By Amanda Stone
In the world of food aid the “F-word” stands for Famine. On Friday, July 2nd, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and Thomson Reuters Foundation AlertNet hosted a seminar on how hunger is portrayed in the media. The event, broadcast from London, included a live blog that could be followed throughout the day allowing attendees ranging from Doctors Without Borders in Ghana to BBC journalists from across the world working on hunger issues to comment and participate.
Often reporters write about famine because it makes for a strong story. But real famines – such as the one seen in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 1990s- don’t occur very often. Hunger itself, however, is a dramatic and life-threatening day-to-day reality in many countries, and the seminar made the point that it should get more space in the media than it currently does.
Panel discussions at the seminar included topics such as:
• Reporting on complex humanitarian disasters;
• The cost of getting food to the hungry in danger zones;
• Who is responsible for speaking up for the hungry; the roles of and tensions between media, the humanitarian community and governments in determining who gets help;
• Intelligent food aid – new horizons in food assistance.
There was also discussion of the place of new social media outlets in communicating on complex issues. Some worried that the new brand of “citizen journalists” might bring unsubstantiated information to a lot of people, without having journalist training on responsible reporting. Others made the argument that new media can both bring to light interesting stories in a more simplified manner and also in a more quick time frame, such as the tweets from Haiti within an hour of the earthquake hitting.
Another interesting point was made that from an online commenter that journalists need stories that begin and end somewhere, and unfortunately hunger doesn’t typically fit into that model.
Panelist George Fominyen, AlertNet’s humanitarian affairs correspondent for West and Central Africa, replied, “But within the big hunger story there are many smaller stories that do start and end, events that have an impact on the course of hunger, personal stories that reflect a wider truth.”
Amanda Stone is a Communications Intern with Nourishing the Planet.