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The World News Prism

Digital, Social and Interactive

Ninth Edition

William A. Hachten

and James F. Scotton

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To the many journalists around the world who have been killed,
kidnapped, or jailed for reporting the news

Notes on Contributors

Rasha Abdulla is Associate Professor and former Chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at The American University in Cairo (AUC). She has a Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. She is the recipient of the AUC Excellence in Research Award for her research on social media and political activism leading to and during Egypt's revolution. She is the author of three books and numerous articles and book chapters. She tweets regularly at @RashaAbdulla.

Natalia Bubnova is an Associate at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. She was formerly Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center and Associate Director of the Center for International Studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

William A. Hachten is Professor Emeritus of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he taught for thirty years. His publications include The Troubles of Journalism, 3rd edition (2005), The Growth of Media in the Third World (1993), and The Press and Apartheid (with C. A. Giffard, 1984).

Heloiza Golbspan Herscovitz is Associate Professor at the Journalism and Mass Communication Department of California State University, Long Beach, where she teaches Global News Media and other courses. She is a veteran journalist with extensive experience as a reporter and editor in Brazil and has transnational academic experience.

Sandhya Rao is Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication and Honorary Professor of International Studies at Texas State University. She taught in India as a Fulbright Scholar and has edited Cyberpath to Development in Asia – Issues and Challenges and Critical Issues in Communication: Looking for Answers.

James. F. Scotton is Associate Professor of Journalism at Marquette University, Milwaukee. He has taught in Lebanon, China, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria. He has worked as a correspondent in Washington DC, as a reporter and editor with the Associated Press, and with newspapers in California, Wisconsin, North Carolina, and China.

Together James Scotton and William Hachten are the authors of New Media for a New China (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010).

Preface to the Ninth Edition

Why another edition of The World News Prism? The answer is pretty much the same as before. The phenomenon of international news continues to evolve and change in many ways – mostly because of the ongoing digital revolution in communication media.

The Internet, which has spawned the digital age, was not predicted. Just over twenty-five years ago the net caught the world by surprise and further surprises keep tumbling out. Now, in the second decade of the twenty-first century, the number of earthlings connected to the Internet has increased from 350 million to more than 2 billion worldwide. During this same decade, the number of mobile phone users rose from 750 million to well over 5 billion in the world. (It is now estimated at about 6 billion.)

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, both with Google, have predicted that by 2025 the majority of the world's population will have gone from virtually no access to information to unfiltered access to almost all the information in the world. If the current pace of growth is maintained, they say, most of the nearly 8 billion people on earth will be online by 2025.

In this ninth edition we will describe and analyze how the ways of gathering and disseminating global news and information have been expanded (and complicated) by the increasing role of the so-called social media. Twitter, Facebook and other platforms that provide photos, videos and other “posts” will be looked at, and also the “blogosphere” that supports and enhances the flow of news.

This ninth edition includes new or revised chapters on media systems in regions outside the orbits of the United States and western Europe. We have recruited media specialists for appraisal of media in Brazil, India, Russia and the Middle East. The world's media look different from Rio de Janeiro, New Delhi, Moscow and Cairo than they do from New York or London. But no matter where people live in the world, most “news” or public information is local. People care about what happens in their community, their country, their part of the world. Yet in today's interconnected and globalized world people everywhere easily learn about and are affected by news – about civil wars, civil strife, terrorist attacks, economic upheavals and great catastrophes, even tsunamis and epidemics, that occur far from home. More than ever before in history, more people are both informed and have opinions – whether about globalization, terrorist warfare, nuclear proliferation or the ominous threat of climate change. The onrush of digital communication – the Internet, social media, cellphones, computers – has made this possible.

In early 2011 international news media made a dramatic comeback fueled by a series of unexpected political revolutions – first in Tunisia and then in Egypt, where President Hosni Mubarak was ousted. The revolutionary upheavals spread rapidly throughout the Arab world to Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere during this “Arab Spring.” The streets of long-standing authoritarian Arab capitals were filled with angry, mostly young, protestors demanding freedom, democracy, human rights and jobs. The new communication media had clearly facilitated the uprisings. Protestors were mobilized and kept informed by cellphones and the social media of Facebook and Twitter. And news of these startling events was transmitted by Al Jazeera, the satellite TV channel that had broken the Middle East government news monopolies. Al Jazeera also provided news about the deadly and protracted civil war in Syria, where over 200,000 civilians, including journalists, have been killed. But much of the news of that conflict came from Syrians themselves with small communication devices in their hands.

