A year ago I heard a story about an American soldier who was fighting in
Afghanistan. One day he was fighting side by side with a member of the
Northern Alliance against the Taliban. Between battles, they took a 10 minute "coffee break" (if you can have a coffee break during work, why can't you have one during war???) and the Northern Alliance fighter spoke candidly, asking, "So why are you Americans here in Afghanistan?"
Our soldier was able to get his hands on the special 9/11 edition of Time Magazine that had photos of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center, and images of people jumping out of the buildings, preferring to take their chances of surviving the fall rather than dealing with the flames swarming their escape routes.
When the Afghan was shown these images, he was shocked as he had no clue about what had happened on 9/11, or that terrorists who trained in
Afghanistan were responsible for it.
It makes sense that he didn't know. Most Afghans didn't have television to watch, radio stations to listen to or uncensored newspapers to read. What news sources they had were controlled by the government (the Taliban at the time) who probably censored the story.
On the opposite end of the news exposure spectrum is the
United States, where we are so saturated by the media via a free press that it is virtually impossible to avoid a major news story and every angle of it.
Mass media in countries around the world are a mix between media controlled by the government and media operating free from the government. The following is a brief history of the public's exposure to information based on governmental control.
Before the printing press, church and state had a monopoly on information passed on to the public. Fearing the power of the printing press, governments imposed limitations and restrictions on what was published. The restrictions were considered to be for "the good of the state," and did not criticize authority or challenge the leadership in any way.
Eighteenth-century Englishman Dr. Samuel Johnson gave 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."
It wasn't until the works of people like John Milton, John Locke, Thomas Jefferson and John Stuart Mill that monopolies on information and the truth were renounced.
With the right number of voices, and without government intrusion, the people would make the right choices (For more on this see: Fredline/grove.ufl.edu). Today, because we have a free press, in our free society, it is up to each individual to discriminate between news sources. Government controlled media, on the other hand, tells individuals the "truth" that the government wants them to know and they have no choice.
Next time you encounter someone from another country sharing his world opinion and it seems out of touch with reality, realize he may have formulated his opinion based on information fed to him by his government. Don't be mad at him, buy him a copy of our constitution and a musket.