From Argentina to Zimbabwe: Patterns of International
News Flow in the Nineties
In the annals of international communication research the seventies
may very well be referred to as the decade of the New World Information Order
(NWIO). The NWIO is a UNESCO sponsored effort to achieve more equalization in
the production and distribution of information between the first world and the
third world. Massive cries from developing countries about the imbalance in
information flow from the North to the South and from the West to the East have
prompted several countries to press for a realignment of information producers
and consumers. This has resulted in NWIO. And, while little empirical evidence
were offered to support the case for the establishment of NWIO, the push was
strong enough to prompt UNESCO through the McBride Commission to issue a report
calling for a re-balancing of information flow between the "have's" and the
"have-not's" of the global media environment (For more on the NWIO debate see
Legum and Cornwell, 1978; Masmoudi, 1979; Stevenson and Cole, 1984a).
The push toward NWIO was driven by three grievances cited in Mowlana
(1986). First, the majority of international news flow vertically from the
developing to the developed nations by the way of dominant Western news
agencies. Second, the United States and Western Europe receive the greater
amount of coverage in the world media while the socialist countries and the
developing nations receive the least. Third, while horizontal news flows do
exist within the developing as well as the developed world, this type of flow
represent only a small fraction of the overall coverage than does vertical flow.
Another concern of proponents of the NWIO is that developing
countries are often portrayed in a stereotypical manner, frequently emphasizing
violent conflict and crisis. Some studies seem to lend support to this
argument. Giffard (1982), for example, found that developing countries are
depicted as somewhat more prone to internal conflicts and crisis; more likely to
be the location for armed confrontation; more often the recipients of disaster
relief or economic and military aid; and more likely to be a place where
criminal activities originate.
Other studies found that the imbalance of news flow is not limited to
the relationship between developed and developing countries. Semmel (1976)
found that the developing nations of the world in general and Scandinavian
countries in particular were largely ignored in the American media. Similar
results were found by Larson (1984) and Fridriksson (1993). These findings
indicate that the quantity or quality of international news flow is not
necessarily correlated with the economic level of a nation or a region.
Several studies were conducted to examine factors that influence the
flow of news globally. Galtung (1971) proposed that there is a
"center-periphery" pattern in the flow of international news. He hypothesized
that news flow primarily from the "center," or dominant countries, to the
"periphery," or dependent regions. This hypothesis was supported by a study by
Kariel and Rosenvall (1984) that found that the "eliteness" of a country as a
news source was the most important criterion for news selection.
A country's "proximity" is another factor forwarded as a likely
explanation for uneven coverage. Rosengren (1970) suggests a correlation
between reader interest and the physical distance between countries. Galtung
and Ruge (1965) postulated that the distance should be conceptualized in terms
of cultural distance or proximity. Other studies that support the elitism and
proximity concepts include Adams (1964), Ostgaard (1965), Hester (1971),
Zaharopoulos (1990) and Cohen (1995).
This study seeks to examine patterns of international news flow by
looking at the data generated from the forty countries participating in the May
phase of the news flow project. Hence, this study is atheoretical and
descriptive in nature. It defines a number of variables that collectively were
included to draw a broad picture of the manifest content of news and the
structure of international news reporting. The main concern of this study is
with the following variables: where the news occurred (dateline), where the news
item originated (source), what countries are in the news, what the news was
about (topic). In addition, I attempt to venture slightly beyond the
descriptive by looking at whether or not the choice of news source is affected
by a country's involvement in the particular news event. Broadly, the aims of
the current paper is to examine the May news flow data guided by these general
1- What countries are featured in the news in the various regions of
2- What is the main source of news for national media outlets around
3- What national datelines are mentioned the most in news stories
featured in the world media?
4- What kinds of topics are covered in stories featured in the world
This study relies on data generated by a worldwide cooperative news
flow project which includes more than forty countries. The project is similar
to all-inclusive descriptive analysis of news content done 17 earlier (Stevenson
and Shaw, 1984). Researchers from 40 countries covering all areas of the globe
coded news stories from their respective countries on May 8 and 9 1995. The
dates were chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the end of World War II in
Europe. The specific media for each country include:
1. The most influential daily newspaper: This would be a serious
daily published in the capital, widely read by government officials and other
elites, and frequently quoted abroad. It may reflect or oppose government
policies or report independently. In the United States, for example, this would
be the New York Times or the Washington Post; in Britain, the newspaper could be
the Times, Guardian, or the Independent.
2. A second leading newspaper: This category includes popular
newspaper with high circulation, an important regional paper, or special
interest paper. In our previous example this would be the Financial Times, Wall
Street Journal, USA today, or Los Angeles Times. Large-circulation tabloids
were excluded in most cases because they carry little international news and
have little influence.