Unrest, protests and brutal repressions continued, including warfare with Libya against NATO forces and rebels. The reporting of these horrific events and the world's response were reminders of how much we have become a global society. Not just in trade and economic affairs but in social and political ways, we are increasingly coming together. But the acts of terrorism also were grim reminders that deep divisions between rich and poor countries remain. Democratic societies with their open borders and individual freedoms were vulnerable to stealth attacks. Radical terrorism was termed the dark underside of globalization.

As the first decade of the twenty-first century ended, the world was still an unstable and dangerous place. War receded in Afghanistan, but terrorism threats emerged in the failing states of Mali, Somalia and Yemen. During the summer of 2014 global journalism was roiled by several regional wars and crises:

Yet another less apparent series of technological changes in communication has both facilitated and disrupted the traditional news media and the many publics or audiences for serious news and commentary throughout the world. The digital media – the Internet, personal computers, email, cellphones, bloggers and social websites such as Twitter and Facebook – have all encroached on or modified the journalism long practiced by the traditional newspapers, magazines, news agencies and TV and radio organizations that historically reported what was happening in the world. The audiences for traditional media have diminished but for digital media they have greatly expanded.

In this revised edition we will show how the news media have responded to great crises as well as to technological changes. Only history will determine how significant were the events before 2014. But there is no doubt that 1989 was important. That year the world watched in dazzled amazement as communist regimes were toppled in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. Two years later the Soviet Union itself, after a failed right-wing coup, went through a convulsive revolution of its own, outlawing the Communist Party and its media and breaking up the Soviet Union itself. These historic events also heralded the end of the Cold War and of the “information wars” that had enlivened international communication for nearly fifty years. However, new propaganda wars, now focused on terrorism and the relations of Muslim nations with the West, have gained momentum in recent years.

The post-Cold War world of the 1990s proved to be a harsh and forbidding place. The forces of intense nationalism and unleashed ethnic animosities led to civil wars, genocide, terrorism, political instability and economic and social chaos starkly evident in the prolonged and agonizing strife engaging the Bosnian and Kosovo Muslims, Croatians and Serbs of the former Yugoslavia. Elsewhere, various experiments in democracy and market economies sputtered and failed.

The decade of the 1990s was one of great global economic expansion. In China and throughout East and South Asia economies grew at spectacular rates and world trade expanded in a new phenomenon known as “globalization.” Globalization is an inexact expression for a wide array of worldwide changes in politics, business and trade, lifestyles and culture, and above all communication. International communication in general has been affected by world events as it has continued to expand its reach. International broadcasting has become less propagandistic and more informative and entertainment-minded. New independent and outspoken publications and broadcast outlets have sprouted like mushrooms in spring, Communication satellites transmitting news and pop culture have proliferated and media audiences have greatly expanded, especially in China and India. In most countries the public has enjoyed greater access to news.

Personalized digital media have proved to be a many-headed hydra that has greatly increased the ability of people everywhere to receive news and commentary about the day's events AND to then communicate it onward. But the old model of global communication based on a few large news organizations has been undermined. This downsizing of print and broadcast media has great significance for global news communication. But the future is unclear – just as it was when Gutenberg's printing press shook up the Middle Ages.

The ongoing rush of technological innovations in foreign reporting has accelerated. Direct broadcasting from portable transmitters to satellites and then back to dish antennas – bypassing complicated and expensive ground installations – has become commonplace. Small, portable earth terminals, for example, have enabled broadcast journalists reporting remote events to send their video stories directly to satellites and thus to the whole world. With a cellphone or videophone, a news event in almost any faraway area can instantly become a global news event. In just a few years the Internet has become a player of great and ominous potential in international communication for journalism and as a means of letting people share ideas freely on a global network. Bloggers and even hackers have joined the fray as controversial conveyers of news and comment that critique and challenge traditional news media.

In this age of information, communication systems are at the leading edge of social, economic and political change. With the unprecedented growth in global telecommunications, an informed public has developed a more immediate concern with both world news and the symbolic relationship between events and those who report them.

For this ninth edition the text has been thoroughly revised with new material added to every chapter. More attention has been given to significant media developments in developing nations, some of which have been producing many more media users who respond in different ways to the world news prism. Kappa Tau Alpha contributed support for Professor Scotton's Middle East research.

– W.A.H. and J.F.S.

