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Ambitious in theory but unlikely in practice: a critique of UNESCO's Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies.


In the summer of 2007, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) introduced its new Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries and Emerging Democracies (1) at the World Journalism Educators Congress sponsored by the Asian Media Information Centre, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and other international journalism education organizations. It was drafted by an impressive group of international experts and perhaps reflects United Nations dedication to impartiality and neutrality by wholly avoiding discussion or identification of anticipated country-specific or region-specific impediments to its adoption. It concentrates on the "nuts and bolts" of implementing what it assumes to be a universally adaptable guide for building a quality journalism program.

The UNESCO report fails to discuss perhaps-insurmountable obstacles and problems that will invariably arise when poor countries, authoritarian countries, and countries with strong cultural and religions constraints on "democratic journalism" go about the process of implementing the model, in whole or in part. Yet history informs us that no single model of journalism education is universally applicable. (2)

Designers of the model curricula promote it as a vehicle to improve journalism education worldwide. Although not explicitly stating so, UNESCO appears to assume that this generic model is universally applicable in diverse national, social, economic, political, and cultural contexts. Yet there is a crucial distinction, as Krimsky would draw, between adopting a model on one side rather than using experiences elsewhere as precedents. (3) It is important to recognize the severity of obstacles to implementation, even in a globalized world where many physical, cultural, and political borders are blurring or disappearing. Although UNESCO's efforts in guiding international journalism education and seeking to improve journalistic practices are laudatory, both obvious and understated obstacles exist to adopting the model in many developing nations. This article attempts to identify obstacles most likely to be so insurmountable that it would be ineffective, a waste of limited resources, and, in some instances, even dangerous for educators attempting implementation.

Some of the general, anticipatable, and most visible barriers to adopting its Western-centric curricula are: (1) lack of qualified faculty to teach recommended courses; (2) inadequate computer equipment, instructional materials, and support to conduct practical and investigative courses; (3) students without requisite educational backgrounds and language abilities to succeed with the rigorous, challenging content the report advocates; (4) university administrative structures that protect corrupt practices and cannot effectively recruit, compensate, and retain qualified faculty; and (5) a scarcity of profitable media organizations to attract successful graduates and reward them with jobs that allow them to practice their new skills. Other macro-level obstacles include: insufficient financial resources to provide such education; incompatibility with a country's historical, religious, political, and cultural values; and governmental controls on the press and university curricula. (4) In addition, students who graduate with this kind of education may be overqualified for low-paid domestic journalism jobs that are available, although they may be good candidates for employment by government or business. The well-educated, skilled, and motivated graduates we would expect from programs based on such curricula would also be prime candidates for emigration to developed nations, graduate study abroad, or jobs with foreign rather than domestic news agencies.

On a micro-level, the detailed subject matter UNESCO recommends for basic and advanced courses raises questions about: availability and suitability of predominantly North American and Western European content; availability and appropriateness of suggested texts and instructional materials; and suitability of course-specific pedagogical approaches that the report advocates. With the exception of top-tier journalism programs in North America, Europe, and other developed regions, there are insufficient personnel, economic, and technological resources to support such ambitious and unrealistic programs, even without political and philosophical disagreements among countries and regimes over the role of the press.


Is the UNESCO model as proposed feasible for "developing countries and emerging democracies" in light of their dramatically diverse cultural, social, economic, political, historical, and religious conditions?


Before engaging in a critique of UNESCO's latest proposition to democratize and improve journalism worldwide, this article briefly reviews relevant issues raised by the UNESCO-inspired New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) debates of the 1980s and by the related MacBride Commission report, Many Voices, One World. (5) The report opines that the diversity of world cultures and existence of varied patterns of social, economic, and cultural life preclude applying universal communication models. However, it sees a possibility of establishing in broad terms some common goals and values in the communication arena, based on shared interests and interdependence.

As this article explains, the philosophical foundation of the 2007 UNESCO model is, in reality, the type of universally applicable model the commission warns against. It is predominantly North American and Western European in content, pedagogical and professional approach, operational standards, market-based economic support, and loose government controls and oversight. Thus, this model goes beyond the commission's espousal of a broad outline with common aims and values based on common in an interdependent world.

The 2007 model, drafted almost three decades after the commission report, reflects the most difficult and painful lessons of that earlier effort to democratize international mass media. It avoids content or commentary that might spark the kind of conflict among nations--especially between the media-rich and the media-poor--that the commission report sparked, including United States withdrawal from UNESCO for seventeen years. The Reagan administration made its 1984 withdrawal decision based on assertions that UNESCO had become "politicized," had let its budget grow "unrestrained." and did not properly manage personnel, programs, and fiscal activities. (6)

However, the failure of the 2007 model to reflect on past disputes between developed and underdeveloped nations over the role of mass media in the development process may be dangerous oversight or intentional omission. Either way, many earlier problems regarding choice of media development models remain unresolved. Past accusations that UNESCO is complicit in fostering Western press ideologies and conventions at the expense of alternative models that may be more appropriate for lesser-developed societies might also be leveled at the organization today.