3. The leading daily newscast: This category reflects the
early-evening or prime time national TV news cast with the largest audience. In
a few country this is a radio newscast. In Britain, for example, this includes
the BBC or Channel 4 early evening news or ITN news at Ten; in the United
States, this would be one of the three commercial TV network early evening
4. A second complimentary newscast: This category was included as
applicable to certain countries. For example, some countries have newscasts
that are broadcast in a second language for the benefit of segments of the
population that don't speak the national tongue.
The research design was largely descriptive rather than focused on a
specific and complex issues. And despite its size it was, on the whole, a
rather simple project both conceptually and methodologically. The design was
necessary because of the sheer size of the participating teams and because many
of the teams lacked the resources to carry out a more complex design. In
addition, a simple design was deemed appropriate because a reasonably
comprehensive global inventory of foreign news content characteristics, while
significant to the current international debate, is missing. This macro-level
study of foreign news is a necessary foundation upon which more complex and more
narrowly focused studies can be built.
In addition to the specific media mentioned above, variables used in
this study include the following:
(a) National dateline:
The dateline is the name of the city from which the news story is
reported. If a story has no dateline because it was written locally, it was
assigned the value "not applicable/none."
(b) First country in the news and second country in the news.
As mentioned above, a dateline has a specific geographic reference.
However, sometime stories are written about groups of countries, regions, or
without specific geographic reference. Another problem is that stories
sometimes focus equally on more than one country. If two or more countries are
represented about equally, coders were instructed to look at the headline and
dateline to see which should be considered most important country. If that
wasn't possible, the first country mentioned in the story was coded as the most
important and those listed second were assigned the appropriate value.
(c) First news source.
This variable Identifies the source to which the story is clearly
attributed including national and international news agencies, exchanges and
media outlet own correspondent. More than 40 categories were allowed for source
identification. Categories were grouped to identify different source: 00-09 are
general categories plus national news agencies; codes 10-19 reflect the major
global agencies; and so on.
(d) Main topic.
The categories for this variables are descriptive in nature. They
address the main thrust of the story and attempt to distinguish between politics
and economics. Coders were instructed to choose among 22 possible categories to
code up to three distinct topics. The categories include international
politics, international economics, military, sports, human rights and others.
The main topic is the first among the three possible topics.
(e) Country's involvement in the news.
This is a recoded variable. The original variable "focus of story"
acknowledges that foreign news can take place at home. It includes two elements
-- geographic location of the event and involvement (or lack of it) of the home
country. All stories that take place overseas and those at home with a
substantial international element were included. This resulted in four distinct
1. Foreign dateline; no involvement of own country.
2. Foreign dateline; significant involvement of own country.
3. Domestic dateline; no involvement of own country.
4. Domestic dateline; significant involvement of own country.
A recoded "dummy variable" was created with categories 1 and 3 coded
as 0 (not involved) and categories 2 and 4 coded as 1 (involved).
(f) Event disruptiveness.
This variable distinguishes between stories that emphasize
disruption, conflict, and exceptional events and stories that do not. The code
1 is used for stories that focus on war, natural disasters, accidents,
demonstrations and protests (even when peaceful and legal), crime, violence, and
similar kinds of activities and behavior. The code 2 was used for other types
The following pages include the results of a fairly limited analysis
of the data from the 40 countries who participated in the May phase of the news
flow project. All 40 countries were included in the aggregate analysis.
However, where individual countries are mentioned, the author relied on a sample
of about 20 countries representing the various regions of the world. To include
all countries in an exploratory paper of this sort would probably produce so
many numbers that any sense of their meaning would be lost. The purpose of this
study is to examine in general terms what the data tell us about the current
landscape of international news flow and not provide a test of specific
Where news originate in the world
Table 1 shows percentages from aggregate data representing national
datelines of news stories in rank order. With an 11.4% share, the United States
is ranked first in terms of being an origin of news, followed by the United
Kingdom (5.6) and Russia (4.4). This means that based on this sample a little
over one tenth of the world news are filed from the United States regardless of
the story's content. That is slightly more than news originating from Japan,
China and South Korea combined (3.3, 3.1, 3.1 respectively). And, while there
is no clear East-West direction of flow, the pattern seems to be one of more
news coming out of the industrialized nations of the world than from developing
countries (Egypt is the only developing country with a score of over 2%) .
1 about here]
Countries featured most in the news and sources relied on the most
As a group Western countries are featured in world news media the
most. As table 2 indicates that the United States is the country mentioned the
most (13%) followed by France (8%) and the United Kingdom (5.9). A similar
pattern exists in the second country mentioned in the news. However, when we
look at individual countries media a different pattern emerges. Table (3) shows
the same variables for a sample of countries from all regions of the world.
