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Many Voices One World

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar

It is over 40 years since the release of the McBride Commission report. The report was presented to UNESCO’s then Director-General Amadou-Mahtar M’Bow in April 1980.

Some of us joined the profession about the time the Commission was constituted. The New World Information and Communication Order, or NWICO, was the talk among professionals at the time as also with developing country governments.

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It being a volatile period, with the Bay of Pigs crisis of the sixties bringing the two super powers to the brink, Vietnam and the Korean wars, and the Cold War, the debate on the NWIO got somewhat drowned in the din.

Nasser, Nehru and Tito, leaders of non-aligned movement (NAM)

Information in troubled times

The late seventies and eighties were periods of heated debate over the discrimination against the third world in the manner of communication and information flow that were also viewed as a legacy of colonialism and exploitation, notably of the least developed countries.

The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) discussed the issue in every forum it could think of. And it came to be discussed in the UN system through the Paris-based UNESCO, which constituted the Sean McBride Commission in 1977 with members drawn from 15 countries and with 50 offices across the world to collect views, discuss issues and address concerns.

McBride,a nobel laureate, peace and human rights activist.

McBride apt choice 

There could not have been a better choice than the Irishman McBride, a Nobel laureate and peace and human rights activist, to look at the real or perceived communication imbalances and information flow among and between regions and countries, and economic blocs. 

The Commission completed its deliberations in three years and presented its reporttitled ‘Many Voices One World’, thought of as apt at the time, at UNESCO’s 21st General Conference in Belgrade.

Unnecessary storm 

While the western world viewed the NWIO with scorn and as an unnecessary storm in the tea cup, the McBride Commission did look at key issues of monopoly holdings by media businesses and the legitimate point by the third world over news slants, and at exploitative and deliberate attempts of information imposition on poor and impoverished nations of Africa, Latin America and parts of Asia. 

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The outcry by the poor and underdeveloped third world was understandable, more so as most were newly emerging independent countries and wanted to fiercely guard the hard-fought battles from their former imperialist masters. 

India in vanguard 

India was among those who took the issue to major international forums of the time.

India was, in fact, in the vanguard of this movement and strongly supported initiatives such as the third world and non-aligned news pools.

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The Cold War and the polarity of powers also contributed to forceful pulls for and against a free press, with governments resisting and doing everything possible against being drawn into the vortex of pressures from the dominance of the Western media.

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There can be no denying that it was in the interest of the developing world, at least for those who had dictatorial tendencies and autocratic regimes, to raise voices against complete and total freedom to the press, albeit the monopolistic hold of big business over news was neither in the best interest of anyone.

We have come a long way from those troubled and difficult times. The world today is more complex, if not complicated.

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To say that the media is totally free, yes even in the so-called free, democratic societies, would not be true. Monopolistic and cross-holdings still rule the roost in several parts and regions across the world.

The media scene has undergone a sea change. The change has been revolutionary, no doubt.Thepress has moved on. From newspapers, radio and TV, the advent of the digital revolution has brought us to where we have Internet TV, web-based news portals, and social media and Apps as vehicles of news delivery. Marshall McLuhan was right. The medium is the message.

While there still are many voices, the world is not one. It never was.

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"

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