A journalism competition with international development as its theme should not exclude journalists in developing countries from entering.
I managed to disappoint a few thousand journalists recently when I told them about the 2011 International Development Journalism Competition, run by the Guardian newspaper in the UK.
The Guardian — which has just won one of the 2011 One World Media Awards for its development coverage — is rightly known for its commitment to social justice and its excellent coverage of issues that affect the world’s poor.
But the competition has left me and many others very confused, because it excludes journalists in the very countries that are the subject of its themes.
Before I realised this, I sent information about the competition to around 4,000 journalists in more than 100 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean.
I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to be recognised for their work and for their stories to reach a big international audience.
But no. Someone pointed out the small print in the competition rules and I had to write back to all of these journalists to let them know the bad news. They were perplexed.
“I’m wondering why developing countries are omitted,” wrote one journalist in Malawi. “I ran through the themes and they’re all about developing countries.”
Another journalist in the Caribbean wrote on the Earth Journalism Network mailing list:
“It indeed speaks to an international problem of journalists not necessarily talking with the voice of the communities on whom they are reporting, especially on development issues, and a competition like this ought to aim to redress exactly that!”
I asked The Guardian why the contest excluded journalists from the countries it wants stories about, and they pointed me to the FAQ page, which says:
Why can’t I enter if I live overseas?
Because we are unable to support the costs of bringing entrants to/from the UK to attend necessary briefings and other activities that might arise.
Or, as another member of the Earth Journalism Network mailing list put it:
“Don’t blame it on sunshine
Don’t blame it on moonlight
Don’t blame it on good times
Blame it on the budget…”
I am a big fan of the Guardian — (disclosure: part of my job is to encourage Guardian journalists to report on the research done by my colleagues at IIED) — and I know the paper is trying to do the right thing by promoting more and better reporting of international development from UK-based writers.
I know too that the Guardian would love to make this competition open to journalists who live in the developing world, but that it boils down to a question of money and logistics.
So I hope that next year they can redesign the competition to enable this, or convince their donors to dig a little deeper into their wallets to pay for a truly international contest.
Given that the sponsors are Barclays and GlaxoSmithKline, I can’t imagine that it should be too difficult for them to fund a more inclusive competition that allows the journalists who are best placed to report on development challenges to join in.
Meanwhile, I wish all of the 2011 entrants the best of luck and I know that, as in previous years, the competition will produce some excellent winners.