Roosevelt’s dream

Posted: July 17, 2012 by jennroig in Academia, English
Tags: , ,

(Essay delivered as final paper for “Reporting Global Change”, first module of the Erasmus Mundus Journalism Master. Prof. Hans Henrik Holm)

“The structure of the world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one nation. It cannot be a peace of large nations –or small nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt.

By the morning of 25 September 2009, CNBC broadcasted an interview with Jacqueline Cramer, the Dutch environment minister. The subject of analysis between the functionary and the journalists was climate change and what to wait on the matter from the current G20 Summit in Pittsburg, US. Through the American news channel, Cramer urged businessmen to take stand on the global threat that is climate change, and stressed the importance of US commitment to a shared contribution and responsibility. Both the minister and journalists agreed on the great expectations raised by this meeting towards the next United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, CNBC online version was covering the G20 Summit as well, but the approach was different. The focus was on the international economic crisis and the efforts to promote global recovery. Other news websites, such as the Spanish newspaper El País, the Argentinean El Clarín or BBC were reporting also the meeting in Pittsburg, but on dissimilar angles. Some of the headlines were Tobin Tax, police repression against protesters in Pittsburg, IMF necessary reforms and a new role of emerging economies. Climate change issue was represented only through brief lines at the end of each story.

How to explain the difference on the coverage of the same event from the same news media? Why climate change is receiving an inconsistent attention if it is an important issue and all media are immersed in the so called ‘Globalization’? How are interrelated the globalization process and the reporting of environment?

In order to understand media production on global crisis, the context should be considered and some influential facts must be recognized and clarified.

Since the boom of digital technologies, the world changed and so did media. Satellites and fiberglass exponentially increased their outreach. CNBC was a North American low-budget satellite program network when started in 1989, but now it is a conglomerate of channels which provide live coverage of financial markets to its 390 million viewers. Audiences in New York could immediately hear about stock fluctuations in Hong Kong. As Holm relates, «we see, thus, the slow birth of a global public»[1]. Such effect, among similar others in many aspects of life, had powerful influence in economy, therefore in politics, and society as a whole was transformed. That transformation is what social scientists, media and scholars named as Globalization, which has become a force that shapes social interactions beyond boundaries.

Even though, a clear definition of globalization is still center of debate. Some scholars argue that there is nothing new; America’s colonization was only part of this ancient process. Others bring in theories about a development of a «global consciousness»[2]. A third view refers that something really new happened in the way social connections relate people despite their distant locations. «The spread of transplanetary –and in recent times also more particularly supraterritorial– connections between people»[3] is how Scholte identifies globalization.

CNBC embodies Scholte’s definition. Such universal broadcasting corporation enables an alteration of space and time. When audiences watch simultaneously an event despite their distant geographies, space and time seem not matter anymore.

Thus, transworld connections allowed East Timorese people to witness “live transmission” of the devastating strike of Hurricane Gustav to Cuba. As immediate response, financial aid was sent to the remote Caribbean Island[4]. East Timor inhabitants were acting like world citizens then.

However, space matters, as all the branches of CNBC prove. That is how they broadcast for 390 million viewers. The North American Business News Corporation is omnipresent throughout the world via more than ten local channels. Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America receive distinct approaches and there are even subdivisions in the bigger and culturally complex regions. Space matters as long as languages, economical interests, resources, markets, cultural patterns and even religions are not the same. At some levels, this supraterritorial understanding of space is hard to achieve given the great national distinctions influencing on social connections.

Another theory focuses on the consequences. Bisley highlights «a set of related social, political and economic consequences of a series of transformations in the social world»[5]. The discussion claims here for something that is missing. From an environmental perspective, this gap can be visualized.

Climate change is an ongoing process, both a cause and a consequence. Human action provoked it and now it is a menace hanging over humanity. Its scope, manifestations and repercussions worldwide are experienced differently. Still, there is another definition which seems more suitable. According Held, «contemporary globalization is distinguished by unique spatio-temporal and organizational features, creating a world in which the extensive reach of global relations and networks is matched by their relative high intensity, high velocity and high impact propensity across many facets of social life, from economic to the environmental»[6].  In his analysis economical, environmental and political globalizations are enumerated and characterized.

