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The Mediatisation of Humanitarian Crises

13th November 2009

This panel focuses on the symbiotic relationship between media and humanitarian NGOs, raising issues about the ways in which the media are

i))currently shaping not only the reporting of emergencies and crises but also the very communication strategies and market images of NGOs and

ii) the ways in which new media and citizen journalism may be changing the ways reporting of humanitarian issues takes place.

It addresses the responsibility of media and journalists in reporting on human suffering- a responsibility not only about informing the public but also about shaping the conditions of solidarity with vulnerable others within and outside the West.

Invited Participants:

Prof. Simon Cottle, University of Cardiff

'Humanitarian NGOs, News Media and Relations of Communicative Power in the Global Age'.

Abstract: Whether humanitarian emergencies are routinely signalled in the news, sensationalized as spectacular media events, or simply buried along with countless imageless victims in ‘forgotten emergencies’ and ‘hidden wars’ depends in large measure on the practices and priorities of global news reporting. It is in and through the critical nexus with the news media that humanitarian NGOs, such as Red Cross, Oxfam, Save the Children, World Vision, Care and Médecins sans Frontières, that their aims and appeals, images and ideals are principally disseminated and become known, and it is by these same means that public sympathies and support are periodically galvanized in humanitarian appeals. This paper first briefly contextualizes the contemporary field of humanitarian NGOs in relation to global contexts of change including: the rise of new global crises, new wars and new humanitarianism; global media ecology; and the changing organizational field of humanitarian aid. How some of these changes are impacting the work and communication strategies of NGOs is then explored in more detail with the help of recent professional and experiential accounts from communication managers and professionals working in some of the leading world aid agencies. Here we learn first-hand of some of the difficulties that aid NGOs grapple with in their attempt to get their message across within today’s global communications environment and how relations of communicative power inform and shape the mediatisation of humanitarian crises.

Glenda Cooper, Reuters Institute Fellow, Oxford University

'From their own correspondent? How citizen journalism and aid agencies are affecting humanitarian reporting.'

Abstract: In recent months journalists have been beaten to the story: news of the Szechuan earthquake has been broken by Twitter; eyewitness accounts of the humanitarian catastrophe in the DRC have come from bloggers in Goma; meanwhile some of the most dramatic reporting of Cyclone Nargis was achieved by the aid agency Merlin. The increasing financial squeeze on mainstream media’s foreign bureaux (for example, the London Daily Mirror recently abolished the title of foreign editor) has coincided with the rise of user-generated content, giving traditional media cheap, immediate eyewitness reports. This raises potential problems over verification, volume and emphasis, and also alters the close, symbiotic relationship media and aid agencies enjoyed in the past. Then humanitarian organisations acted as gatekeepers in disaster zones – giving journalists access in return for namechecks. Now, that UGC means agencies are no longer the automatic point of call, NGOs have increasingly turned themselves into their own media outlets, both online (in places like MySpace, Bebo and Facebook), as well as supplying footage and words to mainstream media outlets who – short of cash and experienced correspondents – sometimes use them without making the provenance clear to their readers or viewers.

Questions raised by these developments include:


1. Do these new entrants to humanitarian reporting mean we are seeing more diverse stories?
2. Are viewers/readers aware of potential blurring of the lines between aid agencies and the media?
3. How does coverage affect the amount of money raised?

Professor John Ellis, Royal Holloway, University of London

'What Kind of Relationship Are You Proposing? Taking the receiver's perspective on disaster repoting'

If you would like to attend this event please RSVP to polis@lse.ac.uk|

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