Released today, a 300-page report from the Office of the Independent Police Review Director in Ontario, Canada, criticizes police actions during the G20 Summit in Toronto in June 2010.
This news is dominating mass media websites such as the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. It’s entirely understandable and even good journalism for Canadian and especially Toronto-based media to trumpet this report. The G20 was a major news story at the time, and public consciences were shocked both by the hooliganism of protesters on the first day and the mass arrests on the second day of the summit. Over the past two years, the trials of those arrested have continually made headlines, as has the ongoing inquiry into the policing.
One only wishes (naively, of course) that as much interest or publicity existed for the ongoing G20 process, which arguably will have a much larger impact for people all around the world — including those in Canada and Toronto. Coverage of the substantive issues discussed among world leaders at the Toronto summit has been a drop in the bucket, as measured by numbers of words or printed column-inches — or audience engagement through online commenting — compared with widespread coverage and fury over the street melees.
As I say, it’s perfectly defensible. There’s no question where the readers’ eye will go, if it’s a contest between a photo of a burning police cruiser and a chart of national debt-to-GDP ratios. The media must remain relevant to the interests of readers while public safety and justice issues will always warrant coverage.
But who in the larger audience does not have a critical stake in the long-term stability and sustainability of the global economy? The Toronto G20 summit occurred in the lingering shadow of the 2008–09 international financial crisis. That crisis, in fact, spurred the very formation of the G20 at the leaders’ level — because the global economic meltdown could not be addressed solely through coordination among G8 club of nations, which left out such major emerging economies as China, Brazil, India and South Africa. World leaders were grappling with the dire issues of economic stimulation versus austerity — how much to pump up their national economies to avert depression, without diving over the cliff of public debt – and with issues of world economic imbalances: rapid economic growth combined with trade surpluses and foreign-reserve hoarding on one side of an ocean, contrasting with recession and trade deficits combined with monetary easing on the other side. Two years later, the cross-border issues still roil the world: for example, Euro zone uncertainty, resulting from sovereign debt crises, is hurting markets, consumer confidence and employment prospects in far-removed regions of the interdependent global economy.
For a research centre such as CIGI, which focuses on global economic policy research — our research publications have made policy recommendations for increasing the likely success of the G20, for the economic benefit of all — the continual mass media focus on the G20 protest sideshows, to the near exclusion of the over-arching economic policy issues, is a hurdle to overcome. Policy innovation is largely reliant on political attention, which correlates to public attention. Our Public Affairs strategy of free online dissemination of excellent research, combined with communications to decision-makers, the public and mass media, is aimed at driving citizen and policy-maker engagement in the issues that matter most.
I wrote about this challenge shortly after the Toronto summit, asking Waterloo-area newspaper readers to think about the rogue protesters as an analogy to rogue bankers (those who ignited the 2008 financial crisis), and to consider which was a bigger threat to the world. And incidentally, which commanded more of their personal attention (perhaps the lesser threat)?
Thankfully, summits after Toronto (Seoul in November 2010, Cannes in November 2011) were less distracted by street violence or policing actions; yet news coverage of the longer-term policy issues was still largely derailed at Cannes – as was the entire summit, for that matter – by the immediate, erupting debt crisis in Greece. CIGI remains hopeful that the Los Cabos G20 Summit this June 18-19 will be an opportunity for world leaders, and their national media and citizens, to focus on the critical issues of global financial regulation and macro-economic coordination. CIGI will be on site, offering our expert insights and analyses to the assembled legions of international journalists, in hopes of putting a spotlight on the issues that directly affect the economic well-being of billions of people.