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William F. Fore

Balance and Freedom in the News

VTR Date: August 2, 1984

Guest: Fore, William F.

READ FULL TRANSCRIPT

THE OPEN MIND
Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: William Fore
Title: “Balance and Freedom in the News”
AIR: 9/5/84

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND. I happen to have two particularly good, media-wise friends, both of whom I respect a great deal, like a great deal, and know to be careful, responsible, reasonable, and particularly concerned believers in our American tradition of free expression of ideas. And yet they differ, I know, on some quite vital aspects of an enormously compelling question that faces all of us involved with the free flow of ideas and information in our nation as well as between nations. Sometimes that question becomes whether the low of ideas and information should be balanced or free, and no amount of goodwill or good words will enable us simply to ignore or to pass over that continuing dichotomization. So what I’ve done now is to prepare two programs – one for today, the other for next week – putting more or less the same questions to both our guest experts in the media so that we can compare and evaluate their respective points of view. And today’s guest is Dr. William Fore, the Assistant General Secretary for Communications of the National Council of Churches.

Dr. Fore, thank you for joining me today.

FORE: Thank you, Richard.

HEFFNER: I hope that you will not only listen and watch yourself, but our succeeding guest too, and see where you two disagree. I think that probably the best thing for me to do is to say the same thing to you that I’m going to say to Lou Boccardi, namely, that we come one to these questions largely because, in developing countries, there is so much pressure now for what is called a “new world information order.” One that presumably will be fairer to smaller developing nations. And I wonder what you response has been to that new information order?

FORE: Well, that’s exactly what the genesis is of the new information order. As you know, after the Second World War, dozens, and then scores, of nations achieved their political independence, and soon discovered that they had only exchanged political independence for some kind of economic dependency. They have begun to throw off that kind of economic dependency on the First World only to discover now that maybe they’re still being victims of some kind of information colonialism. As these Third World nations seek a greater measure of justice and their own self-determination, they have begun to express this where they best can, of course, which is in the United Nations and in UNESCO, calling not only for a new economic order, which would be more fair to them and which would not break down the economic monopolies; but now, as they become more sophisticated, calling for a new information and communication order which would do precisely the same thing: break down the information monopolies which the First World has managed to impose on most of the Third World.

HEFFNER: And yet, seemingly, the techniques that they’re using, at least as perceived by many journalists in this country, have to do not with freedom but with oppression; have to do not with freedom but limitation.

FORE: Certainly that’s quite true. I just spent two weeks in the Philippines about a month ago, and I’m very well aware of the way regimes can oppress the people in terms of a control, in the case of the Philippines, a control over the media which is very subtle, very clever, by the way. It’s not governmental censorship. For lack of a better term, I would say there it’s kind of cronyism. Mr. Marcos has both his relatives, literally – his daughter owns a television station, his son owns a television station, and his very closest friends own all the rest of the television stations – and so there’s no censorship, it just that, you know, we just all get together and we say the right thing. That’s a subtle form of censorship that is a serious problem. So I grant you that many Third World countries misuse and abuse freedom of expression. That doesn’t necessarily gainsay the argument that there should be quite a different kind of opportunity for the Third World to have an equal chance, equal opportunity if you will, with the First World, which they do not now have.

HEFFNER: Do you think that it is possible – and I think that’s the key question – that it’s really possible to combine, to join together, have it one time, that economic flow of information access here and join it with the kind of balance and the kind of fairness that comes for regulation? Do you think those two things go together? They don’t in our experience.

FORE: No, it’s very difficult. I think you have just described what are probably the two polarities of this: One is the economic determination which goes on, and in our system that’s very important, and rightly so. But in our system, as well as most of the rest of the First World, that is balanced with countervailing power of governmental regulation of one kind or another. And it’s those two things in balance, constantly pushing back and forth, that finally determine just how open and free our own society is in terms of communication. You know, the marketplace of ideas, just like the economic marketplace, I think, naturally tends towards monopoly, not towards freedom. That is to say, towards larger and larger conglomerates and controls over economics and over information. And the only way you can countervail against that in our kind of democracy is to have government step in and break down the monopolies, as we broke down the economic monopolies with the old Sherman Antitrust Act, and all that, and as the FCC, until recently, has striven to keep the broadcast industry from developing into a total monopoly. Now, we’re in a very serious situation right now with the FCC proposing to deregulate and to allow any stations and even networks to buy more and more stations, which I think would tend to centralize control in this country. But nevertheless, the point is that there’s always those two polarities. And you’re quite right in saying that. They do exist side by side in our country, and in England, and the rest of the First World. The problem is how to get them to exist side by side internationally where you do not have an international rule of law, where you don’t have a world democracy of all the nations. This is why the only place that the Third world nations have been able to go for some kind of recourse, of course, is to the United Nations. And when UNESCO began to listen seriously to these calls for justice, that was when the United States began to cry foul, and that it’s going to result in control and licensing of journalists and has threatened, therefore, to pull out of the United Nations.

