Press relegates summit to celebrity pages

Many papers focused on the celebrities at the WEF meeting

Monday’s newspapers had little to say about the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting - except that it was a good place for autograph hunters.

This content was published on January 31, 2005

Readers of the Swiss press would have hardly noticed the summit had ended, and even the Financial Times was hard pressed to think of anything to say beyond the fact that CEOs are “celebrity-obsessed”.

Some of the biggest names in entertainment – including film star Sharon Stone and U2’s Bono - were out in force for the WEF meeting in the Swiss alpine resort of Davos.

According to the Financial Times, “celebrity chief executive officers may be out of fashion, but celebrities with a cause are definitely in.”

“Big Brother himself, forum founder Klaus Schwab, had sprinkled a bit more stardust than usual.”

Britain’s Guardian pointed to the fact that Bono received a standing ovation “simply for walking on stage with a Davos supergroup made up of Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Tony Blair and two African presidents.”

The Wall Street Journal hailed the mixture of celebrities, politicians and business leaders – but added that autograph hunting appeared to be the order of the day.

“The world’s top capitalists were transformed into autograph hounds,” commented the paper.

Whiff of celebrity

In its own editorial, the Lausanne-based Le Matin described the “whiff of Chanel No. 5” as a “breath of fresh air in the WEF’s bunker”.

For Geneva's Le Temps, the flow of celebrities helped to put the spotlight on Africa’s needs: “If this manoeuvre succeeds, it could become an international model for political-humanitarian lobbying.”

But not all the papers share the view that the WEF meeting needed the celebrity touch.

The Neue Luzerner Zeitung bemoaned the fact that Switzerland was footing the bill for a big party, especially since there were no results to show for all the noise generated this year.

But the paper admitted that “anyone who expects that a four-day meeting will lead to world peace is just expecting too much”.

Social forum?

Fribourg's La Liberté said this year’s summit focused on themes usually debated by the World Social Forum, with French President Jacques Chirac setting the tone with his proposal to tax countries that retain banking secrecy.

The paper also pointed out that the planet’s wheelers and dealers had realised they could no longer ignore the world’s problems.

The FT noted that with poverty and climate change now topping the agenda, it was “small wonder that the rival anti-globalisation gathering in Porto Alegre is in danger of going out of business”.

“The non-governmental organisations are not only inside the tent, they are dictating the agenda.”


Lausanne’s 24 Heures was more circumspect about the new spirit of Davos.

“You have to ask yourself whether all these declarations of solidarity are only aimed at improving the WEF’s image,” said the paper.

The FT also wondered what - if anything - had really been accomplished.

While the theme this year was making tough choices, those present in the Swiss resort had failed to engage "directly in the difficult trade-offs that lie at the heart of decision-making".

"The worrying thing is the way business and government leaders, when asked to address subjects of importance, preferred to hide behind warm generalities."

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

The 35th annual meeting of the WEF from January 26 to 30 attracted 2,346 participants, many of them household names from politics, business and entertainment.

Around 400 journalists also covered the event.

Issues discussed ranged from the state of the global economy to development aid.

While "global solidarity" topped the agenda, a common theme was the need for complementary economic and political solutions to key challenges.

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