The decade-old debate over the Western press coverage of news of developing nations has ricocheted from Paris to Nairobi to Islamabad, and last night ended up competing with the dance music in a Washington nightclub.
"Basically the Western press tends to cover the sensational, violence, riots and catastrophes," said Ismael Samoura, a journalist from Guinea, one of 19 African journalists in Washington this week on an Operation Crossroads Africa program. At the end of the first day of programs, the debate over image and accuracy continued at The Foxtrappe, a private club on 16th Street.
Misinterpretation or omission was the general consensus of Samoura's companions about the Western press. "The American press doesn't speak of events important to Africans. You can watch the CBS news on video-cassette at the American Embassy and see no news from Africa," said Antoine Habiyaremye, a radio broadcaster from Rwanda.
What the journalists still are wrestling with is the impact of the information and communication order proposed by UNESCO, which would lessen the dominance of the Western press by establishing ethical standards and building up Third World communications systems."My sentiment is that we need a new information order. The Western press in Nairobi gets the information before we do," said Miriam Kahiga, a writer for Kenya's Daily Nation.
Neither the code nor independent news agencies can work without financing. "You have to have money. If you don't, it sets up a total dependence as far as objectivity is concerned," said Ally Coulibaly, editor in chief of the Ivory Coast national radio. At the reception, sponsored by Operation Crossroads and the National Alliance of Third World Journalists, the opinions about the impact of the code from Western journalists were divided also.
"If there were a code of ethics to which U.S. news services adhered to the journalists they send would be better trained. Also, if the code established criteria for the truth, then if the stories were true, it would work for everyone's benefit," said Lionel Barrow, dean of Howard University's communications school. Isaiah Poole, acting president of the local chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists, agreed with the code but felt the results could substitute one ideology for another.