HEFFNER: Now, out of UNESCO.

FORE: Out of UNESCO, yes. Sorry.

HEFFNER: But it’s interesting. I hear what you’re saying, and I hear the emphasis you put upon those words, and you are saying them in a way that is almost demeaning. And I know you’re not that kind of person, so you must feel very strongly that our position is not felt as we feel it for good reasons, but for bad ones.

FORE: That’s right. I think there’s a good deal of duplicity going on and ambivalence in our attitude towards UNESCO. I think that the press, regrettably, has failed to report, by and large, what the real issues are in the new world information order as it has been discussed in UNESCO.

HEFFNER: What are they?

FORE: The real issues are the need for doing away with monopoly control over the press, which is primarily maintained by the United States in the news and information areas at the present time. It’s hard to try to seek an equality of opportunity for the flow of information that monopoly does not allow for. It seeks to try to develop a much better infrastructure of communication within the Third World nations which they do not now have. In other words: equal justice. That’s the issue. And every time it’s been reported in the US press, it’s been reported in terms of censorship, threats to First Amendment rights, attempts to license journalists. As a matter of fact, the UNESCO debates have never ever seen a proposal by any one of the member nations or by the Secretary General, and certainly never approved in UNESCO at any time in all of this debate, any proposal to license journalists. And yet you would think, reading the US press, that this was the primary issue.

HEFFNER: Dr. Fore, I hear you very clearly. Is there a down side to that position? Have you no concern? Have you none of the concerns that are shared by journalists in this country?

FORE: Oh, yes. Of course. The concern we started with. I see what can happen in governmental misuse and abuse of the press.

HEFFNER: In the Philippines?

FORE: Well, and in Brazil, where I was recently. And in many other places. That’s not to say that we don’t have a great deal of in justice in the area of Third World nations as well as First World nations, to some considerable extent. I think what is important is that we understand what the real issues are in the UNESCO debate, in the McBride Report, which has been almost not reported in this country, and yet has been widely reported throughout Europe. I think it’s important that we stay in UNESCO. The United States was quite happy to stay in and work in UNESCO until they began to count the votes time after time, and discovered that we found ourselves in the minority, at which time we then complained that it was being politicized. Well, what really happened was, it was always politicized. Any kind of political entity is. I think that what was that when the United States began to be on the short end of that politicalization, that we began to cry foul. What should we do, if we truly believe in the democratic process, is stay in there, even if we don’t like the decisions, and work as hard as we can to change those decisions to our liking.

HEFFNER: Yes, but, Dr. Fore, just to pursue this, you talk about politicalization. We’re not talking now about Democrats and Republicans. We’re not talking about who will occupy the White House for four years and then someone else, or the other party, or another party, will for another four years. Aren’t we talking about very fundamental ideas that, in terms of our tradition, really can’t be compromised because they are so much of the warp and the woof of our ideology?

FORE: Well, I think…

HEFFNER: Free speech, free press, free thought.

FORE: You’re talking about free speech and free press. I think we are talking about those issues, but it’s very important for us to examine what are the fundamental bases of those words, those terms. Because, after all, they’re terms that are used many different ways, and I fear, many times, in an uninformed way, and even in a misrepresentative way. It seems to me that when the founding fathers established the concept of freedom of the press, the First Amendment, that Madison said it very well, that this was the purpose of freedom of the press, was, what, not so the press could be free, but so the individual citizen could make decisions, informed decisions, in order to keep the democratic process functioning. The purpose of free press was to maintain democracy. Now, I think that a case can be made that when you reach a situation where, for some reason such as the cronyism in the Philippines, or economic monopoly control as it’s beginning to develop in this country, that so much control over the press is centralized to the point where there really is no way for the citizen to become informed adequately. At that point, the government has a positive responsibility, Constitutional responsibility, to move in and try to open up that system, to free it up in a way that does away with the monopoly and allows genuine free flow of information again.

HEFFNER: But isn’t that precisely what our journalists have been saying? This historian, The Times, in late July: “Journalists Find Growing Difficulty in Getting into Much of Third World.” Another story: “Licensing of Latin Journalists Gives Rise to Growing Fears.” Fears basically, that the decisions that Madison’s ideal citizen could make based upon real information can’t be made because of this requirement for licensing…

FORE: That’s quite right.

HEFFNER: …for the balance that these Third World developing countries want to impose upon the free flow.

