Say MDG and smile, will ya?

There we go again!

I have just done another post on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), pleading that the core issues they promote be given due prominence than simple brand promotion for MDGs and their promoters-cum-custodians (the UN).

For my readers outside the charmed development circles, MDGs are an international blueprint for human development, with eight major goals to be achieved by 2015. These goals are the means of implementing the Millennium Declaration — to which 189 governments committed at the UN Millennium Summit held in 2000.

One way to ensure the governments will keep their promise is to turn media spotlight on them. Journalists and media managers have a key role to play in this process.

With this in mind, our friends at the Asia Pacific Institute for Broadcasting Development (AIBD) have launched the Asia Pacific MDG Media Awards to ‘recognise and honour the best media reporting on the MDGs’. They have the backing of two UN agencies (UNDP and UNESCAP) and the Asian Development Bank. The deadline for applications is 15 April 2007.

See TVE Asia Pacific news item on Asia Pacific MDG Media Awards

All this is well and good — except that the rules of the award scheme are a bit self-limiting. There’s one that I’ve only just noticed: “Reference to the MDGs (whether one or all MDG Goals) in your content is mandatory.”

This places wrong emphasis on MDG branding when it should be on the actual issues. MDGs are not another slogan for spin doctors at UN agencies to play around with for a few years until the next development fad comes along.

MDGs are about human dignity and social justice to the half of humanity that currently lives in poverty, squalor and deprivation. It is these real world people who lose their babies to preventable childhood diseases; drop out of school because they cannot afford to stay on; die needlessly in their millions during pregnancy or childbirth; or go to bed hungry every night.

In that bigger scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter whether justice is delivered through strategies, programmes and projects labelled ABC, XYZ, MDG or something else.

Besides, MDGs are a means to an end. The process is important, but branding is not, on that journey.

Half way along the way — to the agreed target of 2015 — an informed and motivated media can help countries and development players to remain focused.

By all means, reward good journalistic coverage of development and social justice issues underscored by the MDGs. But please, let’s not turn this into another round of simple publicity and self-promotion for UN agencies.


MDG Asia Pacific website

AIBD documents on Asia Pacific MDG Media Awards

Michael Crichton, Mediasaurus and end of broadcasting

I just wrote a post on digital pioneer and futurist Mark Pesce’s views on the end of broadcasting and the mass media as we know it.

Television broadcasting is probably a dinosaur facing extinction, but let’s remember a bit of pre-history here: dinosaurs didn’t die off in an instant. No time lord zapped them with some mighty extincter machine. Their decline and eventual extinction was, it is believed, a slow and gradual process.

So it will be with broadcasting. Even if their distribution and revenue models are now undermined and will soon be obsolete, conventional broadcasting (as we know it) will continue to operate and try to compete, at least for a few years. And in the less developed countries with emerging economies, that process will take longer.

Which means we still have to engage TV broadcasters even as their Empires of Eyeball slowly crumble.

And let’s not write off those Empires just yet. I still remember an article in the early days of Wired magazine: appearing in Sep-Oct 1993 issue, it was titled Mediasaurus , and written by the well known science fiction author (and medical doctor) Michael Crichton (of Jurassic Park and ER fame).

Michael Crichton, courtesy Michael Crichton website

He started the article as:
I am the author of a novel about dinosaurs, a novel about US-Japanese trade relations, and a forthcoming novel about sexual harassment – what some people have called my dinosaur trilogy. But I want to focus on another dinosaur, one that may be on the road to extinction. I am referring to the American media. And I use the term extinction literally. To my mind, it is likely that what we now understand as the mass media will be gone within ten years. Vanished, without a trace.

And he ended:
So I hope that this era of polarized, junk-food journalism will soon come to an end. For too long the media have accepted the immortal advice of Yogi Berra, who said: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But business as usual no longer serves the audience. And although technology will soon precipitate enormous changes in the media, we face a more immediate problem: a period of major social change. We are going to need a sensitive, informed, and responsive media to accomplish those changes. And that’s the way it is.

I just re-read the full article, and Crichton’s analysis is even more valid today than when it was written over a dozen years ago. But it’s also true that the broadcast industry – and conventional media as a whole – have changed and adapted.

No doubt that Mediasaurus still has an expiry date, but it’s not easy trying to guess exactly when the last of their kind drops dead.

Read the full article on Wired Online

Mark Pesce: In the company of a hypermind

Oops – I didn’t immediately realise that I was sharing a panel with a digerati – a highly accomplished pioneer and visionary of the digital world. And did he get us to think outside the idiot box!

His name is Mark Pesce. He is one of the early pioneers in Virtual Reality.
The co-inventor of VRML, he is the author of five books and numerous papers on the future of technology. Now based on Sydney, Australia, he is a writer, researcher and teacher.

Mark Pesce, courtesy Wikipedia

During the OUR Media 6 panel discussing how to safeguard community interests in the era of digital broadcasting, he was emphatic that broadcasting as we know it is doomed.

“The mass mind is not going to last. The sooner broadcasters recognise this, the better,” he said.

The broadcast model of one-way, point-to-multipoint, passive distribution of content is endangered by the digital revolution. The age of hyperdistribution has already dawned, and that is going to wipe out conventional distribution models sooner than later.

Hyperdistribution is audience-driven distribution of films and television programmes. The economics of production and distribution of media have changed radically – can film-makers adapt to the new rules? This is the question that Mark posed in talk given at the Sydney International Film Festival in Jube 2006 – listen to audio recording of his talk.

The near future of content distribution is in Internet-enabled, user-driven and often mobile devices. Already, two billion people – almost a third of humanity – walks around with mobile phones. These will provide new pathways to peddle new types of content to more audiences than ever before.

The film-making and TV-producing communities need to wake up to these new realities, Mark said.

His blog, Hyperpeople, is full of fascinating insights and extrapolations. Here’s one short extract:
Television producers are about to learn the same lessons that film studios and the recording industry learned before them: what the audience wants, it gets. Take your clips off of YouTube, and watch as someone else – quite illegally – creates another hyperdistribution system for them. Attack that system, and watch as it fades into invisibility. Those attacks will force it to evolve into ever-more-undetectable forms. That’s the lesson of music-sharing site Napster, and the lesson of torrent-sharing site Supernova. When you attack the hyperdistribution system, you always make the problem worse.

In May 2005, he wrote in an article titled Piracy is good? How Battlestar Galactica killed broadcast TV:
Television broadcasters owe their existence to the absence of substantially effective competition. When you’re dealing with real-world materials that are in naturally short supply – whether diamonds, oil, or broadcasting spectrum — a cartel can maintain and enforce its oligopoly. But when you’re working with media, which exist today as digital ephemera, bits that can be copied and reproduced endlessly at nearly zero cost, broadcast oligopolies are susceptible to a form of “digital arbitrage,” which can hollow-out their empires in an afternoon. Hyperdistribution techniques are more efficient than broadcast networks for television program distribution.

Read my other post on the OUR Media Forum on the community use of digital spectrum

Mark Pesce website

Mark Pesce blog, Hyperpeople