Monday, October 5, 2009

Attention Journalists: "How to write about pointless international organisations"

The Financial Times' Alan Beattie wrote this bit of brilliance last year for the G8 meeting. His friend Gideon Rachman duly posted it on his FT Rachmanblog. I am reposting it in full to bookmark for future reference:

...Alan then forwarded me a generic column on international institutions that he has written. It really says it all - and I think I may simply reproduce it, every year, round about G8 time.

It goes as follows:

By reporters everywhere

An ineffectual international organisation yesterday issued a stark
warning about a situation it has absolutely no power to change, the
latest in a series of self-serving interventions by toothless
intergovernmental bodies.

“We are seriously concerned about this most serious outbreak of
seriousness,” said the head of the institution, either a former minister from a developing country or a mid-level European or American bureaucrat.

“This is a wake-up call to the world. They must take on board the vital message that my
organisation exists.”

The director of the body, based in one of New York, Washington

or an agreeable Western European city, was speaking at its annual

conference, at which ministers from around the world gather to wring their hands impotently about the most fashionable issue of the day. The organisation has
sought to justify its almost completely fruitless existence by joining
its many fellow talking-shops in highlighting whatever crisis has
recently gained most coverage in the global media.

“Governments around the world must come together to combat whatever
this year’s worrying situation has turned out to be,” the director
said. “It is not yet time to panic, but if it goes on much further
without my institution gaining some credit for sounding off on the
issue, we will be justified in labelling it a crisis.”

The organisation, whose existence the White House barely acknowledges
and to which hardly any member government intends to give more money
or extra powers, has long been fighting a war of attrition against its
own irrelevance. By making a big deal out of the fact that the world’s
most salient topical issue will be placed on its agenda and then
issuing a largely derivative annual report on the subject, it hopes to
convey the entirely erroneous impression that it has any influence
whatsoever on the situation.

The intervention follows a resounding call to action in the communiqué
of the Group of [number goes here] countries at their recent summit in
a remote place no-one had previously heard of. The G[number goes here]
meeting was preceded by the familiar interminable and inconclusive
discussions about whether the G[number goes here] was sufficiently
representative of the international community, or whether it should be
expanded into a G[number plus 1, 2 or higher goes here] including
China, India or any other scary emerging market country that attendees
cared to name.

The story was given further padding by a study from an
ambulance-chasing Washington think-tank, which warned that it would
continue to convene media conference calls until its quixotic and
politically suicidal plan to ameliorate whatever crisis was gathering
had been given respectful though substantially undeserved attention.