brand names
and the international seal of approval because of the eliteness
and credibility factors mentioned before. To reach such a status,
emerging news agencies will have a lot of catching up to do before
they can compete with the established Western news agencies.
Dominant Global News Organizations
Because of the reasons
discussed above, the dominant news organizations globally, whether
print or broadcast oriented, have been from the United States, Great
Britain and France for many decades. We will briefly identify and
explain the operations of the major global media players.
Print news agencies: The
Associated Press from the United States, Reuters from Britain and
Agence France-Presse from France have been the major international
news agencies since the 19th century. Using state-of-the-art telecommunications
facilities -- telephone, radio, cable, satellite phones and photo
uplinks with mobile antennas, laptop computers with wireless satellite
uplinks, and the Internet -- these news agencies can transmit up
to 10,000 words per minute between any two points on the globe.
The AP says its mission is to provide
factual coverage of news to all parts of the globe for use. "News
bearing the AP logotype can be counted on to be accurate, balanced
and informed."15 The AP
serves 8,500 newspaper, radio and television subscribers in 112
countries, in addition to its subscribers in the United States.
The AP sends more than 20 million words and about 1,000 photos each
day from its 240 bureaus to its subscribers worldwide. It serves
as a source of news, photos, graphics, audio and video for more
than one billion people every day. AP Information Services, started
in 1990, licenses AP content to online service providers worldwide16.
Reuters supplies news and financial
information services to media subscribers worldwide. Reuters says
its premier position as a global news and information group is based
on a reputation for speed, accuracy, integrity and impartiality
as well as continuous technological innovation. The agency's news
service is subscribed to by news organizations in 157 countries
either directly or through their national news agencies, which translate
the Reuters copy into their own languages for distribution. Over
3 million words of Reuters' copy, supplied by 183 bureaus worldwide,
are published daily. News is gathered and edited for both business
and media clients in 23 languages. Reuters also provides news and
information to over 225 Internet sites reaching an estimated 12
million viewers per month and generating approximately 140 million
Agence France-Presse, with its bureaus
in 165 countries, provides news services in English, French, German,
Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic, delivering 2 million words a day.
AFP's subscribers include 650 newspapers and periodicals, 400 radio
and television stations, and about 100 national news agencies around
the world18. In March 2000,
AFP began to distribute information services in French and English
via any fixed or mobile Internet device, including mobile phones,
screenphones, and set top boxes for televisions. The new service
enables telecommunications carriers to provide their users with
access to personalized information services, anywhere, anytime,
and on any device. Subscribers can also receive news on pre-selected
topics through e-mail19
Supplemental news agencies:
Supplemental news agencies go beyond spot news coverage provided
by AP, Reuters and AFP, and offer hard news exclusives, investigative
reporting, political commentary and concentrated business coverage.
The New York Times News Service is the world's largest supplemental
news service, distributing news to 650 clients in more than 50 countries.
In addition, the New York Times Syndicate distributes columns, special
features, news and other material to more than 2,000 clients worldwide.
The service is available in English and Spanish20.
The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service has 600 clients
in 56 countries21. Both of these
services are available on the Internet also.
Video news agencies: Reuters
is the world's largest television news agency. Updated every six
hours, Reuters Reports provides the top 10 to 12 stories of the
moment in ready-to-air format, with a total of 60 international
news and sports stories each day. Reuters Reports is also designed
to serve the needs of Internet sites wishing to offer video news
clips. The Reuters network of 184 bureaus in 163 countries forms
the backbone of the video agency's news gathering activities. Some
310 subscribers plus their networks and affiliates in 93 countries
use Reuters television news coverage22.
The Associated Press Television News (APTN), the other major international
video news agency, provides video of the day's top news stories
by satellite to major news organizations worldwide from 83 AP bureaus
in 67 countries. A total of 330 international broadcasters receive
AP's global video news service23.
