International Media and the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms

10 Sep

“Sparse” would describe the level of attention international media has been paying to the Review Conference for the UN Programme of Action on small arms and lights weapons (UNPoA). The reasons are manifold and can obviously not be reduced to a general rule of thumb. The personal dedication of the individual journalist willing to push a story or topic that might not be as newsworthy as others in the eyes of the editor or outlet would be one reason. Needless to say, every media representative today, in particular those who are publishing with corporate media outlets, has to deal with an entirely new framework of restrictions and guidelines.

Newsworthiness has been redefined, often but not always to the detriment of quality of information. On the other hand, tangible results are still more likely to make it into the paper than theoretical discourses, which often exclude the every-day-reader. The counterargument for that statement would be the journalist’s ability to break down, analyze and communicate complex, specialized contexts. Not all journalists can, not all of them want to, not all of them have the time to, and not every outlet is suitable for such analyses.

These various arguments can be directly applied to the UNPoA Review Conference.

For many, the failure of the arms trade treaty (ATT) negotiations in July, although different in nature and objectives, has been paralyzing whereby UN stereotypes surrounding effectiveness and pace of implementation have certainly resurfaced. Additionally, discussions on language or meeting details, as has been the case for some of the first week of the Review Conference, are simply of no interest to the every-day-reader, while they are very important in a UN context when multiple cultures with particular political boundaries are trying to come to an agreement on complex political matters, such as national military build-up or the eradication of the illicit arms trade.

Nevertheless, as in most situations in life, there is a way to cover solid middle ground. Numerous side events at the UNPoA Conference have offered a high level of practicality and result-driven implementation that is well -worth communicating to the outside world of political ordinaries. For example, the launch of the publication A decade of Implementing the UNPoA on SALW: Analysis of National Reports by Sarah Parker and Katherine Green from the UN Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) provided a summary of the degree of national implementation of the UNPoA, and although the provision of national reports is voluntary and therefor incomplete, the study could be a basis from which effectiveness or ineffectiveness could be much better quantified.

Another event worth covering was hosted by the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS), which focused on physical security and stockpile management and demonstrated a very tangible and reportable result of UNPoA implementation by coordinating UN actors for emergency response as well as creating national focal points in areas of crisis for humanitarian organizations. As Global Action’s Katherine Prizeman writes, “To date, UNMAS has destroyed over 180,000 landmines and unexploded ordnances (UXO) in Libya through 23 deployed clearance teams.”

What creates international headlines a day after the UNPoA had started is the fact that “The legal international trade in small arms, light weapons, their parts and ammunition is worth at least $8.5 billion annually”— more than double the previous estimate in 2006, according to a survey by independent researchers released at UN headquarters last week. The Small Arms Survey 2012 said the increase from the last estimate of $4 billion is due to several factors — large-scale government spending especially during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, increased purchases of small arms and ammunition from foreign countries by American civilians, and better information and improved methods of calculating the value of transfers”, as UN-Correspondent Edith Lederer writes in Bloomberg’s Businessweek.

What will it take to make peace that profitable and hence newsworthy? According to the Small Arms Survey, there are an estimated 875 million small arms in circulation worldwide, produced by more than 1,000 companies from nearly 100 countries. A concerning situation this PoA conference is dedicated to and would indeed deserve extensive, global media attention.

–Lia Petridis Maiello
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