The International Regulation of Information Flows: Two Colliding Views

Chapter 8

The Principle of Noninterference

In which directions do international information and communication circulate? What economic, political, and cultural stakes do they represent in the relations between the major powers, and more generally among the diverse nation-states? How are they regulated? Is it desirable to fix rules? But which rules and how effective can they be? These questions dominated the 1970s, when other actors, other political and cultural reference points than those prescribed by the logic of the Cold War, sought to express themselves in international negotiations.

And yet it was in an umpteenth episode of diplomatic confrontation between the two superpowers that the debate began. In 1969, the experts of the committee on the peaceful use of extra-atmospheric space, created nine years earlier at the behest of the General Assembly of the United Nations, put forth their conclusions: the impact of direct broadcast by satellite (DBS, which suppresses the need for terrestrial relay stations) must be foreseen in the long term; it was therefore necessary to turn to the problem of methods of regulation.

In November 1972, during the 27th General Assembly, the Soviet delegation proposed that an international convention on principles governing the use by states of artificial earth satellites for direct TV broadcasting” be prepared. It based its proposal on the work of the committee and on the debates that had taken place on its initiative before UNESCO several months earlier. The proposal was adopted by all the delegations but one, that of the United States. The first paragraph of the approved text read as follows: The activities undertaken in the domain of international direct television by satellite should be compatible with the sovereign


rights of states, including the principle of noninterference, and with the right of everyone to research, receive, and spread information and ideas proclaimed in the pertinent charters of the United Nations.”1

How can the principle of the free circulation of ideas and information, touchstone of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1948, be reconciled with the principle of national sovereignty? Since the end of World War II this question had been at the center of the debate on how to reorganize the world. Direct television merely sparked anew the confrontation provoked by the question of jamming radio waves. In 1950, the point of view of those who opposed jamming international broadcasts had carried the day, to the annoyance of the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc countries, which saw in it a means of fighting against ideological aggression” and all forms of Western propaganda.” While France, notably during the Algerian War (1954-62), and the United Kingdom, especially during the Suez Crisis (1956), had also resorted to jamming radio programs from Nasser’s Egypt, this practice of interference was the norm for years in the Eastern bloc. Alternately flexible and hard-line, according to the fluctuations of the barometer of internal and external tensions, the authorities never ceased trying to prevent their citizens from listening to the propaganda stations” and, above all, to the official radio station of the U.S. government, the Voice of America, and the two clandestine stations, Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, launched by the CIA in 1953 and 1950 respectively, the former with the exclusive mission of bombarding the Soviet Union, and the latter, Eastern Europe, with its message. In 1972, Voice of America broadcast to Iron Curtain countries 185 hours per week; Radio Liberty, 24 hours; and Radio Free Europe, 540 hours.2

The scope of Soviet interference with the airwaves was such that U.S. officials claimed that its budget alone was greater than the entire U.S. budget for radio propaganda. In 1960, listening to foreign radio was even sanctioned as an ideological crime,” and for several years Soviet authorities preferred to brake the technical progress made possible by the transistor in order to cut listeners off from international information flows.

The experience of radio jamming during the 1950s and 1960s had nonetheless already shown how porous the system of technical protection against aggressors was. Citizens were listening more and more to foreign radio, as witnessed by the analysis by East German philosopher and economist Rudolph Bahro, who in 1978, twelve years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, predicted:

In the yawning chasm that has been opened, the mass ideological production of the West has poured in When one day the technology that made satellites possible totally liquidates the Soviet masses’ anachronistic isolation from the image of the current world,” the leaders of the apparatus in Moscow will find themselves ruling over a volcano of unsatisfied material needs. This and nothing else is at the origin of the feeling of panic apparent in the project advanced by [then Moscow’s foreign minister] Gromyko for a convention on Principles governing the use by States of artificial earth satellites for direct TV broadcasting,” a document which recalls the style of Nicholas I. In the Soviet Union, it is not only a question of warding off ideological diversion” in the traditional sense; the propaganda machine will soon find itself totally impotent in its struggle against the vision of the consumer society.”3

Bahro knew what he was talking about. The German Democratic Republic was in fact one of the first to experience transfrontier television, with the spilling over of the channels from the other Germany. As for East Berlin, its insular position allowed it to receive the channels of British and American troops stationed in Germany. East German television could not disregard the direct competition and it modified its programming to try to retain its viewers. The places that, for topographical reasons, were deprived of this manna of mass culture were dubbed the valley of the ignorant.”

Education lmperiled by Entertainment

The frontal collision between East and West was not only the telescoping of two principles of news organization-that is, on one side, information retention, penury, and secrecy and on the other, saturation and (at least apparent) transparency. This confrontation via audiovisual systems also involved two different conceptions of culture, two ways of envisaging cultural democratization.” On the one hand, there was mass culture as an extension of a concrete political system, that of liberal democracy, as an expression of a project of social co-optation, and as a particular way of producing consensus, more and more dependent on the logic of the market, and as such structured around entertainment.” On the other hand, there was a project in which access to the goods of classical high culture was the distinctive mark of the democratization of leisure, a project indissociable from the idea of the pedagogical mission of broadcasting. As it was summarized in 1973 by a Soviet television official commenting on the importance of music programs among those conceived for a broad public: While meeting the viewers’ requirements for relaxation, pleasure, and entertainment, we must not forget our basic task,

which flows from the great mission of television to educate the social consciousness, to raise the viewers’ level of cultural education and to form their aesthetic taste. Television must propagate the progressive ideas of our times among the masses and must be the instrument of their spiritual enrichment.”4 Could one imagine a Western television station, guided by the logic of audience maximization, going off the air one day a week to allow viewers to go to the theater or to a concert, or to participate in other cultural activities, as was the case in Hungary?