Global newspapers, magazines
and broadcasters: Several Western newspapers, magazines and
broadcasting organizations also play a significant role as purveyors
of news globally. Four newspapers that are especially valued by
opinion leaders around the world are the New York Times (Circulation:
1.15 million weekdays); the Times (1.3 million) and the Guardian
(386,942), both from the U.K.; and France's Le Monde (382,944).
The New York Times online had more than 10 million registered
users in February 2000, including 13 percent of the users from abroad.
This service recorded 92 million page views in November 1999. The
Times, the Guardian and Le Monde are available
on the Internet also. The International Herald Tribune, jointly
owned by the New York Times and the Washington Post,
is printed simultaneously via satellite at 10 locations worldwide.
In early 2000, it had a daily circulation of 227,945, with a total
readership of more than 600,000 in 181 countries.
Among newsmagazines, three stand
out for their global reach -- TIME, Newsweek and Britain's
Economist. TIME, with its 1999 circulation of 4.10 million
in the United States alone, sold an additional million-plus copies
to readers overseas. It publishes editions for Canada, Europe, the
Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Newsweek, whose
1999 U.S. circulation was just over 3.2 million, sold about a million
copies internationally through its editions for Europe, Japan, Latin
America, the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The Economist, reputed
for its comprehensive coverage of global issues and good writing,
had a worldwide circulation of 654,214 in 1999.
In international television news
broadcasting, CNN International is a global, 24-hour news network,
offering news coverage from the CNN News Group's 34 worldwide bureaus
since 1985. CNN/US or CNNI can be seen in more than 225 million
television households in 212 countries and territories worldwide,
including 82.5 million subscribers for the two services in the United
States. The CNN News Group has a newsgathering network of 4,000
staff and 850 global television affiliates24.
CNN International's biggest competitor
today is BBC World, the British Broadcasting Corporation's international
news and information channel. In operation since 1991, BBC World
is available in 71 million 24-hour homes, and in an additional 96
million homes on a part day basis in nearly 200 countries and territories
worldwide. BBC claims that it is the world's largest and most trusted
news organization. BBC News, which supplies news programming for
BBC World, has 50 bureaus worldwide, with over 250 correspondents
and a staff of more than 2,000. BBC World provides dedicated local
programming for the channel's substantial audiences in Europe and
India plus 70 hours per week of Japanese translation. Partly for
that reason, BBC World's reach in India, for example, in early 2000
was double that of CNN International's25.
BBC World became available on the Internet in 1999 when it dedicated
the world's first all digital 24-hour newsroom in London.
Another significant player in international
television news broadcasting is Deutsche Welle TV, an international
satellite television channel of the German public broadcaster. DW-TV
broadcasts news and public affairs programming in German, English
and Spanish in rotating two-hour time slots.
In international radio news, two
stations have established their credibility as reliable sources
of news to listeners worldwide. They are the BBC World Service and
the Voice of America. BBC World Service, which went on the air in
1932, has a daily audience of 143 million, including 3.5 million
regular listeners in the United States. It was broadcasting in 44
languages in 199926. The service
is also available on the Internet.
The Voice of America, established
as the international broadcasting service of the U.S. government
in 1942, reached some 91 million listeners worldwide in 1999. VOA
puts out more than 900 hours a week of broadcasts in English and
52 other languages. The VOA is now broadcasting over the Internet
programs from all 53 of its language services27.
Radio France International has a huge following in the Francophone
world, including East and North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
This state-owned radio network has some 30 million listeners worldwide28.
'Soft Power' Factor in North's
At the surface level, it would
appear that news organizations from the North are dominant globally
because they have the financial, personnel and technological resources
to provide news and information services that countries in the South
cannot provide. On a more substantive level, however, the dominance
of Western news organizations has to do with their coverage of international
affairs in a fairly unbiased manner within the context of their
countries' pluralistic, liberal and secular values. Conflicts over
competing ethnic, religious, or national identities often escalate
as a result of propaganda campaign by demagogic leaders around the
world, who also go to great lengths to suppress dissident political
movements. News organizations from the North typically strive to
provide unbiased reportage on these issues and expose false reports.
