You are here: Natalie Samarasinghe on invisible issues

This month, the Philippine government signed a peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to end– hopefully – a conflict that has spannedfour decades and killed over 120,000 people. Like other events in the country,this historic deal has received only patchy media coverage. Last year, Google listed more news stories on the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs than on the Philippines (52,000 to 37,900 respectively).

Author Bernard Cohen observed that the press “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about”. Several studies have demonstrated the correlation between news coverage and the importance accorded to issues by the public. Often, lives are at stake. The status of UN emergency appeals shows that the most underfunded situations relate to countries that rarely make headlines: Lesotho, Djibouti and Mauritania, for instance.

So who sets the media agenda? In the UK, the Leveson Inquiry has highlighted the relationships between politicians, media moguls and lobbyists. But although these groups wield great influence, the media environment is more complex. For one, coverage is self-reinforcing. People tend to believe that what is reported reflects what others feel is important, so they are more inclined to read and write about these issues. The web, often cited as an information democratiser and multiplier, throws up the same dilemma. With so much out there, people rely on trusted sites, often major news outlets, to point them in the right direction. Yes, there are plenty of under-reported stories online but how does one find them without knowing what to look for?

The media has a crucial role to play in holding governments to account and we all have a duty to be responsible media consumers. At UNA-UK, we feel this responsibility is three-fold: raising awareness of ‘invisible issues’, reflecting on trends that can get overlooked in our 24-hour news flurry, and ensuring that the UN is not forgotten.

This double edition of New World (which serves as both the Autumn and Winter 2012 issues of the magazine) seeks to address all three points. In the following pages, we cover a host of under-reported issues – from road safety to toilets, from widows to the disappeared – and focus on others that receive poor or confusing coverage, such as the responsibility to protect.

In our ‘special issue’ we look at some wider trends: David Bosco of Foreign Policy magazine writes on the BRICS countries, the new UN Under-Secretary-General for least-developed countries looks at the impact of climate change on the world’s poorest states and former UNA-UK Chairman David Hannay reflects on Britain’s changing role in global affairs. We interview Alexander Yakovenko, Russia’s ambassador to London, on the country’s UN agenda, and I outline some of the lessons Brazil holds for global development.

And our UN Day 2012 campaign is featured in both publications. On pages 14-15 of this magazine, our Executive Director, Phil Mulligan, calls on New World readers to support the UN this October by: signing our petition, displaying a poster, and recruiting supporters to UNA-UK. Campaign resources are available at www.una.org.uk/UN-Day-2012 and for those who prefer hard copies, our ‘special issue’ includes a UN Day pull-out section. Too often, the media concentrates on the political failures of the Security Council and forgets to celebrate the life-saving work that the UN is engaged in every day. Of course the UN should be more effective, but in order to achieve this, we need to convince our governments that we care enough about the UN for them to prioritise strengthening it.