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Press Release 01/97


Rome, 11 December 2001. Development issues are at best a marginal part of the content of the industrialised world's press and journalists fail to report in depth on issues such as famine and hunger, according to a new report by global communications research company Echo Research Ltd, released today.

The report, commissioned by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), covering 54 major newspapers in 11 western countries, said also that when journalists do write about development issues, the coverage is usually event-driven. The media report news, eyewitness accounts and campaigns most frequently. In the main, the good news is that initiatives to promote development were welcomed by media and coverage of potential solutions exceeded that of causes.

However, reporting on famine was more likely to be negative than any other topic as the threat or existence of famine was frequently perceived as being associated with the failure of both the suffering countries themselves and donor countries.

While the media readily conveyed the message that "First World countries are involved in Third World issues", it was by no means always clear that their involvement was necessarily desirable. Indeed, very few positive messages appeared conveying actual or potential progress in reducing poverty, hunger and the divide between rich and poor nations.

The report found that the tone of coverage varied considerably between countries: the Nordic countries, which provide substantial development aid, carried more positive than negative messages, while in the US, the UK, Spain and France the media carried the most negative messages.

FAO commissioned this independent media research project earlier this year in order to stimulate thought and discussion; to analyse and quantify the interest of the mass media in developed countries in development issues, and to understand to what extent they are willing to support the fight against hunger and poverty. "Nowadays, the need to inform people about the tragedy of hunger and poverty and to do something to change the injustice they represent is very clear," explains Christina Engfeldt, Director of FAO's Information Division. "What is not so clear is the role that journalists and the mass media can play in the fight against hunger. This research helps us understand how much coverage is currently devoted to development issues in the world's richer countries and suggests ways in which we might seek to improve our collaboration with the media."

According to the report, almost two-thirds of all items analysed appeared in UK, US and Danish media. The Guardian (UK), was the most attentive, devoting nearly 10% of its international section to developing country matters. Next came USA Today, with 8.2%. The French press carried slightly more coverage of development issues than their German and Spanish counterparts, but did not match the British. The Swedish and Danish press, while strongly internationally focused, tend to concentrate more on international issues closer to home, in the developed world, as did the Japanese press.

About half the sample devoted just half a percent or less of their total print area to development issues. The most space they were accorded was 1.4% of the total page area (Financial Times, UK) and 0.82% of the total print area (USA Today).

For further information, please contact:

Nuria Felipe Soria, FAO Information officer
Tel: +39 06 5705 5899


Penny Richards, Practice Manager, Echo Research
Tel: +44 1483 413665

Technical note for editors: This project was commissioned from Echo Research Ltd by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 54 key media in 11 countries were studied: Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, UK, USA for the period 1 June to 15 July 2001. Some 455 items in total were analysed. In addition, the content of 44 of these publications was analysed in terms of its percentage coverage of international /development issues.

Copies of the Report are available at the Media Office, Room A310, FAO Headquarters, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, Rome, Italy.

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