Reading between the lines, beyond the repressive connotations of the Soviet thesis on the necessity of regulating information flow, there are two opposing ways of conceiving and realizing leisure. Because, on the other side, behind the thesis of free flow of information,” defended tooth and nail by the U.S. delegation in the forums of the United Nations, one could see the same operating principle of mass culture and of media modernity: entertainment.5 Under the guise of the defense of each individual’s right to receive all information freely and retransmit it without regard to borders, this principle, as revised by U.S. diplomacy, became the defense of the freedom of unhindered market circulation of cultural products6 a market that, moreover, was completely dominated by U.S. corporations. One understands how great was the temptation among certain democrats to condemn both superpowers with equal severity, one for toying with national sovereignty and the other with human rights.

One was decidedly light years removed from Marx’s and Engels’s utopia, founded on the demolition of the parochial spirit of feudal society. In their Manifesto of the Communist Party they had solemnly proclaimed: In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”7

What we should retain from the first diplomatic controversies on the regulation of direct broadcast satellites is basically the following: that new technologies were starting to explode the national regulatory framework; their transnational character was rendering difficult the exercise of sovereignty expressed in constraining laws, while at the same time the oppositions among states rendered difficult the establishment of international conventions. At best, states were prepared to accept declarations of principles” of more moral than juridical value. In the absence of a solid ground of understanding, the only possible form of political agreement was the code of good conduct.”

This assessment would be reconfirmed in November 1974, when the U.N. General Assembly was invited to discuss the regulation of observational satellites. These satellites had begun their career two years before, with the launching by NASA of the first ERTS (Earth Resources Technology Satellites). The civilian use of satellite images was already of intense interest to industries and researchers as different as oil companies, mineral prospectors, grain growers, agronomists, oceanographers, geographers, and territorial planners, and everything pointed to an inexhaustible field of applications for the techniques of spatial detection. In the course of the first debates on satellite-generated information, France-which would not become a force in this market until the following decade with its Spot satellite-combined with the Soviet Union to propose that information collected on natural resources should not be delivered to a third party without the consent of the observed country. Benefiting from a de facto monopoly on this technology, the United States invoked once more the principle of free flow of information and that of first come, first served,” and asserted its position in practice: the acquisition of data without prior authorization and its free and nondiscriminatory dissemination. When the commercialization of this type of information began, the notion of a code of good conduct” would be trotted out again.8

In 1979, during the World Administrative Radio Conference (WARC), held under the auspices of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the U.S. delegation tried without success to oppose the redistribution of the world radio frequency spectrum, of which certain wavebands were practically monopolized by the industrialized countries to the detriment of the Third World, by invoking yet again the principle of first come, first served.”9 The conference also marked a turning point. For the first time in the history of telecommunications, the formerly colonized countries of Africa and Asia made themselves heard: 142 nations participated. At the two preceding conferences, one held in Atlantic City in 1947 and the other in Geneva in 1959, at which the principle of priority or the right of previous use” had been ratified, only 76 and 96 delegations had attended, respectively.

The debate on satellite images was echoed in another controversy that took place between 1973 and 1982 over the notions of freedom of the sea” and the common heritage of humanity” with a view to revising the law of the sea with respect to the sovereignty of maritime countries. Legal scholar Monique Chemillier-Gendreau has commented that the law governing a social field, whatever it is, may be really explained only by what is at stake.” And the stake of geoinformation” is great on a planet governed by the geoeconomy. Chemillier-Gendreau recalls the maxim of Lacordaire: Between the strong and the weak, it is liberty that oppresses and the law that sets free.” 10

New Sites of Critical Thought

The debate on the regulation of international flows became more complicated with the emergence of the countries of the South. In the 1950s and 1960s, two determinisms, that of technology and that of modernization, had denied Third World countries the status of major actors in the theoretical schemas of development and growth. Future receptacles of a progress introduced from outside, these societies, labeled traditional,” were reduced to waiting for the revelation of the dei ex machina charged with spreading the good cosmopolitan word. There was a mirror - and screen effect: development-modernization theory incited societies on the one hand to see the image of their future in the ideal model embodied by modern societies of the urban and industrial North, and on the other to consider their own cultural heritage as a handicap on the road to social and economic evolution.

The first signs of a solid critique of this worldview came from Latin America: the region that, in the modernizers’ scale of things, had already crawled up the most rungs toward the Promethean objective of development.” The debate on direct television had seen a collision between the nation that was the symbol of informational opulence (the United States) and the one that had made it a rare good (the U.S.S.R.). The other debate over the imbalance in flows of communication began by confronting a region whose experience of daily commercial mass communication was as old as that of radio and television itself, with the power which at the time concentrated, according to Zbigniew Brzezinski, more than 65 percent of the world’s total flow. Latin America alone accounted for two-thirds of the Third World’s media resources. In addition, its dominant model for the organization of audiovisual media was the closest to the archetype inaugurated by the United States. While Western Europe was still entirely under the regime of public service and public monopoly, the overwhelming majority of Latin American countries, had already lived for several years under the sign of advertising overstatement, and the logics of competition and internationalization of programming. And yet they considered themselves underinformed.”

