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The European press has for some time considered coverage of Latin America to be almost exclusively the responsibility of the U.S. press. That is a pity, for this country's newspapers, despite their recent acknowledgement that the southern continent exists, have simply substituted inaccurate for inadequate reporting.
One is, of course, immediately tempted to ask so what. Inaccuracy, a fondness for playing up crises and for leaving out background material essential to perspective, is nothing new in America and is certainly not confined to reporting on a single area of the world. But the trouble is that bad reporting on Latin America not only misinforms the U.S. public but unnecessarily strains hemispheric diplomacy as well.
Senhor Joao Goulart suggested as much in Washington last week, when he expressed the hostility of many Brazilians to American notions that his country was so close to chaos as to seem a wholly unworthy investment to the Alliance for Progress. Where the notions came from it is easy to see. The wire services in particular have made far too much of a Governor's expropriation of a branch of the IT & T; they have said that Brazil's Northeast is on the brink of revolution. A recent article in the New Republic, besides stating that former President Kubtischek had swindled Brazil out of several million dollars, called its present and potential leaders fools, knaves, and monomaniacs. All this has understandably made U.S. businessmen suspicious and Brazilian officials extremely angry.
Brazil may provide the most serious case of journalistic misbehaviour, but the papers are guilty elsewhere of sensationalism and negligence. Those who wrote from Buenos Aires a month ago, and those who read the dispatches, seemed astonished at the huge number of Peronists returned in Argentina's latest elections--but few Argentines were. Ecuador reaches the front pages in times of revolt, but not when it revises its banking structure. And subscribers rarely even hear about the rest of that large continent, for a Caribbean island occupies the exclusive attention of most newspaper staffs: exhaustive stories on Cuba continue to occupy the attention of valuable men, especially liberals, whose energy and indignation could with great profit be diverted to other problems.
The problem is, chiefly, to convince the press that ridding itself of conventional stereotypes about Latin America does not amount to playing today to the U.S. or any other government. Newspapers do not have to praise to the skies the Alliance which they have helped to damage; they need only realize that through solid reporting they have a chance to be genuinely useful.
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