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Tom – This article was about drought and impending famine in East Africa, and it’s divided into four columns, each with its own subheading. The first section talks about the victims, stating that they are primarily rural nomadic tribes whose livelihood is based on herding. The second part talks about what constitutes a famine, the third section notes what international aid organizations are doing to provide famine relief, and the forth section discusses long term solutions. In this section a UN food expert is quoted saying that “Drought will come and go, unless we deal with the issues of governance and sustainable development in these areas we can be sure these crises will come back to us.” No attempt is made in the article to elaborate what is meant by “governance and sustainable development”, or how the U.N. is working toward these goals.
Linda – Are there other important factors relating to famine that are not addressed in this Article?
Tom – There are. One fact the article neglects to mention is that famines are very seldom the result of a total shortage of food; rather they are caused by inadequate food distribution and poverty. Left out of this discussion on hunger is the role that international institutions, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund play in creating the economic conditions that allow famines to happen. These international trade organizations and the developed countries pressure poorer countries such as those in East Africa to undergo Structural Adjustment programs, which usually entail the poor countries to focus on growing cash crops for export rather than food crops for domestic consumption. Often the revenues from these cash crops then go to pay off “development loans” back to these international bodies. While there international trade policies certainly are not the only cause of hunger in Africa, they do play an important role and by excluding from the article, the reporter has presented a very incomplete picture of this issue.
Linda – On Monday, February 20 WXMI 17 ran a story about the 100th birthday of Kellogg’s company in Battle Creek. Jeff Smith, what was reported in this story?
Jeff – The story is only 28 seconds long with the news reader telling viewers when the first Corn Flake was made, a timeline of other cereals produced by the company and finally viewers are told that Kellogg’s is selling vintage plates and other items. Most of the visuals used during this story are still photos of early cereal ads or video footage of commercials since the 60s.
Linda – So where did channel 17 get the images used for the story?
Jeff – What the news reader read was basically a shortened version of a media release sent out by Kellogg’s via a Public Relations service called PR Wire. The still images and video footage were part of the media release that was sent out for the birthday of the Battle Creek company. This is yet another example of a Video News Release or VNR, something we have been critiquing over the past year and has been something that the FCC has been challenging as well.
Linda – We will provide links to the source of the Kellogg’s VNR, and other resources on this issue.
Linda – Last week the Grand Rapids Press ran an article entitled “Sales of U.S. fighter jets soar.” Tom, what would readers learn from this article?
Tom – Readers would learn that US aerospace companies had been awarded contracts to sell fighter jets to Singapore and South Korea. The article notes that some foreign competitors are complaining that the US uses it’s political and economic influence to gain foreign sales of military equipment. The article also notes that China is off-limits to American weapons manufacturers and that India will soon be awarding a large contract for fighter aircraft. In the article, a representative from Gripen, a Swiss company, says that they are a neutral partner for “traditional U.S. allies concerned about perceived bullying in American foreign policy since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.”
Linda – Is any other information provided in the article about the size and scale of US weapons manufacturing world wide?
Tom - No it is not. From the way the article is framed, the reader would assume that the U.S. is one of several countries competing in the market of military aircraft. The reality is that the US dominates the field, both in terms of its domestic military spending and in terms of weapons exports. Currently, the world spends approximately one trillion dollars a year on weapons, with the U.S. accounting for almost half of that total. And the US accounts for about half of all weapons sold internationally as well. This trend has increased since Sept. 11 2001 with the US government increasing both the amount of military aid and equipment sold to foreign “Allies in the war on terror.” These Allies include countries that until recently had arms sanctions against them such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Yugoslavia. Many of these countries have troubling recent pasts, with reports of human rights violations, lack of democracy and in the case of India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons programs. The article fails to convey these basic facts about the nature of the international arms trade, instead giving the reader a very incomplete picture in which sales of US military aircraft are removed from the larger political context.
Linda – On Thursday, February 23 WZZM 13 ran a story about 2 forums held in Grand Rapids on the ballot proposal known as the Civil Rights Initiative. Jeff, how did channel 13 report on this story?
Jeff – WZZM 13 did a good job up front by reading the language of the ballot proposal so that people would be clear on what it says and then ends the story by saying what a yes vote and a no vote would mean. The rest of the story also gives some context for viewers by stating that the current ballot initiative is in response to the 2003 University of Michigan case that was decided by the US Supreme Court.
Linda – The story does report on 2 forums held in Grand Rapids, but who’s perspectives do viewers get in this story?
Jeff – First, viewers would hear from an African American student from GVSU who is ambivalent about the issue Affirmative Action. The story then continues with opposing comments from panelists from the GVSU forum and then the forum organized by 2 local students. Channel 13 does provide a comment from one of the young men who organized the Ford Museum located forum and 2 of the 6 panelists. The main criticism of this story was that they tried to cover too much ground, so much so that there was no summary of either of the 2 forums held, both in terms of the statements made by panelists and the audience reaction. Viewers were provided some useful contextual information, but in terms of information to make a decision on how to vote on this issue, very little was provided.