Human rights organizations dealt with the awkward challenge of the [MacBride] commission's report [on Western information technologies] by ignoring it. The mainstream media and the Reagan administration, in contrast, attacked. A "freak, rotten as a whole," one Reuters executive called the report. The "right to be heard" would "impose on newspapers and broadcasters the obligation to give [away] space or airtime," thus interfering with freedom of the press, the New York Times argued. To Elliott Abrams, the report was an "ideological assault on the very free press values which UNESCO is mandated to defend." These attacks were part of a far broader onslaught against a South struggling to rewrite the economic and political rules of the global order. The "free flow" was largely a code word for commercialization. As H.L. Mencken observed, "Freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one."

From the perspective of the MacBride Commission, Reagan-style democratization was about pulling people from diverse societies into transnational webs, already existing networks in which Americans and other Westerners could feel comfortable—and moral. As the nations of the South continued to resist economic and cultural incorporation into a global market system on Western terms, the West, the commission concluded, was increasingly portraying the South as a world of despots, torturers, and terrorists, a veritable wasteland of backward cultures and brutal regimes. Of all news reports, on the South disseminated in the North, 50 percent focused on violence, disaster, backwardness, follies, excesses, and other negatives: the equivalent for the developed countries was under 10 percent.

Such portrayals of the South served powerful interests in Washington and Europe, for an atrocity-ridden South seemed to legitimize a Western helping hand without calling for any transformation of the Western structures of wealth and control. And it could seem that with so many human rights violations all over the world, those few that served Washington's strategic interests were only a small part of the bleak big picture. But the "right to be heard"—promulgated as a human right—challenged the fundamental organization of Western power in the South.

James Peck