GLOBAL: U.S. System Not Only Model


This article originally appeared in Issue# 35

In recent months the world has seen two instances of local media serving the cause of democracy.

Although the circumstances varied, in both Haiti and the Philippines an organized resistance used media (owned and operated by the catholic church) to sidestep government's repressive oversight and take its case straight to the people. These fearless voices were important instruments in toppling those tyrannies.

Most inhabitants of the industrialized West would be the first to agree that media play an important role in creating a democratic consensus and providing a forum for divergent ideas.

But Americans, particularly, are slow to realize that the American media model is far from being the norm in the international arena.

Indeed, a top-down media marketplace, dominated by commercial concerns, is not the only way to set up a country's broadcast system. True, there are a few alternative approaches in U.S. media — community access cable, public radio and most recently, electronic bulletin boards — but these efforts pale in comparison to the popular media efforts of other countries.

In Bolivia, for example, tin miners operate several radio stations — for tin miners. And in Honduras, national women's organizations provide regular programming for housewives.

Throughout South America. in fact, over 350 radio stations serve peasant farmers, Indians, factory workers and others as a "voice of the voiceless." And because these stations broadcast in the Language or dialect of their listeners, they have high credibility and in some cases, outdraw the commercial stations by a wide margin.

For both radio and television in other countries, dramas are a popular format. But increasingly important is the system of neighborhood reporters who convey news About political injustices and consumer rights that would never be aired on the official government or commercial channels.

These media efforts throughout the Third World are important because of the autonomy, self-worth and cultural reinforcement they develop in their creators. When people who have been told they are worthless are taught to believe in their right to speak, the effect can be tremendous. In some cases, it can even be revolutionary.

Author Bio: 

Rev. Robert White, SJ is currently teaching at St. Augustine University of Tanzania in Mass Communication. He was formerly Director of the Centre for the Study of Communication and Culture, London.