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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Bits and pieces - Sean Heron at the World Climate Change Conference

Well, in my last post I had promised I'd fill in some gaps later, and though the conference is now more than a week over, and the memories are naturally fading, I still wanted to do so. When I was thinking about what might be interesting and I hadn't mentioned yet, what sprung to mind was how the media and the NGOs/Governmental representatives work like two cogs with one another when it goes to conveying news.

I guess I should start of by some broader context: Everybody at the conference got a badge/card for entry checks (barcoded even). These had your name and organisation on them, which of course is quite helpful. Most importantly though (in everyday social contacts) they had a colour and text designating them either "NGO", "Media", or "Party" (the delegates) [There were others but thats not relevant]. Now the interesting thing was, and I didn't realize this until a few days in, that carrying a "Media" card round with you, got all sorts of people to peddle information to you (not quite as intrusively as you get peddled pretty much anything as a foreigner here in Bali, but with equally keen interest :D). "I have a real story for you, mate", "... I think I might have some more information for you later, could you give me your number?" were some of the best I heard.

This leads me back to the "media machine" and its "feeding". As in Heiligendamm, the writing press got a big working area to itself. So you have a nice collection of journalists there, and plenty of organisations giving press briefings used this circumstance to do some "canvasing" for themselves. From the US State Department, to the NGO I had some contact with, Germanwatch, you'd have people going around placing sheets stating where, when and what their press conference is going to be (about).

And with the amount of stuff going on, people (including me) would follow these invites (its not as if the information weren't easy at hand either: there were "daily programmes" lying about in stacks that did include a timetable of all press briefings). I know because I gave a hand doing some canvasing myself for a youth delegation doing a "stunt", as it is called (they dressed up as sleazy corporate bosses, they were doling out monopoly money to any delegates they found), and there were quite a few people I was pressing the advertisement into the hands of, that said: "oh right, I wanted to go there, where is it happening?" or "no time, but I'll give my colleague a call".

On the press briefings themselves: You might remember me saying that there was one room where press briefings were held more or less non stop. Well, at least on the last days, there were also journalists that were their more or less all the time. How do you know, you ask. You must have been there all the time as well then! Well I guess I have to admit that yes, I was there most of the time as well, and there was not much else you could do on Friday, so I guess the case I'm making isn't a strong one. Still, it did get me thinking, at least at times, we were entirely dependent of the information we were being given in the briefings. Still, I guess its nevertheless worlds apart from Heiligendamm, were the best you got was press briefings... over TV. And a number of limited Photo opportunities.

Speaking of which what I hadn't anticipated was how various NGOs had a good number of "stunts" set up (one I already mentioned). The fossil awards, which were handed out daily to the countries the Climate action network (CAN) viewed as the most obstructive that day, even advertised: "good photo opportunities" on their flyers. I never did get round to watching one, but apparently they didn't just name which nations and why got the awards, no, they always had someone from the appropriate nation stand in to "receive" the reward, and made quite a show of it :). And this was not just anybody handing them out, but a network of the greater part of the environmental NGOs present (see also

So yes, a lot of what the NGOs were doing was centred around getting press coverage, and I had the impression that the press on the other hand, often had a hard time understanding what was going on, or getting something good to cover, if it wasn't fed us bite size (see for example my "scientists urge action on climate change" article, based entirely on the information I was given). So yes, I find the image of two cog wheels running in one another quite adequate.

What else have I missed until now ? Maybe just how accessible the delegates were. I myself didn't actually talk in much with any one of them, but tagging along with Toby Heaps on one day (a Canadian journalist I was sharing a Bungalow with), we were at a restaurant at the Canadian Delegations Hotel, and they had just finished eating together with a bunch of Canadian Press people when we got there. Toby (who later released a paper on Carbon taxing he had coauthored) took up the opportunity and presented some of the thoughts of the paper to one of the delegates.

And this didn't seem too uncommon. One of the young Europeans I met up with, a woman from Norway, said they (the members of their/the Norwegian NGO(s), not sure) had regular meetings with the delegates, where they would of course lobby for their position. A young woman from Belgium had actually been invited onto the delegation, and was thus even more involved in the whole process (she once bemoaned that it was difficult to lobby if your government was already getting things pretty right. She stated that the Belgians position inside the EU was a progressive one, but that they had to tone it down outwards, as the EU was presenting one common position).

I was of course previously aware that lobby work happened, but I guess I had never thought about how it worked in detail, and so it was quite interesting and somewhat surprising for me to see and hear about the process. Anything else? Their's certainly still plenty I could tell, but to sum it up I'll just say that I realized time and again that all those attending, NGOs, press, security or delegates, are just humans in the end and, of course, act that way as well and not just in the roles they have been given,

Sean Heron.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So did you notice the leaking air conditioning?