Such scenario, where globalization acts in complex ways, pushed Media to reconfigure their production routines and structure. Information became immediate and numerous; competition is harder; and traditional roles of addresser and addressee have mutated. Undoubtedly, it is a more conflictive arena for an analysis of trends that configures the reporting of global crisis.

Cottle’s research establishes two trends that shape media coverage of global crisis. These are the “pull of the national” and the “cosmopolitan vision” [7]. First, he set the relation of global crisis «to the interconnectedness, interdependent and inegalitarian nature of the global age»[8] and immediately he remarks the role of the journalism «in constituting them as such on the news media word stage. (…) [It is] through the news media where most of us get to know about them and where they are visualized, narrativized, publicly defined and sometimes challenged and contested»[9].

Nowadays the belief that climate change is global threat is recognized. While the United Nations Environment Program just warned about an even worse panorama than previously IPCC reports showed[10], Barack Obama was trying to modify the image of his country in the UN General Assembly on 23 September 2009, stating the actions that US has carried out to confront climate change[11].

Both the concept of environmental globalization assessed by Held, and media coverage of climate change, make a perfect platform for Beck’s perception of global threats. Accordingly, «it is the common and increasingly mediated perception of global threats, not universalizing statements about shared humanity, that serves to underpin and mobilize ideas about global cosmopolitan citizenship and an emergent global public sphere»[12]. Environmental threat is tangible for all living specie on Earth, much more than fears to pandemics, terrorist attacks or a nuclear blast.

A cosmopolitan vision of a global crisis should result from establishing links among nations. On 18 June 2009, the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article about climate change impacts on Asian agricultural production, because of persistent droughts[13]. The journalist summarized and related the scope of the crisis in that region with possible effects in other countries dependent on Asian trade. This was combined with a variety of sources, international organizations and experts from several nationalities. The article exposed as well the responsibility of developed countries on the climate change issue.

Even more, a cosmopolitan vision should encourage a sense of globality. It should support the certainty that landslides in Haiti, caused by massive deforestation, are closely related to all individual in the world as much as the peril on Amazonas rainforests.

But media coverage rarely shows such approaches. On the one hand, stories still show consistency on national angles. As Cottle expresses, «this global outlook and sensibility too often remain confined behind national borders and geopolitical interests. Journalism is not exempt from national parochialisms»[14]. On the other hand, traditional news values keep ruling the selection of stories. As Holm reflects, «classical news criteria are still by far the most influential arguments used in the selection of news»[15]. These two elements conform what Cottle named the “pull of the national”.

That trend could explain why the same Cuban newspaper which provided an article with such cosmopolitan angle, on 25 September did not include any headline referred to G20 Summit, but just a brief note in a secondary section. In Cuba, international meetings where liberal economy is the main subject are not among editorial lineups.

US media behave not so differently. Political disagreements ballast each country’s coverage on common problems, such as the path of wreck that hurricanes left behind in both nations. Last year, after Hurricane Ike when Cuban government refused United States financial aid offer, the New York Times criticized the “communist” decision, stressing ideological discrepancy, instead of calling to dialogue for assistance to victims[16]. No association of nations, no linkage between people.

According several case studies[17], production routines and news values remain steady despite all the technological impact. Therefore, selection of stories and sources also continue similarly. Media keep relying on elite sources; influence from states or economical actors is still vast; critical perspective appears in stretch margins; and political and cultural sympathies and rivalries pervade the coverage.  Media are usually anchored in their immediate geographical location and national angles. There is no global spread or consensus on news values.

Finally, regarding climate change, the “objective style”, the “necessary” coldness of journalism, its urge of balancing facts and opinion, are not helping to shape a social consciousness that lead to actions.

That way, CNBC reporting or coverage of any other media, on G20 Summit had to be different. Not because of any inconsistency but due to its role as mediator between facts and audiences. Truly, alternative citizen journalism is influencing the panorama, but as an ongoing process, the final outcome is in still in the future. About current status, Holm conclusions states: «globalization is changing how foreign news production is structured. It has also had a strong impact on media policy. But the fundamental norms that editors and journalists express still reflect traditional news values»[18].

