Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Useless Coverage of Summits

I posted this on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 3 July 2007.

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The "lobster summit" between Bush and Putin reminds us all how bad the media are at setting their priorities.

It's not just this meeting of leaders, of course. Nearly all high-level summits are devoid of meaningful content, with no visible consequences for anyone anywhere.

Yet the world media love nothing more, giving commentators a handy hook to say what they were going to say anyway, and filling TV screens with images of the alpha males smiling jovially as they engage in a ritual dance to mark out territory.

Watching the media cover these summits, I am always reminded of "minister-meeting news", that perfectly vacuous form of reporting well-known in dictatorships, where journalists who prefer to keep their jobs and not be tortured will fill column inches with drivel about how yesterday minister X met with minister Y, and where nearly all TV air-time not given over to folk dancing is dedicated to fat old men in suits shaking hands and sitting in oversized furniture.

Such coverage may be understandable in an authoritarian system, but it is indefensible where media are generally free.

Here's an idea for the news media then: quit wasting time to glorify a photo op, and only cover a summit if it produces something meaningful.

If you're only at a summit for the big names and you don't care if there is substance or not, then what you are doing is little more than entertainment news, in which case, you should cover Nicole Kidman or George Clooney or someone else a little easier on the eyes than old Vlad and W.

Finally, let me offer one more suggestion for the improvement of the world through more rational media coverage: all news organisations should be taxed at a rate equal to the percentage of entertainment news they publish or broadcast. That should cut down on stories about Berlin Marriot and other wastes of media space.

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