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Yemeni female protestors show their hands with colors of th pre-Gadhafi Libya, Yemen and Syria flags during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, Oct. 21, 2011.

Hani Mohammed, Associated Press - Ap

Rash Report: A partnership to explore world affairs

  • Article by: JOHN RASH
  • Star Tribune
  • October 21, 2011 - 9:09 PM

Today marks the beginning of a collaboration between the Minnesota International Center's "Great Decisions" program and the Star Tribune Editorial Board.

Once a month, an international issue being discussed in "Great Decisions" groups throughout Minnesota will be examined on this page. And on Oct. 29, MIC will hold a "Great Decisions" conference on "Foreign Policy and the Media."

It's a timely topic. In this year's whirlwind of world events, the media has been both observer and participant.

Take the Arab Spring. Its seminal event was an isolated incident: The self-immolation of a humiliated produce seller who couldn't produce a permit to Tunisian authorities.

Once protests over his death were caught on cell phones, and the subsequent tweets and posts were picked up by pan-Arabic news channel Al Jazeera, the movement went national, and a mix of mainstream and social media helped spark, and coordinate, a social revolution that ultimately toppled Tunisia's government.

The movement then went international, with the same TV and Internet ingredients contributing to social and political earthquakes in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and other countries in which citizens were being suffocated.

In London, all of this was chronicled in News of the World, as well as other News Corp. newspapers controlled by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.

But News of the World, despite being Britain's biggest newspaper, abruptly shut down after it was implicated in a phone-hacking scandal that first singed celebrities, but now has engulfed Britain's biggest media, political and police elites.

In true tabloid fashion, the story's a cliffhanger: Parliamentary investigations continue, and the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating on this side of the Atlantic.

Across the English Channel, networks covering the European debt crisis have contributed to the siege mentality gripping global financial markets.

And now Wall Street is being targeted by the Occupy Wall Street movement. After initially ignoring the protests, news coverage contributed to similar occupations spreading across the country.

And just last weekend, Arab Spring social-media tactics made the movement go global, with protests (and in Rome, riots) in multiple countries.

For foreign-policy professionals, the asymmetric aspect of these media-driven events makes them harder to predict and control: Nations are reacting, not leading.

And it's increasingly difficult for the press to cover the media-driven dynamics, too, because of another profound process defining our times: new media technology that allows and accelerates the diffusion of viewers, readers and listeners.

This has resulted in the disruption of longstanding media models, which in turn has reduced resources for international news coverage.

For those remaining media organizations with the resources to cover the world, it's getting more dangerous to do so.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 75 journalists were killed worldwide last year. And because "the press" increasingly doesn't have a press pass, but a password to log onto blogs criticizing government, half of the 145 journalists incarcerated last year wrote online only.

There are a range of consequences when the media has a role in foreign policy. At its worst, it can be lethal.

During Rwanda's 1994 genocide, so-called "hate media," especially a private radio station, called for a "final war" to "exterminate the cockroaches" (two former radio executives and a magazine executive were given life sentences by a U.N. tribunal for genocide-related crimes).

By all accounts, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in the postgenocide generation. But allegations of creeping authoritarianism, including clamping down on the press, have raised concerns both domestically and internationally.

This evolving role of the media in Rwanda is just one of the many issues I'll explore when I join journalists from 11 other news organizations on an International Reporting Project trip to Rwanda in November.

Back home, every day there are stories that display Minnesota's increasing internationalism. This makes the Star Tribune's partnership with MIC and "Great Decisions" a great decision in its own right.

It's another opportunity for the Editorial Board to deliver on its commitment to provide commentary on world events that are defining our times.

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John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial wrtier and columnist.

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