Informed media coverage of world affairs key to global progress: UN official

Informed media coverage of world affairs key to global progress: UN official

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Just as a free and well-informed national media is critical to peace and democracy within countries, so too is international coverage essential to progress at the global level, a United Nations official told a major forum of Asian journalists in Singapore today.

Delivering the opening keynote address to the first annual Newsworld Asia conference, Salim Lone, the Director of the News and Media Division in the UN's Department of Public Information, called the media "one of humanity's great success stories." Addressing media leaders from across the region, he said, "The reality is that you have established a level of credibility and trust with your own people, which is nothing short of miraculous."

Mr. Lone stressed the important role the media can play in solidifying the foundations of progress. "The global architecture that we are building for a peaceful and democratic world will only be sustainable if the international media provides balanced, serious coverage of the entire world, and of the institutions that are central to its equitable functioning," he said. Despite this imperative, coverage of international issues was shrinking in the countries ardently advocating interconnectedness.

The lack of coverage of poor countries was only part of the problem; negative coverage also contributed to the "misportrayal" of the developing world, he said. In the case of Africa, for example, "the unrelenting focus on violence, devastation, corruption and hopelessness undermines even the most committed supporters of the continent."

By contrast, the strengths of developing States are often not portrayed, he said: "The cohesion and human solidarity that holds these societies together in the face of severe deprivation; their struggles to eke out livings against the toughest odds; the generosity and care they offer family members -- only rarely are such stories told."

Journalists, Mr. Lone noted, "must help change" this state of affairs. "This is not a plea to the international media to whitewash developing societies; you have every right to report on crises, conflicts and disasters, but it is a plea for more balance and more sympathy than is normally seen on TV," he said. "Too often entire societies get demonized when in fact it is their leaderships alone which should be condemned."

To enhance opportunities for better-informed coverage, Mr. Lone proposed the formation of partnerships -- akin to the media "pools" established for special events -- among major international broadcasters, with the aim of setting up joint bureaus in regions which are now poorly covered. While noting that this was only one possible suggestion, he rejected the notion that "there is no way to reverse a trend which threatens to consign hundreds of millions, if not billions, to the media dustbin."

He also urged those present to keep track of progress towards the multilateral commitments undertaken by national leaders, especially the goals set out in the UN Millennium Summit Declaration, which called for halving global poverty and reducing conflict.

"Will the leaders of the rich countries, at a time when they have experienced the longest and most sustained period of economic growth, take seriously the goal that they have committed themselves to?" Mr. Lone asked. "I can certainly say that they would be much more likely to do so if friends in this hall periodically kept shining the spot light on the score."