The world beyond the US borders

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The first spot that the visitors of the Newseum in Washington will find nowadays is a picture and a brief text that aims to honor James Foley’s memory, a freelance American journalist that ISIS claimed to behead this week. Probably they have already added another one for Steven Sotloff, who hasn’t been executed when the WPI 2014 fellows visited the museum.

Today’s Front Pages Gallery and the Pictures of the Year are the most updated exhibitions of the Newseum. For instance a young boy that was burned by a bomb attack in Allepo, Syria, shows the cruelest face of human suffering in conflict contexts, while a big wall is covered with photographs of neglected mental ill patients in Uganda and Ghana.

It seems obvious to expect that a museum of news will be fully committed to provide a long lasting dimension of breaking news, a goal that is clearly achieved in other sections such as the 9/11 gallery, the exhibition about the American Civil War or the one dedicated to recreate the defense of civil rights in 1964.

Nevertheless, the relevance of keeping the contents updated seems to diminish when news take place abroad and do not affect directly the US interests. Or at least seems they don’t.

The Time Warner World News Gallery provides an overview of global news environment with a 36 foot wide map, “annually updated” according to the Newseum’s web page, that paints the world into red, yellow, green or gray depending on the level of freedom of expression and press in each country.

Venezuela is colored in red meaning that is “not free”. No news on that. The country joined the list of risky places to practice journalism many years ago, since President Hugo Chávez targeted private media as one the enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution in the early 2000s. Surprisingly, the Newseum hasn’t taken notes about a fact that took headlines in written press and broadcasted media in Latin American and international media outlets for weeks: President Chávez died in March 5th 2013.

It is not relevant only for the fact itself but for the deterioration of press freedom in Venezuela after his death: three major independent media outlets have been sold to entrepreneurs that are allies to the Government and many newspapers had shutdown their operations because their owners cannot change the local currency (Bolívares) into dollars under the exchange control system for importing paper from international suppliers.

Even though article 57 of Venezuelan Constitution guarantees freedom of expression, journalists are frequently harassed by government officials and have no access to public information or sources. Enforcing arbitrary licensing requirements and approving laws that extend the scope of defamation as a criminal offense or limit the exercise the freedom of expression are common practices in Venezuela.

After visiting the Newseum Sumeera Riaz, the WPI fellow from Pakistan, pointed out that she expected to see at least a mention on the 45000 people that have been killed in Pakistan under the war against terrorism waged by the US since 9/11. She did not find a picture that shows the victims affected by suicide blasts or drones attacks.

Editors from websites, newspapers, television and radio have recognized in meetings in Minnesota and Washington that international news rarely reaches to 30% of their coverage. US citizens and media’s indifference to the impact of US policies in other countries causes a double contradiction: on the one hand, feeds disaffection among political elites and radical groups that claims to rescue their political, ethnic or religious identities undermined by US policies. On the other hand, inhibits US’ capacity to forecast possible threats to their economic, political and security interests in the future.

Remaining ignorant about what happens beyond US borders does not seem to be the best strategy to build a sustainable and balanced foreign policy, based on the value that human dignity and common welfare are legitimated aspirations that rise in every corner of the world.