4 April 2001
Subject: For Alex Wilkes: World Bank publicity misrepresenting Wolfensohn
Hello - I thought this might be of interest to you. I am also looking for advice on how to approach the World Bank - or who to write to - given the nature of the communication I received yesterday.
The lead story on the World Bank website, on Jim Wolfensohn's speech in Berlin, quotes him out of context. He called for a campaign on the International Development Goals, but the story and the press release, which is almost identical, give the clear impression that he wanted a campaign to halve income poverty. This causes me great concern because this goal on its own provides a disincentive to helping the poor survive. Personally, I'd rather be alive with a low income even if this meant the goal being missed by one person.
At the end of this email are my message to Caroline Anstey at the Bank about the accuracy of the press release, and her reply. I found out after sending my message that she is the chief spokesperson in Washington.
I thought her reply might be of interest to you if it sheds light on what's happening at the Bank. Unless this is an isolated incident, it suggests to me that Media Relations may be playing more of a harmful role than others in the organisation. She seems to be thinking rather less clearly than I would expect. I'd be interested to know whether you've found any other instances of messages being changed.
In her reply she mentions lack of space in the headline, whereas I wrote to her about the content of the press release. She does not give a reason for quoting Mr Wolfensohn's remark about a campaign out of its context.
She also makes a gross factual mistake: according to her, "it" (presumably the press release) said that "a number of the health and education goals will be met at the country level". But the text of the speech, like the press release, makes no reference to any health goals being met in any countries. In the speech he says it is likely that a considerable number of countries will reach education and gender equality goals. (Incidentally, the education goal, like the income goal, cannot humanely be separated from the one on child mortality - the education and income goals are in terms of proportions of the population, so progress will appear slower if more uneducated children survive). I would have expected someone in her position to know enough about the poor not to make the mistake of thinking survival or health outcomes are going according to plan.
Given all this, it's touching that she apologises for "any confusion". I hope she's not a friend of yours !
I would like to do something further about this. I thought of writing direct to Mr Wolfensohn, but there may be a more productive way.
Subject: Correction to press release
Dear Ms Anstey
Your press release of 2 April on Jim Wolfensohn's speech does not seem to be
quite accurate, in a way that seems rather important for understanding of the
International Development Goals by politicians and the public.
Your release says, "James Wolfensohn called on politicians to help launch a
global campaign to meet the international development goal of reducing the
proportion of people living in extreme poverty by half by 2015. " Never was
there a better time for such a campaign"."
However, on the web page for the text of his speech, he is quoted as saying:
".....none of the IDGs on health and education - namely, a two thirds decline
in infant and under-five mortality, a three-fourths decline in maternal
mortality, and universal primary education for all by 2015 - are likely to be
achieved at the global level without a more concerted powerful campaign.
Never was there a better time for such a campaign. "
So the campaign he would like includes these targets. In fact the targets
cannot sensibly be separated: the income target and the child mortality
target, especially, are statistically interdependent. The mathematics is
clear - if more of the poorest children survive, then we have to accept
that progress towards the income target will look slower.
The income target on its own is vulnerable to misunderstanding, since it is
not about raising incomes, but reducing the proportion of people at a low
level of income.
The International Development Targets were intended as a package, and Mr
Wolfensohn is clearly very aware of this. Politicians and the public may
not be, and need to understand that unless the targets are worked on as a
package, apparent progress towards the income target can be made with
policies that are not, as a whole, good for the poor.
Subj: Re: Correction to press release
Date: 03/04/01 20:16:21 GMT Daylight Time
I don't think there is a need for a correction. The goals are all outlined in
the speech - to which the reader is referred. You are right he also mentioned
health and education. But there obviously was not room in the headline of the
press release to mention all the goals. A headline saying he called for a
campaign to meet the IDGs would have confused people even more. Hence the fact
reason it was written as it was. It also pointed out that a number of the health
and education goals will be met at the country level, the issue is how to reach
them at the global level.
I apologizxe if there was any confusion.