Tunstall charges that what he calls an American-dominated view was unrealistic and even absurd because of the unlikelihood that underdeveloped countries could achieve such mass media standards, or that the standards themselves were ineffective in contributing to overall progress toward development. He says that such targets for media development are more likely to be accepted by urban elites and the well-educated, who desire European and American lifestyles, but that focus on such targets is apt to constrain rural media development. He criticizes the encouragement of developing nations to speedily develop large-scale mass media systems regardless of cost and regardless of whether it diverts resources from other urgent development projects and objectives. He similarly attacks the emphasis on professionalism inherent in the new UNESCO model. He cites strong Anglo-American influence in other countries that promote a type of professionalism that typically emphasizes presentation techniques and criteria for news selection and balance; that type of professionalism implies journalistic autonomy and independence from political and commercial influences and assumes that journalists are independent enough to make their own "professional" judgments. He further suggests that international organizations seeking to expand media in underdeveloped nations are apt to endorse Anglo-American values, such as a neutral ideology, Western-style professionalism; and objective knowledge. (7)

Schiller (8) describes a "massive campaign" in the early 1970s, waged primarily through the Western press, aimed at convincing pubic opinion that the demands of non-aligned nations for information equality and cultural self-determination constituted a form of totalitarianism. Government oversight over broadcasting and telecommunications was criticized as press control and censorship. Americans were led to believe by their own press that most nations wanted strict press control and censorship, reinforcing the ethnocentric notion that America was fortunately blessed with a "free press" system. That public relations success by U.S. press organizations legitimized the concept that private media ownership in America and elsewhere is a pre-requisite to press freedom; such an assumption leads to denigrating other forms of economic support for the mass media:
   Media owners and managers have no uncertainty about the
   infallibility of this view and have no hesitation whatsoever
   about retailing it in their privately owned outlets. No conflict
   of interest is perceived. To inculcate Americans with this
   view is one thing. It is another to gain acceptance for such
   a definition in a diverse world. (9)

As the acknowledged forum for international communication and cultural questions, UNESCO provided a perfect target for interests determined to maintain the status quo ante regarding information and media matters and the structures that supported them. Schiller asserts that UNESCO was the weakest UN-associated organization and thus most vulnerable to its single largest underwriter, the United States. By withdrawing from UNESCO and depriving it of much of its funding, the United States cowed and enfeebled UNESCO and made it compliant with Western media interests. That action also forced UNESCO to stop backing the NWICO and to abandon language suggesting advocacy of an international free flow of information. (10)

Despite the defeat of a NWICO, strong sentiments persisted that Western principles of press independence were not adaptable to Third World conditions as long as rapid national development remained a goal in underdeveloped nations. These countries still sought media systems that would be effective tools in the development process, and as Stevenson put it, "an aloof, critical, independent press would not do." (11)

The U.S. State Department celebrated the United States' re-joining UNESCO and, perhaps, its resumption of dominance of the organization and defeat of the NWICO, asserting that:
   The free flow of information is fundamental to democracy.
   Information can contribute to the development of a world
   where 80 percent of the people still lack access to basic
   telecommunications. Access to information is also one of the
   best guarantees of respect for human rights ... UNESCO has
   a unique mandate to promote the right to seek, receive and
   impart information and to foster media independence. (12)

The State Department says that when the US withdrew, UNESCO had retreated from the ideals of press freedom and freedom of expression; it implies that the organization somewhat redeemed itself by establishing an advisory group on press freedom and a World Press Freedom Prize and by lobbying to protect press independence. (13) This seems to indicate that today's new NWICO is one under which the United States and other mass media-rich countries will not be obstructed--at least not by the UN--from pursuing their international media marketing and expansion objectives. Thus the UN seems to been effectively admonished and is avoiding concerning itself with the consequences of media imperialism or the domination and suppression of indigenous mass media development in have-not and have-less countries. This appears to resurrect and reinforce the old modernization theory of development, holding that the most powerful obstacles to international development are internal. Gone is consideration of alternative theories of development, such as ones suggesting that external forces of colonialism and market control comprise the most powerful variables that hinder and obstruct national development processes in less-developed countries that provide raw materials, agricultural products, and cheap labor for more developed ones.