To the pioneering critical studies of the theories and strategies of modernization were thus added analyses of the dependence of national media on foreign sources of news and programs. The context of the long history of conflictual relations with the United States since the end of the nineteenth century helped to explain this situation. One of the first works on news flows was the book by a journalist and professor from Venezuela, Eleazar Diaz Rangel, longtime president of his country’s association of journalists. Published in 1966, it was entitled Pueblos sub-informados (Underinformed peoples) and its point of departure was the news put out by the large news agencies, particularly UPI and AP, during the landing of the Marines in the Dominican Republic the previous year.11 It was also in Venezuela, a country characterized by an extremely commercial television and an already well-developed advertising industry, that the break began with visions arising out of North American empirical sociology, then hegemonic throughout Latin America. The principal works of that sociology had been translated into Spanish thanks to the support of official U.S. agencies, and were distributed free of charge to universities by the USIA. It was under the direction of researchers such as Antonio Pasquali, strongly influenced by the Frankfurt School, that the first analyses of television as a cultural industry were carried out, starting in 1963.12 Two other poles of critical research sprang up, before the decade was over, in Argentina and in Chile. In these countries began research that departed from the beaten paths of both North American empiricism and an orthodox Marxism incapable of treating the media other than as dispenser of propaganda or pedagogical vehicle. Marked from the start by the French school of structural semiology, and in the case of Chile also by the Frankfurt School, this new type of approach to the media was forced into breaking with its theoreticist tendency by rapid political develop­ments in these countries.13

In the context of a determined opposition within a pluralist democracy, critical researchers in Chile posed new questions on the nature of mass culture-which had in fact become daily culture, having entered into the reflexes and patterns of life. They understood why Roland Barthes refrained from speaking of propaganda” and preferred to call it mythology” instead. During the three years of the Chilean Popular Front experience (1970-73), the clash between mass culture and the project of social change was constant. The new questions raised concerned the difficulty of redefining the emotional relation between the media and their users; the difficulty of imagining forms of participation other than the sensorial”; the difficulty, thus, of finding forms of democratic control over the media; the difficulty of linking the media to a project of social development that broke with the mirages of the revolution of rising expectations”; the difficulty of mastering flows of a communication more and more tied into a transnational structure of information production (as was shown by the conflictual relation between the popular government and the major news agencies, such as UPI, which too often only reproduced internationally the news appearing in the dailies and magazines of an openly seditious oppositional press). Finally, there was the inability of traditional political schemas to take account of the role played by the media in a society politically and socially divided in the extreme. These were the issues that the coup d’etat against Salvador Allende in September 1973 left unresolved.14

History French-Style

The conviction that it is less and less possible to treat the media and communication without tackling the logics of internationalization would during the 1970s inspire a number of research centers, not just in the Third World but also in the First.

Thus, in the United States, in 1969, Thomas Guback, professor at the University of Illinois, published a study on the international film industry in which he analyzed the balance of forces between Europe and the United States in the area of film since 1945. In his conclusion, he warned European governments:

Twenty or even fifteen years ago, Europeans undoubtedly did not realize the consequences of their open arms policy. They saw foreign involvement as an aid-but were slow to recognize it as a danger. If economic independence and cultural integrity are to pre­vail, then European industries and governments must respond to the two thrusts of the American industry-production financing and the international distribution system Independence does not necessarily mean better” films in an artistic or financial sense, any more than internationalization means better” films. But autonomy can increase the chances for diversity and different points of view.15

The same year, Herbert Schiller of the University of California published his first book, Mass Communication and American Empire, in which he analyzed the industrial complex of communication of his country and established a direct link between its spectacular takeoff and the ascendancy of military interests.16

Other breeding grounds for international communications research were Great Britain and the Scandinavian countries. Two Finnish researchers, Karl Nordenstreng and Tapio Varis, carried out the first study commissioned by UNESCO on the import and export of television programs.17 From Norway, in the framework of peace studies, came one of the first researches of the structure of international news,18 a theme that also mobilized researchers at the Centre for Mass Communications Research at Leicester University, under the direction of James Halloran.19

Among the first studies published by the researchers at this British center, aside from the critiques of the theories of modernization-development already cited, was a well-researched investigation of the way in which the media handled a peaceful demonstration against the war in Vietnam that took place in London in October 1968, and a study of the press coverage of international affairs.20 The Scandinavians and the British were thus among the first (and rare) teams to tackle the relation between war (including psychological warfare) and the media.21 The 1960s would see a proliferation in the English-speaking countries of research on international communications, stimulated by the debates taking place in the major international organizations.22

The rise of new centers of criticism is contemporaneous with the new approaches proposed by development economics, and specifically with the idea that it is impossible to understand the history of modern capitalism outside the context of the world system to which it has given rise. For this conception of world integration, the process of underdevelopment is only explainable through the history of relations of structural dependency linking the central nations” with the peripheral nations.” Launched by Paul Baran in 1957 in his book The Political Economy of Growth, this hypothesis would see numerous variants differentiating themselves according to the degree of autonomy attributed to the dependent country by the world system in the search for a model of national development.23 But all agreed on the need to criticize the evolutionist vision of the exponents of development-modernization.

Above and beyond the strategic and tactical differences that divided the diverse representatives of this new theory of dependency, and which would appear more clearly two decades later when the reform/revolution alternative was abandoned as irrelevant, what these writers proposed was an alternative vision of the formation of the world market. They restored to capitalism its dimension as a historical system, a global system of production and exchange whose market networks have woven ever more tightly together the economic, political, cultural, and scientific spheres, as well as the local, national, and transnational levels. It must be immediately pointed out, however, that many economists and historians of dependency, carried away by their analyses of the supranational dimension of the growth dynamic of this system, minimize both the extraeconomic dimensions and the subnational ones.

The American historian Immanuel Wallerstein, in the lineage of the idea of world economy offered by the French historian Fernand Braudel, suggests what the concept of world system has contributed to thinking on the genesis of communication networks:

Were [commodity chains] all plotted on maps, we would notice that they have been centripetal in form. Their points of origin have been manifold, but their points of destination have tended to converge in a few areas, that is to say, they have tended to move from the peripheries of the capitalist world-economy to the centers or cores The real question is why this has been so. To talk of commodity chains means to talk of an extended social division of labor which, in the course of capitalism’s historical development, has become more and more functionally and geographically extensive, and simultaneously more and more hierarchical. This hierarchization of space in the structure of productive processes has led to an ever greater polarization between the core and peripheral zones of the world-economy, not only in terms of distributive criteria (real income levels, quality of life) but even more importantly in the loci of the accumulation of capital.24