FORE: Yes. Let’s take the example you gave first, because it’s quite true that journalists are increasingly finding it difficult to even get into Iran, to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to cover those situations. And, I might add, into Grenada when we invaded it. These are serious, serious problems. This is a serious problem. It’s a bit ironic that that problem existed even back into the 1960s and in that time it was some of the US press people in UNESCO who were the first people to initiate a suggestion that it be considered that there be some kind of licensing process worldwide in order to force countries, you see, to accept, a truly licensed journalist. Now, the plan never, ever got going. But it was from the United States’ perspective that there was the first suggestion that maybe licensing would solve that problem. A little bit ironic that now they’re objecting to this licensing on the other basis. Now, I’m not suggesting we have licensing, but look what could have happened had there been licensing, and all of these countries that were referring to this paper, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and so on, were required to take across their borders any licensed journalist. Then they would no longer have the option of rejecting them because they didn’t like the company that they came from. So there are two sides even to that issue.

HEFFNER: There are always two sides, at least, or three, or four, or ten. But before you claim “Gotcha” to these people, or I claim “Gotcha” to you, how do you feel about the question of licensing?

FORE: Yes.

HEFFNER: If there is licensing, presumably, your friends in the Third World can help themselves to more favorable reporting by not licensing the AP, the UPI, the New York Times reporters…

FORE: I don’t think licensing will work for several reasons. First of all, there is no objective standard. And it could be misuses even in the licensing process. Second, no country, even if they’re a member of UNESCO, is required to abide by those regulations.

HEFFNER: What do you mean? If you’re not licensed, and can’t get into a country, you’re abiding by those regulations.

FORE: The journalist is; but the country doesn’t have to let you in. My point is it wouldn’t solve the problem that the journalists, the legitimate problem the journalists have. I think the way we’re going to get at that problem is to report the issues of the Third World more accurately and objectively in the long run.

HEFFNER: By whose standards, Dr. Fore?

FORE: Well, there are no objective standards on this. But if you have a huge – not just a few voices – but hundreds, thousands of informed voices, people – not the Marcos people – but the Minister of Information of Tunisia, a respected, concerned person for frights and freedom, “Look, the Western press, and particularly the United States, is giving a picture to their own people and to the rest of the world that is simply so lopsided” – and I site this very lopsided coverage of the press’ own coverage of its own issue in the new world information order, which it did not report adequately – “if these is that much smoke, there must be some fire.” And I think that a number of journalists are beginning to take this seriously. Look, there’s a Third World press agency called Interpress. And five years ago there was no way to get some of that Third World news into the United States, into the New York Times, the Washington Post, and so on. They just didn’t hear it. They didn’t get this kind of news because it didn’t come on AP and UPI. Today, this Interpress operation is being subscribed to by dozens of the better newspapers in the United States, and they’re beginning to get some of the Third World perspective and concern into their reporting. That’s progress, I think.

HEFFNER: That is progress, and it’s a very positive point. But…

FORE: But it wouldn’t have happened if UNESCO hadn’t raised these issues.

HEFFNER: Yeah, but you talk, let’s say, about President Marcos. You say, “I don’t mean Marcos; I don’t mean the Philippines. It’s bad over there. I do mean Tunisia.” Our tradition has been, don’t mean anyone, just keep your hands off the press because today it’s Bill Fore who doesn’t like someone else. Our only tradition, and the one that we embrace and continue to embrace, is that, forget the idea of limiting anyone at anytime, and you go…

FORE: Right.

HEFFNER: …you share the bad with the good. And how can you avoid that?

FORE: I would advocate that with all my heart and soul.

HEFFNER: Except.

FORE: No. What I would do is, simply, more is better. I want to open up the channels. All I want to do is try to get rid of the monopoly kinds of control that constrict the channels.

HEFFNER: Do you open them up…

FORE: And I think a case can be made that AP and UPI today have a real throttlehold on 80 percent of the world’s news around the world, not just in the United States. It’s really very impressive when you read in the Philippine newspapers what’s going on in Africa and Asia, and it always has the AP by-line. It’s being channeled through the eyes, minds and perception, not of Africans and Asians, but of the AP.

HEFFNER: Yes, but do you deal with that problem, Dr. Fore, by licensing…

FORE: No.

HEFFNER: …by embracing the Third world penchant now for licensing?

FORE: Certainly not. Ah, I think that’s a misstatement. The Third World…

HEFFNER: Why is it a misstatement?

FORE: The Third World nations in UNESCO, not one of them has proposed the licensing of journalists. It simply is not what’s going on in UNESCO.

HEFFNER: Which are the countries that are licensing or that are moving in that direction?

FORE: I don’t know any. I don’t want to be disingenuous. There are no countries that… There are no countries that, the way the Third World – as well as our own, incidentally – keep journalists out that they don’t like is just to not let them in the country.

