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For Haiti Earthquake Coverage, Would Less Have Been More?

In the latest Global Pulse Episode, host Erin Coker looks at media coverage of the Haiti earthquake. Watch the episode and share your thoughts below!


Does the excessive coverage of Haiti’s earthquake – not to mention the questionable journalistic and medical ethics involved when doctor/reporters can’t decide whether to operate or do interviews — give the viewer a better understanding of the disaster? Or is it little more than the casting of journalists as action heroes? 

The New Republic’s Chief Editor, Noam Scheiber, in his recent article taking the news establishment to task, wrote that “in Haiti the dozens of redundant dispatches are stressing an already perilously fragile situation.”

In a follow-up interview with Global Pulse featured in this week’s episode, Scheiber says, “More information is great. But if an airport is being taxed with a volume way above its normal capacity and as a result aid workers, doctors and nurses can’t get in, then I think we have gotten to the point where one good—information—is trumping another good—relief workers…to the detriment of the people we are trying to help.”

The solution, Scheiber thinks, is a so-called “disaster pool.” Comprising a limited number of reporters in country, the disaster pool would share information with news outlets in a similar manner that White House correspondents share “pool reports” with the dozens of journalists unable to attend a briefing. You can download an MP3 of the complete Scheiber interview here.

This might preclude scenes like those we used in this episode, of Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric aiding wounded children, but it may give networks more time for in-depth stories that discuss Haiti’s tumultuous history, the roots of its abject poverty and what day-to-day life was like for the average Haitian pre-earthquake.

Journalist Marc Cooper, characterizing the coverage as “myopic” and “disaster porn”, on his blog, wrote, “It's a totally legit news story for CNN or anyone else [to] zoom in on this or that dramatic and heart-rending rescue of one or another victim trapped in rubble. But every one of those stories is also a stark and rather sickening reminder of how the daily pre-earthquake deaths, starvation and deprivation were considered SO non-newsworthy.”

This reminds me of my own trip to Haiti in the fall of 2008, as part of a disaster response team after a series of hurricanes killed hundreds of people and badly damaged the city of Gonaïves. While the storms made headlines, the fallout apparently wasn’t on a large enough scale to warrant widespread news coverage. 

Looking back, what I remember most is the darkness. There is little electricity in Haiti, and the nighttime’s dim storefronts and weak candlelight gave the impression of a city that was a relic of another age.

Will Port-au-Prince once again become a forgotten city? As this article from the Columbia Journalism Review reminds me, there was once, and is likely to be again, only one full-time American journalist in Haiti.



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10 Bright Spots in a Pretty Bad Year

In this week’s special edition of Global Pulse, host Erin Coker reviews 2009 news stories that will matter in 2010. Watch the episode, and share your thoughts, below!


Between the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, an upsurge in violence in Pakistan, Iran’s political upheaval and the global financial crisis, 2009 has been tumultuous to say the least. Even for someone immersed in global media, it was difficult at times not to hit the cheap (and the not-so-cheap) wine just to get through the daily barrage of bleak news.


Which is why I took it upon myself to drum up 10 of the year’s more positive stories. Some were widely reported, others warranted only a fleeting mention, but all stand out as bright spots on an otherwise challenging year. A good reminder that even in the darkest of times, a silver lining can be found if you look hard enough. I’ll drink to that!

1. A Different Kind of Hotel Rwanda
Following the instability and brutal civil war that plagued the central-African nation in the late-1990s, tourists are returning to the country to marvel at its mountain gorillas and lush landscapes. Tourism revenues rise 11 percent in the first quarter of 2009, compared to the same period last year. Even better, the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World announces that Rwanda is officially “landmine free” – a distinction that is doubtless welcomed by tourists and residents alike.


2. Afghanistan and Pakistan Get More Schools
Non-profit activist Greg Mortenson and his Central Asia Institute (CAI), continue to build schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan, even in Taliban areas. Because CAI schools rely heavily on community involvement, militant groups have largely avoided destroying or damaging what are perceived as locally-backed projects.  To date, the CAI has built 130 schools in the two countries. To learn more about CAI or to get involved, visit


3. Aceh Rebuilt
Five years after the Indian Ocean Tsunami devastated communities in Aceh, Indonesia, rebuilding efforts in the hardest-hit province are wrapping up. In November, aid group CRS announces that it has met its reconstruction goals in Aceh.


