Information ministers and officials from more than 80 nations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America began a two-day conference in Malaysia intended to establish an internet-based network to supply news on domestic events to each other beginning mid-2006.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said on Monday that the plan was needed because "the nature and flow of information is increasingly dominated and influenced by a handful of media players in developed countries, at the expense of smaller organisations in developing countries".

"Each country should have the right and freedom to tell its own story from its own perspective, and to have the means to do so," Abdullah, who currently is chairman the Non-Aligned Movement, said in a speech delivered by his deputy, Najib Razak, at the grouping's meeting.


The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of 114 mostly developing nations that tried to stay neutral during the Cold War. Not all sent representatives to the Kuala Lumpur meeting.

Creating misperceptions

The news network, which the ministers are expected to endorse on Tuesday, will let newspapers and news agencies from Non-Aligned Movement members contribute stories and photographs on a website that Malaysia's national news agency, Bernama, will coordinate.

"With all the negative reports on Syria, we won't be surprised if Syria is eventually blamed for causing the tsunami in Asia, earthquake in Pakistan, and even bird flu"

Mahdi Dakhlallah,
Syrian information minister

"The resources of many smaller news organisations can be shared and pooled together, creating a viable news source alternative to the mainstream media giants," Abdullah said.

The plan to use the internet is tailored for poorer nations that face a lack of financial and human resources, communications infrastructure and technical expertise, officials said.

Iran's Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, Muhammad Husain Saffar Harandi, accused Western media of producing "a misperception" about his country, including its efforts to pursue a nuclear programme for what it insists are peaceful purposes.

"Some realities are not understood in the right way," he said.

Unfair reporting

Syria and Myanmar complained they were targeted by unfair reporting.

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah slammed the international media's coverage of UN investigations that have implicated Syria's intelligence services in the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

"With all the negative reports on Syria, we won't be surprised if Syria is eventually blamed for causing the tsunami in Asia, earthquake in Pakistan and even bird flu," he said.

Myanmar's Information Minister Brigadier-General Kyaw Hsan told Bernama that his country - which has been internationally criticised for its human rights record - was "suffering from interference in our ... internal affairs".