With just a couple of exceptions (Israel and Kuwait) all countries mentioned
themselves as the first and second actor in foreign news stories. The
exceptions though are quite interesting. They all come from smaller countries
that are heavily dependent on a larger country for national security and/or
economic viability. Both Israel and Kuwait mentioned the United States as the
first actor in their news media (16%, and 13% respectively), while Hong Kong
referred most frequently to China as the first actor in its foreign news stories
(35%). This pattern seems consistent with the "center-periphery" hypothesis.
2 & 3 about here]
Another pattern evident in table 3 is that most national media relied
on their own correspondent for international news stories. The level of
reliance ranged from 18% (Kuwait) to 91% (United Kingdom). This pattern holds
regardless of a country's location or level of economic development. From this
sample only Germany and Cuba relied more on other sources for international
news. A similar but weaker pattern occurred in the 1979 data (Stevenson and
Cole, 1984b) where it was shown that in most countries, even the smallest and
poorest, between 10 percent and 40 percent of all foreign news is credited to
the media's own correspondents. While there is no question about the role of
Western news agencies in providing news to the world's regional and national
media, the relationship is far from being one of "dependence" as characterized
by many critics.
Topics featured in the world media
A familiar theme in international news flow is the overemphasis on
"bad" news typically reflecting social disruption and natural disasters. Table
4 addresses the main topics featured in world media. Just over fourteen percent
of world news is concerned with international politics. This is followed by
sports (13.4%) and domestic politics (12.6). News about "international
conflict" occupy a distant fifth position just below "art and culture" while
news about "domestic conflict" come in at last place mentioned only 4.5% of the
Table 5 shows topic distribution broken down by country. It is clear
that across all nations, regions, political and economic systems, one pattern
emerges: news is politics. Between one quarter and one-half of all foreign news
in all of the countries dealt with domestic politics or with international
relations. Other notable clusters of topics include sports, international
economics, culture and conflict, both domestic and international. Beyond these
categories, there is no single class of main topic averaging close to 10 percent
in any country.
& 5 about here]
The pattern just noted holds both across media of all of the
countries, and within each country regardless of region, political system, or
socio-economic conditions. One would caution though that the data say nothing
about the nature of coverage within each of these categories. As alluded to
earlier, coding procedures were kept simple in order to accommodate the large
number and variety of participating countries in a project of this magnitude.
The impact of home country involvement in foreign stories
In light of the aforementioned pattern of more national media relying
on their own correspondent for foreign news, it seemed reasonable to wonder what
conditions might promote such a trend. One likely answer is that events abroad
are having more impact on conditions at home, and the more impact an
international event is likely to have on domestic conditions the more national
media would want to have a first hand account of that event.
Table (6) addresses the issue of country involvement and its impact
on choice of news source. It is obvious that national media rely heavily on
their own correspondent when their home country is involved in the news event.
Sixty six percent of stories were written by their own correspondent when the
country is involved in the news event compared to 37% when the country is not
involved. This patterns holds for print as well as broadcast media with the
latter, as a group, making more use of their own correspondent than the former.
National media reliance on their own correspondent as a news source
was explored further by looking at the nature of the news event. Events were
classified as either disruptive or non-disruptive (Table 7). Disruptive news
include stories that focus on war, natural disasters, accidents, demonstrations
and protests, while non-disruptive news include all other types of stories.
When the event was disruptive the news media relied more on sources other than
their own correspondent (66%) like news agencies and global news services.
However, when the event was non-disruptive national media relied as much on
their own correspondent as they did on other sources. This may be due to the
nature of disruptive news that are largely unpredictable making it both
difficult and costly for national media to dispatch their own correspondent to
cover the event.
[Table 7 about here]
This study of global news flow revealed that many of the patterns
discovered in the seventies and eighties still persist in the nineties. Most
international news originate from the developed world, particularly the United
States. As a group, western countries are featured the most in the world news
media. However, when we look at media in individual countries and the order in
which countries are presented within national media a different pattern emerges.
National media featured their home country as the first actor in news stories
most of the time.
The pattern for the topics circulating around world media is no
different from the past either; news is politics and politics is news.
International relations occupied the top spot for the most mentioned topic and,
contrary to the argument of many critics who accuse western media of focusing on
conflict and disruption, news about international and domestic conflicts were
mentioned the least. In fact, politics occupy about one forth of world news and
if we combine politics with economics that would cover over a third of world
Another pattern that continues to grow is national media outlets
reliance on their own correspondent for news stories. This pattern is more
pronounced when the home country is involved in the news event. This suggests
that developing countries are not entirely dependent on western news agencies
for information particularly when they are involved in the unfolding story.
