Information access gap
By Rosendo Fraga

Czech President, writer and politician Václav Havel convened for October 18 to 19 the Forum 2000 in Prague to tackle the issue ‘bridging global gaps’, which today divide the world of the rich from the world poor.

Forty people from different countries and varied offices met to discuss about ‘the existing international double standard in trade and finances’, ‘the gap between public interest and private profit in the actions of transnational corporations’, ‘the gap between the North and the South in terms of external debt’ and ‘the information gap in the role of media: assymetry of information flows’.

The latter issue was debated at a workshop made up by media-related people. The debate moderated by Czech Jacques Rupnik - he runs the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris- was based on a report drafted by Finnish Gavan Titley -Finland is the leading country in terms of freedom of press according to the latest report by Borderless Reporters- from the Renvall Institute at the Helsinki University.

This report raises questions such as: inequality on the Internet for 97% of Net surfers live in developed countries which account for only 16% of the world’s population; the information gap between the world of the rich and the world of the poor, which could consolidate and even deepen inequalities; how governments, institutions and entities grouping and representing the media can cooperate to enhance education through technology in the poorest countries; in what way the big media corporations dominating the global content production are accountable; whether it is possible to regulate the media monopolies or not; and how the concept of the media as a public service can be preserved within a framework of economic difficulties today affecting the non-developed world.

The debate shows different hues and differing stances. According to the British Chief Foreign Correspondent for the United Press in the United States, Martin Walker, regulation is not a feasible model for the mass media. By contrast, British environmentalist James Deane, Executive Director of the Panos Insitute in London, concedes that if the three government powers -Executive, Legislative and Judiciary- are ruled by the constitutions, then why should the media be the exception to the rule.

For his part, American economist and IMF Director of External Relations Thomas Dawson, who has many times this year referred to the Argentine situation and the rare case of Argentina, from where dozens of mails were sent to the international organization opposing economic aid to the country, regulating the mass media is materially unfeasible since the first question is who will regulate the information flows at international level.

Palestinian Ahmad Kamel, Central Europe Bureau Chief of Al Jazeera, raised the handling of international information on the part of the big news agencies controlled by Western countries and the indirect message delivered by communicators when reporting the news on television. In the case of Kenyan journalist Joseph Warangu BBC director for Africa, the central issue is the radio -the most widely used communications medium in his continent- and the need to convery information in different African languages.

According to Pakistani writer and journalist Najma Sadeque the major problem lies on the influence of the great ‘messengers’ on the media content, especially on television programmes, the most widely used medium in his country around which families gather.

Czech political expert Jiri Dienbster -founding member and director of the Czech version of the CARI institute- considers the problem rests on the content and reality that much of what is broadcast in Europe comes from the United States. For his part, American Anthony Giffard -Head of the School of Communications at the Washington University- the issue of regulation may be argued for the broadcasting of information related to the environment and human rights should be protected.

In my view, Argentina combines problems of both the developed and non-developed worlds. Television is the leading mass medium in countries such as Pakistan but the average of cable television usage is similar to that of the developed world and despite not being massive yet, Internet access is greater than the average in the non-developed world. The point is that the key to the XXI century world is not globalization itself -which is not new in the world’s history- but the speed at which it unfolds and the key lies on the technological advances of communications which have grown at a lightning pace.

Differing views are freely debated but consensus is hard to find and is ultimately attained through generic proposals such as supporting the development of local and community media, reducing the advanced technological and Internet access costs making it available to the poorest countries, debating the conflict over local cultures and globalized information and the failure to find a practical way to regulate content.

These conclusions may prove quite unpractical but it is apparent that the information access gap rises as a key element of inequality in the XXI century world and in the face of this challenge Argentina seems torn due to its dissociation.

Perhaps that is why the percentage of the adult population who have Internet access today (16%) equals the percentage of illiterates in our country.

Rosendo Fraga
Director of Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoría

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