South Asia is home to nearly half the world’s poor people – 500 million live on less than a dollar a day – yet poverty related issues did not receive the kind of media coverage or readership it deserved.
At the same time, readers preferred to read about celebrities, sports and glamour rather than a village getting a clean drinking water supply. How critical development issues can become a priority news agenda was therefore the theme of the editors’ roundtable held in Goa, India, from September 27-28 to help realize South Asia’s full potential.
The roundtable comes at a time when the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, the first truly global effort to eradicate poverty, is halfway to its deadline of 2015.
Editors talked about the pressure from advertisers and people in power and the ongoing debate of covering what was in the interest of the public as opposed to what was of interest to them.
Some media professionals pointed out that papers were under pressure to sell and the most they could do was bring up the issue.
An editor from Pakistan pointed out that the general mindset was that if one covered politics ‘one had arrived’.
There was also a shortage of trained journalists, particularly in India, which was seeing a boom in both print and broadcast media.
Some participants of the roundtable, however, said that the media had not been able to ‘sexify’ development issues in the way it was written and in its presentation through images and graphics.
“We need to work harder and put in much more effort when writing about development issues,” said Champika Liyanaarachchi, editor of the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka).
As the millennium development goals were something that every politician in the region talked about in their manifestos, Ben Phillips of Oxfam said that the media, in its role as a watchdog, could hold governments accountable for not keeping promises they make.
Some of the draft recommendations drawn up at the end of the roundtable were joint internships in media organisations and UN/Oxfam for young development professionals and exchange of staff of media organizations between countries at different levels of media development.
The UN and civil societies engaged in development issues could orient journalism students on development issues, partner with advertising agencies to focus on development issues, provide and package information and data, which is jargon-free and whenever possible in local languages, and give awards to journalists who write on development issues.
The roundtable was organised by the UN and OXFAM.