Mainstream Media Portrayal of G8 Summit and Buildup

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

While there is much coverage of the build up and the security against protestors, and even a high level overview of what will be discussed as well as moving reporting on the plight of many people in Africa, oftentimes crucial and important details and historical context are severely lacking.

On this page:

  1. Portraying G8 Leaders as Saviors
  2. Bush exaggerates claims of tripling aid to Sub-Sahara Africa
  3. Headlines do not reveal any criticisms of G8 proposals

Portraying G8 Leaders as Saviors

Typically, mainstream media coverage on issues such as debt relief, seems to result in the same main question: will it help when so many of the recipients are corrupt and are going to embezzle the money away? While it sounds like criticism of the establishment and has the appearance of debate, this question reveals a number of problems:

  • The G8 leaders are indirectly portrayed as saviors (for they have hardly ever been criticized by the mainstream media themselves in terms of, for example, how
  • And never is it mentioned that many of the countries in severe debt have odious debt because
  • By pointing to legitimately worrying examples such as Zimbabwe, it creates the appearance that most countries have such problems. Yet a great number of African countries are actually not as corrupt as such stereotypes would like us to believe. (Needless to say, corruption in rich countries is hardly covered by comparison, or at least not described in the same way, so again perceptions are different.)
  • The type of aid is hardly discussed, which is historically used by the donors to further their own foreign policies, rather than necessarily benefit the recipients.

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Bush exaggerates claims of tripling aid to Sub-Sahara Africa

Political spin is also going largely unchallenged by the mainstream. For example, President George Bush announced on June 7, 2005, that the US had tripled its aid to Sub-Sahara Africa, between 2000 and 2004. Yet, as the Brookings Institute noted, this was grossly exaggerated:

The Bush Administration has significantly increased aid to Africa, but that increase falls far short of what the President has claimed. U.S. aid to Africa from FY 2000 ... to FY2004 has not tripled or even doubled. Rather, in real dollars, it has increased 56% (or 67% in nominal dollar terms). The majority of that increase consists of emergency food aid, rather than assistance for sustainable development of the sort Africa needs to achieve lasting poverty reduction.

Susan E. Rice, U.S. Foreign Assistance to Africa: Claims vs. Reality, The Brookings Institution, June 27, 2005 (Emphasis is original)

As noted above, that aid is also for emergency, not the long term development assistance that is also needed. Furthermore, Rice adds that the President also announced that the U.S. will spend an additional $674 million, which consists of previously appropriated emergency humanitarian food aid. (Emphasis added.)

Actual development assistance, excluding food aid and security assistance, increased only 33% from FY 2000 to FY 2004 in real dollar terms, or 43% in nominal dollars.

From FY 2000 to FY 2005 (estimated), U.S. aid to Africa will have increased by 78% in real dollar terms or 93% in nominal dollars—not quite a doubling, much less a tripling of aid. Of this increase, 50% consists of emergency food aid (PL 480 Title II).

The only items to have doubled by FY 2004 were Foreign Military Financing, which increased by 109%, and emergency food aid (PL 480 Title II), which increased by 159%.

Actual development assistance, excluding food aid and security assistance, will have increased an estimated 74% from FY 2000 to FY 2005 in real dollar terms, or 89% in nominal dollars.

Inter Press Service adds to the above also noting that other major promises have not yet lived up to the hype, such as the $10 billion promised in 2002 over a few years.

President George Bush recently announced a doubling of aid to Africa on condition that African leaders be the agents of reform rather than passive recipients of money. Yet the media typically did not point out that

  • These reforms refer mostly to economic ones, even though it sounds, and is spun to imply political reform and tackling corruption
  • Aid is usually tied to so many conditions that recipients often have little say in how it is used.)

Passive recipients is also an unfair charge for many countries that have, in effect, had their sovereignty undermined by the G8 leaders and the International Financial Institutions such as the IMF that they control, due to the way economic reform is prescribed onto these poor countries. Furthermore, as detailed on this site’s foreign aid section, each year, the rich countries generally do not live up to their own promises of 0.7% GNI in aid, as

  • The percentages are usually far lower (US is often the lowest, or near the bottom of the scale, though paradoxically the highest in sheer dollars due to the size of its economy);
  • Where aid is given, it does not usually go to the poorest, but to countries that are of geostrategic importance to the donor.
  • Where aid is given (be it to the poorest or slightly less poor), it is often tied to these same unfair conditions discussed in a previous page looking at the proposed $40 billion debt write-off.

The BBC did note that money pledged is not necessarily the same as the sums the US Congress will approve as the proposed doubling still has to be agreed to by Congress.

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Headlines do not reveal any criticisms of G8 proposals

When the mainstream has reported the above about Bush, for example, there has been virtually no criticism of Bush’s claim or mention of the Brookings Institute article. Certainly there are no headlines on television such as Bush exaggerates aid claim.

Likewise, there are no headlines in major newspapers or television reports saying that the $40 billion dollar debt write-off proposal is political spin.

Media reporting on G8 climate change actions seem to be covered slightly better, to be fair.

Because so many of the headlines are about what different G8 leaders say, it seems as though the agenda and media reporting are driven by G8 leaders and their spinsters. Only when a prominent figure says something does the media seem to react. Rather than being so reactionary, the media could serve the public better by deeply scrutinizing claims and reporting more on the deeper causes up front. (The mainstream media section on this site may hint to why this does not usually happen!)

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
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Document revision history

Added more about media portrayal, for example how claims by Bush trippling aid to Sub-Sahara Africa between 2000 and 2004 is an exaggeration and yet this goes largely unnoticed by the mainstream.