Lackluster media coverage of international organizations in Geneva is not new but an independent study funded by city of Geneva in touch with the Swiss Mission to UN, calls for facilitating the work of journalists covering international organizations in the City of Calvin. Failure to do so, according to veteran Geneva journalist, Daniel Wermus, is like being on the Titanic and failing to steer around the iceberg. Here Wermus answers questions put to him by American journalist Pamela Taylor of Le News.
We understand that this study is completely separate from the one about the impact and overall importance of International Geneva?
That is correct. Our study, due out the end of the year, is a 50 page report based on 60 interviews with representatives from the media, NGOs, UN organs and the private sector to call attention to the fact that journalists are leaving Geneva at a time when more and more diplomats, international functionaries, businessmen and traders are arriving. The press rooms at the Palais des Nations are deserted. The all-important news agencies (AP, Reuters, EFE and even the Swiss agency ATS) have been losing personnel since 10 years. No one cares about this because organizations and businesses are still coming to Geneva in great numbers and still spending money. In the medium term however, Geneva and Switzerland risk losing their international profile.
Geneva is a sort of world crystal ball where important issues impacting the future of us all are discussed and solutions proposed. But the wider public knows little about this. Take the climate change issue. Everyone knows that our house, this planet, is burning and usually when your house is burning you call the fire brigade – but no one is doing that. We are like the passengers on the Titanic, all on the same vessel and if we don’t want this boat to become the Titanic they we need to have a place to discuss how we are going in the wrong direction before we run into the iceberg. Geneva should be this place. And strive to enliven the narratives of planetary issues
Hasn’t some progress been made in the fact that Geneva recently hosted important conferences on Syria and Iran which attracted international attention and drew many journalists to Geneva?
Yes. This is in fact a return to Geneva’s past when its neutrality attracted actors reluctant to go to New York. But you may have noticed that most of the journalists came from abroad, not those who work here every day and follow such issues on a daily basis. They were completely left out while their colleagues from overseas struggled to find their way through the maze of conference venues, security checks and lack of sufficient press facilities.
So what does your report recommend?
First organizations need to be more press friendly. The UN is deficient in making things easy for reporters. Its audio-visual service is very up to date but used mainly for UN purposes and not very helpful to journalists. Second, all organizations need to make their press releases more interesting to attract journalistic coverage and then respond to questions in a meaningful and timely way. Third, Geneva authorities and the Foreign affairs in Berne can help facilitate the work of journalists, whether Swiss or international. Easy things such as providing free bus or train passes, proper press facilities and making accreditation easier.
Daniel Wermus is a Geneva-based international journalist.