chapter  21
News media and communication technology
ByPiers Robinson
Pages 13

News media can play a signifi cant role with respect to humanitarian responses to the human suff ering arising from natural disasters, war and poverty. Policy responses, ranging from charitable donations, the allocation of routine and emergency aid, deployment of humanitarian organisations, right through to armed intervention during humanitarian crises, have all been understood, at some point or another, to be profoundly infl uenced by media reporting. Of course, scholarship on media and humanitarian action has also refl ected the broader prejudices of Western humanitarianism, examining how ‘our’ media representations of ‘distant’ suff ering people, normally from poorer areas of the world and black, come to infl uence ‘our’ (i.e. Westerners’) compassion and sympathy. Rarely has this literature paid suffi cient attention to either local actors or local media within confl ict and crisis zones. The title of Harrison and Palmer’s 1986 work, News out of Africa: Biafra to Band Aid, gives an indication of both the ethnocentricism and historical depth of the literature covering humanitarianism and the media. From the aid-agency-driven campaigns to raise money for those suff ering during the 1960s Nigerian-Biafran War, through to the pop-culture-driven Band Aid experience of the 1980s, news media have often been intimately involved in the ways in which responses to crises evolve. Surveying the fi eld of media and humanitarianism to then develop a clearer understanding of fruitful directions for future research are the two key tasks for this chapter, which is organised as follows. First, a brief history of humanitarianism and the media is provided by examining key debates that emerged regarding famine, media representation and political action prior to the 1990s. The chapter then critically reviews the CNN eff ect debate of the 1990s, which witnessed a rapid increase in debate and comment over the role of media in generating responses to crises. A key aim of this section is to provide both a substantial assessment, based upon existing research, of the scale of media impact on diff erent types of crisis response, and also to identify the shortcomings of media-driven humanitarianism that have been discussed across the literature. The fi nal section of the chapter explores contemporary debates over humanitarian action in the contemporary globalised, internet-based ‘new media environment’. The chapter concludes by setting out the major current issues demanding further academic analysis. In particular, the need for research to get to grips with local-level dynamics, including the role of local media within confl ict and crisis zones, will be noted.