Certainly the modernization theory of development strongly influenced American policies regarding Third World development before 1980 and thus informed U.S. strategy to control UNESCO mass communication programs and policies. This model espoused using mass communication to persuade audiences in underdeveloped nations to conform to, not change, their society's status quo. This development direction sought to influence traditional--implicitly backward--peoples to conform to dominant norms and social structure, discouraging them from pushing social change and, perhaps, revolution that would confront economic and other forms of external domination. (14)

Modernization theorists categorized internal variables as obstacles to development, including family structure, culture, religion, personality type, and climate. An opposing view from Marxist-influenced theorists was that underdevelopment results primarily from external factors, particularly a nation's disadvantaged position in a capitalist economic system dominated by wealthy, powerful countries that benefit from the rest of the world's enforced political and economic powerlessness. For communication theorists aligned with either conflicting development perspective, the argument centered on whether to advocate for the status quo of government-supported development projects or to argue that the media should serve a revolutionary function in countering media imperialism pursuing social change, even revolution.

It can be argued that telecommunications technologies, especially satellite broadcasting and the Internet, make international and regional disagreements over control of content and dissemination less volatile but no less vital. Larger questions about the effects of new communication technologies are unresolved within the developed nations that pioneered them, so it is unrealistic to expect answers in lesser developed nations for quite some time. However, access to and use of such technologies greatly changes the nature of the debate on international media imperialism and hegemony. UNESCO should lead the research and education on issues related to the impact of new communication technologies on development processes.


This is not UNESCO's first venture into model curricula for journalism education. In 2002, it released Communication Training in Africa: Model Curricula. It emerged from a project launched in 1996, and unlike the 2007 model, went beyond journalism to include advertising, book publishing, public relations, and film courses. That report includes one-paragraph descriptions of each course but no model syllabi. In contrast to the 2007 model, the 1996 document acknowledges its dominant, and perhaps problematic, theoretical and historical origins, thus anticipating some criticisms of the 2007 curricula that this article identifies:
   Communication education in Africa, like modern mass
   communication on the continent, is an import from West
   Europe and North America. The source of inspiration of
   teachers, curricula, and textbooks is Western. Teachers are
   mostly Western educated, curricula are drawn from Western
   models and most textbooks are authored and published in
   the West and North America. Under these circumstances,
   communication training in Africa can hardly be said to be
   culturally relevant, although cultural inculcation was usually
   the main justification for its introduction and sustainability.

UNESCO's 2007 report presumes a Western media model adapted from the scientific method, based on notions of objectivity and adherence to universally accepted news values, professional ethical standards, and impartial collection and reporting of facts and information. Such a model by nature relies on a free market system for disseminating content to a mass audience. Since the model is inherently democratic and proven successful mostly in developed nations, failing to anticipate in authoritarian and impoverished countries--those lacking press protections and efficient free-market economies--appears to be a major failing by the model's designers.

Melkote and Stevens suggest grounds for a dissenting view, arguing that culture and communication are inseparable and that communication can reinforce hegemonic values and priorities in a society. They write:
   The hegemonic process is assumed to be subtle and seductive, such
   that most audience members do not resist the values embedded in
   messages; and, in fact, they actively accept them. The fact that
   hegemony allows the mainstream transmission of some alternative
   perspectives gives an illusion of balance, even though only
   selected nonmainstream messages are allowed, messages that can be
   most easily co-opted by the dominant system. (16)

As examples, they cite media content that minimizes non-mainstream views; undercounts people holding alternative views; overemphasizes support for mainstream views; and depends excessively on government and corporate sources. Journalistic traditions that reinforce these conventions tend to focus on events rather than context, to focus on conflict instead of consensus, and to focus on individuals rather than groups. They conclude that economic factors, deadlines, and competition among journalists over-determine media content and its representation. (17)

Even if the UNESCO model does not directly limit or determine what media content would be produced by journalists trained at institutions adopting it, it might inherently lead to the kind of media hegemony suggested by Melkote and Stevens. It advocates traditional Western news values, such as proximity, impact, timeliness, and prominence, and, in general, promotes "democratic journalism" traditions, values, and practices that have informed the world's dominant media systems--principally Western--that were once the target of "Third World" nations collectively engaged in the NWICO debates about Western media hegemony. The new model seems to make a conscious effort not to resurrect those debates or to raise any related issues that impassioned media policy makers, academics, students, and national development experts three decades ago.


This article does not purport to fully deconstruct and thoroughly analyze the new UNESCO model, partly because there currently is no laboratory for testing it. Rather, the study flags major obstacles to adoption in underdeveloped countries and suggests problems it is likely to face. The end result will hopefully be a more thorough analysis that might make the model more viable and effective under diverse geographical, political, social, cultural, and economic conditions.

