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Asian Media Ignoring Crisis of Sub-Saharan Proportions
By Kalinga Seneviratne
Special Contribution
Asian Media Information and Communication Centre in Singapore

Manila, July 14, 2008 — Consumed by excessive commercialization the Asian media is ignoring a human crisis in Asia which is of sub-Saharan proportions warned senior development economists from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) speaking at a four-day regional conference begun here today which is focusing on how the media could assist Asian countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by 2015.

"With only seven years to go before the deadline for achieving the millennium development goal is reached, 60 percent of those who are living under extreme poverty are living in Asia," noted Dr. Shiladitya Chatterjee, Head of the Poverty Unit at ADB speaking at the 17th annual conference of the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC).

"We consider sub-Saharan Africa as the worse area in terms of development, but Asia is doing much worse as a region," added the Indian economist. "So the biggest crisis of hunger is in Asia, not Africa, yet our media, while praising Asia's growth statistics, prefer to ignore this human crisis."

Dr. Chatterjee presented a stack of statistics from the ADB data bank to support his view that Asia's poor communities, especially in rural areas, lack access to clean drinking water — in fact some 650 million of them — and even more lack sanitation facilities, which also leads to disease.

"The media need to report these forgotten stories," he argued, adding that media by itself cannot be blamed for this, because there is a dearth of reference point statistics on this problem at national (government) levels to alert the media to such stories.

The MDGs were conceptualized in September 2000, when member states of the United Nations gathered at the Millennium Summit to affirm commitments towards reducing poverty and the worst forms of human deprivation. The Summit adopted the UN Millennium Declaration which embodies specific targets and milestones in eliminating extreme poverty worldwide to be reached in 15 years.

The MDGs are a set of 8 targets which covers the areas of poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality and empowerment of women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV-AIDS, Malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development.

Dr. Chaterjee argues that reaching these MDGs is a basic human right and that it is basically a problem of the poor. "Media should empower poor to demand their rights," he said.

In his opening keynote speech, Vice-President of the Philippines, Noli De Castro, a former broadcast journalist, said that broadcasters should have a shared mission to turn back a process which is perpetuating injustice and poverty. "The media should remind the governments about the need to practice compassion and generosity to address poverty and injustice," he argued.

He pointed out that while there is much abundance, those who enjoy it refuse to share their wealth, and the challenge for the broadcasters and the media is to use the tools of their trade to generate compassion and generosity in the community so that injustice and poverty could be eradicated.

Prof. John Lent of Temple University in the United States pointed out that after living under George Bush for eight years he has become pessimistic about the capacity of new community technologies to address the problems of inequalities of power. "Globalization and the information society are not contributing to solving problems of the South (developing countries)," he argues. "Globalization promotes capitalism (which) operates as one large market and there are no differences."

Milind Kokje, coordinator of the Asian Media Forum agrees that the excessive commercialization of the media is the biggest barrier to the media playing a greater role in assisting to achieve the MDGs. "Rampant commercialization of the media has resulted in the social agenda of the media replaced by a commercial agenda," he noted.

He pointed out that while the food crisis is threatening to force about 100 million people in Asia back to poverty, the media is preoccupied with reporting about sports, glamour, entertainment, beauty contests and celebrity gossip.

"While growth in Asia is unprecedented, economic disparities are growing and the food crisis is a result of the neglect of the agriculture sector (by governments) but the media is not interested (to report that)," observed Kokje. "Upper classes have no sympathy for the poor and the media is aiding the upper classes because they are the market."

He suggested that if the media is unable to create a debate about the development agenda, much of the information the media collect may not disseminate because their market is not geared for such information, this information may be shared with civil society groups, who could transmit this information to the community.

Dr. Kalinga Seneviratne,
Head of Research, AMIC
Wee Kim Wee School of Communications and Information Building,
# 04-19, 31 Nanyang Link, Singapore 637718
Ph: 65 - 6792 7570 Email:






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