Thursday, 28 April 2011

MDGs and development journalism


by Susan Alexander |

As a communicator, the Millennium Development Goals have been both a blessing and burden. The Goals have taken a long time to get any traction in the media. After the 2005 Gleneagles Summit they penetrated the discourse of the “international community”. Amongst activists popular understanding and support for the MDGs was generated through actions like the Stand Up mobilizations, with massive involvement by Southern citizens. IPS worked intensively in its capacity as a development-focused news agency to use the MDGs as a way to get more space and attention for the core issues, and worked with journalists, partners and other media to strengthen communication capacity and impact.
Today such vanguard efforts are being replicated by other news outlets and partners, but with much still to be achieved. For general audiences the MDGs are, at best, jargon to be explained. A recent study of mainstream European newspapers showed just 3.5% of total coverage devoted to development co-operation, and most of that about disaster relief. Using the MDGs as an entry point for development journalism is a good approach but it is still a formidable challenge to get space and attention for development.
On the one hand they provide a simple story hook and a straightforward benchmark.  However, since the underlying issues, debates and measurements are necessarily complex, contested and contentious the headline achievements are only ever that – the headline. Reporting substantively on poverty, health, education and empowerment is as challenging as it ever was.
In 2010 it is hard to hear a shared narrative coming through. What is the story of success and failure that the “international community” wants to tell and what does the future hold? As the 2015 deadline approaches the Goals themselves are less compelling as a framing device and so the question is really what next?

Susan Alexander is Director of Operations at Inter Press Service (IPS).