Regrettably, the new model has no clear agenda or discussion related to the role of the press in national development. Under the model, journalism education is made up of three areas: an axis of journalism norms, values, tools, standards, and practices; an axis focused on social, cultural, political, economic, ethical, and legal aspects of those practices inside national borders and beyond; and an axis of knowledge about the world and journalism's intellectual challenges. The model proffers three-year and four-year programs with courses addressing: 1) writing skills; 2) evidence, logic, and research; 3) national and international institutions; 4) reporting and writing; 5) media law; 6) broadcast reporting and writing; 7) journalism ethics; 8) multimedia journalism, online journalism, and digital developments; and 9) media and society. Its guidelines suggest internships. The intended result is to develop students' competencies, including adopting professional standards, acquiring knowledge of journalism's roles in society, and obtaining general knowledge in the liberal arts tradition. The curricula would distribute credits into three categories: 40 percent professional practice; 10 percent journalism studies; and 50 percent arts and sciences. (18)

Most of the report details subject matter and syllabi for basic and advanced courses and recommends texts, supplemental materials, and assignments; it proffers grading and assessment protocols. Even a cursory examination of the syllabi spotlights its strong emphasis on Western-style journalism, with little alternative content from models that treat media as dedicated and purposeful tools for promoting and sustaining economic and other forms of development. The syllabi were drafted by journalism educators from the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, India, South Africa, Brazil, the Philippines, Nigeria, Romania, Pakistan, Argentina, and Denmark. (19) Most recommended readings and supplementary academic materials are of North American and Western European origin.

For example, the syllabus for an in-depth course suggests a class field trip to a hospital or "interesting event where students will unobtrusively observe the goings-on." (20) First, such activities carry ethical implications even for students in Western countries. Second, there is no suggestion of an accompanying discussion of the difficulty of obtaining access to institutions in many countries and the further difficulty of conducting such observations without interference. Finally, ignored are personal risks that students face when engaged in field activities in less open and tolerant societies; observing and reporting on a substandard government-owned hospital--even if the resulting story isn't censored--is apt to anger hospital administrators, government officials, staff, and patients and may trigger retaliation.

Integrated into the UNESCO curricula is a Western and enlightenment ideology that could create conflict and difficulties for students and faculty in authoritarian countries. To illustrate, the syllabus for a course about national and international institutions recommends readings by John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, a lecture on the "welfare state model in Western Europe: Keynes and welfare economics", and a class devoted to "the inherent tensions between democracy and constitutionalism, between the legislature and the judiciary." (21) Other sections of the curricula are somewhat less Western-centric. The syllabus for a specialized journalism course subtitled "International and Development" as prepared by a Brazilian professor devotes considerable attention to development issues. Proposed topics include: "The development theory: Historical approaches of studies on national development"; "Development topics"; "Media organizations and the international coverage of development issues"; "The status of the mass media in developing nations"; "Development issues: how journalists may cover environment and health issues"; "Discussion on public interest: do people in developing countries know what development issues are about?"; and "Discussion on the international agenda for development journalism." (22) These topics clearly reflect the needs and interests of developing countries and could contribute to journalism education in developed countries as well.

Ram's commentary about the UNESCO model describes three functions of the best journalism education: quality training a--meaning quality technical and professional skills and competencies--and education--meaning acquisition of knowledge, both broad and specific; setting high professional standards and promoting best practices; and incubating innovative methods, techniques, and ideas. (23) Absent is a clear role for journalists as committed advocates for social change and development, with the press acting as a committed tool in the development process, rather than as a critical and neutral observer in the Western tradition. Ram suggests that the type of journalism education outlined in the model should take place at the master's rather than undergraduate level; that opinion ignores the fact that graduate work is accessible primarily only to elites in developing nations. (24)

One alternative is for UNESCO to design appropriate fast-track curricula for developing nations focusing on basics of journalism and dispensing with the emphasis on theories and philosophies that are not relevant or adaptable in most developing nations. Such models would be much cheaper and, perhaps, less risky to implement and could be available to a broader spectrum of aspiring journalists.

From a traditional Western journalistic perspective, the model curricula is both familiar and desirable, rooted in fundamental principles that are relatively consistent from one Western democracy to another, especially in an era of globalized media that owes less and less allegiance to any particular nation. Importing such curricula into countries whose press systems and systems of governance are not rooted in Western democracy and may not be conducive to adopting it, is indeed an ambitious goal.

The UNESCO model reflects the "democratic journalism" philosophy behind Western-sponsored trainings for professional journalists in target countries. Western governmental agencies, international organizations, development foundations, and donor organizations regard "democratic journalism" as a tool for liberalizing authoritarian regimes and for containing and combating religious fundamentalism and anti-Western elements.

