Global news has been traditionally dominated by powerful, oligopolistic Western media outlets. Companies like CNN, newspapers like the New York Times, and magazines like the Economist dominate coverage of current events. Although these outlets can often be praised for their high quality news coverage and investigative reporting, the amount of contact these western-based companies have with the developing world is questionable. For this reason, the arrival of developing world and now established news services, like Al Jazeera, alongside traditional services, like the BBC is important and gratifying. However, large media outlets, whether Western or not, remain non-ideal news sources for coverage of the developing world. This makes it vital that local, home-grown news services provide coverage of the areas that they alone understand best.
Western media has without doubt made a positive impact by covering news in developing countries. For example, CNN helped expose Chinese human rights abuses against Tibetans, bringing attention to the plight of the Tibetan people to the rest of the world despite its surrounding controversy. The coverage of El Salvador’s El Mozote Massacre in 1994 by the New York Times and the Washington Post triggered the severance of ties by the U.S. with the El Salvadorian government and military. Western media has undoubtedly acted as a watchdog for human rights abuses in the past, especially for women. Countless abuses in the developing world that would otherwise receive little attention have been uncovered, whether it is the treatment of women in Afghanistan or female genital mutilation in Northern Africa.
However, the positive impact Western media has had on these developing nations is limited. The dominance of Western global news outlets can prevent regions from providing a more accurate assessment of their current events in their own terms via local media companies. Western media outlets with huge viewership often dominate the discourse on regional affairs that western news services have very little contact with. As a result, regional affairs of the developing world are often misrepresented by western media. An article by Simon Kuper of The Financial Times recently praised Chimurenga, a South Africa-based “Pan-African English language journal” for more accurately depicting the positive and negative aspects of African life. Western media, meanwhile, stands repeatedly at fault for representing a continent of 53 nations, over one billion people, and hundreds of ethnic languages as one homogenous unit and providing little differentiation between the African countries. Surely publications, like Chimurenga, with much smaller readerships provide deeper insights to the African current events than massive western media companies can. Despite the shifts in how consumers receive media and the growing influence of emerging market services, Western media still holds an influential position in global information. While still retaining this strong position, it is important for these companies to incorporate local voices and opinion as often as possible in order to portray regional affairs more accurately.
Naturally, Western media outlets often only have limited access to parts of the developing world, both legally and informally. Resultantly, their coverage of current events and investigative reports will be limited. In these circumstances, regional bodies have been very good at filing the void in carrying out strong investigative reporting. For example, Al Jazeera, an Arabic language news network based in Qatar, provides reliable news coverage of Middle Eastern Affairs. It played a significant role in exposing the desire of the Libyan people for international intervention during the Libyan Revolution in 2011, a large factor in the approval of NATO intervention by the Security Council. South African magazines such as the Star and Drum helped bring attention to the atrocities committed by the Apartheid government against the majority black population. South African photographers such as Greg Marinovich and Kevin Carter captured the South African race riots and the famine in Sudan respectively in images that would be re-printed across the world. These local media companies were able to do what the Western media could not—portray the developing world accurately and attract massive amounts of attention because of their realistic reporting.
Credit must be given to the success of Western media outlets in investigating human rights abuses in the past. However, the present day provides more and more alternatives for news reporting to the handful of western media conglomerates. If this trend were to continue, and local, smaller-case coverage of developing world news increase, it would be good for the world.