They also promote the values of democracy and market economies,
and frame the coverage of international issues in a manner that
promotes these ideals and other Western interests. Such coverage
historically has been able to engage the suppressed people from
the South whenever they have had unrestricted access to Western
news organizations. That is where the "soft power" dimension
of Western news organizations lies.
For example, Lawrence E. Magne,
the editor of Passport to World Band Radio, attributed the
BBC's "vast international audience" to its "objective
news." He added that "one reason it's [the BBC] so powerful
is because it is credible."29
A study sought answer to this question, among others, from a sample
of secondary-school educated people in four Egyptian cities: How
believable is the BBC's coverage of international issues? Rating
categories given to the respondents were: Always, Usually, Seldom,
Never, Don't Know. The following results were found: Always: 39
percent; Usually: 58 percent; Seldom: 2 percent30.
Even in democratic India, audience research has shown BBC's strong
appeal as a news source. A 1986 study in Calcutta found that BBC
was considered to be the best source of news, as compared with all
home and other foreign stations31.
Indeed, studies have shown that in several countries BBC news is
held in greater credibility than the native radio newscasts. The
Voice of America also has a significant credibility abroad. For
example, in China, the VOA audience, which is typically about 17
million daily, went up to an estimated 100 million during the 1989
Tiananmen pro-democracy movement because of its extensive and reliable
coverage of the movement32.
Western news organizations are also
the suppliers of most of the non-local news appearing in the media
of the South. The AP, Reuters and AFP control the bulk of the world's
news flow, with their daily output of about 25 million words. The
next five leading news agencies account for only 1.09 million words
daily33. Several academic and
professional studies since the 1960s have shown that the South depends
on the news agencies from the North, both print and broadcast, for
over 75 percent of the general world news and even news of geopolitical
regions in the South34. As a
result, people in the South are forced to see each other, and often
even themselves, through the medium of news agencies from the North.
Many critics in the South say that the North's media dominance confines
judgments and decisions on what should be known, and how it should
be made known, into the hands of a few news organizations. However,
the South's efforts to develop its own viable newsgathering organizations
with global appeal have not amounted to much because of a lack of
financial and professional resources, as well as political ideologies
that are not always conducive to purveying accurate, objective and
The ability of the North's dominant
media to set the agenda on what issues are important and how these
issues should be framed has been a source of its soft power for
many years. Keohane and Nye, Jr., provide a relatively recent example
to establish the significance of this soft power. They say that
when Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the fact that CNN was an American
company helped to frame the issue worldwide as aggression. Had an
Arab company been the world's dominant TV channel, perhaps the issue
would have been framed as a justified attempt to reverse the colonial
humiliation35. The agenda set
by the North's media was said to be largely responsible for creating
public opinion worldwide, including in practically all of the Arab
world, in favor of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq to reverse the
By the same token, the Kosovo situation
in Yugoslavia was framed by the North's media primarily as a violation
of Muslim Kosovars' human rights by Christian Serbs, setting the
stage for NATO's unilateral intervention in early 1999 even though
no such move was endorsed by the United Nations. The Yugoslav government
had viewed the Kosovo Liberation Army as a terrorist separatist
movement bent on snatching away a part of its territory. Dr. Cedomir
Strbac, Yugoslav ambassador to India, in a clear recognition of
the soft power of the North's media, wrote about the influence of
the CNN and BBC World news channels. "The very idea of the
two channels with the widest reach in the world being the tools
in a war game is profoundly disturbing," he said36.
A 1999 research study gives credit
to the Voice of America, BBC World Service and, especially, U.S.-sponsored
Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty stations for keeping the spirit
of democracy alive during the Cold War in the Eastern European satellite
states and the Soviet Union. This study also notes that during the
Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, democracy activists hooked VCRs
to hotel satellite feeds and taped CNN's images to circulate across
the country. Fax machines were used for communication with the outside
world despite the efforts of a powerful state apparatus37.
The Communist government in Beijing was also concerned enough about
the influence of the BBC World news channel on its people that it
forced Rupert Murdoch to end this service, provided through his
Hong Kong-based STAR-TV, in 1994 in return for a commercial concession.