The vigor of this fundamental movement in international communication studies in English-speaking and Latin American countries contrasts with the hesitant attitude of French research. Apart from a few isolated studies-one of which was published by Herve Bourges (who later became the director of French public service television)-French research has been largely absent from the debate on the stakes of the internationalization of communication throughout the decade.25 This gap merely confirmed in this field what others had noticed in their own disciplineshistory, for example. As Michel Vovelle writes:

There is widespread agreement on the excessively narrow and Francocentric character of French history, the abandonment of European history, especially that of the northern and eastern countries, because Mediterranean studies are in better shape, with those on Spain and especially Italy never having stopped, in the wake of Braudel, capturing the attention of French researchers. Above all, we see the poverty of non-European history, whether it be of the United States or the Third World, in spite of brilliant exceptions.26

The deficiencies noted in the research on international communications in France were all the more serious in their consequences in that, already in the 1970s, understanding the significance of the state’s preoccupation with new information technologies became difficult, if one ignored the new industrial and cultural challenges launched on a worldspace scale. This lack of dynamism corresponded to the closed-mindedness of French cultural diplomacy as well as of French private cultural industries. In 1979 Jacques Rigaud, a high French official who was soon to become head of the only multinational television channel at the time (RTL), wrote in a report to the minister of foreign affairs:

The interdependence of cultures is no longer a theme for philosophical thought but a lived reality. Dominant models, transmitted via ideological or economic imperialisms, or simply via the standardization of customs, create value references planetary in scope. There follows from this a tendency visible throughout the world, both to exalt the cultural identity of nations, local communities, minorities of all kinds, and to recognize an emerging universal civilization France is moving quickly away from her tradition of cultural internationalism We are falling back on the national space while believing we still radiate throughout the world.27

Media Imperialism: A Reductive Concept

Ideological imperialism, economic imperialism, cultural imperialism: since the end of the 1960s, these terms, used both by a Jacques Rigaud, alarmed about the loss of French cultural influence in the era of information technologies, and by a Zbigniew Brzezinski,28 who believed them outmoded, have run through studies on the role of communications in the relations among nations.

Some scholars have even proposed grouping under the heading of media imperialism” the different currents of critical research on international communication. Among them was British scholar J. Oliver Boyd­ Barrett, who defines it as the process whereby the ownership, structure, distribution or content of the media in any country are singly or together subject to substantial external pressures from the media interests of any other country or countries, without proportionate reciprocation of influence by the country so affected.”29 This definition has been criticized for imputing an intentional character to the process, and thus for not grasping the normality of a mechanism that functions by itself and without anyone lending a hand, except in exceptional periods of crisis and open confrontation when propaganda takes over from the metabolism of a system. It has also been objected that Boyd-Barrett’s definition is much too narrow to account for the multiplicity of forms taken by power relations among the various cultures. Herbert Schiller, among many others, prefers the notion of cultural imperialism,” which he characterizes as follows: The concept of cultural imperialism today [1976] best describes the sum of the processes by which a society is brought into the modern world system and how its dominating stratum is attracted, pressured, forced, and sometimes bribed into shaping social institutions to correspond to, or even promote, the values and structures of the dominating center of the system.”30

In any event, both terms were handicapped by the negative connotations of the Leninist theory of imperialism, even though the new sociopolitical approach represented without a doubt a break with that tradition, which conceived modern imperialism as a stage in the development of capitalism, reducing explanations solely to the economic factor. Empiricist sociology, only too glad to rely on its habit of simplistic binary reasoning and little inclined by nature to epistemological questioning, caricatured this innovative current but did not bother to examine closely why and how, in various places in the world, a common need had emerged, specific to each situation, to find other ways of seeing the international relations between cultures occupying very different positions with respect to the axes of world power.31

During the 1970s, nevertheless, direct confrontations within international organizations over the unequal exchange of flows resulted in the hardening of positions on both sides, pushing into the background any discussion of the complexity of international relations. This complexity had already been noted by Antonio Gramsci in the late 1920s in his struggle against economic reductionism. As he wrote in the Prison Notebooks,

It is necessary to take into account the fact that international relations intertwine with these internal relations of nation-states, creating new, unique and historically concrete combinations. A particular ideology, for instance, born in a highly developed country, is disseminated in less developed countries, impinging on the local interplay of combinations. This relation between international forces and national forces is further complicated by the existence within every state of several structurally diverse territorial sectors.

He took his illustrations of international actors from the cultural and ideological circuits with which he was most familiar:

Religion, for example, has always been a source of such national and international ideological-political combinations, and so too have the other international organizations-Freemasonry, Rotarianism [which appeared to Gramsci to be one of the important networks for the transmission of Americanism], career diplomacy.

These propose political solutions of diverse historical origin, and assist their victory in particular countries-functioning as international political parties which operate within each nation with the full concentration of the international forces. A religion, Freemasonry, Rotarianism, etc. can be subsumed into the social category of intellectuals,” whose function, on an international scale, is to mediate the extremes, of socializing” the technical discoveries that provide the impetus for all activities of leadership, of devising compromises between, and ways out of, extreme solutions.32

These observations are intelligible only if one recalls that, for Gramsci, the term party” has a much broader meaning than the one attributed to it by political science or by common usage; it overlaps with the meaning of organizer” or organic intellectual” and is inseparable from the concept of hegemony. Gramsci’s work, then, already invited an analysis of networks for production of consensus and systems of alliance on an international scale.

This necessity of taking into account the mediations and the mediators in the meeting between individual cultures and world-space would be stifled by the ideological polarizations that led to seeing blocs” where there was in fact diversity, smoothness where there was roughness, simple equations where there was cultural complexity, and one-way traffic of meaning where there was circulation.

