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Challenge of covering sustainable development issues focus of UN media panel

Challenge of covering sustainable development issues focus of UN media panel

The challenge television journalists face in covering the complex issue of “sustainable development” was the focus of a panel discussion today that brought together media executives and United Nations officials.


Shashi Tharoor

Kicking off the debate, Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the UN Department of Public Information, which organized the encounter, said sustainable development was a relatively new idea and one that had been evolving over the past decade. And yet, he stressed, it was at the very core of humanity’s value system – how to balance the need for world economic growth with concerns for social justice and environmental protection.

“Today’s sustainable development agenda is vast,” Mr. Tharoor said. “It covers issues as diverse as ozone depletion, child labour, and socially responsible investing. The new catch-all term ‘globalization’ is also now a part of the sustainable development equation.”

Today’s debate on the theme of “The Media and Sustainable Development” took place against the background of intensive preparations under way at UN Headquarters for the World Summit on Sustainable Development that will be held later this year in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Snuki Zikalala, Executive Editor of News for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which will be the host broadcaster of the conference, said covering such a huge event as the Summit would pose a major challenge for his network in trying to translate the forum’s concepts into language that ordinary people could understand.

The SABC was trying to ensure that issues coming from other African countries focused on environmental dimensions and not just poverty and conflict, he said, adding that most of the time development issues did not make headlines and therefore it was difficult to put sustainable development issues onto commercial television stations.

The question was how to use the media to discuss complex issues such as sustainable development, said Simone Duarte, New York Bureau Chief for Globo TV of Brazil. In her country, one successful method was inserting environmental issues into soap operas. Another was having environmental campaigns. Both of those initiatives had received great responses from the public, she said.

Tim Hirsch, Senior Environmental Correspondent for the British Broadcasting Corporation said that it was difficult to reflect issues in an informative way. Doing so might sometimes be seen as being “preachy” in coverage and therefore would not get on the networks. The big problem with “sustainable development,” he said, was that it had not entered the public conscience, probably because of the lack of implementation on the part of governments.

Also taking part in today’s discussion was Jim Laurie, Vice-President of News and Current Affairs for Star TV in Hong Kong, and Barbara Pyle, former Corporate Vice-President of Environmental Policy for Turner Broadcasting in the United States.