Reporters Without Borders: pro-USA

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Jul 16 08:44:01 MDT 2003

As has become obvious, the measures taken recently by the Cuban 
government to defend the revolution have become a 'cause celebre' for 
liberals worldwide. The other day I posted a response to the Committee 
to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a group that had taken up this cause 
despite the fact that its corporate funders (CNN, Bloomberg et al) are 
among the world's biggest enemies of freedom of the press. The CPJ's 
model only takes into account the kind of repression visited on 
reporters in third world dictatorships typically. If CNN and the Murdoch 
press can swamp the TV's and newsstands of that same country drowning 
out the local competition, it would hardly raise an eyebrow in these 

You find the same exact mind-set at the Paris-based "Reporters Without 
Borders" (Reporters Sans Frontières--RSF), a group that seems inspired 
by "Doctors Without Borders", which also got started in France. You'll 
recall that this group was very involved in pushing war against 
Yugoslavia and that its director Bernard Kouchner was rewarded with the 
post of colonial administrator in Kosovo.

If you go to the "Reporters Without Borders" (, 
you'll discover a large graphic that announces that Cuba is "The World's 
Biggest Prison", something that would be news to anybody who lives in 
the USA, where 2 million people are behind bars--a rate 6 to 10 times 
higher than any other industrialized nation. According to a report 
issued by the British government (, the 
USA has a prison population of 1,962,220 while Cuba's is about 33,000. 
This translates into 686 prisoners per 100,000 in the USA and 297 per 
100,000 in Cuba.

In keeping with a general softness on the world's biggest threat to 
democracy, RSF also includes a map of the world on their home page with 
colors ranging from pure as the driven snow white to shocking and sinful 
red, with various shadings of pink in the middle. White signifies a 
"good" situation, while red stands for a "serious" situation. It should 
come as no surprise that the USA is pure white, while Cuba is the purest 

Venezuela is another country singled out for repression against 
reporters by both the CPJ and RSF. Since they have no concept how 
privately owned media can represent as much of a threat to the free flow 
of information as government censorship, they take sides against Hugo 
Chavez who was the target of a general strike fomented by the ruling 
class and the newspapers and TV stations they own. Naomi Klein took them 
to task in a February 18, 2003 Guardian article:

 >>During the recent strike organised by the oil industry, the stations 
broadcast an average of 700 pro-strike advertisements every day. Chavez 
has decided to go after the TV stations in earnest, with an 
investigation into violations of broadcast standards and a new set of 
regulations. "Don't be surprised if we start shutting down television 
stations," he said in January.

The threat has sparked condemnations from the Committee to Protect 
Journalists and Reporters Without Borders. And there is reason for 
concern: the media war in Venezuela is bloody, with attacks on both pro- 
and anti-Chavez media outlets. But attempts to regulate the media aren't 
an "attack on press freedom", as CPJ claimed - quite the opposite.

Venezuela's media, including state TV, needs controls to ensure balance. 
Some of Chavez's proposals overstep these bounds. But it is absurd to 
treat Chavez as the principal threat to a free press. That honour goes 
to the media owners. This has been lost on groups entrusted to defend 
press freedom, still stuck in a paradigm in which all journalists want 
to tell the truth and all threats come from nasty politicians and angry 

Every so often, the naked hostility of RSF to challenges against the 
"free" corporate media is bared. In their 2003 Annual Report, they 
fulminate against UN bids to address this problem:

 >>A new example of the spineless attitude of Western democracies 
towards authoritarian regimes are preparations for the UN World Summit 
on the Information Society. . .In fact, the idea of the information 
society summit quietly harks back to what was known in the 1970s and the 
1980s as the New World Information Order, when a rag-bag alliance of 
communist regimes, African and Asian despots and Western Third-Worldist 
intellectuals used the presence of an African at the head of UNESCO to 
try to bring the flow of international news under the control of 
governments, officially (of course) for the benefit of the people.  They 
said the world's news was dominated by the corporate media of the 
capitalist West and aimed to rein them in, leaving ordinary people in 
ignorance. It reeked of the old totalitarian notion of the "supreme 
guide" who knows better than you what's good for you. The whole 
repressive concept led the United States and Britain to withdraw from 
UNESCO. This was enough of a jolt to kill off the idea.<<

Can't you see the bitter resentment against 3rd world radicalism working 
itself into a proper lather here? A rag-bag of communists and 3rd 
Worldist intellectuals under the banner of UNESCO sought to challenge 
the "corporate media of the capitalist West". What a totalitarian idea, 
that CNN and the Murdoch press are inimical to the interests of people 
struggling to free themselves from the domination of US imperialism and 
its junior partners.

It might be useful to revisit this controversy. The US and Great Britain 
pulled out of UNESCO for the same reason it is in Iraq today. This 
should have been obvious to any student of the media, especially the 
late Herbert Schiller whose "Culture Inc" was reviewed in the 
July/August 1990 Multimedia Monitor when people like George Bush were 
fulminating--like RSF--at the subversives in UNESCO:

 >>Cultural industries have both followed and fueled other corporate 
drives to dominate world markets. Information industries circulate data 
and capital around the world, allowing them to change the international 
division of labor and to shift production sites worldwide. The cultural 
industries have also expanded internationally for their own direct 
material gain. Television networks pressure autonomous state-run 
broadcasting systems across Europe and the Soviet Union to include 
transnationally supplied broadcasting under threat of being bypassed 
with satellite or other technology.

The United States actively assists this transnationalization. By 
promoting privatization and deregulation, the United States works to 
diminish or destroy the international public communications sector. 
Schiller supplies a telling example: in 1985 the United States 
unilaterally withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific 
Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The pullout followed a furious and, 
Schiller shows, unjust campaign waged by the U.S. government in 
cooperation with the U.S. media against UNESCO, which had promoted some 
moderate proposals for a New International Information Order (NIIO). The 
vague principles underlying the NIIO urged respect for nations' right to 
control national culture and offered support for national public 
broadcasting systems.

At stake was more than a heavy import of Anglo-American media material 
by the rest of the world. Fundamental economic data are also transferred 
internationally, ranging from travel reservation information to banking 
and insurance transactions to engineering and architectural design. 
These sorts of data transfers, combined with cultural flows, have 
created a system dominated by multinational companies. "The essential 
point is that an entire broadcast, information, and cultural system, 
privately owned and managed, often helped by government policy but 
mainly dependent on transnational advertising on behalf of corporate 
sponsors (or corporate users in the case of electronic data flows), is 
being set in place. When such a system is consolidated, the utility of 
analyzing the effects of *one* program or medium is futile. The entire 
social mechanism has been transformed into a corporate exhibit or 


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