In 1983, in search of an alternative perspective to account for the links between local, national, and transnational dimensions in communication processes, Michele Mattelart, Xavier Delcourt, and I wrote in the Introduction to our International Image Markets:

To respond to this proliferation of questions, the notion of cultural imperialism, and its corollary, cultural dependence,” is clearly no longer adequate. Historically, these two notions were an essential step in creating an awareness of cultural domination. Thanks to this consciousness, a political and scientific groundswell was progressively built up, intimately linking subjective impressions acquired in day-to-day struggle with attempts to formalize a theoretical base. Without this lived experience, it is impossible to understand the hesitations, uncertainties and also the conceptual certainties of diverse geographical and social areas. One day, we shall have to examine more closely not only the genesis of communication systems but also the history of the manufacture of the concepts which made them into a privileged area of research. Only this recording of history enables us to seize at once the continuities and the ruptures which have given rise to new approaches, new tools, linking up with real social movements.33

The New Order”: Dialogue of the Deaf

In 1969 UNESCO, then presided over by the Frenchman Jean Maheu, convened a meeting of experts in Montreal on the request of its members.

On the agenda was an overview of research and an outline of probable tendencies with a view to adopting a strategy of support for research in the years to come. The working document distributed to the participants was drafted by the Englishman James Halloran. This meeting called attention to the inequality of the world division of research, centered as it was in large part around certain themes and the situations of industrialized countries. This inequality was a direct reflection of other imbalances in the areas of economics and information. One passage of the meeting’s conclusions reads as follows:

At the present time, communication takes place in one direction The image given of developing countries is often false, deformed, and, what is more serious, this image is the one presented in these countries themselves. The participants in the Montreal meeting believe that the exchange of information and of other cultural products, particularly in developing countries, is in danger of modifying or displacing cultural values and of causing problems for the mutual understanding among nations.

The idea that this inequality in information flow must be remedied began to gain currency.

In 1973, the fourth conference of heads of state of the nonaligned countries, held in Algiers, proposed the institution of a new international economic order.” This proposal was ratified by the U.N. General Assembly in May 1974 and a calendar of measures was drawn up. The U.N. assigned itself the goal of countering the deterioration in the already unfavorable terms of exchange for developing countries who were producers of primary products; negotiating unlimited access to the market of developed countries; reinforcing financial flows by revising the protocols of access to credit from the International Monetary Fund (IMF, the most important credit institution in the world monetary system); favoring Third World participation in the management of the IMF; establishing a code for technological transfers; and more generally, promulgating a code of conduct for multinational corporations. Finally, the U.N. committed itself to taking measures to facilitate the redeployment of industry toward the countries of the Third World.34

The Algiers summit also recommended the reorganization of communication systems in the nonaligned countries themselves. In 1975, on the initiative of the Yugoslavian agency Tanjug, the first pool bringing together news agencies from the nonaligned countries was born, with ten agencies belonging. At Tunis in 1976 the necessity of decolonizing information” was proclaimed at a symposium organized by the NonAligned Movement. The same year, the fifth such conference was held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and its contribution was to launch the idea of a new world information order, later known as NWICO, the New World Information and Communication Order. This demand, presented as an indispensable complement to the inauguration of a new world economic order,” would be incorporated into the programs of UNESCO and the U.N. General Assembly in 1978.35

In the course of numerous meetings, the main target was defined: the four or five major press agencies, world agencies,” which handled about 80 percent of the information destined for the public-that is, the two principal European agencies, Agence France Presse (AFP) and the British agency Reuters, and the two American agencies, Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI). The accusations leveled at them from the forums of the Non-Aligned Movement unleashed a spiral of verbal violence in the major Western newspapers and in a number of commercial press organs of the Third World whose editors were in solidarity, against their own governments, with the First World. In any case, the debate on the new information order greatly mobilized the U.S. communications industry, which not only interpreted it as a dangerous precedent for the survival of freedom of the press but saw in it a real threat to the principle of the free flow of information, the basis of the future information society.36 For while the large news agencies were presented as the bogeyman, the stakes of these debates were obviously elsewhere. But these stakes were never publicly made clear by institutions like UNESCO, the major arena of a confrontation that brought together two sorts of polarities: North versus South and East versus West, the latter overdetermining the former. The East ably succeeded in fusing its position on the responsibility and thus the intervention of the state in defense of national sovereignty with that of countries of the Third World fighting for their cultural self-determination.37

The report of the international commission for the study of communications problems, presided over by the Irishman Sean MacBride, founder of Amnesty International and winner of the Nobel and Lenin Peace prizes, did not succeed in softening entrenched positions on either side.38 This commission, created in 1977 by Amadou Mahtar M’Bow, the Senegalese successor to Jean Maheu as director general of UNESCO, offered all the guarantees of pluralism. It included among its 16 members personalities as different as Hubert Beuve-Mery, founder of the newspaper Le Monde, the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcfa Marquez, the director of the Soviet press agency Tass, and the Tunisian Mustapha Masmoudi, spokesman for the nonaligned countries. The analyses contained in the MacBride Commission report, whose final version was published in 1980, fell well short of the large quantity of academic research and official reports already in circulation at the time. Not only were its proposals for realizing a new order mere generalities, but the diagnosis itself was hardly prospective.39 Scarcely any place was given to many hypotheses then in circulation, formulated from very different ideological and philosophical positions, on the implications of the international rearrangement of communications and information systems-from the one put forward by Brzezinski to those of Nora and Mine, as well as the new critical research on the political economy of the media.

In any event, the MacBride report made everyone unhappy, even if one cannot deny its distinction of having been the first official document published by a representative international body in which one finds the question of the inequality of information flows posed in black and white. Scarcely 15 years earlier, UNESCO experts did not even touch on this question, absorbed as they were by the calculation of indices and models of modernization. Unhappy with the turn taken by the debate, the Reagan administration, soon followed by Margaret Thatcher’s Great Britain, walked out of UNESCO in 1985. Two years earlier, the U.S. Senate had established its position in a report (see chapter 6 above). Condemning the politicization” of international institutions such as UNESCO and the International Union of Telecommunications (IUT), the Senate.report recommended that Washington remedy the situation by assuring efficient nonpolitical international organizations for the development, management, expansion and nondiscriminatory access to international telecommunications facilities and networks.”40 Thus the Senate reminded the U.S. government that it could not allow itself to dissociate problems of cultural information” from those regarding the expansion of telecommunications networks.

