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
1. globalization and macroeconomics
2. human rights and multinational companies
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
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
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
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