International visitors learn about freedom of the press

Katie Roupe

JMC Professor Tim Smith speaks to participants of the Akron International Friendship program about access to information and the First Amendment. KATIE ROUPE | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: John Proppe

International members of the Akron International Friendship program visited Kent State yesterday to learn about America’s First Amendment and access to information.

The Akron International Friendship program is part of the Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. The participants, from Cambodia, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Uganda are touring America for 22 days learning about ethical standards of conduct in government and business.

Tim Smith, professor of journalism and mass communication, led the lecture highlighting the press’ ability to publish and access information.

An area of main concern to the international visitors was Voice of America, an international broadcast funded by the U.S. government. Smith said even though the broadcast is created for international people, Americans rarely investigate what their government is saying about them and their country.

“I think in terms of accountability, it may be worse that Americans don’t have access to what the government is telling the outside world about their country,” said Barisoth Sek, director of Anti-Corruption Coordinated Action Program in Cambodia.

Syed Mayed Ali Zaidi, chief reporter of Pakistan’s English daily, The News, shared his concerns about the news content of U.S. journalism.

“It looks very bad when you see a van in a pond on the news,” Ali Zaidi said. “There are more important things to cover.”

Smith said because they have a visual, journalists run stories such as a basic car accident. He said this type of journalism could increase because of changes in news coverage. CNN now encourages viewers to send in their own footage or pictures of events. Smith said this could become a problem.

“There isn’t any filtering,” Smith said. “It’s just, we’ve got the video, let’s put it on the air. You can report what you want to report, when you want to report it.”

Even though most information is available to Americans because of the Freedom of Information Act, there are some stipulations that require information to remain confidential. Because of this, sometimes only part of a document may be released to the public. Usually journalists report on the information available, Smith said. However, Ali Zaidi argued that in his country, Pakistan, this wouldn’t be allowed.

“We can just not run parts of information, we need to report on the whole thing,” Ali Zaidi said. “The people should be able to be in confidence, once something has leaked. People should have the whole report, so they can make up their minds.”

Ali Zaidi said he felt the American media was too focused on visuals and personal lives than on what was really important.

“I’ve seen that the media in the United States highlights private lives,” Ali Zaidi said. “I think the media has the role of covering corruption, but not the lives of private people.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Katie Roupe at [email protected].