Creating Impact - Media and Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific

Excellencies,
Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Message from the UN Secretary-General

It is my pleasure to share with you today a message to the Asia Media Summit 2012 from the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon.

“It is a pleasure to convey my greetings to the Asia Media Summit. Your conference has become a valuable forum for broadcasters, regulators, researchers and other stakeholders to exchange the latest ideas and best practices.

I thank the Asia-Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development not only for staging this annual gathering, but for its ongoing partnership with the United Nations. AIBD has worked with a variety of UN agencies and offices to promote dialogue between Asia-Pacific and European media, to train journalists and to raise public awareness about the Millennium Development Goals.

This year’s Summit falls at a critical time, just weeks before thousands of participants, including many from your region, gather in Brazil for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development.

Rio+20 is only the start of a long-term process that aims to engage all segments of society – including governments, scientific experts, NGOs, the private sector, and academia – more deeply in building the future we want.

The media is a critical link in that constellation of actors. That is why the theme of your gathering – Creating Impact: Media in Today’s Society – is so appropriate. For it is precisely in the field of development, where important stories do not receive the attention they should, that the media can really make a difference.

I urge you to tell the sustainable development stories of this region – the successes that can serve as a model for the way forward, the breakthroughs that give us hope, the ideas that may seem radical today but which can offer solutions for tomorrow.

I challenge you also to spotlight the gaps and setbacks, where governments are lagging, and where decision-makers should be held accountable.

As the world strives to reduce poverty, advance social equity, ensuring environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet, a freely functioning media can help make it happen.

The Asia-Pacific region’s media is undergoing rapid change, as the Internet and social media have become ever more important for sharing information. But for many people on the other side of the digital divide, these tools are still not a reality.

And in many countries in the region, press freedoms are under threat from government censors, the denial of broadcasting rights and attacks against journalists.

We must not forget that a free, vigorous and independent media is a cornerstone not just of democracy, but of a healthy and flourishing society.

Thank you again for your vitally important work. Please accept my best wishes for a successful conference.”

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

There is a piece of good advice often given to people in public life. It says “If they haven’t heard you – you haven’t said it”

In other words – no matter how important the message, it only counts when it is heard by the people it was intended to reach.

This is one of the great values of your work – as our media partners in Asia and the Pacific – getting the messages of development, sustainability, growth and inclusion to the people of our region.

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, ESCAP, is the regional development arm of the United Nations in Asia and the Pacific. We are also proud to be a founding member of AIBD, because we recognize the importance of working in partnership with the media on issues of development.

In just three weeks’ time, the world will come together in Brazil for the Rio+20 summit. It is the last chance of this generation to shift our global economy and society to a more sustainable development path.

Although, in the words of the UN Secretary-General, the global negotiations on the outcomes of Rio+20 have been “painfully slow”, sustainable development remains the single most important global challenge.

It is not, as many may think, an environmental issue alone. It is about integration – bringing together economy, society and the environment. It is also not the sole responsibility of governments and politicians – being as much the responsibility of the private sector, civil society and every community, family and individual alike.

Ultimately, sustainable development is about public goods and accountability. We have only one world – with limited natural resources – so we need a system of accountability to ensure that these resources are properly managed in a way that builds shared prosperity today, without sacrificing the prosperity of future generations in the process.

Although progress in the global negotiations at Rio+20 may take some time, Asia and the Pacific cannot afford to wait. To sustain the growth we need, to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity, we have to act now to choose a better development path.

Your role, as our partners and as the leaders, managers, and drivers of our Asia-Pacific media is critical in shaping this change.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Challenges of Media & Sustainable Development

The cornerstones of ethical journalism have always been truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, fairness and public accountability.

One of the reasons I have such great respect for good media professionals is the difficulty of balancing these principles.

Sustainable development however, presents one of the strongest cases for advocacy journalism, and my challenge to you all today is to use your positions and your resources to do even more.

We know the value of media in identifying problems and challenges. Once a story hits the headlines, it becomes part of our social consciousness. This kind of exposure has done much to raise public awareness about issues like climate change, food security, and dwindling natural resources.

But pointing out the problems, no matter how accurately or often, is unfortunately only one part of the sustainable development story. The real challenge for the modern media is to extend this role to also help shape attitudes and behavior.

Members of the media, like all sectors of society, have a responsibility to promote the changes we need for a more sustainable future – especially because you have the platforms to get these messages heard, and to make a difference. You can be powerful agents of change.

This is not to suggest that objectivity should be sacrificed, but rather that media organizations cannot afford to be value-neutral on these issues. Be honest, and upfront about your positions – but be bold enough to hold positions.

It is not enough to leave these stories to the so-called alternative media outlets or public service broadcasters alone.

All too often in my discussions with the media, I hear it said that stories about sustainable development are for slow news days, or that they don’t get aired or printed because the language of sustainable development holds little meaning for ordinary people.

Yet people are the heart and soul of sustainable development. Climate change, more frequent natural disasters, food shortages, water pollution, transport costs, energy waste – these are the points at which sustainable development ceases to be jargon, captures the public imagination, and becomes the news people need.

Ideas and issues of sustainable development are the ultimate mainstream news, precisely because they impact our people and our planet more directly than almost any other issue.

The problem isn’t about finding the right language to make sustainable development newsworthy – the problem is connecting the dots, every day, between the stories about our biggest local, regional and global challenges and ensuring that we are able to build the future we want.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

5 Point Media Action Agenda for Sustainable Development

There are so many ways in which we can work with the media in contributing to the transformation we need – and the agenda of the Asia Media Summit over next two days reflects many of these priorities.

ESCAP stands ready to support you in these endeavors – continuing our long-standing partnership with AIBD. Two very recent examples of this partnership include the successful Media Workshop held last week on the sidelines of our annual Commission Session, with a focus on the big final push to 2015 on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and the MDG workshop held yesterday as part of this Summit with ESCAP and nine other United Nations agencies.

Given the theme of the Summit this year, of “Creating Impact”, I would like to propose a five point action agenda for ways in which our Asia-Pacific media professionals can make an even greater lasting impact on sustainable development in our region.

1. Engage More Directly: Every media outlet should accept and acknowledge the shared responsibility to promote a more sustainable future. This should be written into editorial policies and incorporated into content.

2. Allocate Greater Resources: More production resources should be devoted to the coverage of sustainable development stories, and more editorial and opinion space should be allocated to advocacy on these issues.

3. Create Capacity: Skills training and professional development courses should help journalists and editors understand the nuances of the sustainable development debates, and forge stronger links to policy-makers, civil society and citizens movements engaged in these issues.

4. Advocate for Access: All media organizations should publicly support free access to the Internet and social media tools, and work to promote language diversity in new media – helping to bridge the digital divide.

5. Advance Media Literacy: Help the public, especially young people, to develop greater media literacy and the skills to engage more critically with ever-increasing sources of news and information.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Conclusion

In conclusion, I wish you very a very successful meeting, because the Asia Media Summit 2012 poses a number of important questions.

It asks how media can better serve the ends of development without risking professional and ethical standards, and how media can build and sustain strong public trust, while creating real impact in society.

Closer partnerships for sustainable development are the answer to a number of these questions.

No stakeholder alone can build the future we want. Organizations like the United Nations, like ESCAP, need your help to make sure the messages of sustainable development are heard and heeded in our region and in our world.

Help us to build a resilient Asia-Pacific, rooted in shared prosperity, social equity and sustainability, empowered by the creativity of our people and our media, valuing the gifts of the Earth.

Thank you.