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Concept of Sustainable Development Still Eludes Most Media

6 February– Sustainable development remains a concept that is either too vague, too broad, or too unwieldy for the world press, according to a group of television editors and correspondents participating in a discussion on the role of the media in projecting and promoting sustainable development.

"The phrase is without meaning for most viewers," said Jim Laurie, Vice President of News and Current Affairs for Star TV in Hong Kong, which aims its programmes at audiences in India and China. But still, he said, the network does stories on the ozone layer, child labour, forestry, recycling, climate change and cross-border trade.

"The big problem with the phrase sustainable development is that it has not entered the public consciousness," according to Tim Hirsch, Senior Environmental Correspondent for the BBC. "Whether it is our fault for not saying it enough, or governments for not turning it into a reality, I don't know."

The discussion, held at the request of governments participating in the preparatory process for the World Summit on Sustainable Development, was organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information, and moderated by DPI Interim Head Shashi Tharoor.

In framing the discussion, Tharoor said news executives had an enormous impact on what and how the media covered world events, and that the purpose of the discussion was to find out what the media understood by the concept of sustainable development and how it covered the issue.

Simone Duarte, the New York Bureau Chief for Brazil's Globo TV said that Globo did cover many sustainable development stories, sometimes using the term sustainable development, and sometimes not. For the 40 million viewers, she said, sustainable development was an important story, and the station covered issues concerning the Amazon and trafficking in wild animals, as well as government policies that hurt the environment. But the concept, she said, was not limited to newscasts and that soap operas had also effectively woven such themes into their programming.

Barbara Pyle, who formerly served as Vice President for Environmental Programming for Turner Broadcasting, said she did use the term sustainable development, and with a little imagination, was able to make the issue palatable to a wide audience.

The trick, it was generally agreed, was that stories about sustainable development had to be told in ways that made them relevant to the person in the street. Snuki Zikalala, Executive Editor of News for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, said the story had to be told without "talking heads" and journalists must reduce the issues in a way that people can understand them.

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24 August 2006