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Imbalance of the worldwide information flow

By Marine Hautemont Australia

The imbalance of the worldwide information flow has been a main issue between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres over the last thirty years. During the 1970's the nonaligned nations, in an attempt to suppress the one-sided coverage of the developing world by a dominant Western press, introduced the creation of a New International Information Order. The aim of this resolution adopted by the UN and the UNESCO in 1976 was to set out several guiding principles concerning the role of the mass media in the international sphere. These principles were intended to protect the interests of minority nations by promoting the development of national communication systems in those countries.

Despite continuous efforts from the developing countries to achieve fair coverage, the situation has not improved as expected. Developing countries often still lack the resources, skills and technology necessary to achieve an independent press. Developed countries, because of their cultural, political and social background, often fail to understand the culture and values of developing countries. This discrepancy between the center and the periphery nations often leads to a misrepresentation of the latter by the western media. The result is the creation of a very negative perception of the developing countries in the rest of the world and the propagation of a certain kind of cultural imperialism.

In this light, it is interesting to choose an event reported by both the western and non-western press and to analyze the differences existing in their respective coverage. The recent conflict that took place between Morocco and Spain to determine to whom the islet of Leila belonged to is a good example of these differences. I will compare the coverage of the conflict in two western newspapers - The Guardian and USA Today- with the coverage of the same conflict in a Moroccan newspaper called Morocco Today by answering the following questions:

1. What is the event?

Parsley Island, also called Perejil or Leila Island is a small islet, inhabited only by goats, a few meters away from the Moroccan shore but owned by Spain since the 17th century. Spain lost its North African protectorate in 1956 but retained a few enclaves in Morocco including Leila Island. An agreement concluded in 1960 between the two countries affirms that neither of them would establish a settlement on the island. However, on 11 July 2002 a dozen of Moroccan soldiers took over the place. Spain took the place back. Relations between the two countries are now at their lowest point in decades.

2. How was the information sourced by the media i.e. Wire service or own correspondent/stringer?

Western Press (W.P):
Guardian: The information was sourced by the newspaper own correspondent in Spain, Giles Tremlett in Madrid on July 13, 2002.(www.guardian.co.uk).
USA Today: Associated Press (AP), the second biggest news agency in the world, has provided the newspaper's information on July 19,2002
(www.usatoday.com/news/world/2002-07-19-spain-morocco_x.htm).

Moroccan Press (M.P): The newspaper, called Morocco today is based in Morocco, hence its journalists living there provide its information. (www.morocco-today.info/editorial.htm)

3. From what cultural perspective is the event being reported?

W.P: Western countries traditionally share a liberal and capitalist ideology. They have a common past of colonialism over a major part of the developing countries and still adopt a dominant attitude towards them.

M.P: Morocco, like many developing countries, has been under a western protectorate for several decades and still resents western imperialism.

4. Was there enough background given about the event i.e. History, socio-economic factors etc?

W.P: The background given is brief, the two newspapers only specify that the islet has been inhabited for forty years and that it has been a Spanish possession since the 17th century when it hold a protectorate in North Africa. They remind the reader that the relation between the two countries has been tensed since 1996, and underline that Spain is one of Morocco's main trading partners.

M.P: The newspaper concentrates on the historical background, and emphasizes the fact that the islet belonged to Morocco for thousands of years before Spanish colonialism. It also refers to the strong cultural, historical and blood relationships between the two countries. It focuses on the reasons for the tension between Morocco and Spain, and especially on Morocco's justification to take over the islet.

5. Who are the experts quoted in the story (i.e. Their cultural, political or social orientation.) Are they from an elite country or group?

W.P: They quote no experts but many highly considered Spanish politicians such as the foreign minister, the Prime Minister or officials from the European Union, always giving their name and titles. They also quote a Spanish newspaper and a French journalist. They do not give as many quotes from Moroccan politicians. They quote once the Moroccan Foreign Minister giving his name. Otherwise, they just quote a few officials without specifying their names or grades. They do not quote any Moroccan newspaper or journalist.

M.P: They do not quote any experts at all. In fact, they quote absolutely no one. They give their own opinion and justify it by reference to locally held opinions.

6. To what effect are the headline and pictures used?

W.P: "Morocco says it won't reoccupy disputed island" sounds like Moroccans had finally decided to be reasonable.

M.P: Maps are used to support the argument of geographical proximity. Leila is only one hundred meters away from the Moroccan shore. A picture of a helicopter is added on purpose to emphasize Spain's violent reaction. The headline "Morocco-Spain war will not take place. Perejil/Leila island: the tree that hides the forest" dramatizes the situation and implies that the islet is only one of the Spanish ambitions.

7. What is the priority given - placement of the story in the newspaper or news segment?

W.P: The articles quoted were found on the internet; no information given concerning their placement.

M.P: The two articles I chose are editorials.

8. Is the media reporting all sides of the story or emphasizing certain views?

W.P: The Guardian is certainly emphasizing the ridiculous aspect of fighting over such a small island calling the incident "farcical" and pointing at the size of the islet and the absence of any strategic value. It insists on the Moroccan King Mohammed VI's lack of seriousness, emphasizing the fact that he was enjoying "celebrations" for his wedding and that he is "known mainly for his love of jet skiing". The newspaper discredits him completely, insisting at the same time on the seriousness of Spanish officials that they quote who say, "It is a serious situation that we will go to work on". The only information given favorable to the Moroccans is that a foreign ministry spokesman (no name this time) has admitted that "there's a certain vagueness" concerning the legal documentation necessary to prove the islet is Spanish.

USA Today has a similar discourse pointing at the Spanish good will and the Moroccan refusal to cooperate ("Morocco would refuse dialogue"; the Foreign Minister remains "conspicuously silent").

M.P: On the other hand, the Moroccan newspaper makes Spain look ridiculous by describing the armada Spain sent in response to the dozen Moroccan soldiers who set up a camp on the islet: "Spain responded to this Moroccan legitimate act with naval ships, warships frigates, planes, helicopters and even a submarine". The journalists insist at length on the legitimacy of the Moroccan hold on Leila and point out several reasons for the islet to be Moroccan rather than Spanish: geographic proximity, history and even duty are invoked. If Morocco has sent soldiers to occupy the island it is "to set up an observation post as part of the fight against terrorism, clandestine emigration and smuggling trade, a request repeatedly made by the neighboring Spanish government to Morocco"

9. Is the voice of the people coming through?

W.P: The voice of Spanish people is evoked as the newspaper mentions that radios "were overwhelmed with calls from people demanding that the Moroccans invaders be driven back into the sea" and that one in five voters "wanted the island stormed by crack Spanish troops". Moroccans voices are not reported.

M.P: No voice is coming through but the journalist's voice.

 

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