What's trending in international development? Political turmoil and natural disasters
9 May 2011 - Nick Perkins
Issues of poverty and wellbeing only make it into the news when crises strike. IDS has been monitoring a selection of newspapers and bloggers to see what headlines and blogposts can reveal about the overlap between public concerns and international development studies.
Here we take a look at the big topics discussed over April. First some reflection on the most common words in the headlines and titles of blogposts.
Stories of unrest
Unsurprisingly, the Arab Spring continues to dominate the international press. Significantly though, the story has progressed. Two months ago, we were monitoring protests on the streets in Libya, now we are monitoring the realpolitiks of no fly zones. But coverage and response has moved on in more subtle but significant ways as well.
IDS Participation, Power and Social Change Research Fellow, Mariz Tadros says that, in her native Egypt, Libya has become an unexpected issue of unification. "The reaction to the crisis in Libya in the press is that the different political forces, be they Islamists, liberals, leftists, or Arabists, are now almost unanimously united in their opposition to Western/Nato-led intervention in Libya which, they argue, is driven purely by political and economic self-interests. While no one is sympathetic to Qaddafi, opposition to the NATO intervention is equally intense, and both are seen to lack legitimacy."
The civil unrest in Ivory Coast has also generated much media attention in the last several weeks. Firstly as a result of the disputed outcome of the presidential elections, followed by the outbreak of military hostilities between the three parties: the pro-Gbagbo forces, the pro-Ouattara forces and the UN/French forces. What is most striking about this story is learning that both presidential hopefuls invested as much effort in controlling the media as they did in controlling the street corners of Abidjan.
Jeremy Allouche, a Fellow with the Knowledge, Society and Technology Research team, notes that "the control of the television and radio in Ivory Coast was a central strategic target, but this war of communication was also strongly relayed in the Western media, especially in France, where both parties had influential spokesmen that made sure the interests of both parties were relayed. As a result, the crisis in Ivory Coast has been portrayed in the media as a crisis of political leadership, ignoring in some ways the most important aspects of the conflict which relates to the issue of land rights, ownership and identity."
We have also looked at the most frequent words to occur in the texts of article and blogposts. In particular we have noted the patterns and relationships between words. In the diagram below we see the words that were most often coupled.
Natural hazards, unnatural disasters...
Recent events in Japan have made clear the links between earthquakes and tsunamis. Head of Climate Change at IDS, Matthew Lockwood expressed surprise at the lack of reference to Haiti's earthquake, which only occurred just over a year after the Japanese one:
"What strikes me is that so little has been made of the contrast with the Haitian earthquake. This was 700 times less powerful than the main Japanese quake, yet the death toll in Haiti was an order of magnitude higher (300,000 compared to around 20,000 in Japan). There has also been a huge contrast in post-quake reconstruction - over a year on from Haiti's quake, most of Port-au-Prince is still rubble, whereas the Japanese have already done the clean up and passed a $48 billion recovery budget, with every expectation that they will be able to rebuild affected towns and cities."
For Dr Lockwood, the reasons for this difference in recovery should not be ignored because they provide important lessons for the media. "Large amounts of money went into Haiti following the quake, but a mix of a dysfunctional aid response and anti-developmental political institutions in Haiti have meant that reconstruction didn't follow. The media have been very fixated on the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, and maybe they might have been more interested in this contrast had that not happened, but the latter is actually the more important lesson to take away from the events."
Food (in)glorious food
The growing centrality of food in public debates in the last month is also striking. Part of this interest may have been triggered by the release of statements by candidates to take on leadership of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
IDS Director, Lawrence Haddad, believes there are increasing linkages to issues around food and food prices, even in news stories that may not, at first, seem closely related. He says "I have noticed a trend - correct in my view - towards reporting on food prices as being determined not only by food production, but by things outside the food sector. First it was energy prices, then commodity prices in general, then financial speculation on the markets." Given that food prices have again risen to crisis levels for the world's poorest families over the last 12 months, we really cannot afford to leave any stone unturned when it comes to solutions.
These analyses show that, while media reporting may not be focused on development issues, they frequently touch upon areas that are pillars to development thinking: poverty, vulnerability, power, and our interaction with the natural environment.
Nick Perkins is Head of Research Communications at IDS
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