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Saturday, December 3, 2016
This is the fourth in a series of special articles to commemorate the 50th anniversary of IPS, which was set up in 1964, the same year as the Group of 77 (G77) and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).
- Tarzie Vittachi, a renowned Sri Lankan newspaper editor and one-time deputy executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, once recounted the oft-quoted story of an African diplomat who sought his help to get coverage in the U.S. media for his prime minister’s address to the General Assembly.
The diplomat, a friend of Vittachi’s, said the visiting African leader was planning to tell the world body his success stories in battling poverty, hunger and HIV/AIDS.
“How can I get this story into the front pages of U.S. newspapers?” he asked rather naively.
Vittachi, then a columnist and contributing editor to Newsweek magazine, jokingly retorted: “Shoot him – and you will get the front page of every newspaper in the U.S.”
As the old tabloid journalistic axiom goes: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
But in its news coverage over the last 50 years, IPS has led mostly with “unsexy” and “un-bleeding” stories, long ignored by the mainstream media.
As IPS commemorates its 50th anniversary this year, its news coverage of the developing world and the United Nations has been singled out for praise because of its primary focus on social and politico-economic issues on the U.N. agenda, including poverty, hunger, population, children, gender empowerment, education, health, refugees, human rights, disarmament, the global environment and sustainable development.
Congratulating IPS on its 50th anniversary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was quick to applaud IPS’ “relentless focus on issues of concern to the developing world – from high-level negotiations on economic development to on-the-ground projects that improve health and sanitation.
“I thank IPS for raising global public awareness about matters at the heart of the U.N.’s agenda, and I hope it will have an even greater impact in the future,” he added.
In its advocacy role, IPS was in the forefront of a longstanding campaign, led by world leaders, activists and women’s groups, for the creation of a separate U.N. entity to reinforce equal rights for women and for gender empowerment.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri, deputy executive director of U.N. Women, last week praised IPS for its intensive coverage of sustainable development and gender empowerment.
She said IPS has been “a leader” in realising a more democratic and equitable new information, knowledge and communication order in the service of sustainable development in all its dimensions: social, economic and environmental.
“Its enterprising role has also been evident in the way it championed the creation of U.N. Women: a new gender equality and women’s empowerment and rights architecture within the U.N. system.
“We have partnered with IPS to advance this most important project for humanity in the 21st century,” said Puri. “IPS joined our political mobilisation drive for a stand-alone gender equality and women’s empowerment goal through sustained engagement and compelling content.”
She said IPS has demonstrated “its unwavering commitment to development issues through supporting our efforts to mainstream gender perspectives in the G77, particularly via the Declaration of Santa Cruz ‘For a New World Order for Living Well’ of June 2014, and the historic pre-summit international meeting on Women’s Proposals for a New World Order.”
She also said IPS has joined the public mobilisation campaign – “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture It”- as a Media Compact partner, and is throwing its full support behind Beijing+20.
“I wish IPS 50 more years of dynamic evolution, courageous reporting of truth, built on the foundations of reportage from the front-lines of ground experiences, and of providing game changing third-eye wisdom and policy perspectives on all endeavours of humanity and of imagining a better world for women and girls,” Puri declared.
Over the years, IPS has also given pride of place for coverage of disarmament and development – and specifically nuclear disarmament.
Jayantha Dhanapala, a former U.N. under-secretary-general for disarmament affairs, said last week there is special significance in the fact that this anniversary is being celebrated together with the Group of 77 and UNCTAD, highlighting the umbilical link with the developing world of the global South.
Giving voice to these important trends, IPS emerged to challenge the monopoly of the news exchange system and its dominance by the developed world, he added.
Drawing on the vast reservoir of hitherto globally unrecognised journalistic talent in the global South, Roberto Savio and Pablo Piacentini co-founded an organisation that has braved challenges of resource mobilisation and unfair competition, said Dhanapala.
“Having spent many years in the area of peace and disarmament with the United Nations, I am personally grateful to IPS for espousing the cause of disarmament, especially nuclear disarmament, and for identifying the priority of a nuclear weapon-free world where weapons of mass destruction must be eliminated and conventional weapons reduced from current levels in achieving general and complete disarmament,” he said.
“Only then can we have peace and security with development and human rights flourishing in collective and co-operative global security,” said Dhanapala, president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs (1995 Nobel Peace Laureate) and a former ambassador of Sri Lanka.
When the United Nations launched a new series in 2004 drawing attention to the “10 Most Under-Reported Stories of the Year”, IPS was far ahead of the curve having covered at least seven of the 10 stories in a single year: AIDS orphans in Africa; Women as Peacemakers; the Hidden World of the Stateless; Policing for Peace; the Girl Soldier; Indigenous Peoples and a Treaty for the Disabled.
