Let Nation Speak Unto Nation

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Why now? Why have many countries decided that the best way to get themselves heard internationally is through 24 hour news channels?

Russia Today celebrates its second anniversary this week. To mark it the channel has taken out full page ads in lots of national newspapers – with the bizarre tag line of ‘Information only. No labels attached’. I’m presuming this is meant to mean independent news about Russia. Yet Russia Today’s website states that the channel presents ‘the Russian point of view’ (though it also says that it has a ‘commitment to independent journalism’). And I was speaking to a World Service journalist yesterday who helped launch the channel who told me it has strayed a long way away from its original aspiration to independence.

And France 24 is about to celebrate a year on air – by all accounts feeling rather pleased with itself. Al Jazeera (representing a region/perspective rather than a country) has been around a few years now and its English language arm was only launched a year ago – and now reaches about 100 million households worldwide (from David Crow, The Business, 1-12-07).

So why now, and what does it mean? If you were being pessimistic you could see it as the Balkanisation of international media. A nationalistic reaction to the internationalising force of the internet. As such there is a danger it could lead to less understanding and greater tension between nationalities.

Yet you could also argue it is a positive response to the democratization of access to news and information, and gives people the opportunity to view the world from lots of different perpectives, be they Russian, French, American…

Unfortunately, what many of these channels lack is genuine independence. The French and Russian services are heavily subsidised – as is Al Jazeera (by the Emir of Qatar). Though the channels claim these subsidies do not influence their output, it is hard to imagine that they don’t feel constrained from doing difficult investigations into government as a result.

Indeed some of the articles on Russia today are astonishing light on substance. Take ‘Finance Minister visits deputy in jail’ today. It tells you that Sergey Storchak, the deputy, ‘is accused of attempting to embezzle more than $US 40 million from the state’, but that the Finance Minister will ‘vouch personally for Storchak’s proper conduct if released’. A few weeks ago, when his deputy was first arrested, the Minister said ‘he struggled to understand the accusations’.

But there the story ends. There is no examination of the charges, the motivation behind them, what repercussions they might have.

The BBC’s World Service had to prove its independence through the crucible of the Second World War. Despite funding from government it insisted on maintaining editorial autonomy and has built up a reputation for that autonomy over the past 75 years.

The newer channels have yet to prove their credentials and, by current reckoning, have no intention of launching difficult investigations into their funders any time soon.

Written by Martin Moore

December 14th, 2007 at 1:17 pm

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3 Responses to 'Let Nation Speak Unto Nation'

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  1. >> The BBC’s World Service had to prove its independence through the crucible of the Second World War. Despite funding from government it insisted on maintaining editorial autonomyAnd it wasn’t particularly popular for it either. George Angeloglou’s “This Is London, Good Evening” about the development of the BBC’s Green Service in the 1940s is a fascinating insight into the pressure the teams at the BBC were under. He eventually resigned because the Greek department did not want to toe the British Government line over Cyprus after the war.

    Martin Belam

    14 Dec 07 at 9:30 pm

  2. Freudian slip there. Of course I meant the Greek Service not the Green Service. BBC Ecofascism didn’t arrive until the 1990s ;-)

    Martin Belam

    14 Dec 07 at 9:33 pm

  3. I haven’t read Angeloglou’s book – thank you Martin I’ll look it up. Ian McClaine’s Ministry of Morale is great on the domestic BBC during the war – and I’m much looking forward to Alban Webb’s forthcoming history of the World Service.

    Martin Moore

    15 Dec 07 at 7:24 am

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