London Seminar Tackles Media’s Hunger Coverage

Published on 07 July 2010

CNN anchor Adrian Finighan (left) discusses intelligent food aid with Alex Renton of The Observer (middle) and the CEO of Dutch life sciences company DSM, Feike Sibjesma. Photo: Natash Elkington/Reuters Alternet

“The F-Word: Hunger in the Media” was the provocative theme of a high-profile seminar in London hosted by WFP and Reuters Alternet to explore the challenges of reporting about hunger.  The event also featured a Live Blog, where an online audience could follow the debate and even take part.

LONDON –  “In the world of food aid, the F-Word is famine,” explains WFP Global Media Coordinator Gregory Barrow. “It’s at the heart of the discomfort that sometimes marks relations between the media and people in the food aid business."

An organiser of the June 2 seminar at Reuters’ Headquarters in London, Barrow said: “Sometimes it seems that unless newspapers can use the word ‘famine’ in their headlines, they are not interested in reporting on hunger. But real famines are quite rare and aid organisations like WFP are doing their best to get rid of them entirely.” Read Greg Barrow's article in The Huffington Post.

The debate online


One of the seminar’s key features was a Live Blog where an online audience followed the debate and held one of their own together with bloggers from WFP and Reuters Alertnet.  Some of their questions were put to the panelists, who responded to them during a Q&A phase of the seminar.

See the blog here

The F-Word

Billed under the eye-grabbing headline “The F-Word: Hunger in the Media,” the event gathered together a number of prominent figures from the aid world and the media to explore why friction sometimes arises between the two.

BBC reporter Lyce Doucet, Channel 4 News foreign correspondent Jonathan Rugman, CNN anchor Adrian Finighan and award-winning journalist Alex Renton were among voices from the media asked to weigh in on the media’s approach to issues like hunger.

Fellow panelists included aid experts such as Director of the Royal Africa Society Richard Dowden, Chief Executive of UK’s Disaster’s Emergency Committee Brendan Gormley and Simon Maxwell, a senior researcher at the Overseas Development Institute.

Lively debate

The seminar unfolded across four main topics: the difficulty of reporting on complex humanitarian disasters, the costs of getting food to dangerous places, the media’s responsibility to spread awareness about hunger and innovations in food assistance. Panelists also touched on a number of controversial topics, such as negative coverage of the emergency relief operation after the earthquake in Haiti and allegations that food aid in Somalia was falling into the hands of militants.

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran led the final discussion with an overview of the evolving approach to food aid and the growing focus on nutrition.

“To beat hunger definitively we need safety nets. Countries need to have the systems in place to keep people out of hunger. Until that world exists, WFP will stand by the vulnerable individuals of the world,” she said.