Introduction: Fall and Rise of the Media

As the twentieth century (and the old millennium) came to an end, we were reminded both of the changes as well as continuities that have marked journalism and international communications in our times. In 1900, all the elements were in place in Western nations – great metropolitan newspapers, rotary presses and linotypes, the typewriter, the telephone, the telegraph and the underseas cable, the Associated Press, Reuters, and other cooperative news gatherers – as building blocks for the changes to come. News was recognized as a valued and useful commodity in itself and as an essential means of comprehending and coping with a strange and distant world. At the same time, sensationalism and trivia had long been standard fare in the press and entertainment media.

But few would understand the importance of what was to come – the personal computer, the Internet, digital communication – that would lead to the rapid decline of print on paper. For well over a century, the press has reported news from abroad, but it has been only in the past three decades that we have seen how great events abroad vividly illustrate the digital age, that melding of technology and electronics, that planet Earth has entered. It is a new era of information whose potential we but dimly perceive; whose complicated gadgetry only few of us totally grasp; whose social, political, and economic consequences are accelerating change and cleavages among the nations of the world.

For the world we live in today is changing rapidly, in no small part because worldwide television, communication satellites, high-speed transmission of news and data, and other computer and electronic hardware and software (including the Internet) have transformed the ways that nations and peoples communicate with one another. The fact that a news event can be transmitted almost instantaneously to newsrooms and onto television and computer screens (and now into cellphones) around the world can be as important as the event itself. Long-distance mass communication has become a rudimentary central nervous system for our fragile, shrinking, and increasingly interdependent, yet fractious, world.

Journalism has been undergoing rapid changes. In what journalist and biographer Walter Isaacson has called a “glorious disruption” the traditional journalism of print on paper is rapidly giving way to journalism by digital technology. As a result, newspapers, news services, broadcast stations and networks, and news and commentary magazines have been sustaining great losses in circulations, audiences, and advertising revenues. These financial setbacks make it difficult for traditional media to fully report global news and commentary. Basically, there is more information and news than ever before circulating the globe but there are fewer serious professional journalists reporting and verifying it. The Internet, with its proliferating blogs, emails, websites, etc., spews out vast amounts of information and data but much of it is unverified, inaccurate, biased, propagandistic, opinionated or just downright wrong.

People everywhere have more access to much more information than ever and also have an enhanced ability to communicate themselves through the Internet, cellphones, and other social media like Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, etc. But what the public is not getting is sufficient hard news that is verified, confirmed, and reliable.

The Western press, found mainly in North America and western Europe, is struggling to find a new business model that will enable the “old media” to survive economically. The Gutenberg model of printed words on paper (newspapers, magazines, journals, and books) still survives and even flourishes all over the world. Yet more and more the print-on-paper model is having an abrasive relationship with the new digital forms of communication, which are cheaper to produce.

The accelerating speed and efficiency of news media transmission have often created severe strains on the standards and ethics of responsible journalism. The same system can and does report much trivia, sensation, and misinformation. The news eruptions that followed the death of Michael Jackson illustrated how news now breaks twenty-four hours a day, around the clock, instead of at the more leisurely pace that prevailed before the rise of twenty-four-hour cable television news and interactive news on the Internet. As fierce competitors such as MSNBC, the Fox Channel, and CNN with their talk and opinion shows have proliferated on cable as well as with online blogs, some news organizations have relaxed their rules on checking and verifying sources. There is a growing sense that getting it first is more important than getting it right. One result is journalism that is sometimes shaky, inaccurate, or worse, and with it has come a serious loss of public trust in news media.

This book analyzes the changing role of transnational news media in our evolving globalization and its impact on rapidly changing news events. In the ongoing concern about terrorism, global news media have played a major role both in informing the world and in organizing and facilitating responses. (The media are also an unwilling accomplice of terrorism by publicizing the atrocities and carrying the email messages of terrorists.) Throughout this book, the emphasis is often on the role of US news organizations, yet we acknowledge that news media of many other nations – East and West – contribute to this cooperative activity of reporting the world to itself. And as the world modernizes, journalists of more and more nations are contributing to the flow of international news and popular culture.

Foreign news has increasingly become a powerful political and diplomatic force. For example, when US television shows stark pictures of starving Somali mothers and children, American public opinion becomes concerned, and the White House watches, hesitates, and then sends in the military to help feed the starving and keep the peace. A few months later, a dozen American soldiers are killed in an ambush in Somalia. The US public is outraged at seeing on television the body of an American soldier dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Soon, the White House announces that troops will be withdrawn.