"Democratic journalism' has become synonymous with Western-style journalism and is viewed as dedicated to extending democracy and free market economics worldwide. A report about sustainable journalism training in Eastern and Central Europe captures that philosophy: "Democratization will fail unless bolstered by strong independent media," and "unlike many other forms of democracy assistance, new media organizations have the potential to be self-supporting." (25) Writing about the relationship between "sustainable democracy" and broadcast media in Nigeria for instance, Pate points to "a very strong relationship between media performance and the conduct and vibrancy of politics and political activities in democracies." He says, "A responsible nationwide democratic system requires a media system which is coterminous with it and which can generate discussion of issues in a way which does not favor partisan interests; whether these be the interests of particular political parties, the interests of media bosses or media professionals" (26)

Assuming a shared goal of improving the caliber and depth of journalism education and, ultimately, the quality of reporting worldwide, the key issue becomes the relevance of Western models to countries without press freedom and other essential attributes of democratic, participatory, and transparent governance. The model professes to promote that shared goal, so it is legitimate to inquire into its ability to do so. Thus the article explores the feasibility of broadly applying this model and its underlying Western-centric philosophy and approach. The analysis starts with macro-level obstacles, including governmental control over the press and universities, economic costs of adoption, and faculty resources. It then examines micro-level obstacles related to recommended course content.


Implementation of the model presupposes the existence of a relatively free press system unfettered by overt and tacit governmental controls and by self-censorship intended to avert governmental and extra-governmental repercussions. However, most developing countries and emerging democracies lack the requisite level of freedom in their press systems. The 2007 annual Freedom House survey asserts that only 74 of 195 countries have "free" press systems. Of the others, 58 were classified as "partly free" and 63 as "not free." That assessment found major regional differences as well. In the Middle East and North Africa, only one of nineteen countries had a free press, as did only eight of 48 sub-Saharan African countries. (27) Another press rights watchdog and advocacy organization, Reporters sans Frontieres made a similar pessimistic assessment in its 2007 index of world press freedom in 169 countries. (28)

Nor are countries rushing to loosen media constraints. Karlekar cites "particularly worrisome trends evident in Asia, the former Soviet Union, and Latin America. Despite notable improvements in a number of countries, gains were generally overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media in a group of geopolitically crucial states." (29) Similarly, Walker's examination of the state of press freedom in former Soviet republics decries a post-communist "contemporary form of censorship [that] is achieved through a mix of state-enabled oligarchic control, broadcast monopolies of presidential "families,' judicial persecution, and subtle and overt forms of intimidation." (30)

Importantly, students as well as professionals are in peril, especially when they combine formal education with practical experience, such as freelancing and part-time reporting. Afghan student Pervez Kamibaksh, who reported for local newspapers, received a death sentence for allegedly insulting Islam by asking questions in class about the role of women's rights under Islam. (31) Ugandan police fatally shot a student journalist-trainee while he covered a political demonstration. (32) Faculty who also work as journalists are in peril too. A Baghdad University professor who wrote for newspapers, and seven relatives died in an armed attack on their home. (33)

Journalism education should promote critical thinking and a willingness to engage in open, reasoned debate, not merely training in professional skills and instilling a base of knowledge about the role of media in society, economics, public affairs, humanities, science, and other fields of intellectual endeavor. Thus another prerequisite to implementing the UNESCO model is academic freedom for faculty and students to discuss and debate issues raised by readings, lectures, and assignments. Yet in much of the world, freedoms of speech and thought in universities are discouraged and, in some cases, aggressively suppressed. Academic freedom is rare or non-existent in many countries UNESCO hopes to reach. Human rights monitors report governmental abuses of academic freedom in a variety of countries. For example in 2007, the University of Namibia cancelled a lecture by a Zimbabwean professor critiquing the political situation in Zimbabwe, reportedly bowing to pressure from government officials. (34) The Saudi government "prohibited the study of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music, and Western philosophy. Informants reportedly monitored classroom comments and reported to the government and religious authorities." (35)

Many countries require governmental approval of all course curricula. One author of this article, teaching in Uzbekistan through the Fulbright Program, and an Uzbek colleague proposed that country's first university-level environmental journalism course. It took several months to secure necessary approvals, and the course was discontinued when the Fulbrighter left. (36) Co-curricular activities are also constrained. When this article's co-author taught at the same university, officials refused to license a student newspaper he helped develop.

Beyond official constraints on academic freedom and curricula, substandard journalism education cannot be separated from broader systemic weaknesses at many universities. For example, Jacobson describes corruption in Kyrgyzstan's higher education system, such as student bribes for admission, scholarships, and high grades. "Universities are loath to fail students, whose tuition payments are vital for revenue ... The low level of state funding leaves universities short of cash, and low salaries mean that teachers often look for extra income to get by." (37) Both authors have similar knowledge of faculty and administrators in developing countries accepting bribes for grades, selling grant and fellowship applications, and accepting expensive gifts for services rendered as part of their administrative duties.

