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The Challenges of Journalism are Globalized

Uruguayan journalist Juan Andres Elhordoy reports on a four-day seminar at Columbia University, N.Y. Elhordoy attended the seminar after winning the 2003 Journalism Award in Economics sponsored by AIPEF and the U.S. Embassy

May 6, 2004


By Juan Andres Elhordoy

Elhordoy is an Uruguayan journalist, affiliated with AIPEF, who conducts the program, “Cierra de Jornada” of Radio Sarandi. This is a translation of an article by Elhordoy on the AIPEF website: www.aipefurugauy.com.

"It’s the nature of journalism to light the darkness before reflecting the light,“ said Howard Simon. This active participant in the investigation into the Watergate scandal, used this phrase in a time when globalization was hardly a sigh. Today it seems to be a hurricane that blows in all directions, challenging journalism in its role of discovering hidden worlds. Below are some of the emerging ideas presented in the seminar Covering Globalization, held recently at Columbia University, N.Y., and directed by Joseph Stiglitz, recipient of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics.

Annya Shifrim, seminar coordinator and member of the Initiative for Policy Dialogue, said journalism plays a key role in this era of globalization. She emphasized the role of the media to uncover corporate scandals and to put pressure on governments to confront financial abuse.

Shifrim said journalists are missing opportunities to tell interesting stories. On the other hand, she told them to be more careful with how they treat their sources of information. She said it’s very important to pay attention to the type of sources involved in each story.

In another matter, William Easterly, author of the book, “The Quest of Growth,“ told journalists to be selective and not accept words from just any economist or government official, that the times call for journalists with courage, independence and the capability to make evaluations. He emphasized a chapter on covering human rights, the labor market and multinational companies.

Professor Jenik Randon said he is not optimistic about changes in the future. He said it’s the media’s job to cover labor relations and environment; companies are not worried about these matters. “The cooperation of the media is important because they contribute greatly to transparency.” Realistically speaking, the business of merchants and services are concerned with four basic elements: price, quality, quantity and on-time delivery.”

A young investigator in labor matters, Liza Featherstone, said nowadays, the retail chain Wal Mart is the case most representative in the U.S. It’s a company that disregards federal norms of work.

Weighing in on this is the fact that Wall street loves Wal Mart. And consequently, there are not many media that report the negative aspects of this chain.

During the seminar, energy related subjects were discussed. Energy is a requisite for the sustainable development of any country. However, the availability of petroleum is not synonymous with wealth. In many countries that have black gold, the people live in the most absolute poverty. For example: Chad, Nigeria (75 percent of the population lives below poverty level) and Sudan.

Specialists from various centers agree that those countries which are producers and exporters of petroleum, are not rich because of their own corruption, which is a means of making money quickly. This is another challenge for the media.

It’s undeniable that multilateral organizations carry a burden that is continually more relevant in the globalization process. Organizations like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the United Nations have a great presence and burden impressed upon the majority of countries. Robert House, renowned professor of international commercial law, said the World Commerce Organization has failed because it had its root in the Washington Consensus.

“There is a lot of ideology behind the creation of the IMC.” The speaker said the great manifestations that occurred in Seattle in 1999, resulted in the birth of a closed-door organization.

On the the function of the organizational structure of the IMC and the weight that it has in defining policies, the House called on journalists to expose business being conducted behind closed doors. That way they could put an end to what they call “a dialogue of the deaf.”

Fundamental pillars of globalization

The four-day seminar was structured around fundamental pillars for ample and in-depth coverage of economics and globalization.
1. globalization and macroeconomics
2. human rights and multinational companies
3. energy
4. multilateral agreements
5. the debt problem

The speeches about the globalization came back to the following question: Is the phenomenon of globalization favorable for the world economy? Have the inhabitants of the planet improved the economic situation and well being? Nobel Prize winner Stiglitz was emphatic in responding, time and again: “It depends.”

Some zones have improved considerably, thanks to globalization, and others have not. For the economic laureate, it’s evident that the countries of Southeast Asia have benefited greatly. The value of the growth of the Gross National Product in that zone are superior to the percentages throughout a good part of the 20th century. Stiglitz emphasized the growth per capita, the increase in the exports and the substantial improvement in the level of technology.

On the contrary, the Columbia University economist said the clearest example of failure and damage caused by globalization is in Latin America. And it was precisely there where the first instance of economic policy promoted by the Washington Consensus was applied, he said.

Stiglitz said the clearest example of resounding failure is Argentina. He remembered that in September 1999, weeks before the conclusion of the mandate, Carlos Menem was invited by IMF authorities to speak about the model of Argentina and the success of the policies applied in the country. Months later, the country imploded. For Stiglitz, among the reasons for the failure of the reforms in the region, were privatization, the expansion of base spending and an increase in debt.

Economist William Easterly affirmed that among the most telling examples of failure was Ethiopia. According to Easterly, the radical failure of globalization stems from the fact that multi-lateral organizations imposed policies defined in the Washington Consensus.

Economist Jeffrey Sachs spoke on poverty and the view the U.S. should take in relation to the suffering of the poor. He said that a little change in the US budget could redirect part of the military spending to help developing countries.

However, not all favored the increase of international aid. William Easterly said that it has been shown that aid to developing countries does not contribute to the growth of their developing economies. During his speech, he showed graphs that indicate the evolution of international aid rising and the growth of the Gross National Product of those developing countries remaining the same.

Sachs criticized Easterly’s pessimistic position on international aid to poor countries.
“It’s a ridiculous way to simplify the subject and to say that the international aid doesn’t lead to growth.”

He said although bureaucracy and corruption are two central elements used in analyzing why some policies don’t work, that doesn’t mean international aid doesn’t help. Why doesn’t the U.S. think about what causes so many countries to live below poverty level? Sachs formulated this question repeatedly. Critical of U.S. military spending, he called on North Americans to think hard about this phenomenon. Poverty “doesn’t always have everything to do with corruption and with people who don’t want to work. It seems this view is simplistic and widespread.”

The seminar “Covering Globalization” was sponsored by the School of Journalism of the University of Columbia and the organization, Initiative for Policy Dialogue. The event was opened to journalists worldwide and was led by Economist Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2001. The seminar focused on the importance of learning about economics to improve news coverage. The participants were professional journalists and students of communication from the U.S., Japan, Spain, Denmark, Thailand, Vietnam and Uruguay.

My participation in this seminar is a result of the Prize for Quality Economic Reporting 2003 from the Inter American Association of Journalists of Economy and Finance (AIPEF) – Uruguay Chapter and the U.S. Embassy in Uruguay.



Full text of Hector Rubio Sica's speech


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