THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICES: A Twentieth Century Fund Report by Jonathan Fenby

THE INTERNATIONAL NEWS SERVICES: A Twentieth Century Fund Report

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A matter-of-fact rundown on the four Western wire services (AP, UPI, Reuters, Agence France-Presse) that supply over 80% of the foreign news published (or broadcast) in non-Communist countries, plus a measured response to their Third World critics. The Twentieth Century Fund, which commissioned the study, was fortunate in its choice of an auditor with inside knowledge and a capacity to impose order on a far-from-simple subject. Currently chief of The Economist bureau in Bonn, Fenby was a longtime foreign correspondent for Reuters. During his final years there, he was editor of the agency's World Service and a member of its Executive Committee. Fenby provides concise briefings on the services' origins and evolution. While much of this material is fascinating (e.g., the intelligence that AFP was founded by a crony of Napoleon, who had to find a new line of work after Waterloo), lay readers will probably be most interested in the author's evaluation of the agencies' performance in the context of agitation by UNESCO (and its members from less developed countries) for a so-called new information order. In probing this comparatively recent addition to the ongoing North/ South debate, Fenby puts LDC complaints into clear perspective. Among other shortcomings, the Big Four news-gathering organizations are charged with using their presumptive financial strength to exercise monopoly powers that result in consistently unfavorable portrayals of Third World nations in global media and generally biased reporting, which On the words of UNESCO's director-general) ""borders on cultural aggression.""The realities of the situation are something else again, Fenby finds. By almost any economic standard, he shows, the short-staffed wire services are decidedly dubious enterprises. As a practical matter, moreover, ""news decisions are made on a story-by-story basis,"" with the consensus world view of subscribers and the press associations the common denominators. Further, whether by design or accident, wire-service reportage tends to be a very serious business, the author demonstrates; political and economic news has long dominated agency files, with sports coverage gaining some ground only in recent years. Fenby concedes that the Big Four's remarkably objective approach, which meets the needs of clients in industrialized (if not poorer) nations, is not the only way to report on the world. Nonetheless, he maintains, evident alternatives (including regional agencies, news exchanges, and pooled coverage) are wanting in at least some respects. Short-term, Fenby concludes, there's little prospect that differences can be reconciled. Owing to limited financial resources and market exigencies, the major wire services are wedded to ""a one-track editorial approach"" that does not admit of much diversity, while ""for (LDC) politicians, news is too important to be left to journalists."" A balanced and valuable appraisal.

Pub Date: March 25th, 1986
Publisher: Schocken