Dr. Shashi Tharoor, a former U.N. under-secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information (DPI), who originated the series, recounted the role of IPS in covering under-reported stories.
Reiterating his comments, Tharoor said last week: “I have followed IPS’ reporting for three decades, and worked with them at close quarters during my media-related assignments at the United Nations.
“I found IPS an excellent source of news and insight about the developing world, covering stories the world’s dominant media outlets too often ignore,” said Tharoor, currently a member of parliament for Thiruvananthapuram in India’s Lok Sabha.
He said IPS reporters marry the highest professional standards of journalism to an institutional commitment to covering stories of particular concern to the global South.
“They are indispensable to any reader who wishes to stay abreast of what’s happening in developing countries around the world,” said Tharoor, a prolific writer and author of ‘The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cell Phone’.
In recent years, IPS has been a three-time winner of the annual awards presented by the U.N. Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), having won a bronze in 1997 (shared with the Washington Post) and two golds in 2012 and 2013 (one of which it shared with the Associated Press) for “excellence in U.N. reporting”.
Additionally, IPS’ Gareth Porter was also honoured in 2012 with the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, whose past winners included the Guardian, the Independent, the Sunday Times and Wikileaks.
The Washington-based Population Institute, which gave its annual media awards for development reporting, singled out IPS as “the most conscientious news service” for coverage relating to population and development.
IPS won the award nine times in the 1990s, beating out the major wire services year in and year out, conceding occasionally to Reuters and the Associated Press (AP).
Barbara Crossette, a former U.N. bureau chief for the New York Times (1994-2001) and currently U.N. correspondent for The Nation and contributing writer and editor for PassBlue, said, “I am among those many journalists who follow the IPS reports daily, not only for insight into events and people at the United Nations, but also — and maybe more so — for coverage of global news from the perspective of the developing world.”
She said she also looks forward to some of “the controversial commentary from IPS writers with different perspectives than those we hear most in the Western media, where reporting from the U.N. itself has generally sunk to a new low in American and numerous European publications and broadcasts.
“As for news from inside the U.N., IPS’s close attention to the issues of women in the organisation and in its work internationally has been consistently stellar,” said Crossette, who cited the Vittachi anecdote in the 2007 ‘Oxford Handbook on the United Nations’ published by the Oxford University Press.
“No other news service has covered so reliably the establishment, the people and the ongoing challenges of U.N. Women and what that all means to the level of commitment member states really have to making the new U.N. agency strong and effective at a time when it is clear how central a role women must play in development,” said Crossette, who was also the Times’ chief correspondent in Bangkok (for Southeast Asia from 1984 to 1988) and in Delhi (for South Asia, 1988-1991.
Described by some as a “socially responsible” media outlet, IPS has consistently advocated the cause of civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) worldwide.
James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, said IPS has made a tremendous contribution to the movement for global justice over the past 50 years.
It is hard today to imagine the world as it was then, in 1964, a moment when colonialism was ending, when the democratic spirit was running strong, when there was a worldwide movement to seize the institutions and transform them, he added.
“IPS arose to confront the information monopolies and to bring a fresh approach to news that would reflect and nourish the spirit of those times,” Paul said.
He said IPS immediately won a place of honour and inspired those working for democracy, justice and peace: people who needed an alternative to the arid journalism of the powers-that-be.
“In the five decades that have followed, it has held true to that vision serious investigation of global developments, honest thinking, engagement for justice, the very best journalism day in and day out”.
He added: “I am always impressed by the commitment of IPS to reporting the underlying issues, to drawing on historical memory, to bringing to events a sense of humor, hope and possibility, even in the darkest of times. We can count on IPS to use proudly the optic of human rights, economic justice and peace.”
Though news is not so monopolised today, its purveyors in both South and North are still too often the mouthpieces and propagandists of power, he noted.
“Clearly, then, IPS is more important than ever. A luta continua! I salute the founder, Roberto Savio, and the hundreds of talented journalists who have worked with him over the years,” Paul said.
“In particular I salute the remarkable IPS U.N. correspondent, who has embodied the IPS spirit and kept us all so well informed about what is happening. We need a collection of his dispatches. Happy Birthday, IPS!”
Cora Weiss, International Peace Bureau, Hague Appeal for Peace, said: “Every day IPS’ (electronic newsletter) TerraViva, brings news I cannot find any place else. It’s news that matters.”
And it’s news that gives voice to people who are under recognised, news that covers issues critical to our well being and survival, she added.
“I appreciate your coverage of women, of threats to peace, of nuclear weapons and policies to abolish them, of climate change affecting islands and islanders, and so much more. Keep it coming!” Weiss said.
Edited by Kitty Stapp
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org