The Lack of Moral Credibility

The debate on the new order ran into an impasse that cannot be explained solely by the intransigence of the neoliberals. Another decisive factor was the lack of moral credibility of certain protagonists of the debate.

In 1980, the Venezuelan researcher Oswaldo Capriles, one of the first to recognize the need to remedy the inequality in flows, noted the excessive predominance of Third Worldism as a justification at any cost of a struggle that does not often appear to distinguish between democratic and progressive states on the one hand, and totalitarian or reactionary states on the other. Thus countries with feudal political regimes, enemies of human rights, appear to be on the side of countries that are making a real effort to progress in the economic, political and cultural liberation of their peoples…. Many countries of Latin America and the Third World have taken advantage of the new world information order as a fuite en avant to abandon the demanding and dangerous field of national policies, arguing that the international field should take priority. The ardent defense of a new technological order is, quite often, a convenient disguise serving to maintain the internal situation unchanged.41

Indeed, examples were not lacking of governments that, while taking the lead in demanding a new communication order and creating agency pools in the name of cultural identity, did not shrink from muzzling the press in domo, imprisoning journalists, and banning from the large or small screen their filmmakers, who were obliged to go into exile. Nor was the memory so distant of those local elites who, ashamed of the musical expression of the popular classes, ridiculed it right up until the moment when this music, consecrated on the international market, returned in triumph to its native country. Such was the case with reggae. The middle and upper classes who controlled the cultural destiny of the country,” recalls Caribbean author Sebastian Clarke in his history of rasta music, defended their inferiority complex by putting out on the airwaves the musical stereotypes of their American heroes, and by announcing their contempt for the noise’ made by homegrown artists. Since Jamaicans in general, and the poor especially, did not possess an example of culture’ or of history,’ the dominant groups could not admit that those people had something significant to say to them.42

The debates on the new order ran up against a twofold obstinacy: the refusal by certain countries of the South to broach the problem of old political censorship exercised by the state in their domestic space, and the matching refusal by the major industrial countries to raise the issue of the new economic censorship stimulated by the concentration in the communications industries. Both parties were careful not to raise the central question for the establishment of more democratic rules for freedom of expression: How to produce information, in the North as well as the South, from perspectives other than those of power?

The new order could serve as an alibi, as economists of development also learned from the evolution of the new world economic order. The internationalization of problems of development,’” explained Lebanese author Georges Corm in 1980, provided a very good alibi to Third World governments, as a way to invoke to their frustrated populations, the impossibility of reforming the international economic order, which aborted domestic efforts’ at development. For their part, the governments of industrialized countries found facile themes for their public opinions in the rise in oil prices, immigrant workers and competition from the newly industrialized countries.”43

But the fact that governments resorted to the argument of the new order to abdicate responsibility for their own unprincipled behavior did not invalidate the existence of the enormous imbalances they denounced, or the pressure to resolve them.

Toward Free Trade

Who could have foreseen, during the earliest discussions on direct broadcast satellites, that 18 years later the Soviet press agency Novosty would ally itself with a major advertising network in the United States to establish a common subsidiary in Moscow? In an irony of history, the principle of self-determination and national sovereignty with which the Kremlin had tried to resist pressure from the United States delegation, now served the various republics in dismembering the Soviet Empire and unleashing ethnic nationalisms. The polemics of that time would appear decidedly remote when the Berlin Wall fell, along with other symbols of the informational closure of real socialism,” and when multimedia groups and advertising conglomerates from the industrial countries rushed into this new frontier opened to the world market.

In the 1980s, regulation and public intervention were no longer on the agenda either in most of the countries that during the previous decade had struggled for a new information order. The state withdrew and Washington’s ominous prophecies at UNESCO about what would happen if the state regained control over communication disappeared over the horizon, to the benefit of the private sector. However, the problems raised by the debates of the 1970s remained.

For while it is true that new audiovisual powers of international scope have arisen in countries such as Brazil (with Globo) and Mexico (with Televisa), television for the great majority still relies on the images of others. And while schooling is in decline and illiteracy reconquers ground in a great number of debt-ridden nations that have made huge cuts in their education budgets, the uses foreseen for the communications technologies across the world lean largely toward the logic of entertainment.”44 Meanwhile, the monetarist strategies for economic development begin to provoke a redistribution of power between the public and private sectors in the realm of telecommunications. The more and more frequent sale of telephone companies in certain regions of the Third World generated substantial revenues that partly reduced large deficits.

The issue of the regulation of international networks has not, however, disappeared from the major international forums. It has merely moved toward more technical bodies, such as GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which since 1947 watches over free trade. Its role has grown considerably in the area of communications since the opening of the Uruguay Round in September 1986, when negotiations on the international trade in services” were first put on the agenda. Banking, insurance, tourism, and transport are classed in a category along with communication in this accounting of invisible flows”: included are advertising, marketing, telecommunications, the wide range of the products of the cultural industries, not to mention the complex network of data banks and data bases with their multiple uses.45 The desire to institute free trade in services has a twofold strategic significance. The abolition of obstacles to trade (nontariff barriers, diverse state subsidies and supports) is one of the essential phases in the construction of the worldspace. The liberalization of flows is at the very base of the new mode of organization of the corporate network.46

These technical discussions are dominated by commercial confrontations that often cut across North-South lines. Moreover, the South is no longer what it was when, in 1952, the demographer Alfred Sauvy and the anthropologist Georges Balandier created the unitary notion of Third World.” The gap has widened between the newly industrializing countries” and the mass of others. Certain analysts, such as the Indian economist Chakravarthi Raghavan, are rather pessimistic as to the impact of this deregulation of invisible flows on North/South relations and go so far as to interpret it as a veritable recolonization of the Third World.”47 The creation of vast regional free trade zones, which associate Third World and developed countries, results in a continual reshuffling of the world order, organized around the market.

