Journalism fellows discuss media, foreign policy

by Elizabeth Dunbar

A group of foreigners noticed that cows in the United States are milked by machines, demolition derbies involve “guys running their cars into other cars on purpose” and everything is big in Texas.

Journalists representing nine different countries told an audience of approximately 150 at Macalester College on Thursday what they had learned about the United States during their four-month stay.

Everyone laughed as the 2002 World Press Institute fellows shared humorous anecdotes, but the audience listened intently as each criticized aspects of the media, U.S. policy and U.S. apathy toward world issues.

Several of the fellows expressed their specific concerns with the President George W. Bush administration’s crackdown on terrorist activity, which presents possible consequences for the press here and abroad.

Loy Nabeta, a newspaper journalist from Uganda, described how Uganda’s government shut down her newspaper a week ago after allegations that it had published false reports and aided terrorism.

“This is one of the consequences of Sept. 11, (2001)” Nabeta said, explaining that her government now has a wide definition of terrorism. “Even a small country like Uganda can suffer.”

Nabeta said Uganda looks to the United States when deciding what freedoms journalists should have.

“It scares me because in my country they will soon be saying, ‘You see? Even America does that,’ so then they’ll justify it upon us,” she said.

Each year, the World Press Institute at Macalester brings 10 international journalists to the United States to learn about the role of the press in U.S. democracy. At the end of their stay the fellows present their observations based on travel, study and meetings with U.S. journalists.

Indian political reporter Javed Ansari said he learned about the relationship between policies such as the USA Patriot Act – which gives federal officials more authority to track terrorist activity – and policies his government proposes.

Ansari said new anti-terrorism legislation in India would require journalists to reveal their sources and prohibit them from keeping information from the government.

In addition to citing the USA Patriot Act as inspiration for restrictive legislation in other countries, Ansari said the U.S. press isn’t doing its job to question the policies.

“The mainline press is not really covering what they should be. There should be much tougher questioning,” Ansari said. “One is not being unpatriotic if you raise questions.”

Japanese television journalist Ikuko Yuge said she saw a good example of the press failing to question deeper issues on a U.S. television news program. Yuge said journalists talked about a new computer game that featured Saddam Hussein as the villain.

“They were presenting this game as how fascinating and how timely it was and were even laughing about it,” she said. “It’s not a thing to laugh about, and that was something scary that may be beneath this whole issue of Iraq and how the people feel about it.”

Dini Djalal, of Indonesia, said she noticed people’s disinterest in political issues, which concerns her because of her belief that democracy has to be exercised in order to keep it alive.

“I feel that America is now at a point in history when it has a real say in the lives of people like me, thousands of miles away,” she said.

Djalal said that in order to change the government’s policies, people have to be aware of the issues.

“The community that America lives in is the world community, and the world needs a more aware America,” she said.

“Everybody looks to America,” Ansari said, describing his view that the press and the people aren’t doing enough to question the war on terrorism and plans to attack Iraq.

“If you’re going to shrug your shoulders and look the other way,” he said, “then you’re setting a very bad example for the rest of the world.”

Elizabeth Dunbar covers international affairs and welcomes comments at [email protected]