Media ignores Millennium Development Goals report

Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals is the barometer of our endeavour to reduce global poverty.

In the 2009 annual report published last Monday in advance of the G8 summit, Ban Ki-moon conceded for the first time that “overall progress has been too slow for most of the targets to be met by 2015.”

Despite a press release issued by the UN Department of Public Information, none of the UK national newspapers covered the MDG report. Even the Guardian was silent. More curious still, the UN’s own news service missed it.

This might be evidence in favour of William Easterly’s argument that the MDGs have been relegated to a sad coda of development history. “Let’s face it: it’s over. The MDGs will not be met,” he says.

Whatever the explanation, this media silence concerns me greatly. It’s not so much that the plight of the poor remains unheard but that this particular media space will be invaded by the economic-business-as-usual brigade. Its mission is to claim that the good years of rising global growth and trade delivered exceptional results for poverty reduction – and that the sooner we can rekindle the old fires the better for everyone, including the poor.

This mistaken interpretation of human development data is spouted regularly by captains of industry and other defenders of the status quo.

Here’s one recent example. HSBC is a global bank wallowing in pride that it has been sufficiently robust to refuse government rescue funding. Its chairman, Stephen Green, has felt emboldened to publish a book entitled Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World. In a promotional interview, he asserts that “in recent times globalisation has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, particularly in China and India.”

Stephen Green should refer to the 2009 MDG report for enlightenment. In the period 1990-2005, the glory years of economic prosperity in which his own basic salary advanced beyond a million pounds, the number of people living in extreme poverty fell from 1.8 billion to 1.4 billion, of which China accounted for 465 million.

Take China out of the equation and we therefore have a rise in poverty over this period. In sub-Saharan Africa, 100 million people were added to the roll. In India, child malnutrition remains as chronic as it was ten years ago.

More worrying still is the realisation that these figures predate the three footprints stamped on developing countries by the fallout from unregulated globalisation – recession, unaffordable food and climate change.

The G8 meeting this week at least acknowledged this unholy trinity in its agenda but scored only one out of three in action. An encouraging shift of emphasis towards food security was outweighed by the leaders’ failure to resolve differences on economic recovery and emissions reductions.

Proper media coverage of the latest MDG report might have concentrated their minds.


this article was first published by OneWorld UK