4. Karadzic Faces the International Criminal Court. Sort of.
Although the alleged Bosnian Serb war criminal boycotts the opening of his trial, claiming that he did not have sufficient time to examine the evidence against him – 10 years on the lam wasn’t enough time? – Radovan Karadzic does appear in court on November 3. The trial is expected to resume in March of next year.


5. Kidnapped Aid Workers Released
After being seized by Somali gunmen in Kenya, three aid workers with Action Against Hunger are released three months later. In a similar bit of good news, assailants also free kidnapped aid workers snatched in Sudan’s Darfur region.


6. U.N. Demands Halt to Rape as War Weapon
Unanimously voted in, resolution 1888 reflects the 15-member body's "demand for the complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence with immediate effect." Plans are in the works to create a special U.N. post to front the effort.


7. Detained Journalists Freed in Iran, Iranian Writers Honored
Following domestic and international protests, jailed U.S./Iranian journalist Roxana Saberi is released from a Tehran prison. Saberi had been originally sentenced to eight years in prison for “having collaborated with a hostile state.” Newsweek journalist Maziar Bahari is also released after being held for nearly four months following Iran’s June elections. In November, Human Rights Watch honors four Iranian writers with prestigious Hellman/Hammett awards for their courage in the face of political persecution.


8. Latin America Takes Steps Towards Equality
Mexico City backs a gay marriage bill, making the city the first in Latin America to legalize gay marriage. In another first, Uruguay passes a same-sex adoption bill, granting same-sex couples the right to adopt children.


9. Zimbabwe Slowly (Very Slowly) Improving
Following political instability, runaway inflation and a devastating cholera outbreak, Zimbabwe is making some inroads to recovery. HIV prevalence rates continue to fall and inflation is dropping. After months of fruitless negotiations, Zimbabwe’s rival leaders reach an agreement on commissions for human rights, election and the media, possibly putting an end to ongoing political deadlock.


10. Child Brides Take a Stand
A Saudi court rules in favor of an 8-year-old girl seeking to divorce her 47-year-old husband. Soon after the decision, the Saudi justice minister announces plans to enact a law protecting young girls from marriages. In rural India, young girls follow the lead of Rekha Kalini, who attracted widespread attention after refusing a forced marriage.


For more news highlights from 2009, catch the Global Pulse year-end special Once and Future News 2009-2010.


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On Climate Change: An Open Letter to World Leaders

In this week’s Global Pulse Episode, host Erin Coker asks whether Africa deserves reparations for climate change damage from the developed world. Watch the episode, see how others responded and share your thoughts below!


To the world leaders en route to Copenhagen for the U.N. Change Conference –


Today, December 2, climate change resulted in the deaths of some 1,000 people. By the end of the year, the figure will be around 300,000. To put this in perspective, this is equivalent to the number of people killed in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and 100 times the number of people killed in 9/11. Each year.


If you haven't already, I suggest reading through the Global Humanitarian Forum’s (GHF) Human Impact Report on climate change – perhaps on the plane to Copenhagen – to get a sense of the human cost of climate change.


Next, I suggest some face time with Maldives president’s envoys. President Nasheed is among the more vocal supporters of carbon neutral development, a position I imagine many of you would likewise adopt if rising seas threatened to wipe your entire country off the map.


Speaking of rising seas, Greenpeace’s mock IHT article on Italian Prime Minister Burlusconi’s new sweeping climate change initiatives would have been funny, if these images of a severely flooded Venice did not offer a real glimpse of what could become of Italy’s historic city a few decades from today.


As the leaders of two of the world’s largest polluters, international focus will be on U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao. Both Washington and Beijing have been slow to act on climate change, and the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol is an embarrassment. I am aware as no doubt you are, of the arguments in favor of inaction – the loudest among them citing the high cost of emissions reductions.


Before your arrival in Copenhagen, I recommend reading a recent National Commission on Energy Policy report [PDF link] analyzing the risks, economic and otherwise, of unmitigated climate change. The 36-page report recalls a similar publication put out by Tuft’s University a few years ago that likewise confirms the frightening cost of inaction. [PDF link]


In the several hours it takes to read through these documents, climate change will kill another 150 people. An estimated 5,000 more will die between now and the opening session of the Copenhagen Climate Change summit. This is unacceptable. To do justice to their memory and to the future of our planet, you must embark on a cohesive international agreement to slow and reduce global warming.