This rise of market logic and competition across borders has, in turn, nearly ten years after the cry of alarm from the countries of the South, belatedly obliged the European Community and the Council of Europe to debate measures to reestablish balance in the trade of TV programs. Should a quota of European programs be imposed or not? After five years of deliberations (1984-89), the zero option” defended by Thatcherite England against France (which had recommended instituting a quota to defend a hypothetical European cultural identity”-and its national industry) finally won the day. With deregulation of national audiovisual systems, the old continent became the geographical unit with the largest deficit in the world in terms of imports over exports, but still more in absolute terms, since it is the world’s foremost importer of television programs and the best client of the U.S. program industry.48

The influence acquired progressively by the market as a space of reoganization and regulation of world space was underestimated by the futurologists in the 1960s and 1970s. As state servants, they were busy developing anticrisis strategies based on the voluntaristic intervention of the public sector.

  1. Principes regissant l’utilisation par les états de satellites artificiels de la terre aux fins de television directe internationale,” reproduced in Les nouvelles chaines, Paris and Geneva, PUF-Cahiers de l’IUED, 1983.↩︎

  2. U.S. Senate, USIA Appropriations Authorization,Fiscal Year 1973, Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972, p. 56.↩︎

  3. R. Bahro, L’alternative, Paris, Stock, 1979, p. 222.↩︎

  4. Quoted in B. Paulu, Radio and Television Broadcasting in Eastern Europe, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, p. 99.↩︎

  5. On the collision between the culture of entertainment and the culture of television shortage” under real socialism, see T. Mattelart, Televisions occidentales vers l’Est:Une nouvelle frontiere?, paper presented for DEA diploma at Universite de Grenoble 3, October 1990. See also C. Feigelson, La television en Union Sovietique, Paris, INNChamp Vallon, 1990.↩︎

  6. On the genesis of the doctrine of the free flow of information, see H. Schiller, Communication and Cultural Domination, White Plains, N.Y., M. E. Sharpe, 1976, chap. 2.↩︎

  7. K. Marx and F. Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1975, pp. 46-47.↩︎

  8. S. Le Guevel, L’information satellitaire: Logiques et enjeux de l’observation de la terre depuis Les satellites, Rennes, Laboratoire CIDOUEST-Universite Rennes 2, Department of Information and Communication, 1987.↩︎

  9. D. W. Smythe, Dependency Road:Communications, Capitalism, Consciousness, Norwood, N.J., Ablex, 1981.↩︎

  10. M. Chemillier-Gendreau, Le droit de la mer: Mythes et realites,” Herodote, issue on the geopolitics of the sea, no. 32, 1984.↩︎

  11. E. Diaz Rangel, Pueblos sub-informados, Caracas, Monte Avila Editores, 1976 (original edition 1966). See also H. Mujica, El imperio de las noticias, Caracas, Ediciones de la Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV), 1967.↩︎

  12. A. Pasquali, Communicación y cultura de masas, Caracas, Monte Avila Editores, 1963. See also L. Silva, La plusvalia ideológica, Caracas, Ediciones de la Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1970.↩︎

  13. For Argentina, see above all E. Veron, Conducta,estructura y comunicación, Buenos Aires, Ediciones Tiempo Contemporaneo, 1972 (2d ed.). For Chile, see A. and M. Mattelart, and M. Piccini, Los medios de comunicación en Chile,la ideologia de la prensa liberal, Santiago, special issue of Cuadernos de la Realidad Nacional (CEREN), March 1970. For a history of Latin American research in the field, see O. Capriles, La nouvelle recherche latino-americaine en communication,” Communication 5, no. 1, Quebec, Universite Laval, Fall 1982.↩︎

  14. A. and M. Mattelart, De l’usage des medias en temps de crise, Paris, Alain Moreau, 1979. By the same authors, Rethinking Media Theory: Signposts and New Directions, trans. J. Cohen and M. Urquidi, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1992.↩︎

  15. T. Guback, The International Film Industry: Western Europe and America since 1945, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1969, pp. 202-3.↩︎

  16. H. Schiller, Mass Communications and American Empire, Boston, Beacon Press, 1969. See also A. Wells, Picture Tube Imperialism? The Impactof U.S. Television in Latin America, Maryknoll, N.Y., Orbis Books, 1972.↩︎

  17. K. Nordenstreng and T. Varis, Television Traffic-A One-Way Street?, Paris, UN­ESCO, 1974.↩︎

  18. J. Galtung and M. H. Ruge, The Structure of Foreign News,” Journal of Interna­tional Peace Research, no. 1, 1965. See also J. Galtung, A Structural Theory of Imperialism,” Journal of Peace Research, no. 2, 1971.↩︎

  19. P. Elliott and P. Golding, The News Media and Foreign Affairs,” in The Manage­ment of Britain’s External Relations, ed. R. Boardman and A. J. Groom, London, Macmillan, 1973.↩︎

  20. J. D. Halloran, P. Elliott, and G. Murdock, Demonstrations and Communication,Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970.↩︎

  21. G. Cumberbatch and D. Howitt, Social Communication and War: The Mass Media,” in La communication sociale et la guerre, Etudes de sociologie delaguerre (collo­ quium held in May 1974), Brussells, Bruylant, 1974.↩︎