HEFFNER: Ah! Well…

FORE: If that’s what you mean by licensing, that’s very effective.

HEFFNER: How about that, now? We don’t…

FORE: But we do that to Canadians that we don’t like when they come down to a peace conference and we don’t let them in the United States.

HEFFNER: That’s a strange reply, that we do that. And when we do it…

FORE: Well, I’m not trying to justify it. I just don’t like it. I think it’s reprehensible.

HEFFNER: And when Third World countries keep out, a very effective way of licensing…

FORE: That’s terrible. That’s terrible. And if we got some kind of UNESCO document to which they all finally subscribe, or that a majority subscribe to, including the First World, I think it would help our case with those, if I could use the term, bad countries, wherever they are, First World, Third World, it doesn’t matter. What we need, once again, is to get rid of any kind of control including, first, government, we just described, but, second, economic, about which we are very, very quiet in the United States. And that’s a powerful form of economic control ends up being government control?

HEFFNER: Isn’t the dilemma, though, that what you are suggesting as the means of getting rid of economic control ends up being government control?

FORE: Ah, no. We certainly don’t want that either. What we need, in my judgment, are simple, intrusion of government only at the point where it breaks up monopoly. That says nothing about telling anybody what to say or do, but it does say that you cannot, as an entity, as a corporate entity, control and dominate the news flow from one place to another.

HEFFNER: Does that mean, Dr. Fore, that an AP or UPI or a New York Times or an L.A. Times, a Chicago Tribune representative should be kept out? Or, in your estimation, that you would accept, maybe reluctantly, but accept the notion that A and B and C and D, that they are kept away from, out of, the Third World country because the practical result of their entry is that more people read what they report?

FORE: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. What I would do, in many cases, take another area which has to do with the satellite, parking spaces and satellite frequencies, which are soon not going to be available to the Third World because the First World is doing its best to grab them up first, on a first-come-first-served basis. The solution to that, I think, is simply to have some planning, where we say to all nations, everybody gets some frequencies and parking orbits for these satellites, and if the United States can use more of them now, and let’s say Colombia or some place, Venezuela, can’t use theirs you can work a deal with Colombia or Venezuela to use theirs, but pay them for it. And if they ever demand – this is in addition to your own in the United States – and if Venezuela or Colombia ever gets to the place where they want to use their satellite orbit and parking space, then they have the reserve right to sue that. But you see, the way we’re going, and when we talk about, quote, “free”, close quote, flow here, is it’s the freedom – I think I’ve said this before – it’s the freedom of the fox in the chicken coop. And that makes the fox very happy, as long as he’s completely free, and so are the chickens are completely free, makes the chickens a little bit concerned. And what I’m calling for is, in effect, a rule of law, which allows everyone equal opportunity. Now, this would not prevent a newsperson from going to a country. What it would prevent is a corporate entity from maintaining a monopoly control of anything, whether it’s the cables to a country or the satellite to the country or just the new flow from that country to the rest of the world.

HEFFNER: Let me ask a question that I hope is not totally unfair. If you had to pick and choose among the evils that we face…

FORE: Which we usually do.

HEFFNER: And we do, so you, I’m sure, will go along, if not with the question, then with the…

FORE: With the conundrum.

HEFFNER: Well, with the possibility of answering it. Where do you see the greater dangers? In this economic monopoly that you talk about, or in this response on the part of Mr. Marcos in the Philippines and on the part of other Third World countries?

FORE: Yeah. I think, in the long run, that always the greater danger is with governmental control and domination, because once it’s granted, you can never get it back, or at least never easily. The second is, I think, always economic control. And what I’m calling for is really a balance between the two poles, the two polarities that we described earlier, where we put the social, governmental concern as a countervailing force to unfettered economic control. And what I’m asking for is that we just use the governmental constraint to break open monopoly – not restrain speech – but break the monopoly. A good example is the way that we in this country have said that you can’t allow any one corporation to own both a television station and a radio station and a newspaper and a cable company all in the same community. Well, you say, “That’s a constraint on freedom of speech; that should be illegal.” No, it should not be illegal; it should be the natural and effective role of government which keeps the monopoly control of constraint of information at bay.

HEFFNER: We have 20 seconds left. Do you really think that American journalists are misreporting what is going on in the Third World?

FORE: Not consciously, but as part, the fact that they are Americans, they are showing it to us through American eyes. I want to see the world through the eyes of the world.

HEFFNER: Am I glad that we don’t have to deal with the unconscious. Thank you for joining me today, Dr. Fore.

FORE: Thank you.

HEFFNER: Watch Lou Boccardi next week.

FORE: I’ll be very interested to see it.

HEFFNER: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope that you, too, will join us here again next time on The Open Mind. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night, and good luck.”