As Kofi Annan remarked in GHF’s impact report, "If political leaders cannot assume responsibility for Copenhagen, they choose instead responsibility for failing humanity."



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The Real Green Revolution Creates Climate Refugees

The term "Green Revolution" is associated nowadays with the increased level of environmental consciousness: businesses changing their operations to incorporate more environmental practices, and the advent of environmental consumerism. Actually the "Green Revolution" was a 1960's term that referred to new varieties of rice and wheat for developing countries that were more drought and pest resistant, more responsive to advanced fertilization methods, and ultimately produced higher yielding crops. A comprehensive report [PDF] on the Green Revolution by the International Food Policy Research Institute describes the background and history of this movement.
This "Revolution" was a great way to increase yields of wheat and rice production, alleviate hunger and provide an income to poverty-stricken farming communities in developing countries. But now, 4 decades later, other problems are arising. The land is no longer arable due to the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, polluted waterways, salt build-up and eventual loss of biodiversity on farms. The people forced to leave their land are known as environmental migrants or climate refugees. More details on the environmental impacts of the Green Revolution can be found on Wikipedia.

Developing countries, such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia, that could be considered to be among the least responsible for major climate change, are the ones that are being the hardest hit. A video report created by the U.N. Development Program explains the relationship between human development and climate change.


Rice farmers in Bangladesh have lost their crops due to excessive flooding, while farmers in Ethiopia are praying for rain, all resulting in more poverty, starvation and refugees as land becomes less and less arable.
However, Indian farmers have taken matters into their own hands by shunning modern agricultural technologies and going back to their traditional ways of farming. According to this article on NPR’s website, an Indian farmer named Sharma enjoyed 20 years of an increase in crop yields and subsequent income as a result of the Green Revolution. Then his soil began to deteriorate and he needed to buy more and more fertilizers to grow the same amount of crops. He soon realized that the only way to sustain his crops was to go organic. In another article, the Guardian states that "Sustainable agriculture involves hard work and does not guarantee huge profits, but it will not harm the farmers' health, brings personal satisfaction, and involves fewer financial risks."
The U.S., as one of the world’s largest consumers, can take a stand in reducing its own unsustainable agricultural practices and become a model for other nations, by increasing the demand for organic farming and native plant propagation. The Slow Food Organization is a great international proponent of eating locally grown and prepared foods. Furthermore, if we as citizens of this country demand more government subsidies for organic farmers, then perhaps sustainable farming will gain significant momentum. Here is an article that points to how little the government supports organic farming. The International Society for Cow Protection talks about how the future lies in organic farming, and industrial farming practices are becoming less and less attractive, especially for small farmers. This video indicates how the future might look if we adopt organic farming practices fully. It seems bright indeed!



And learn more about the current state of the food crisis on our dedicated Issue page.


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Obama's Quiet Environmentalism

In a season of a high-profile Supreme Court nomination, economic stimulus, and early health care negotiations, why are we hearing so little about the Obama administration's environmental and energy policy?


The answer may lie in Obama's use of terms like "clean coal," "carbon capture and storage," and "cap and trade" that imply more a gesture of environmentalism rather than a full-scale energy revolution. In recent weeks, Obama has deferred to House Democrats to craft a climate change bill that creates the first carbon emissions trading system loosely modeled on EU energy policy. The plan though, in giving away 85% of carbon trade permits to industry for free, sets far more modest goals than the EU system for reducing carbon emissions.


Obama has been even more quiet about a $2.4 billion rollout this month of "clean coal" investments designed to reduce the environmental impact of coal-powered energy. Environmentalists like Al Gore mock the very idea of clean coal power, but similar programs are being implemented in the EU and China as economic stimulus measures.


Even as energy policy takes a back-seat to other administration priorities, there is still pressure to move quickly on new programs. Obama has promised to raise substantial revenue from carbon emissions trading to help pay for expenses like universal health care. Also, there is hope that Obama will sign on to global energy standards this December in Copenhagen to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which previous U.S. administrations never implemented.


Watch the Global Pulse episode on "clean coal" policy here.


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