Economic limitations and a limited pool of qualified instructors pose significant macro-level barriers to implementing the model. That situation is as true now as it was when UNESCO released its model curricula for Africa five years earlier. As UNESCO then acknowledged: "A major shortcoming of communication training in African countries is the shortage of available competent and experienced teachers and trainers. Poor working conditions, especially low salaries, often result in the loss of qualified teachers to the private sector or international organizations." (38)

Without adequate funding, university journalism programs cannot acquire necessary technology--including computer hardware and sophisticated software, video and still cameras, and editing bays--to provide the tools for developing professional skills and producing professional-quality editorial content. One of the model's in-depth reporting courses would require database management and spreadsheet software, as well as a computer lab where students could use the software for assignments. The online/multimedia journalism syllabus calls for Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Audacity, Soundslides, and iMovie or similar video editing programs, such as FinalCut Pro and Adobe Premiere. Yet students and universities frequently cannot afford up-to-date textbooks and supplementary reading materials, let alone sophisticated software in their native languages.

The faculty shortage, largely due to low salaries and restrictions on freedom to teach and speak, has major implications: It denies students the opportunity to learn from experienced professionals. It contributes to overcrowded classes, especially in skills courses that require one-on-one supervision and consultation between instructors and students. Third, it makes it harder to motivate and advise students on career preparation and prospects.


Beyond access to and affordability of recommended materials, suitability of other content is questionable. Without parsing each of the more than one dozen syllabi in the report, it is sufficient to point out that the vast majority of the suggested material is published in the United States and other Western countries. Localizing a syllabus for a specific developing country is not simply a matter of substituting one text for another; some countries lack up-to-date textbooks and other materials in their national languages.

Regarding the media law course UNESCO proposes, an insurmountable obstacle is that many authoritarian countries have virtually no "media law" as Westerners understand it--no statutes or case law providing a reporters' privilege against being forced to testify, for example, restricting police searches of newsrooms, or placing the burden of proof on plaintiffs rather than on media defendants in libel and invasion-of-privacy cases. Constitutional guarantees of press freedom and freedom-of-information statutes exist only on paper. Libel laws and statutes prohibiting insults to the "honor and dignity" of government leaders and even their relatives are often criminal, not civil, meaning that media defendants face jail and crippling fines if they lose in court, which usually happens. In Kyrgyzstan in 2008, the independent newspaper De Facto was charged under the criminal defamation law with publishing false accusations about financial wrongdoing by a high-ranking tax official, charges with a potential maximum sentence of five years in prison. Police also seized computers during a newsroom search, and a court ordered its bank account to be seized. (39) Thus, it is appropriate to ask why teach students about media law when media law is only a theoretical construct without an operational context.

Claussen raises similar questions about other elements of the model curricula, especially comparing US curricula content. For example, the first-year UNESCO curriculum includes religion and "social class, conflict, poverty ... and public health issues," he writes, "... subjects about which US journalism students generally are learning little." (40) He points out that the senior-level syllabus for a science and health reporting course assumes that students should understand the economic implications of health care systems, alternative health care sources, food science, and agriculture, then continues, "Even among the relatively few science and/or health reporting courses being taught in the United States, how many of them are covering all of those topics?" (41) In addition, Claussen notes that the proposed international and development journalism syllabus requires reading the UNESCO International Principles of Professional Ethics in Journalism and asks who in the United States "would know that such a document existed?" (42) Of course, topics not taught--or not taught comprehensively--in U.S. or other Western programs may still be appropriate and valuable elsewhere. And even a topic that is taught may exclude issues--by governmental fiat or through self-censorship--that conflict with national religious, gender, cultural, or political standards.

Another example of content-related weaknesses in the UNESCO curricula is the inclusion of the book and film All the President's Men in the syllabus for an in-depth journalism course. Arguably relevant to American journalism students, it is difficult to see the relevance of Carl Woodward and Bob Bernstein's account of Washington Post coverage of the Watergate scandal and President Richard Nixon's resignation to would-be journalists elsewhere. The proposed assignment of writing a critical paper about the book and film appears even more distant to student needs. (43)


This study first outlined the structure and goals of the 2007 UNESCO model. Since it has yet to be fully adopted or adapted anywhere for a significant period of time to lend to a rigorous analysis and review, this study identified obvious obstacles to the success of the model in the kind of developing nations it is targeted toward. Thus this article provides a basis for more informed decision making regarding the adoption of the model all or in part. Relevant obstacles can also be addressed when adjusting the model to local circumstances with regard to journalism education. The authors support the new curricula in concept and in spirit and acknowledge the good intentions and professionalism of its creators. Again, the objective in highlighting conflicts between the model and actual journalism practices and conventions is not to advocate against promoting "democratic journalism," but rather to pinpoint obstacles and dangers that might warrant modification of the curricula in a given nation. One suggested modification is reducing the most problematic ideological content when it might create hazards in a given cultural, political, or social setting.

