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Why can’t Journalists report on good news in Afghanistan?


August 22, 2011

Doug Hadden, VP Products

Media guru Marshall McLuhan observed that newspapers report on bad news in order to sell the good news- advertising. This seems to be the overwhelming approach to journalists covering Afghanistan. Including from such prestigious publications as the Wall Street Journal, Daily Telegraph and Reuters (as I’ve pointed out before). It’s as if there is a contest among the press to come up with the most sensational headline or negative visceral presentation about Afghanistan.

That prize might belong to the Daily Mail in the UK for the story £70m of British aid ‘paid to the Taliban': Cash wasted on bribes and protection money, say campaigners written by Kristy Walker. The premise of the story is that corruption is causing aid money in Afghanistan to be directed to the Taliban. The added flavour here is the inclusion of three large photos of Taliban desperadoes ensconced with weapons. This gives the impression that the British government is knowingly presenting rocket launchers like bonbons to the insurgents. The cornerstone of the story is that up to 10% of British aid is being redirected to the Taliban. This is extrapolated to the “aid doesn’t work” narrative prevalent in the Western press.

Meanwhile, Scott Gilmore of the Peace Dividend Trust describes how US Govenment Success Touted as Failure in Afghanistan. He points out that the press is “reporting that a jaw dropping $360m of US govt money was lost to insurgents in Afghanistan through graft, theft, and intimidation.” Yet, this is only 1.1% of aid money lost to insurgents. One wonders whether the US government achieves 98.9% corruption-free spending within the United States.

As we have pointed out, there has been significant progress in public financial management in Afghanistan. The government has automated almost 100% of budget execution and closes 90% of revenue transactions within 24 hours. It meets international standards and the money is traceable. What Ms. Walker of the Daily Mail seems to ignore is that the reported graft occurs outside of the government financial management system because many donors are concerned about the political public relations consequences of doing so. In other words, many donors prefer methods that guarantee the fungibility of aid rather than use the proven government system. Why? Because the narrative suggests that the entire government is corrupt, facts be damned!

As you can imagine, I pointed this out in a comment on the Daily Mail site which was not accepted. And none of the other comments are visible. Which is a nice touch to maintain the narrative.

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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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