A year earlier, Murdoch had told a shareholder meeting that satellite
television was "an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes
In January 1998, four days before
Pope John Paul was due to leave for a visit to Cuba, both the BBC
World and CNN highlighted a story of 15 Cuban dissidents brought
to Rome by an Italian human rights organization. The dissident group
reminded the Pope to keep Cuba's human rights abuses on his agenda
in his talks with President Fidel Castro. Castro released about
300 prisoners, including more than 70 political prisoners, as a
goodwill gesture after the pontiff's groundbreaking trip to the
Another example of Western media
framing global issues in such a way that advances Western objectives
comes from the coverage of President Bill Clinton's trip to South
Asia at the time of this writing. Even though in their separate
interviews with Newsweek magazine in early March 2000, Indian Prime
Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistani leader Gen. Pervez Musharraf
ruled out the possibility of nuclear confrontation between the two
countries40, practically every
major Western news organization was warning of such a danger. The
lead focus of stories on Clinton's trip, even before the president
had made any statement upon his arrival in India, was on the necessity
of India and Pakistan to curb their nuclear weapons programs and
sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Such a focus by the news
organizations presumably was influenced by the concerns of Western
governments ever since the testing of nuclear devices by India and
Pakistan in 1998. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright,
who has been one of the major critics of India and Pakistan's nuclear
programs, raved about India's knowledge economy in a speech to the
Washington, D.C.-based Asia Society on March 14, 2000, four days
before Clinton left for India. She went on to describe India as
one of the unreported economic success stories of the 1990s41.
Nye, Jr., and Owens explain what
can happen when the North does not actively use its soft power to
deal with crisis situations. They say that information campaigns
to expose hate propaganda in Rwanda could have prevented the genocide
in that country in 1994. Rwanda's genocide, one of the most intense
bouts of killing in history, lasted from April to June 1994, as
mobs of the Hutu majority led by soldiers and militia systematically
put to death up to a million minority Tutsis and politically moderate
Hutus. "A few simple measures, such as suppressing extremist
Hutu radio broadcasts that called for attacks on civilians, or broadcasting
Voice of America reports that exposed the true actions and goals
of those who sought to hijack the government and incite genocide,
might have contained or averted the killing," they said42.
'Soft Power' in the Age of the
The Internet has revolutionized the instrument of soft power and
the opportunities to apply it for the elite nations of the North.
There are several reasons for this development. First, unlike the
traditional mass media, which could be barred from entering countries
hostile to information campaigns from the North, the Internet is
practically impossible to control. Blocked Web sites can simply
change their Web addresses. An Internet user in a country imposing
controls can also dial into a server outside the country and access
the desired information. Given the global nature of the Internet,
content can be published from anywhere in the world. When a government
tries to prosecute a content provider or force the withdrawal of
material, there are others around the world prepared to copy or
mirror the information on their own sites, in countries where the
information is legal.
Secondly, although costs are negligible
for anyone wishing to disseminate existing information via the Internet,
the collection and production of new information often requires
costly investments. The United States, Britain and France have capabilities
for collecting quality information and intelligence that are rarely
within the grasp of other nations.
Thirdly, the massive amount of information
available in cyberspace may not have much credibility for an educated
individual unless it is processed and packaged professionally, and
has a seal of approval associated with internationally known and
valued information suppliers, most of whom are based in the North.
Editors, filters, interpreters, and cue-givers become more in demand,
and this is a source of power for the North43.
Fourthly, the very low cost of information
transmission has opened the field to networks of non-governmental
organizations and even individuals. These networks are particularly
effective in penetrating states without regard to borders and using
domestic constituencies to force political leaders to focus on their
preferred agendas. The democratic, elite states of the North find
these networks natural allies in promoting their ideological and
other objectives abroad44.
