As world attention focuses on negotiations on the rules of international trade, one crucial aspect that remains largely ignored is the role of the media in both developed and developing countries in raising public awareness and debate about trade policy-making.
Coverage of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and related trade issues in many developing country media is not only scant, but is often also marked by a "disconnect" in analysing the links between global decision-making and national policy formulation, and their implications for ordinary people.
Although there is frequent coverage of the views of national traders' associations and other powerful domestic interests on trade rules, the voices of the poor and marginalized--small farmers, workers or women--rarely find a mention.
Media reporting also frequently examines trends in top-level negotiations without sufficiently analysing the underlying interests or substantive issues at stake. As with the lack of attention to the human impact of trade, some observers find this tendency in media in developed countries, too.
But it is journalists from developing countries, often under-supported and under-resourced, who face the most testing challenge of enlightening the public and bringing their views into a wider debate of trade policies.
Many of the world's poorest countries fail to send journalists to international trade negotiation meetings, either because of resource constraints or because they don't consider it a priority.
Panos trained 13 journalists from Asia and Africa to cover trade and development issues during WTO's 2005 Hong Kong ministerial conference and the 2006 suspension of its Doha trade talks (see http://www.panos.org. uk/tradingplaces).
Panos's aim was to help journalists cover trade developments in ways that would address some typical shortcomings of traditional reporting:
* National-international policy links: Analyse the relationship between international trade rules and national trade policy challenges.
* Accessible analysis: Make complex policy processes and issues intelligible for target audiences, explaining technical language and jargon.
* Development perspective antipoverty focus: Focus on the link between trade and development--opportunities and barriers--and the implications of trade policies for poverty reduction.
* Human impact: Highlight how trade and trade policies affect people (for example, access to essential goods and services or employment).
* Poor people's voices: Gather and include the views of poor and vulnerable groups and of organizations working with them.
* Gender: Consider how trade policies reflect and affect the roles and socio-economic position of men and women.
* Interest representation and decision-making: Explore the underlying social, economic and political interests involved in trade policy-making.
* Views of different interest groups: Interview interest groups and stakeholders (e.g., consumers, producers, workers, small businesses, different ministries, parliamentarians) included or excluded in trade policy-making nationally and internationally.
Despite the emphasis on poverty reduction among policy-makers in the light of the Millennium Development Goals, it remains a challenge to encourage newspapers to report on trade and development at a time when the media environment itself is rapidly changing. The focus on poverty, once a strong feature of much developing-country journalism, appears to have been diluted on the pages of many Southern newspapers in recent years, in tandem with the growing commercialization of their newspaper industry.
Journalists from developing countries have remarked to Panos that coverage of trade and development often does not figure uppermost in the minds of the media owners, managers and editors who have to operate in an increasingly competitive commercial environment. …