Wadim Schreiner wonders whether the media will give the Brics summit a true journalistic workover.
South Africa is about to host the fifth Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit in Durban. Although brushed off by many as just ‘shop-talk’, it will be interesting to see how it will be covered. So far, it seems, journalists either don’t understand what Brics is or don’t want to.
Previously, the Brics summits have been labelled by some media as ‘the China supplier meeting’. International affairs expert Dr Walter Ladwig stated in an article published last year that division, competition and rivalries among the Brics countries would eventually allow the alliance to “crumble without cementing of any real commonalities or shared interests”. Many front-page articles in The Economist last year sent a clear message: Brics and its members are not to be trusted.
From such media coverage, the perception seems to be that Brics is anti-American, anti-World Bank, anti-International Monetary Fund and any other structure that has been setting the global agenda for the past century. And this attitude is a big mistake. These five nations, who combined have 40% of the world’s population, 30% of its land mass and 25% of its GDP, are already challenging the existing world order as it has been subscribed to by world media for many decades. Nevertheless, the North still dictates to the world what the news should be, what is right and wrong. The message that American and European media send is that if globalisation is not ‘ours’, it is not globalisation or it needs to be viewed with significant scepticism, if not as a threat.
Furthermore, news that is not the centre of global media remains labelled and stereotyped. In the case of Brics, Russia is corrupt, China is communist, India is poor and Brazil has the carnival. And South Africa should not be part of this in the first place. And although these countries could well be all these things, the decline of the economic power of Europe and the United States has led to a more equal economic playing field. The result is the disbelief in the media that there may be alternatives to the existing world order based on different sets of economic principles.
This disbelief could possibly be reflected in the contrast between the Brics coverage and such an event as the much-lauded annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Has anything major emerged from Davos over the past few years? Not much in terms of government policies, but I suppose it is always good ‘to talk about things’. It has been different for business, with a few business deals either started, or informally signed there. But is that reason enough to give it the media frenzy it receives? Or is it perhaps because of preconceived ideas that it must be important because of the historical role its attendants have played?
And, what does it mean for the Durban Summit? I am most interested to see how the South African media will deal with the event. Will they follow the trend of global media in questioning the rationale and motivation behind the summit and the Brics in general? Will they be able to separate themselves from the general mood of suspicion towards anything government-associated, and refrain from questioning which company benefited from the event, which business person attended (for what motivation) and how many houses could have been built had we not hosted the event?
Will they be able to look beyond the microcosm of South Africa to the opportunities that could emerge for the country? And perhaps investigate how things look like in the other Brics countries and how we could benefit from such alliances?
Just like Al-Jazeera a few years ago broke the one-sided reporting of the likes of CNN, perhaps we can achieve the same with reporting on Brics.
The fifth Brics summit takes place from 26 to 27 March 2013 at the Durban International Convention Centre (ICC).
This story was first published in the February 2013 issue of The Media magazine.