Finally, whereas the traditional
media provided only a one-way communication to the receiver of information,
the Internet, as the only true interactive mass medium, allows the
receiver to choose information selectively to meet specific needs
and provide immediate feedback. Interactivity allows for the development
of new virtual communities -- people who imagine themselves as part
of a single group regardless of how far apart they are physically
from one another -- and helps coordinate action across borders.
These attributes of the Internet
combined with its explosive growth over the last several years make
it a formidable instrument of soft power for the North, and, to
varying degrees, for other countries of the world. In February 2000,
about 200 million people worldwide were subscribing to the Internet,
including 100 million in the United States.45 One billion people
-- one-sixth of the humanity -- are expected to be using the Internet
by the year 2005, two-thirds of them outside the United States.
A key reason for Internet's rapid growth is that countries rightfully
see it as an important tool for strengthening their economies and
reaching out to their populations in the 21st century. Therefore,
it will become difficult for authoritarian regimes to reconcile
political controls with the increasing role of the Internet in the
It is not surprising then that among
the first to use the Internet were human rights organizations in
the North. They include Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Internet,
Human Rights Interactive Network, the Carter Center, Amnesty International,
Institute for Global Communications, and NetAction, among others.
These Web sites are powerful tools for increasing human rights awareness
around the world and collecting signatures to launch worldwide campaigns.
The San Francisco-based Institute for Global Communications, for
example, offers to host Web pages and e-mail addresses for human
rights activists. Its mission is to advance and inform movements
for peace, economic and social justice, human rights and environmental
sustainability around the world by promoting the strategic use of
appropriate computer networking technology46.
Another human rights group, New York City-based Human Rights in
China, posted a comprehensive report on its Web site in September
1999, revealing a nationwide system of arbitrary detention in the
country. The report made a number of recommendations to the international
community, including the U.N., to express concern about the use
of arbitrary detention in China47.
At the time of this writing in March 2000, the United States was
getting ready to sponsor a resolution at the U.N. meeting on human
rights in Geneva condemning China's human rights record.
Several examples illustrate the
support provided by the North-based governmental or non-governmental
organizations for activities promoting human rights and democracy
around the world. In June 1997, Chinese dissidents founded Tunnel,
a Chinese language journal of dissent. This journal is managed and
edited in China. Once an issue is ready to be published, it is secretly
delivered to the United States and then e-mailed back to China from
an anonymous address. "Thus its staff remains safely hidden
in cyberspace, and all of its contributors, both in China and abroad,
write under pseudonyms."48
In Indonesia, bypassing the government-controlled television and
radio stations, dissidents shared information about protests by
e-mail, inundated news groups with stories of President Suharto's
corruption, and used chat groups to exchange tips about resisting
troops and bringing democracy to the country. After more than 30
years of authoritarian rule, Indonesia finally turned democratic
During the Kosovo crisis in 1998-99,
a pro-democracy radio station in Belgrade, Radio B92, was shut down
by the authorities. The station put its programming on the Internet
through RealAudio, using a Dutch service provider. Radio Free Europe,
Voice of America, and Deutche Welle picked up the station off the
Internet and rebroadcast it back into Serbia, where it served as
the source of independent reporting and a focal point for democratic
opposition. Faced with this strategy, the government allowed the
station back on the air50. This
example also illustrates the creative ways available on the Internet
to disseminate information around the controls of censors.
U.S.-sponsored Radio Free Europe
and Radio Liberty, which have long campaigned for democracy via
the airwaves, now also use the e-mail to disseminate information
to a dispersed audience very inexpensively. In Brazil, when an Indian
tribe was threatened, the Internet carried news of the threat and
sparked pressure on the Brazilian government that generated a change
in policy. Similarly, U.S.-based non-governmental organizations
supporting rebels in Chiapas used the Internet to forestall the
bloody reprisals they expected from the Mexican government.
Other computer-assisted approaches,
such as fax-casting and e-mail, are also being used effectively
by individuals and interest groups to engage in political discourse.
As of August 1998, one service identified 29,000 IRC (Internet Relay
Chat) channels, 30,000 Usenet newsgroups, and 90,095 mailings lists
-- each one representing a network of individuals worldwide interested
in a particular subject. An overwhelming majority of these discussion
groups were conducting their activities through Internet servers
in the North51.
