Page Text


Price: £3


Free papers or a free press




India’s boundless ambitions

The United States will attend the Aero India defence show next month, hoping to profit from India’s hunger for military equipment; it wants to make India a counterweight to China. The relationship between China, India and the US is ill-defined; in a region that bristles with weapons, India also will have to contend with Japan and Russia.

ANTONI TAPIES: ‘Fingermarks on a newspaper’ (detail), 1975


MIT RAINA, who is a student at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, said: “An elephant can run very fast.” He inclined his head slightly as he spoke, as many Indians do. His fellow students agreed with him and all were convinced that India would sooner or later resume its place in the world. They were more divided over whether the Indian elephant could overtake the Chinese dragon, yet all dreamed of power. Indian civilisation once rivalled China and was pre-eminent in Asia; in 1700 it led the world financially (1). Yet by 1820 its share of global income had fallen from 22.6% to 15.7%, half that of China (which then followed it into decline). By 1980 India, with 3.4% of global income, and China, with 5%, had been marginalised. China has now shown that a country can bounce back and India wants to catch up as fast as it can. India has decided to throw in its lot with the United States in a spirit of pragmatism rather than any ideological conviction (2). Navtej Singh Sarna, foreign ministry spokesman, in his 1960s Soviet-style office in New Delhi, said carefully: “The US is the dominant superpower, so it is logical that we should seek to develop good relations with it.” This normalisation follows decades of non-alignment spent in the diplomatic shadow of the Soviet Union and resented by the US. India’s trade with the US rose to almost 11% of the Indian total in 2005-6; trade with Russia, which was formerly its main partner, was only just over 1%. India wants a lot more. Stunned by the speed with which the economy of China has taken off (3), India makes no secret of its desire to utilise its new relationship with the US to attract the investment that it lacks. In 2005 foreign direct investment (FDI) into China rose to $72.4bn; India’s FDI was only $6.6bn, although this may be an underestimate, since not all capital movements are recorded. The Indian government did proudly point out that it received 40% of FDI in information technology in developing countries, while China had only 11%. Even so, an abyss separates them. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has copied China’s example: among other measures it has set up special, near taxfree economic zones, waived social protection and lowered customs duties. These measures have yielded results. There has been investment in IT services and in cars; in November 2006 Renault announced the construction of an assembly plant. The major supermarkets — Wal-Mart, Tesco, Carrefour — are planning to move in: who cares if the arrival of their vast stores kills local businesses and overwhelms landscapes that have so far been spared the monotonous urbanisation of the West? “Modernisation” is under way. The US leads the investors, followed by the island tax haven of Mauritius, Britain, Japan and South Korea.

HE press is in crisis; the worst crisis in its history. For the past three years newspapers and news magazines in France, including Le Monde diplomatique, and almost everywhere in the world have been steadily losing readers. Their delicate economic balance is upset, their survival threatened and, with it, the democratic right to express a range of opinions. What is to blame for this depressing state of the press? First, the rise and rise of “free” newspapers. The “free” is a lie since it leads some readers to believe that news costs nothing, whereas “free” papers are paid for by an advertising levy that is incorporated in the price of everything else they buy. In just a few years these publications have shot to the top of the circulation tables. As a result many people have stopped buying daily papers and advertisers are turning to the “free” papers instead. Sales on the newsstands and advertising are the two main sources of a newspaper’s revenue; the third is subscriptions. Then there is the internet, which is revolutionising every aspect of cultural life — music, publishing, cinema, television — as well as the media. It is significant that the international news channel France 24 was launched first on the web and only later on cable and satellite. People turn more and more to the internet for news and information and some have stopped buying newspapers. They too, like those who read the “free” papers, have deserted the newsstands, many of which have then been forced to close down with a corresponding reduction in sales of all newspapers and periodicals (1). The internet is attractive, access to many sites is free, people can express their own opinions in their own way on blogs and it is easy to exchange ideas on everything under the sun. But this increase in freedom must be weighed against some contrary considerations. There is the disturbing fact that many groups that have engaged through the internet in intense, internal debate in a spirit of democratic participation, have been crushed, reduced to impotence or self-destruction. The researcher Eric Klinenberg in the United States has noted that the internet used to be remarkable for many new sites expressing a wide range of political opinions, yet the

most popular sites are now controlled by the most powerful media groups. This means that, as always in the history of communications, whenever a new medium appears — from newspapers in 18th century to the independent radio stations of the 1970s and the internet today — it begins by extending the boundaries of free speech, only to be taken over and tamed by the money men. Reader profiles based on search engine utilisation are now being sold to businesses keen to target potential consumers more effectively. In France, control of the mass media is concentrated in the hands of a few industrial and financial groups, including two arms manufacturers, Lagardère (via Hachette) and Dassault (via Socpresse). This disturbing fact should prompt members of the public to rally round and support the independent press, including Le Monde diplomatique. You will recall that our magazine is owned jointly by the Le Monde group (51%) and by our readers and production team (49%). This is extremely rare in the press, not only in France but in the world, and it guarantees complete independence from all the powers that be, political, media or financial. This peculiar feature is highly prized in other countries and has been instrumental in allowing us to expand our international editions, of which there are now some 60 in more than 30 languages. This is unique in the world press but it has not prevented a decline in sales in France itself, sales on which the financial balance of the paper depends. In the media battle ahead Le Monde diplomatique is counting on the loyalty of its readers and a large association of readers’ groups (the Friends of Le Monde diplomatique). But it is also taking a number of initiatives, starting in February: while it remains more than ever committed to fact-based journalism, the editorial content will contain substantial innovations. This is meant as a signal to readers, a call to rally round and take action. To subscribe to Le Monde diplomatique is the best way to show your support for a free press, free speech and independent journalism.

Continued on page 2


Why an alternative world trade system is possible page 3 Middle East: the new Sunni-Shia struggle for supremacy page 4 Palestine: Hamas’s real long-term strategy revealed page 5 EU: forget the ghosts and deal with Russia as it is now page 6 Nicaragua: migrants overwhelm its neighbouring states page 8 Ecuador: can an unknown leader turn the country around? page 10 Brazil: the state run from inside its prisons page 11 Rwanda: France disputes the genesis of the genocide page 12 The fight to clean up the dirty legacy of asbestos page 14 Archaeology’s unglamorous gift to all our futures page 16


(1) The number of press sales points in France has dropped from 36,000 to 28,000 in only a few years.