Xinhua: Poverty Eradication: Media Should Do More

22 Dec 2011

By Li Congjun, President of Xinhua News Agency

An emaciated toddler is barely alive and can hardly crawl. A vulture lands nearby and eyes her greedily, ready for prey.

This photo, taken in Sudan in 1993 by South African photojournalist Kevin Carter, offers a true look at famine, with the rapacious bird symbolizing poverty that is devouring the weak and helpless. The image has haunted me like a nightmare since the first sight and loomed larger than ever as I presided over a "Zoom-in on Poverty Global Photo Contest" lately.

I was born into an impoverished Chinese rural family and poverty followed me like a shadow throughout my boyhood. In my teenage years, my schoolmates called me a "barefoot runner," as my family could not even afford shoes for me. I dreamed many times that a kind-hearted man gave me a pair of new shoes and I walked into the classroom with dignity.

Decades later, in many parts of today's world, particularly Asia, Africa and South America, children still cannot afford decent shoes. Some are much more impoverished than I was -- as they live under the life-threatening shadow of the vulture.

The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) revealed in a report last year that more than 1.7 billion people in the world live in multidimensional poverty, based on the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) that is comprised of 10 indicators covering health, education and living standard. Poverty has put an unwieldy pair of shackles on the advancement of human civilization.

As the head of a major international media organization and a survivor of biting poverty, I feel that the media has yet to fulfill its social obligations in helping eradicate poverty and build a world where resources are shared more fairly and equally to maintain common growth.

It is true that the media industry alone cannot fulfill the grave mission of eradicating poverty, as there are complicated and profound reasons behind the wealth gap. Nevertheless, the media could and should sound stronger warnings on how unbalanced growth threatens the sustainable development of not just a single society, but the world at large.

First of all, the media should make poverty eradication one of its long-term missions and, by establishing a feasible mechanism of self-obligation, constantly draw public attention to poverty and ensure that news coverage of poverty consistently appears in newspapers and magazines, on radio and TV. And while calling for poverty eradication on behalf of the poor, we should also make their own voices heard across the globe.

To this end, the media can not only prompt more aid from governments, businesses, charity organizations and individuals, but also promote the formation of a political consensus on social improvements and economic reforms, so as to help create a better social and policy environment for poverty eradication.

Of course, the media should provide concrete and productive "information aid" for those in need, such as expertise in poverty relief and disease prevention. It is advisable that "better-off" media institutions extend a helping hand to their counterparts in the underdeveloped countries and help them with personnel training, communication technology and equipment. We can try to set up an international aid system, such as a poverty relief foundation, to raise money and materials for impoverished regions under the principle of openness, transparency and standard operation.

Also, media institutions can work together to build a cooperation platform, in a bid to help the international community more effectively tackle poverty. As an immediate outcome of the first World Media Summit in Beijing in October 2009, more than 1,000 media organizations from over 80 countries and regions joined in a 24-hour media campaign to promote global attention to the living conditions of children around the world, especially the most impoverished, on the subsequent Universal Children’s Day on November 20, 2009.

In this regard, international organizations and NGOs are important partners that media organizations can collaborate with. For instance, the "Zoom-in on Poverty Global Photo Contest", designed to coincide with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (October 17), was co-sponsored by Xinhua News Agency and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Similarly, the United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF) offered a much needed helping hand in the Universal Children’s Day media coverage.

There is much more we can do, and the most important of all is to install a long-term mechanism for sustained and fruitful cooperation, through which we combine our limited strength to push for global poverty eradication.

I have always had conflicting feelings about Kevin Carter’s powerful piece depicting hunger in Africa. I sometimes think his first reaction should have been to drive the vulture away. But had he done that, the world would never have seen that heart-wrenching scene and been alarmed by the devastating effects of poverty. It is said though that after snapping the photo, Carter did drive the vulture away and watched the girl enter a feeding center. All these years later, I still cannot help but wonder what had become of that poor little girl. Every time I think of her, it reinforces this belief: all responsible members of the global media industry should join hands to drive the vultures away from the starving and the impoverished. I also hope that through our humble yet persistent efforts, my own teenage dream will come true for more needy children, and that, one day, they can all go to school feeling dignified in their shoes.

Organised by the Xinhua News Agency and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the “Zoom-in on Poverty” Global Photo Contest offered a timely insight into the status of world poverty through compelling photographs that portray some of the major causes, solutions and achievements made in poverty alleviation to date.