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Table 1: Where news comes from: National dateline of news stories in
Country Percent (n) Rank
USA 11.4 (849) 1
UK 5.6 (421) 2
Russia 4.4 (329) 3
Japan 3.3 (248) 4
China 3.1 (232) 5
S. Korea 3.1 (235) 6
Egypt 2.4 (179) 7
Spain 2.2 (168) 8
Italy 1.9 (145) 9
Ukraine 1.6 (118) 10
Hungary 1.4 (104) 11
Lebanon 1.3 (100) 12
Iceland 1.2 (90) 13
Sweden 1.0 (78) 14
Bosnia 1.0 (77) 15
N/A 15.0 (1110) --
Datelines mentioned less than 1% not included
Table 2 : Countries featured in the news in rank order (aggregate
Country Percent (n) Rank
USA 13% (973) 1
France 8 (596) 2
UK 6 (442) 3
Russia 5.2 (390) 4
Germany 5.1 (380) 5
China 4 (296) 6
Japan 3.5 (258) 7
S. Korea 3 (225) 8
Italy 2 (147) 9
Countries mentioned less than 2% not included.
Table 3: Countries featured in the news and main news source
First country in news
Second country in news First news source
USA USA (18%)
USA (33%) Own corr (70%)
Argentina Argentina (21)
USA (16) Own corr. (20)
Cuba USA (17)
Cuba (26) Agencies (35)
Venezuela USA (27)
Germany Germany (31)
Germany (11) Agencies (34)
U.K. U.K. (78)
------ Own corr. (91)
Spain Spain (20)
------ Own corr (56)
Hungary Hungary (24)
Hungary (11) Own corr (38)
Slovania Slovania (13)
---- Own corr (25)
Ukraine Ukraine (50)
Sub S. Africa
Kenya Kenya (22)
----- Own corr. (34)
Nigeria Nigeria (30)
Nigeria (13) Own corr. (26)
Israel USA (16)
Israel (18) Own corr (59)
Kuwait USA (13)
------ Own corr (18)
------ Own corr (41)
China China (43)
------- Own corr (47)
India India & USA (13)
India (13) Own corr (30)
Japan Japan (26)
USA (14) Own corr. (82)
S. Korea S. Korea (23)
USA (11) Own corr. (28)
Hong Kong China (35)
----- Own corr. (23)
H.K < 1%
Empty cells mean that no single country was mentioned more than 10%.
Table ( 4): General topics in the world media in rank order
Main Topic n Percent
International Politics 1075 14.4%
Sports 998 13.4
Domestic Politics 940 12.6
Art & Culture 707 9.5
International Economics 672 9.0
International Conflict 671 9.0
Crime/Justice/Police 407 5.4
Civil War 337 4.5
Entertainment/People 278 3.7
Topics mentioned less than 3% not included
Distribution of Main Topic
Int. Politics Int. Econ Int.
Conflict Domestic Pol. Dom.Conf. Culture Sports
USA 8% 9% 21%
17% 10% 15% 3%
Argentina 5 8 3
14 5 14 16
Cuba 28 1 2
8 8 21 --
Venezuela 12 11 4
14 2 6 18
Germany 8 8 4
11 5 21 7
U.K. 11 -- 14
-- -- 5 --
Spain 10 7 2
21 -- 5 14
Hungary 10 12 9
12 3 8 22
Slovenia 7 4 3
14 13 7 26
Ukraine 13 3 13
5 3 27 5
Sub S. Africa
Kenya 3 4 8
19 10 7 --
Nigeria 6 11 8
11 4 4 14
Israel 18 8 9
11 4 18 15
Kuwait 32 30 17
2 -- 7 --
Lebanon 16 5 10
12 4 7 15
China 17 14 25
8 -- -- 22
India 25 8 3
7 9 6 25
Japan 40 16 1
16 1 2 9
S. Korea 11 14 11
14 1 6 16
Hong Kong 15 8 4
12 4 2 11
Empty cells mean the topic was mentioned less than 1%
Table 6: Percent of news stories written by own correspondent based
on a country's
Involvement in the story
All media Print
Involved 66% * 64%* 70%*
not involved 37 35 50
n 7474 6004 1454
*X2 significant, p<.001 for the involvement factor.
Table 7: Percent of news stories written by own correspondent based
on event disruptiveness
Own Correspondent Other
Disruptive event 33%
Non-disruptive event 47
X 2 = 75, p<.001
From Argentina to Zimbabwe: Patterns of International News
Flow in the Nineties
Jamal J. Al-Menayes,
Department of Mass
P.O. Box 23558,
[log in to unmask]
Presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Anahiem, CA. August, 1996.
( Jamal J. Al-Menayes, 1996.