Big decisions must be made. G20 leaders recognized it in the previous London summit, «a global crisis requires a global solution»[19]. Recently, president Obama confirmed it in front of world leaders gathered at UN Assembly: «more than at any point in human history- the interests of nations and peoples are shared».

However, this turning point oblige to much more than rhetoric from press. It takes practical actions, yet societies work as systems. Therefore, a real change could only be achieved if all forces aim together at the same direction. Media will be inefficient and insufficient without supports of education systems, civil societies, governments and public spheres. States cannot do it by separate, although actions must be implemented in each particular context. There will be no solution without a political will that overcomes boundaries and states.

 

(2048 words)


[1] Hans-Herrik Holm, News in a Globalized Society, p. 115.

[2] Robertson in Hans-Herrik Holm, p. 115.

[3] Jan Aart Scholte, Defining Globalization, p.59.

[4] Material and Spiritual Aid Continues to Grow for Victims of Hurricane Gustav, Periódico 26 online website, available on http://www.periodico26.cu/english/news_cuba/september2008/hurricane-aid090508.html

[5] Nick Bisley, Rethinking Globalization, p.30.

[6] David Held and Anthony McGrew, Governing Globalization: power, authority and Global Governance, Introduction, p.2. Available on http://www.polity.co-uk/global/pdf/02Intro.pdf

[7] Simon Cottle, Global Crisis Reporting, Journalism in the Global Age. Conclusions. Pp.164-171.

[8] Simon Cottle, p. 164.

[9] Simon Cottle, p. 165.

[10] Impacts of Climate Change Coming Faster and Sooner: New Science Report Underlines Urgency for Governments to Seal the Deal in Copenhagen. News Center of the United Nations Environment Program, available on http://www.unep.org/newscentre/default.asp

[11] Barack Obama, 23/09/2009, full speech available on

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/sep/23/barack-obama-un-speech

[12] Ulrich Beck in Simon Cottle, p.169.

[13] Nyliam Vázquez, El pretexto perfecto, (The perfect pretext), available on http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/opinion/2009-06-18/el-pretexto-perfecto

[14] Simon Cottle, p.72.

[15] Hans-Henrik Holm, p.122.

[16] Marc Lacey, Battered by storms, Cuba Uses Ideological Zeal to lift Spirits and Direct Anger, available on http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/world/americas/28cuba.html?scp=7&sq=cuba++US=financial&st=nyt

[17] Paul R. Brewer, National Interests Frames and Public Opinion about World Affaires; Zixue Tai and Tsan-Kuo Chang, The Global News and the Pictures in their Heads; Zixue Tai, Media of the World and World of the Media.

[18] Hans-Henrik Holm, p.126.

[19] Leaders statement from the G20 summit in London, available on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7979606.stm

 

Bibliography:

–      Bisley, Nick, Rethinking Globalization, Palgrave, New York, 2007.

–      Brewer, Paul R., “National Interests Frames and Public Opinion about World Affairs”, Press/Politics, 2006.

–      Cottle, Simon, Global Crisis Reporting, Journalism in the Global Age, McGraw Hill/Open University Press, 2009.

–      Held, David and Anthony McGrew, “Introduction”, Governing Globalization: power, authority and Global Governance, 2002, online copy available on: http://wwwpolity.co.uk/global/pdf/02Intro/pdf

–      Holm, Hans-Henrik, “The Effect of Globalization on Media Structures and Norms”, in Stig Hjarvard (ed) News in a Globalized Society, Nordicom, 2001.

–      Naim, Moises, Think Again Globalization, Foreign Policy, April 2009.

–      Scholte, Jan Aart, “Defining Globalization”, Globalization: A Critical Introduction, Palgrave 2 ed. New York, 2005.

–      Tai, Zixue, “Media of the world or the world of the media, a Cross-National Study of the Rankings of the ‘Top 10 World Events’ from 1988 to 1998”, Gazette Vol. 62, Sage Publications, London, 2000.

–      Tai, Zixue and Tsan-Kuo Chang, “The Global News and The Pictures in Their Heads”, Gazette: The International Journal For Communication Studies, Sage Publications, London, 2002.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s