As the world order shifts from west to east – so is the measure of what has for decades been the required yardstick for determining “democratic” countries.
Europe and North America, for years the epitome of the so called free societies, are keeping out any media considered hostile to them, branding them as “fake news”.
From 2006 when a French RFI radio office was closed down in Rwanda, the country never misses appearance on annual reports of groups charged with promoting the west’s agenda of free press. And when a Kinyarwanda language broadcast of the BBC was switched off, the uproar became even more hostile.
European and North American governments are passing laws and issuing legally binding directives that are blocking media from outside their borders from covering their internal politics. Yet when small countries outside this circle try to do so, such action is regarded as attack on press freedom.
This week French President Emmanuel Macron announced he will introduce a new law to curb what he calls “fake news”, a policy observers say is aimed at curtailing the expanding power of Russian and Chinese media. Qatar broadcaster Aljazeera is also a target of the emerging changes, according to available data.
Until recently, the global airwaves were dominated by coverage from western publications and broadcasters like Britain’s BBC, America’s VOA, Canadian CBC, German’s Deutsche Welle and France’s RFI. Then came those that operate as private but push the west’s agenda like CNN and several newspapers.
In November last year, the Russian government brought into law a new measure requiring foreign media outlets to register as “foreign agents”. The action was in direct response to what Moscow said is unacceptable U.S. pressure on Russian media operating on American soil.
Earlier, the United States had changed its goalposts, requiring Russia’s biggest international broadcasters to re-register and operate under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The law essentially puts the monitoring of these media under the spy agencies, and not the mainstream media supervisory agencies.
The Americans allege the measures were a reaction to Russian “interference” in their elections. UK, Germany and France have made the same accusations – which Moscow has ignored.
In the US, Aljazeera had to close after less than five years operating the Aljazeera America brand after Pay TV distributors made it too expensive to be hosted on their bouquets. The system basically made it too costly for Aljazeera to stay.
More setbacks emerged for Aljazeera in Canada back in 2003. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission imposed requirements that would have forced cable and satellite companies to monitor and be responsible for any content viewed to be inflammatory or anti-Semitic. As a result, no company agreed to carry the Arabic language channel.
Since 2009, Aljazeera English International operates in Canada under strict conditions, and the Commission made it clear it would be “predisposed” to approve the network’s right to broadcast in Canada “absent clear evidence … that (it) would violate Canadian regulations, such as those regarding abusive comment.”
In the United Kingdom, since February last year, the Committee on Culture, Media and Sport in the House of Commons has been on the attack against what it calls “fake news”. It holds constant hearings where foreign broadcasters are called all kinds of names.
It does not stop within the western super powers. Recently, other European countries such as Poland, Romania have passed laws targeting foreign media, accusing them of undermining internal security.
Media becomes fake news when it is in the west but becomes a press freedom issue for the poor nations, argues Cleophas Barore, Chairman of Rwanda Media Commission – a media self-regulatory body.
“These super powers are curtailing foreign media in a new game of protectionism,” he says, adding: “By doing so, they want to monitor and regulate which information would go outside their territories.”
For Barore if these countries opt to it this way, there should be no unwarranted criticism against other regions also trying to protect themselves against ‘fake news’.
For the case of the BBC Kinyarwanda relay, whose broadcasts were found to negate the 1994 genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda and subsequently switched off, the action was termed ‘scandalous’.
“The latest ‘fake news’ trend should be a clear indicator that every country needs to stand firm when it comes to protecting its sovereignty,” said Barore.