Humanitarian aid and the power of the media

During major humanitarian crises, 13 British charities often raise money jointly under an umbrella organisation called the Disasters Emergencies Committee (DEC), with appeals shown on all the major television networks.

But the DEC had its fingers burned when the BBC and Sky decline to cooperate on its last appeal for the Gaza conflict, fearing the media's involvement would compromise their political neutrality as news organisations, a story we reported previously on The Road.

The consequence of the BBC's Gaza decision seems to have a deeper impact then we anticipated: it was a precedent of how the media could "make or break" a humanitarian appeal effort. The Gaza media incident spilled over into the current humanitarian catastrophes in Sri Lanka and Pakistan as now DEC is still contemplating whether or not to launch appeals for Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

"The issue is whether the broadcasters will support an appeal and my impression is that they won't, for perceived reasons of (aid) access in either case, and for perceived reasons of political complexity in either case." (Full)

So, let me get this straight: because the media decide not to provide coverage for an appeal, a humanitarian organisation decides NOT to launch an appeal? Eh? Would that make DEC's decision not to appeal for Sri Lanka and Pakistan as revolting as the BBC's decision not to provide media coverage for the appeal? Are soon humanitarian organisations 'picking and choosing' which operations to support, based on 'the possible support by the media'?

Current balance: Humanitarian organisations' resources already stretched because of the current economic crisis, are left close to depleted. Not because the need was not there - Pakistan's war in Swat Valley uprooted close to 3 million people - but because of lack of support and attention from the media.

The phenomenon is known amongst aidworkers as "The CNN Effect": If an emergency gets the spotlight on CNN, humanitarian wheels start rolling. If it is not featured on CNN, the emergency is forgotten and hushed in a corner. You might just as well not start an emergency operation if you feel you won't be able to fundraise for it, right?

Which turns the Rupert Murdochs and Ted Turners of this world the Gods deciding between life and death for thousands.


Anonymous,  30 May, 2009 20:29  

Sad indeed!

Media is taking sides in conflicts but interesting that the same media outlets might also have philantrophic owners...?!

Read a similar issue with BBC about Sudan. In that case the BBC through unbalanced reporting helped make a split in a resistance movement become reality.
By not reporting objectively and looking in a wider sense on the operation they actively helped deepen and prolongue the war in South Sudan. The split between SPLA and the SPLA-United/SSIM.

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