Last night at the One World Media Awards, I looked at more than 100 clips from film, radio and feature articles on developing world stories. A broad sweep of organisations and journalists, from the BBC to the Coventry Telegraph, were celebrated for their coverage and creativity and dedication to stories that bring the world to the UK.
There was Ed Caesar’s investigation into human rights abuses by rival militias in eastern DRC for GQ Magazine, OneWorld UK’s unstoppable online coverage of the United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen; there was Quicksilver Media’s ‘Dispatches: Orphans of Burma’s Cyclone’ for Channel 4, a body of work by Dan McDougall for the Mail on Sunday including investigations into slavery in Zimbabwe’s illegal diamond trade, environmental damage in Chile, and destruction caused by nickel mines in Madagascar. And so, so many more.
Personally, it was an evening of tremendous hope and heavy sadness. It’s rare, even in my line of work, to see so many difficult stories in one go (albeit abbreviated) about the ways in which the poorest are hurting and being hurt. And so often the wielder of that pain, directly or through market forces, is a richer country. So we watched as BBC Three’s Blood, Sweat and Takeaways uncovered the reality of the tuna industry, the Coventry Telegraph looked at how Burkina Faso is dealing with climate change, BBC London’s Inside Out followed the capital’s electronics waste to a dump in Ghana, and Channel 4 News investigated sexual abuse of Kenyan children by Western paedophiles.
Even writing that paragraph makes me desperately sad. The breadth of the subject matter seems to indicate that wherever the rich world goes there will always be a part that corrupts and abuses and whose behaviour goes to the very edge of, and often beyond, what is decent and good.
But then I saw other tales, beautifully told, of landmine clearance in Laos which is saving lives and transforming communities, of the women of Ethiopia who are taking up professional running to escape forced marriages, and those of post-Taliban Afghanistan who defy social strictures to gain an education. The hope and courage of the people involved in these stories is humbling; their stubborn determination, astonishing.
Whether telling a story of hope or horror, what the awards reinforced was the utter and absolute necessity for developing country issues to be featured in the media. As one speaker explained - if the media cannot get to an area to cover the story, support, aid and change will not come. I take my hat off to the UK and indigenous journalists who filled the room last night - passionate, right-headed, thoughtful and brave activists who use words and images to inform and change the way we see the world. Without them, many millions would have no voice, too many abuses would go unchecked and no one would be watching the watchmen.
(c) Pascale Palmer is CAFOD's Advocacy Media Officer. www.cafod.org.uk