Archive for » October, 2013 «

Ageing in Sweden and eating in Sri Lanka

I learnt today that Sweden is rated in an index by Global Age Watch as the best country in which people may age.  (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/10/03/these-are-the-best-and-worst-countries-to-be-elderly/)

 

That Sri Lanka has the lowest rates of hunger among all countries of South Asia, and shows a trend of successfully reducing it,  until a recent blip, was also brought to attention today. (http://www.ifpri.org/book-8018/ourwork/researcharea/global-hunger-index). I wouldn’t expect most of our commentators to draw attention to the fact that proportionately fewer Sri Lankans are going hungry than in other countries in our region or even in comparison to some of the wealthier countries of the world. It isn’t bad enough news, after all. Some kind of dismissal or lampooning would be more in character for most of our popular analysts. But how might the ‘independent’ media in Sweden be reacting to the news of its being ranked the best in the world for the elderly, I wondered?

 

A leading Swedish newspaper comments on the country being ranked first, in a story headlined, ‘If this is the best place in the world …’ (http://www.thelocal.se/49266/20130725/).  A story of a pensioner charged for shoplifting follows. ‘The woman told the paper that she has never stolen anything besides food every now and again, and that her monthly allowance hardly covers the costs of medicine that she needs for her asthma and blood pressure’.

 

Are Swedish ‘independent’ media no different from ours, wanting always to knock the country and never laud something positive?  How can we judge whether a pre-set agenda underlies a given media report? If it were a channel we are familiar with, we’d know from the flavour of its overall reporting. We do not have that clue here. But this account illustrates a common sleight of hand used by biased media – namely, countering the general truth with a single story that ‘proves’ the opposite. A widely-based national assessment is here set against one event related to one individual. The single human interest story easily overpowers the immensely more significant general finding.

 

The use of the strategy in this instance may not be an example of bias. They did go on to support the shoplifting story’s slant with, ‘..pensioners often live on a tight budget, with LO union newspaper Arbetet pointing out in June that one in three retired Swedes are living below the poverty line’. That last line is far more troubling than one pensioner’s one act. Media too have no means to draw attention or rouse concern at a level proportional to the size of a finding, when the major cause for concern is a ‘mere statistic’.

 

Sri Lankans and Sri Lankan media should feel pleased about our relative ranking on the hunger index and the quality-of-life-for-the-elderly index. We come first on wellbeing of the elderly among countries below US $ 6000 GDP per capita.  Global Age Watch believes that we have done well because, ‘long-term investments in education and health have had a lifetime benefit for many of today’s older population’. They single Sri Lanka out for positive comment, ‘A huge success story here is Sri Lanka, a very poor country that nonetheless scores only a bit below much-richer Portugal, Malta and even Italy’.

 

Ah, well – who cares?