The Medium is the Message, and the Message is Sustainable Development: Media Strategies to Foster Sustainable Development

It’s of no surprise that general pessimism about and distrust towards the media exist, and not just in the world of civil society. The media is corrupt, or biased, and it certainly doesn’t often report the most uplifting or important news. “Today, we’re going to talk about the good side of media, and how it’s creating sustainable development,” opened up the Moderator Dr. Elizabeth Carll in the workshop “Media Strategies to Foster Sustainable Development: Examples from Africa, Asia, Caribbean, North and South America”.

Stephen Gregory built on the public’s distrust of media by showing a presentation that showed a graph of the public’s distrust of media and how it has only grown in recent decades. Specifically in China, the freedom of press is one of the lowest in the world (ranked #173 out of 178 countries on Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders), with a government that entirely owns and controls the media and harsh sanctions against those who report differently from state-controlled press. Thus, Chinese people who left the country and became expatriates in the United States created the Epoch Times in order to share news in Chinese about what was going on in China. Gregory discussed how the Epoch Times’ three largest stories were human rights violations/political issues in China and were largely underreported in other international media organizations. Some of these stories, such as the Movement to Quit the Chinese Communist Party, initiated additional projects and strengthened the movement against the Party’s human rights violations.

Nosh Nalava, the Executive Director and Bureau Chief of MediaGlobal and UNEARTH News, Climate Change Solutions Television in partnership with the United Nations, is similarly committed to the media’s responsibility to truth and justice. His media companies are exclusively focused on issues such as poverty, environment, and gender in the world’s least developed countries. “80% of British television will only cover natural disaster and conflict stories in these regions,” he says. “International media has an obligation to share these stories.” Nalava has also focused on training young journalists to report stories of the world’s least developed nations at the United Nations, so that the next generation builds capacity in this area and understands the media’s responsibility to be the voice of the world’s most marginalized people.

Media is more than simply journalism and newspapers, however. Sean Southey, Chief Executive Officer of PCI Media Impact, a storytelling organization, says, “Radio is really what is used in most of the developing world. That is the power of media. The important thing is, can you connect people to the important things that affect their everyday life?” PCI Media Impact is more than 30 years old, and uses the Entertainment-Education method. They find real stories about local issues and train locals to tell these stories through a variety of media mediums: radio, television, and film. They produce serial dramas, call-in shows, and community mobilization campaigns. PCI Media Impact currently has 27 productions active in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and since its creation, it has reached a billion people and allowed many to learn and talk about difficult issues such as violence against women, drugs, environmental issues and more in an easier way. Southey shared a brief clip of an animated drama in Latin America called La Caldera, and the audience was mesmerized. The technical skill and narrative development was clear in La Caldera, which was voiced by local actors in Spanish and Quechua.

How do these different media projects and strategies engender sustainable development, then? H.E. Ambassador Guillermo Rischynski to the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations wanted to define sustainable development. “Sustainability means that we need to take an attitudinal shift for the next 30 years, getting away from the culture of ‘me’ and ‘my’ needs to ‘us’ and ‘our’ needs. That means media needs to get some basic messages, like sharing is okay. Sustainability, the lexicon, it hasn’t been picked up by media: collective interests have to have priority over individual interests.”

It is then clear how these different media strategies have truly embodied sustainable development. By promoting messages of collective responsibility and the importance of the collective good, by building capacity and creating jobs by training locals to participate in media projects, by training youth to work as responsible and compassionate media professionals – all of that is sustainable development.

Media is on the frontlines, working on the message. Civil society should be the conscience of media and the message, and make sure that the message is right. The daily struggle to survive has to be the focal point of why we have a sustainable development agenda and why we need to project a message around that. Both media purveyers and consumers have a responsibility to this: having access to information and also the most relevant information.

This workshop was dynamic, concrete and useful. The audience was enthralled by the different panelists’ presentations of their struggles as media professionals to raise awareness of diverse issues. As Ambassador Guillermo Rischynski made his closing remarks, a huge round of applause ran out. We had run more than half an hour over time, but no one had noticed. We all walked out with a clearer idea of how media can contribute to sustainable development, and perhaps with more optimism for the future of media in the world.

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