Africa: G8 Journalists Let Leaders Off Lightly

8 July 2009
Blog

Rome — Robert Fox, the executive director of Oxfam Canada, writes on the G8 meetings in Italy:

We've now seen what they've agreed to and it isn't pretty. On aid and Africa, there's nothing new. And on the economic crisis, well, let's just say the impact on the poor in the global South wasn't top of mind for G8 leaders.

When you speak to journalists about this stark reality they ask: "But where's the news? Every year we hear the same thing."

Performance on aid varies greatly among G8 members but together they fall $23 billion short of the target they set in 2005. The result? At least three million lives have been lost - women who die needlessly in childbirth; children who fall victim to preventable diseases; persons with AIDS whose lives are cut short because they could not get treatment.

It's true the crisis in Africa didn't start yesterday, but it's also true it's increasingly bleak. The global economic crisis, made worse by climate change and rising food prices, is pushing ever larger numbers of women and men, already teetering on the brink, over the edge. But it's also true there's good news too - clear evidence of the benefits from investments in health and education, water and sanitation, especially for women and girls.

Journalists also complain it's difficult to sift through the G8 commitments to see which are real and which are spin; what is new or additional money and what is recycling a previous unmet promise. Also true. The devil is in the details and reporters need to dig to find out if there's any substance behind the rhetoric. That's a key role for Oxfam and our team of experts and allies here in the Media Centre - helping journalists cut through the hype.

But it's also true that if the media can find ten minutes in a newscast to rehash the details of a pop star's funeral, they should be able to find 90 seconds to report that three million people are dying needlessly while the richest countries in the world duck their commitments. And if teams of reporters can delve into the murky details of a celebrity's financial dealings, perhaps they could also make the effort to follow the money upon which people's lives depend.

This year's Summit has the added challenge of being located at the epicentre of an earthquake that devastated Abruzzo province in April this year, killing 300 and leaving 60,000 homeless. Prime Minister Berlusconi is taking full advantage of the leaders' presence to highlight the need for increased reconstruction funds - a telegenic scene irresistible to the networks. And G8 governments are responding accordingly.

Which raises the question whether we need to arrange an opportunity for world leaders to visit first hand the homes of others desperate for investments in their future - clinics, schools, water and sanitation systems, agricultural extension services and funds to help them adapt to climate change and stem the tide of rising temperatures.

Until we can arrange that, we continue our efforts - along with our partners and allies - to bring the voices and reality of people living in poverty to the attention of G8 leaders. And we'll continue to encourage, badger and hound reporters to bring a more critical eye and greater sense of urgency to their Summit coverage.

In the meantime, we made international news with our stunt on climate change this morning.

Robert Fox is the executive director of Oxfam Canada and his blog was originally published on the Oxfam International website.

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