David Hulme takes the media to task over the way it covers the developing world.
Bangladesh makes the headlines with stories of factory fires, exploited garment workers, political violence, or bombings. Yet, Bangladesh has shown remarkable economic growth and achieved rapid social development – progress that is rarely reported. In many ways, the country is a huge development success story, so why the unrelenting focus on doom and gloom?
The nature of contemporary media, when not being trivial and celebrity-focussed, seems to be to sensationalise and to focus on all that is bad – to report the disasters in a country such as Bangladesh, omit the achievements, and assume only bad news will sell. For developing countries stories of natural disasters, disease, illegal immigration, war, and exploitation, dominate, when actually life in most countries is much better now than it ever has been.
On average globally we are over three times “better off” in terms of income than we were in 1950. Since 1990 the rate of extreme poverty has halved. Life expectancy continues to rise in all regions of the world. More people now live in democracies than ever before, and primary school enrolments increased by 7% in developing countries in a two year period. Bangladesh, for example, has met targets for reducing extreme poverty, gender parity in primary education and child mortality. They are also on track to reach 100% primary school enrolment and the MDG targets for maternal health and HIV/AIDs prevalence halting. We should not hide the remarkable progress that poor countries and poor people have made in the last 25 years. The Great Escape by Angus Deaton and Getting Better by Charles Kenny are examples of two books which focus on this progress.
However, this is still not the full story. Considering the affluent world in which we live, progress towards eradicating poverty is far too slow. 1 in 9 people in the world remain hungry. We have the technological and organizational capabilities to achieve all of the Millennium Development Goals and it would take only a reallocation of less than 1% of global GDP to eradicate the extreme poverty still suffered by 1.2 billion people.
Inequality, which slows down poverty reduction, is spiralling. By 2016, the top 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined. The rules and institutions regulating international finance are ineffective. Developing countries lose more to tax dodging by multinational companies than they receive in aid each year
The stories of environmental degradation are as bad as they seem. The world emits 48% more carbon dioxide from consumption of energy than it did in 1992 and a 2° rise is “guaranteed within a generation”. This rise will have catastrophic and irreversible effects. Forest destruction and ocean pollution also continues.
Exclusion is also still a problem in terms of gender, ethnicity, race, religion and disability. 21 million men, women and children around the world are in some form of slavery.
So, we are doing well, but we have to do much better. There are things that we all can do.
If you want a more constructive source of the news, check out positivenews.org.uk, which does an excellent job of showcasing the positive stories all around us.
We can make contributions to a development or humanitarian NGO, reduce our carbon footprint, buy fairtrade and ask our pension provider about ethical investment. It is important that we think about our views on development issues, share them with our personal networks and question our constituency candidates in the forthcoming election – what is their party’s strategy for helping poor people in poor countries do better?
If we think and act, the doom and gloom can give way to a more cheerful outlook for the future for everyone.