Abdul Waheed Khan, UNESCO's assistant director-general for communication and information, expressed UNESCO's hope "that journalism schools and individual instructors everywhere will fred inspiration and assistance from these curricula." Khan's statement that journalism education is essential "for the underpinning of key democratic principles that are fundamental to the development of every country" (UNESCO, 2007a: 5) is praiseworthy. The model does offer a valuable, welcome jumping-off point for discussion of effective, pragmatic ways to improve journalism education. It provides a multinationally-endorsed, credible leverage point for educators to promote curricular modernization in their own countries and universities. It is an endorsement of a commitment to press freedom as an integral part of participatory government, transparency, and public accountability.

That said, it is evident that the model is not and cannot realistically be expected to serve as a feasible, replicable template for university-level programs. Certainly, some elements are more readily transportable and transformable by individual faculty and institutions; even those elements must reflect national standards, expectations, and mandates based on culture, history, religion, politics, economics, and social mores. However, even decades of shared history--witness differences among former African colonies of the United Kingdom or France, for example, or among independent countries of the former Soviet Union--do not mean their journalism education systems can be or should be virtually identical. (44) Working effectively to improve the quality of journalism education in a wide range of national settings and under a wide range of media and academic environments will require educators and professionals to eschew what Brislin calls belief in "the universal portability of Western values." (45)

For reasons of space, this article does not address another shortcoming of the UNESCO report: omission of detailed discussion of models of education premised on alternative press systems--among them, development journalism, peace journalism, public (civic) journalism, or advocacy journalism--components of which may be more appropriate for many developing countries and emerging democracies. It might be fruitful for international journalism educators to design comprehensive curricula that value and incorporate alternative approaches to the Western model and produce hybrids incorporating cornerstone professional values of accuracy, fairness, balance, and ethics, while reflecting the realities of different perspectives on the role of the press in society.

Any model that an individual university-level journalism program ultimately selects and adapts must instill real-world skills. Mechanisms may vary, but Stephens (46) is correct that instructors should use real assignments, encourage students to experiment with topics and technologies, and teach students how to dig deeply for perspectives on the subjects they report about and to become comfortable with different media.

In conclusion, this critique should come as no surprise to proponents of the UNESCO model. More than forty years ago, a professor teaching in Afghanistan through a U.S. government-sponsored program recounted his experience in attempting to develop a university-level journalism program there. He observed that barely 10 percent of typical examples in U.S. textbooks fall within students' experience, and that more appropriate examples could be found in news stories drawn from the Iranian and Indian press. "Chemistry is chemistry the World over. Mathematics is mathematics," he wrote. "But journalism has no such stability or universality. It follows no fixed laws of nature but is inextricably interwoven in the culture in which it functions." (47)


(1.) United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, Model Curricula for Journalism Education for Developing Countries & Emerging Democracies, online at images/0015/001512/151209E.pdf.

(2.) H.R. Jolliffe, "Developing Journalism in an Emergent Nation--Afghanistan," Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 39, 1962, pp. 355-362.

(3.) George A. Krimsky, "The Role of the Media in a Democracy," Issues of Democracy, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1997.

(4.) Richard Shafer, Eric Freedman, & Stephen Rendahl, "Defending the Inverted Pyramid Style: Advocating an Emphasis on Teaching Traditional Practices in International Journalism Education," Communication and Social Change, Vol. 2, 2008, pp. 140-158.

(5.) United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization, Many Voices, One World (Paris: UNESCO, 1980).

(6.) Klaus Hufner and Jens Naumann, "UNESCO: Only the Crisis of a "Politicized' UN Specialized Agency?" Comparative Education Review, Vol. 30, No. 1, 1986, pp. 120-131.

(7.) Jeremy Tunstall, The Media are American. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977).

(8.) Herbert I. Schiller, Mass Communications and American Empire, 2nd edition, (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1992).

(9.) Ibid., pp. 22-23.

(10.) Ibid., pp. 24-25.

(11.) Robert L. Stevenson, Communication, Development, and the Third World. (White Plains, N.Y.: Longman, 1988), p. 12.

(12.) U.S. Department of State, "Democracy and the Free Flow of Information: U.S. Information Programs," online at

(13.) Ibid.

