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Journalists, come out, come out, wherever you are!

Published 19th April 2010 - 7 comments - 2285 views -

When it comes to addressing the problems of the developing world, it’s not only political will that’s missing, but media coverage too.

Love it or hate it, the media can play an effective role in holding governments to account. There’s no tiptoeing around, it’s straight to the point when you’re flown in and given just hours to compile a story.  Moreover, unlike aid workers, journalists aren't compelled to appease dictatorships. The might not get any answers, but they can ask whatever they like.

Getting the truth out there means journalists have the power to make a real difference. Only one problem, international development is simply not on their radar. We heard at the Th!nk3 launch that 500 journalists covered India’s fashion week, yet in a country where over 2 million people live on less than 50 cents a day, there's not a single full time journalist reporting on poverty. Of everything I heard that day, (and there was an awful lot to take in) what stayed at the forefront of my mind was definitely that fact.

A good opportunity?

I wonder, perhaps hacks have a chance to redeem themselves. For so long, many of them have been berated for churning out sensationalist story one after the other. Covering serious world stories might just earn them back some street cred. There’s also the chance to carve a career out of working on international development, since there are so few reporters out there doing just that.

Taking responsibility

With this opportunity comes big responsibility. The public is so heavily influenced by the media, journalists reporting on developing countries have an even bigger responsibility on their hands. Projecting the realities of life in a developing country is not easy at the best of times.

Image courtesy of

Bucking the trend

Working with looming deadlines, political instability, a foreign language and a constantly changing situation makes it that bit harder to deliver. So it’s not hard to see why journalists tend to get complacent and stick with showing yet another starving child or a group of desperate looking villagers. A few shocking images gets the message across instantly. But not anymore. Much of the west has become immune to the generic ‘flies around the face’ picture. It’s time to break the pattern of portraying those living in developing countries as weak, passive onlookers. Rather, these countries and their inhabitants ought to be seen as investment opportunities.

Moving forwards

Only then can the debate evolve into a more sophisticated one. Just like the aid workers, the media needs to commit to embarking upon a long-term journey. Why don’t they use their influence to educate the masses? There in the thick of it, they have the chance to understand the subtleties of the situation, which are usually overlooked in a two-minute news story.  

We often forget that in a lot of countries the media itself is still developing, but the core potential to achieve these things is still present.

I started off my Th!nk3 experience with the post ‘What can we achieve?’ We're not the decision makers, but who says bloggers can't make up for the lack of journalists, and contribute to the public perception and awareness of the developing world?

Category: Media | Tags: media coverage,


  • Luan Galani on 19th April 2010:

    Great depiction of reality on media radar, Lara. The whole picture is quite absurd, isn’t it? Of everything we heard, what Seifert told us about correspondents on poverty is shocking, but at the same time, it is a gripping invitation for us to jump at. I’ve considered that the biggest wake up call ever on media coverage.

  • Lara Smallman on 19th April 2010:

    Thanks Luan. The more I think about it the more absurd it seems. It will be interesting to see if and how the situation changes in the building up to the UN Session this September, and of course, as the MDGs’ target year of 2015 approaches…

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 20th April 2010:

    You have a point Lara. I guess there are problems unique to the dynamics of how media works in a specific country. Here in the Philippines for example, the media is affected by too many complex problems such as low pay, lack of training, culture of impunity and threats to press freedom. Journalists want to do as much as possible but sometimes, problems become stumbling blocks.

  • Hemant Jain on 21st April 2010:

    Here we go Lara. I thought you’d like an Indian perspective on the Journalism issue.

  • Lara Smallman on 21st April 2010:

    @Iris, it is very interesting to hear what’s going on in the Philippines. Are there any signs of improvement or change? Has the media always been like that?

    @Hemant, thanks for the link. I am keen to hear and see different perspectives on this.

  • Iris Cecilia Gonzales on 21st April 2010:

    hi Lara,

    It’s been a perennial problem in the Philippines, these issues. But what’s good it’s that practitioners are more united now when it comes to standing up for our rights. Will keep you posted. I will be writing about this in a separate post. Thanks!

  • Lara Smallman on 23rd April 2010:

    I look forward to reading that Iris, thanks.

    Here is my follow-up post: A picture speaks a thousand words, but must they be such negatives ones?

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