News, instantaneous and vivid, speeds up history as it directly influences diplomacy and government policies. At the same time, in this age of satellites, the Internet, and social media, autocratic regimes find it impossible to keep unflattering news about their regimes from reaching their own people. Technological and operational changes taking place in the international news media, with their enhanced capability for global communication, are reshaping “spaceship Earth.” This wider communication often seems to exacerbate political and cultural conflicts between the West and Islam, between rich and poor nations. Also, there are the frictions and the problems these changes have wrought, including conflicts over transnational news gathering and the impact of television programming, motion pictures, videos, radio broadcasting, and other aspects of mass culture, most of it coming out of the United States and Europe.

Another area of concern is that, when no crisis intrudes, serious international news seems often to be shunted aside for more profitable content. “Infotainment” – scandal, sensation, celebrities – has become more and more the staple of news media in many countries.

This book is intended to provide some insights into how and why international news communication is evolving. We may not be aware of how our perceptions of the world are being changed by the transformed news system, but we quickly learn to take that system for granted. If there is another terror attack on a major city or another major earthquake in Haiti or Chile, we expect to see live television reports the same day or on a twenty-four-hour news channel, such as BBC World or CNN, within the hour via satellite. We are fascinated but not surprised to see detailed, computer-refined pictures of the exploration of planet Mars or the dramatic saga of the space shuttle as well as the grim daily war stories from the Middle East.

In a broader context, the fact that information of all kinds, including urgent news, can now be communicated almost instantly to almost anywhere has profound implications for international organization and interaction. News of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, for example, had an almost immediate impact on the price of gas at the pump and initiated an international diplomatic reaction resulting in mass deployment of US military forces. And the world's subsequent perceptions of the crisis and war were certainly shaped and, at times, distorted by the flickering images on television screens. Instant information is often not the whole truth or a complete picture and, on occasion, does sharply distort images that people receive.

Still, global news has many uses. The global financial media's day-to-day reporting of financial crises in Asian stock markets and currencies, and their effects on the financial markets and economies of Asia, Europe, and America, illustrates how many millions around the world, including small stockholders, rely on fast, accurate information in their daily lives. The global economy simply could not function without the fast flow of reliable information provided by the growing global business media – both print and electronic.

A new global society of sorts is emerging rapidly and inexorably, though experts disagree about its extent and nature. (Many nations, especially in the Middle East and Africa, do not feel a part of it.) The media of mass communication, along with global telecommunications, air transportation, and growing interdependence of national economies, are providing the essential linkages that make interaction and cooperation – and stealth terrorist attacks – possible.

Full understanding of the nature of this new society requires that today's students of international communication be conversant with world politics and economics, including recent history, and be quick to recognize significant trends as they occur. Further, they must understand national and cultural differences and keep up with technological innovations in communication media, such as the Internet and social media, and with changing journalistic practices.

Communication satellites are just one example of the truly revolutionary impact that communication technology has had on the modern world. The earlier role of transistor radios in the Third World was another; today the small hand-held video camcorder is having news effects previously undreamed of. As we will see, the Internet is beginning to be perceived as yet another technological marvel that may dramatically alter international communication. FM radio, cellphones, and cable television are each having unexpected impacts in developing nations.

The interplay of these elements makes the study of international communication fascinating and important. The major emphasis throughout this book is on the journalistic aspects of international communication – the new challenges and perils of reporting the news, the important but imperfect and controversial ways that journalists and mass communicators keep the world informed. Further, the cultural and entertainment facets of media are often significant as well.

Several chapters concern the changing media – the ways that international journalism is adapting to altered global conditions, changing concepts of news, and utilizing the new hardware of our information age.

Currently, for the first time in history, all nations, however remote, have stepped onto the stage of the modern world. What happens in Rwanda, or Indonesia, or Afghanistan can have global significance and often has repercussions around the world, in part because events happening there are reported. More importantly, a much greater degree of interdependence among all peoples and nations has developed.

The world has been evolving an international news system that moves information and mass culture ever faster and in greater volume to any place on Earth where an antenna can be put on a shortwave radio receiver, where dish antennas can receive television programs from a communication satellite, or, increasingly, where there is a personal computer with a modem hooked onto the Internet. The cellphone with connections to the Internet is becoming a potent player in global communication. Although politics, economic disparities, cultural and linguistic differences, and ideology keep us apart on many issues, the international news system has on occasion made us one community, if only briefly – as when Neil Armstrong took that “one giant leap for mankind” in 1969. An estimated 600 million people throughout the world watched that first walk on the moon, and they sat before their television sets not as Chinese, French, Africans, or Japanese, but as earthlings watching in awe as one of their kind first stepped onto another sphere far away in space.