(14.) Richard Shafer. Development Journalism: The Fragile Theory and Precarious Practice, PhD dissertation, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1987; Richard Shafer & S Priest, "Utilizing the Mass Media for National Development: A Survey of Dominant Theories," Southwestern Mass Communication Journal, Vol. 9, No. 1, 1993, pp. 92-105.

(15.) United Nations Educational, Social, and Cultural Organization, Communications Training in Africa: Model Curricula, online at _en.pdf/com_training_en.pdf.

(16.) Srinivas R. Melkote and H. Leslie Steeves, Communication for Development in the Third World: Theory and Practice for Empowerment, 2nd edition (New Delhi: Sage, 2001), p. 31.

(17.) Ibid., pp. 32-33.

(18.) UNESCO, 2007.

(19.) Several of these countries, especially the Philippines, India, and Pakistan were leaders in conceptualizing and promoting interventionist and purposeful journalism models, such as development communication and development support communication.

(20.) UNESCO, 2007, p. 71.

(21.) Ibid., pp. 51-52.

(22.) Ibid., pp. 96-98

(23.) N. Ram, "A Response to the Journalism Education Curricula," speech at the World Journalism Education Congress, Singapore, 2007.

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) Jefferson Institute, An Imperative to Innovate: Sustainable Journalism Training in Central and Eastern Europe. Report to the Knight Foundation, 200, pp. 1 and 5.

(26.) Umaru A. Pate, "The Broadcast Media and Sustainable Democracy in Nigeria: Issues and Challenges," Journal of Development Communication, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2007, pp. 41-49, 41.

(27.) Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2007, 2007, online at

(28.) Reporters sans Frontieres, "Eritrea Ranked Last for First Time while G8 Members, Except Russia, Recover Lost Ground," 2007, online at

(29.) Karin Deutsch Karlekar, "Press Freedom in 2006: Growing Threats to Media Independence," Freedom House, 2007, online at y=28.

(30.) Christopher Walker, "Muzzling the Media: The Return of Censorship in the Commonwealth of Independent States," Freedom House, 2007, online at 2007&essay=27.e=131&year=2007&essay=27.

(31.) Kim Sengupta, "Afghan Journalism Student: I Was Tortured into Confessing to Blasphemy," The Independent, 19 May 2008.

(32.) Reporters sans Frontiers, "Jimmy Higenyl," statement, 2002, online at

(33.) United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, "Director-General Condemns Killing of Journalists in Iraq," press release, 6 November 2007, online at ev.php-URL_ID=24735&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION =201.html.

(34.) U.S. Department of State, "Namibia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices--2007," online at 2007/100496.htm.

(35.) U.S. Department of State, "Saudi Arabia: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices--2007," online at 2007/100605.htm.

(36.) Eric Freedman, "Designing and Implementing the First Environmental and Science Journalism Course for an Uzbekistan Journalism School," Applied Environmental Education and Communication, Vol. 3, No. 3, (2004), pp. 153-161.

(37.) Jessica Jacobson, "Pay as You Go," Transitions Online, 16 February 2007.

(38.) UNESCO, 2002.

(39.) Yrys Kadykeev, "Kyrgyz Libel Case Raises Protests," Institute for War & Peace Reporting, RCA, No. 548, 7 July 2008.

(40.) Dane S. Claussen, "A Model J&MC Curriculum for Developing Countries Is Progress for Them, Perhaps at Least Reminders for "Developed' U.S. J&MC Education," Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Vol. 62, No. 3, 2007, pp. 237-240, 238.

(41.) Ibid.

(42.) Ibid., p. 239.

(43.) UNESCO, 2007, p. 70.

(44.) Guy Berger, "In Search of Journalism Education Excellence in Africa: Summary of the 2006 UNESCO Project," Equid Novi, Vol. 28, Nos. 1&2, 2007, pp. 149-155; Jerome Aumente, Peter Gross, R Hiebert, Owen V. Johnson, & Dean Mills, Eastern European Journalism." Before, During, and After Communism (Cresskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 1999).

(45.) Tom Brislin, "Empowerment as a Universal Ethic in Global Journalism," Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2004, pp 130-137, 132.

(46.) Mitchell Stephens, "Rethinking Journalism Education," Journalism Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, 2006, pp 150-153.

(47.) Jolliffe, "Developing Journalism in an Emergent Nation Afghanistan," pp. 359-360.

By Eric Freedman and Richard Shafer *

* Eric Freedman is Associate Professor of Journalism and Assistant Dean of International Studies and Programs at Michigan State University, East Lansing M148824. Richard Shafer is Professor of English at the University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND 58202.
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Title Annotation:OTHER PAPERS; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization
Author:Freedman, Eric; Shafer, Richard
Publication:Journal of Third World Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:0DEVE
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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