Authoritarian and semi-authoritarian
governments, worried about the effects of freewheeling political
discussions by Usenet groups on their people, have taken steps to
stem the tide of such discourse. The New York Times reported
in early 1999 that in China, "Hundreds of agents are reportedly
being trained to sniff around inside companies and universities
for objectionable Web sites and subversive messages."52
The government has used firewall technology to try to block access
to scores of Web sites it deems objectionable, including the New
York Times and CNN. "But savvy users here know how to use
proxy servers or other techniques for circumventing the firewall,"
the news story said. On February 1, 2000, the Chinese government
strongly criticized a White House report on U.S. global leadership
objectives in the 21st century. "To lead the world is the same
thing as seeking global hegemony," a Chinese government spokesman
said. He added that "America would achieve its goals through
the use of 'soft forces' -- the Internet, film, television, books,
capital and consumer products -- which would be backed up by the
'hard forces' of its military seen in the 1991 Gulf War and the
bombing of Yugoslavia last year."53
The Singapore government announced
in 1996 that it would hold both content providers and access providers
accountable for politically objectionable material. As a result,
the Socratic Circle, one particularly popular discussion group engaged
in animated political discussions about Singapore, was suddenly
found out of bound by the Internet users in the country54.
Other political discussion groups about Singapore, however, quickly
made their presence on the Internet.
Two important conclusions emerge from the foregoing discussion.
Firstly, a nation's appeal to people around the world and its influence
in world affairs is dependent on the level of its eliteness, meaning
its ranking in the pecking order of nations. The eliteness itself
is dependent on the ideological, economic and military strength
of a country. Either because of their inherent appeal or because
of their proven success, the ideological and economic values that
have emerged as having the strongest appeal around the world are
pluralistic democratic political systems and market economies. It
is also obvious that strong countries built on these values manifest
quite liberal social and cultural values as well, which further
add to the attractiveness of such nations.
All of these factors converge to
establish the eliteness of a nation, a necessary prerequisite to
meet before its say in world affairs can carry a significant weight,
or "soft power." The United States, Britain and France
have been the pre-eminent large elite nations in view of their long-standing
commitment to liberal ideological, economic and socio-cultural values,
and their military strength. It is little wonder, then, that the
largest export from the United States is its information and cultural
products, bringing $60.2 billion in revenues from abroad in 1996.
This writer, having traveled to some 25 countries, has seen first-hand
the huge presence of American, British and French information and
cultural products. As other countries reach the level of development
of "elite" nations, no doubt, there will be greater competition
for "soft power."
Secondly, those who had assumed
that the Internet will have a leveling effect on the unequal flow
of information between the North and the South are finding that
it will take more than just a heavier flow of information from the
South to the North to address the imbalances. The South must also
match the credibility associated with major news and information
suppliers from the North before it can hope to see an equitable
international communication order it has advocated for years. And,
as we have seen, credibility is rooted in a firm discipline of information
gathering and packaging, a discipline that can be developed only
in democratic nations with press freedoms. Considering that less
than half of the world's nations are listed as "Free"
by the Freedom House, mentioned earlier, many countries in the South
are still a long way from having the political and media environment
necessary to produce credible information. Even if they create such
an environment, they will have other catching up to do before they
can be "elite" enough to be taken seriously by information
consumers around the world. Until that time, one can expect to see
BBC World or CNN, for example, as having a global appeal, while
China's CCTV, as another example, serves mostly the ethnic Chinese
Joseph Nye, Jr., Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American
Power (New York: Basic Books, 1990), 15-16.
Hamid Mowlana, Global Information and World Communication (New
York: Longman, 1986), 24-26.
Herbert G. Kariel and Lynn A. Rosenvall, "Factors Influencing
International News Flow," Journalism Quarterly 61, no.
3 (Autumn 1984), 509-516.
Wilbur Schramm, Mass Media and National Development (Palo
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1964), 58-59.