Actually, the reporting of Armstrong's moon walk has further relevance for this book because the new information age is partly an outgrowth of the exploration of space. The communication satellite, high-speed data transmission, and miniaturized computer technology are by-products of space technology and all are playing integral roles in the transformation of international communication and transnational journalism.

The modern practices of globally collecting and distributing news are only about 100 years old and were initiated by news agencies of Britain, the United States, and France. Today, the world agencies – the Associated Press (United States), Reuters (Britain), and Agence France-Presse (France) – are still important but far from the only conduits of transnational news, although they and other media have been transformed by digital technology. Change has been coming so quickly that it is often difficult to stay current with the ways in which news is being moved. And to understand the future potential of say, the Internet, is like trying to perceive in 1905 what the absurd horseless carriage or the telephone would do in time to the cities and lifestyles of the twentieth century.

Furthermore, technology and global reach are modifying some of the institutions of transnational communication. Subtly and almost imperceptibly, various media, including the news agencies, are evolving from national to increasingly international or, better, to supranational institutions of mass communication. Concomitantly, English is clearly the world's leading media language.

The international news media, furthermore, are unevenly distributed among nations, creating serious frictions between the haves and have-nots in mass communication. The explosion of communication technology has coincided with the post-World War II decolonization of the Third World, and the penetration of Western news and mass culture into the newly independent nations, as well as into the former communist bloc. This has been perceived by some as a new attempt to reassert the domination of the former colonial powers.

Part of this book focuses on the differences that frustrate and at times inhibit the flow of international news and divide journalists and mass communicators: political and ideological differences, economic disparities, geographic and ethnic divisions. The media of all nations, it can be argued, reveal biases imposed by the constraints of nationalism and parochialism. When US soldiers are engaged in a military clash in Afghanistan, the subsequent news report on NBC television will differ from that carried on Al Jazeera, the Arabic broadcaster. There is no “true” news report of any event, only a variety of conflicting views out of which hopefully a consensus of sorts can be reached about what exactly happened.

The conflicts and frictions in international communication arise in part from divergent concepts of mass communication. In the concept of the press that has evolved in Western democratic nations, journalists are relatively independent of government, free to report directly to the public that uses the information to understand the world and to assess its governors. This view is unacceptable to authoritarian nations, which control and manipulate their media to serve better the goals of the state and its, often unelected, leaders. In numerous, mostly impoverished nations, a similar theory – the developmental concept – has emerged, which holds that mass media must be mobilized to serve the goals of nation building and economic development.

The deep differences between the media-rich and media-poor nations reflect closely other differences between rich and poor nations. Despite the impressive gains in the technical ability to communicate more widely and quickly, the disturbing evidence is that in some ways the world may be growing further apart rather than closer together. Most of the benefits of the communication and information revolution have accrued to the industrialized nations of the West, and to Japan and the Pacific Rim nations. For an individual to benefit fully from the news media, he or she ideally should be literate, educated, and affluent enough to have access to a variety of news sources. Unfortunately, in our unfair world, the largest share of such individuals is found, for now, in the few industrialized democracies. Yet the world's two most populous nations, China and India, have greatly increased the audiences and readership of their media.

The world's system of distributing news can be likened to a crystal prism. What in one place is considered the straight white light of truth travels through the prism and is refracted and bent into a variety of colors and shades. One person's truth becomes, to another, biased reporting or propaganda – depending on where the light strikes the prism and where it emerges. As we understand the optics of a prism for measuring the spectrum of light, so must we understand and accept the transecting planes of different cultural and political traditions that refract divergent perceptions of our world. Obviously, Islamic terrorists have a radically different view of the world than most Europeans have.

We must acknowledge how the light refracts for us. In considering the problems of international communication, we have tried to be sympathetic to the views and frustrations of people in non-Western nations and the enormous difficulties they face. Journalism is a highly subjective pursuit, tempered and shaped by the political conditions and cultural traditions of the particular society where it is practiced; the news and the world do look different from Shanghai, Lagos, or Baghdad than they do from Chicago.

As products of the Western press tradition, we believe journalists in their pursuit of the news should be suspicious of, and disagree at times with, other political leaders and other journalists as well as the owners of the media. For the essence of journalism is diversity of ideas and the freedom to express them. We agree with Albert Camus, who wrote:

A free press can of course be good or bad, but certainly without freedom, it will never be anything but bad. . . . Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worst.

And in the dangerous, strife-ridden world of the twenty-first century, we believe that the billions of people inhabiting this planet deserve to know more about the events and trends that affect their lives and well-being. Only journalists who are free and independent of authoritarian controls and other constraints can begin the difficult task of gathering and reporting the news and information we all have a right and need to know.