Government Controlled Media

A. Government controlled media


Government controlled media can be seen simply to be media that operates in a government controlled environment. There are three main concepts behind media that have emerged from such an environments. Authoritarianism is seen to be the oldest and most pervasive concept, with two modifications in the twentieth century - the Communist and Developmental Concepts.

1. Authoritarian Concept

We can see from this then, that the government, historically has always had some sort of relationship with the press. The Authoritarian concept is viewed as the oldest of media concepts, tracing its roots from the as far back as Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the mid-fifteenth century. With this invention came government limitations and restrictions on something they saw could challenge their authority, as it ended church and state monopoly on knowledge.

According to Hachten, the basic principle of authoritarianism is the press is always subject to the direct of implied control of the state or sovereign. Diversity of views is seen as wasteful and irresponsible, harmful to the country's development. Under this system, the press are allowed to gather and publish news, but the news must be for 'the good of the state', and should not criticize authority or challenge the leadership in any way.

Eighteenth -century Englishman, Dr. Samuel Johnson gives a valid reason for this: "Every society has a right to preserve public peace and order, and therefore a good right to prohibit the propagation of opinions which have a dangerous tendency (Hachten, 16)."

In Uganda, a country attempting to convert from such an environment to one of 'free press', this system is still very much in effect. John Macarthur's 1991 article, "Slouching toward Freedom in Uganda" details the difficulty press in 'developing' countries encounter when trying to implement 'free press' ideologies.

In his article, he details a number of cases where journalists were arrested and charged for comments that here, would stir no concern. Three journalists who asked visiting Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda 'impertinent' questions, - one of whom asked whether the aging Kaunda did not feel it was time to step down and hand power over to a younger person - were imprisoned. William Pike, editor of New Vision, a government-run paper, told Macarthur in an interview, "...we have to follow the government lines in editorials. It would be absurd for the government to publish a newspaper that contradicted its policies (Media Reader 313)." Pike sums up the problem simply,"You're having an evolution of press freedom here. It's a political struggle. We have to establish the boundaries and rights of the press. I don't think you can go from complete dictatorship and terror to pure democracy overnight." The situation is further complicated by other worries. Pike says also, "...there's no point in getting upset about just one thing like press freedom [when there are so many other problems] (Hachten, 313) ."

2. Communist Concept

The Communist concept is seen by some as a variation of the authoritarian one. This was a theory advocated mainly by Lenin. According to Lenin, mass media controlled and directed by the Communist Party could concentrate on the task of nation building by publishing news relating to the entire society's policies and goals as determined by the top party leadership. There were three main aspects of this press:

a. The press was to be one-party,

b. It was to control both incoming an outgoing news,

c. The news was to be 'positive' information that furthered party goals, rather than reflecting the interests of the people,

d. It was to be used as a means of exercising control over the people, along with the secret police.

This concept has declined in practice extensively. The Chernobyl Nuclear Accident in April 1986, heralded a change, Hachten writes, as the Soviet was forced to publish negative news about its activities in the face of competition from western media. In 1988, the Soviet Union stopped jamming broadcasts on foreign radio waves. Border censorship of publications has also ended. This 'new' form of media is not completely free from the shadow of its past however.

As Roger Cohen reported in the New York Times, Dec. 1992, "Journalism has been reinvented in Eastern Europe as a craft involving independence and objectivity, but politicians remain uneasy and sometimes ruthless about the new press freedom."

3. Developmental Concept

In a way somewhat similar to John Martin's and Anju Chaudhary's media division by economic wealth (Comparative Mass Media Systems 1983,)Hachten's development concept is applied mainly to 'underdeveloped', or poorer countries that are lacking in media and other technological resources. Central tenets of this perspective are:

a) All instruments of mass communication should be mobilized to assist the government in nation building, fighting illiteracy and poverty, building a political consciousness and helping in economic development),

b) Media should support government, rather than challenge it,

c) Information, like in authoritarianism concept, flows from the top down,

d) Individual rights and other civil liberties are ranked low importance compared to larger problems of poverty, illiteracy, disease and ethnicity,

e) Each country has a right to restrict the flow of news between its borders as well as foreign journalists. Hachten describes this concept as an attempt on the part of poorer countries to limit the flow of information they receive from the western world threatening traditional cultures, as well as an attempt to have some control over news content about themselves. He further states that this trend too appears to be a dying one, citing examples such as the move of much of S. America including Brazil, Argentina and Chile, from dictatorships to democracies in the 1980's.