THE BLOG

Please Tell me Something Good

03/02/2016 20:58
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I don't know how familiar you are with the 1996 Costa Rica Forest Law but it cheered my week getting to know it. I'd like to share it with you. The Forest Law aimed to give farmers in the humid, macaw-filled tropical Central American paradise of Costa Rica financial incentives that would prevent them from being tempted by the money that commercial timber production offered - with all its dastardly consequences of deforestation. Money was given for the provision of environmental services, helping in the production of fresh drinking water, protecting the biodiversity of the forests and something called 'the provision of scenic beauty'. And it is that phrase which brightened up a dull Monday because it's where bureaucracy and government meets spirituality and emotion, isn't it?

Just thinking about that makes me feel good. Don't you have to love a government that tells its farmers to 'provide scenic beauty'? For a nano second that rain forest fug is implanted in my brain. And you'll probably already know that the Forest Law worked - Costa Rica is now one of the most bio diverse, healthy, environmentally sound and literate places in the world. Literate because in 1949 the government abolished the army replacing it with 'an army of teachers.' Yup - feeling another nano second coming on.

I have been luxuriating in these facts for a new six part series on the BBC World Service called My Perfect Country that, produced in the spirit of so called solutions-based journalism, aims to inspire audiences with ideas from around the world that could help solve common problems.

Apologies for the slightly megalomaniac title - it's a collective 'My' there (what do you mean you can't tell?) and it's a programme where we are going to try and build, rather playfully, a 'perfect' country using only bits of the world have been proven to work. We're not copying and pasting the best education policies or the best health service - this is a more subtle way of examining all kinds of things - from Portugal's drug rehabilitation policy (taking it out of criminal justice system and into health) to Estonia's digital revolution and the 'barefoot lawyers 'of Uganda dispensing digital legal aid. And you have spotted the theme haven't you - it's all good news. Ugh - that sends a shiver down the spine of most journalists, conjuring up images of kittens up trees and 110 year olds having birthday parties. I am no stranger to those assignments myself.

Good news struggles to find its place in the news agenda. As an editor, or journalist, at what point do you say that a policy or a scheme or a venture has become successful enough to justify attention with so much else to cover? How do you avoid a good news story looking like a puff piece? How can you stop that reflex of impartiality and balance where if you let Man A say 'This is terrific' You must have Man B saying 'This is awful...'?

But it doesn't have to be that way and I'm pretty sure it's more important than ever to spend time examining the things on our planet that do actually work - otherwise our view of the world is skewed towards doom and gloom. The 3D punch of current news stories can be so dark, so unpleasant and can leave us feeling so helpless that we are in danger of adopting a 'worst first' response to everything. Yet at the same time as the actions of the so-called Islamic State, the migrant crisis and climate change we are also living in a renaissance of ideas - partly enabled by the wealth of the developed world and the increasing universality of technology. We need to stop thinking that good news has to be the 'and finally' item on the news - the saccharine attempt to leave you with a winsome smile on your face.

In line with this invigorating thought My Perfect Country is a show about hard work, vision, dedication, serendipity and human dynamism - and all of the policies we examine have all of these ingredients. And I haven't even got to the demand-response fridges of Guatemala.

You see you smiled there didn't you? The fridges and the forests - they are my favourites so far. And the week's not even over...

My Perfect Country starts on 4th February at 20.00 GMT on the BBC World Service, and also available at different times on radio and online in the UK and around the world.

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