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Reporting Global Trade: is it a dying art and if so, does it matter?

In the past negotiations about free trade have often hit the headlines – for example in Seattle in 1999 and most famously, in Cancun in 2003.  But since the Hong Kong summit in 2005 the mainstream media – and many international NGOs – seem to have lost interest even though the issue affects millions of people around the world.

Trying to understand why this has happened is just one of the research questions Kaijaleena (Kii) Runsten, a Finnish journalist working at the Maaseudun Tulevaisuus newspaper, attempts to answer in her wide-reaching study entitled Reporting Global Trade: is it a dying art and if so, does it matter?

Kii also offers answers to important questions about the reporting of international trade, and journalists’ relationships with NGO sources.  She asks how much visibility did different NGOs get in the media? What makes journalists choose and trust an NGO? And are there risks and possible problems in the journalist – NGO relationship?

Kii carried out extensive content analysis of the coverage of four recent WTO meetings by ten newspapers in six countries (Finland, India, Malaysia, South Africa, United Kingdom, and United States), and followed this up with semi-structured interviews with six journalists from both western and emerging economies.

Amongst her numerous conclusions, Kii found that

  1. development NGOs and farmer or peasant organisations were better at getting their message across in the media than business organisations (with the exception of India);
  2. that both NGOs and the media lost interest dramatically in the global trade round after 2009;
  3. the WTO has in many ways done a better job in communication and transparency than its general reputation among the public at large might suggest.

Kii concludes pessimistically that complex subjects such as trade negotiations

have become too complicated for most journalists to report on because they have not enough time for building proper frames and setting their stories in the full context.