  22. See, for example, J. Tunstall, The Media Are American, London, Constable, 1977;↩︎

  23. C. Hamelink, ed., The Corporate Village: The Role of Transnational Corporations in International Communication, Rome, !DOC International, 1977; A. Smith, The Geopolitics of Information, London, Faber & Faber, 1980; J. O. Boyd-Barrett, The International News Agencies, London, Constable, 1980 (based on a dissertation defended in 1976); J. O. Boyd­ Barrett and M. Palmer, Le trafic des nouvelles: Les agences mondiales d’information, Paris, Alain Moreau, 1981.↩︎

  24. P. Baran, The Political Economy of Growth, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1957. We refer here to the classic studies by North American authors Paul Sweezy and Immanuel Wallerstein; Brazilian authors Vania Bambirra, F. H. Cardoso, Theotonio Dos Santos, Celso Furtado, and Ruy Mauro Marini; the Chilean Osvaldo Sunkel; the Egyptian Samir Amin; and Europeans Andre Gunder Frank, Johan Galtung, Pierre #CHECK alee, Christian Palloix, and Dieter Senghaas. 24.1. Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism, London, Verso, 1983, p. 30.↩︎

  25. See A. Mattelart, Multinational Corporationsand the Control of Culture, Sussex, Harvester Press; Atlantic Highlands, N.J., Humanities Press, 1979 (original French edition 1976); H. Bourges, Decoloniser /’information, Paris, Karthala, 1978; Y. Mignot-Lefebvre, ed., Dossier Audiovisuel et Developpement,” Revue Tiers-Monde, PUF-IEDES, July-Sep­ tember 1979. For a critical evaluation of French research in the 1970s, see P. Flichy, Cur­rent Approaches to Mass Communication Research in France,” Media, Culture and Soci­ety, no. 2, 1980.↩︎

  26. M. Vovelle in the Rapport Godelier, Les sciences de l’homme et de la societe en France, Paris, La Documentation francaise, 1982, p. 258.↩︎

  27. J. Rigaud, Les relations culturelles exterieures, Paris, La Documentation fran aise, 1979, pp. 12, 24. We have quoted this same text in Rethinking Media Theory where we an­alyze in greater detail the different reasons for the accumulated lag in this sector of research.↩︎

  28. See chapter 6, above.↩︎

  29. J.O.. Boyd-Barrett, Media Imperialism: Towards an International Framework for an Analysis of Media Systems,” in *Mass Communication and Society**,* ed. J. Curran et al., London, Arnold, 1977, p. 117.↩︎

  30. Schiller, Communication and Cultural Domination, p. 9.↩︎

  31. C. C. *Lee, Media Imperialism Reconsidered: The Homogenizing of Television Culture**,* Beverly Hills, Calif., Sage, 1980.↩︎

  32. A. Gramsci, Analysis of Situations, Relations of Force,” Communication and Class Struggle, vol. 2, ed. A. Mattelart and S. Siegelaub, New York, International General, 1983, pp. 108-112.↩︎

  33. A. and M. Mattelart, and X. Delcourt, InternationalImage Markets: In Search of an Alternative Perspective, trans. D. Buxton, London, Comedia-Methuen, 1984, pp. 25-26. (Published originally in French, 1983). See also A. Mattelart, Memorandum for an Analysis of the Cultural Impact of Transnational Firms,” in Transnationals and the Third World:TheStruggle forCulture, trans. D. Buxton, South Hadley, Mass., Bergin & Garvey, 1983, pp. 1-26.↩︎

  34. See B. Pavlic and C. Hamelink, Interrelationship between the New International Economic Order and a New International/World Information-Communication Order, Paris, UNESCO, 1984.↩︎

  35. See UNESCO, Communication and Society: A Documentary History of a New World Information and Communication Order 1975-1986, Paris.↩︎

  36. See C. Roach, The U.S. Position on the New World Information and Communica­ tion Order,” Journal of Communication 37, no. 4, 1987; and The Position of the Reagan Administration on the NWICO,” Media Development 34, no. 4, 1987.↩︎

  37. On the Soviet doctrine, see Y. Kaslev, UNESCO and the Soviet Union, Moscow, Novosti, 1986.↩︎

  38. International Commission for the Study of Communication Problems (MacBride Commission), Many Voices,One World, Paris, UNESCO, 1980.↩︎

  39. For an evaluation: W. E. Preston et al., eds., Hope and Folly: The United States and UNESCO: 1945-1985, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1990. The Journal of Communication has published several issues on the subject, in particular that of Fall 1984 (vol. 34, no. 4). On the recent evolution of the New Order,” see the issue of Media,Cul­ture and Society devoted to the question Farewell to NWICO?,” July 1990 (vol. 12, no. 3).↩︎

  40. U.S. Senate, Range Goals in International Telecommunications and Information.↩︎

  41. O.Capriles, From National Communication Policies to the New International In­ formation Order: The Role of Research,” in New Structures of International Communica­tion? The Role of Research, papers from the 1980 Caracas Conference, International Asso­ ciation for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR-AIERI), Leicester, U.K., Adams Bros. & Shardlow, 1982, pp. 36-37.↩︎

  42. S. Clarke, Les racines du reggae, Paris, Editions Caribeennes, 1981, p. 101. (Origi­nally published in English by Heinemann, 1980.)↩︎

  43. G. Corm, Au rebours du developpement,” Le Monde Diplomatique, November 1980.↩︎

  44. UNESCO, World Conference on Education, Jomtien, Thailand, 1990.↩︎

  45. F. Clairmonte, Les services, ultimes frontieres de !’expansion pour Jes multina­ tionales,” Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1991.↩︎

  46. See chapter 10, below.↩︎

  47. C. Raghavan, Recolonisation, l’avenir du tiers monde et les negociations interna­tionales du GATT, Paris, L’Harmattan-Oxfam, 1990. (Simultaneously published in English by Oxfam, London.)↩︎

  48. A. Moreau, Rapport sur l’etat de la production audiovisuelle francaise et europeenne au ministre des affaires etrangeres, Paris, 1991.↩︎

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