Kariel and Rosenvall, 511.
Al Hester, "International Information Flow," in International
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Robert O.Keohane and Joseph S. Nye, Jr., "Power and Interdependence
the Information Age," in Foreign Affairs 77, no. 5 (September/October
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Joseph T. Klapper, The Effects of Mass Communication (New
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Roger Milner, Reith: The BBC Years (Edinburgh: Mainstream
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Adrian Karatnycky, "A Good Year for Freedom," in Freedom
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The Associated Press Web Site, "Facts about AP," [WWW
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Adam Wolf, "Reuters," Information supplied by Mr. Wolf,
relations manager of Reuters-America, Inc., Feb. 7, 2000. Also see
Web Site at <http://www.reuters.com/aboutreuters/background/>
18 Agence France-Presse,"AFP:
A World News Agency," Information
supplied by AFP, Jan. 28, 2000.
19 AFP, "Alcatel and AFP
team up on Mobile Internet Content."
[WWW Document]. URL
20 The New York Times News Service
Web Site, "About the News Service,"
[WWW Document]. URL <http://nytsyn.com/newsservice/about.html>
21 The Los Angeles Times-Washington
Post News Service Web Site, "All
About Us," [WWW Document]. URL <http://www.newsservice.com/info.html>
22 Wolf, Personal Interview,
Feb. 7, 2000.
23 APTN Web Site, "About
APTN," [WWW Document]. URL
24 CNN Web Site, "CNN Turns
Global Village Into a Reality With
Millennium," [WWW Document]. URL
25 BBC World Web Site, "Updated
PAX 1999 India Results." [WWW
Document]. URL <http://www.bbcworld.com/Content/About/pax.asp>
26 BBC World Service Web Site,
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27 VOA Web Site, "Director's
Page," [WWW Document]. URL
28 "Radio France Talks
to the World Only in Proper Francais," in The
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29 "Candor Becoming a Staple
of Shortwave," The New York Times, March
19, 1989, 18.
30 USIA Research Report, Media
Use by the Better-Educated in Four Egyptian
Cities, (Washington, D.C.: Office of Research, USIA, 1984),
31 Kuldip R. Rampal and W. Clifton
Adams, "Credibility of the Asian News
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Corporation," in Gazette 46, no. 2 (1990), 101.
32"The Voice of America
has Won the Ear of China," The New York Times,
May 9, 1989, 4.
33 Howard Frederick, Global
Communication and International Relations
(Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1993), 128.
34 Mowlana, 28-29.
35 Keohane and Nye, Jr., 91.
36 Cedomir Strbac, "Rebirth
of Goebbels," in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, India,
April 10, 1999, p.5.
Akshay Joshi,"The Information Revolution and National Power:
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welcomes prisoner releases in Cuba, seeks more," Reuters news
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41"Remarks by Secretary
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42 Joseph S. Nye, Jr., and William
A.Owens, "America's Information Edge,"
in Foreign Affairs 75, no. 2 (March/April 1996), 32.
43 Keohane and Nye, Jr., 89.
44 Ibid., 83.
45 BBC World Service, "World
Business Report," Feb. 14, 2000," [WWW
46 IGC Web Site, "About
IGC Internet," [WWW Document]. URL
47 Human Rights in China Web
Site, "New Study Reveals Nationwide
System of Arbitrary Detention," September 1999, ," [WWW
48 Regardless of Frontiers Web
Site, "Global Internet Liberty Campaign,"
[WWW Document]. URL <http://www.cdt.org/gilc/report.html>,
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Feb. 10, 1999, 1.
"China accuses U.S. of seeking to dominate the world,"
in The Hindustan Times, India, Feb.2, 2000, [WWW Document]. URL
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Internet," in The Wall Street Journal, March 6, 1996,
R. Rampal. Ph. D.
Professor of mass communication
at Central Missouri State University in
Warrensburg. His research on development communication, political
communication, press regulation, media ethics, international broadcasting
and international press has appeared in a variety of books and journals.