Role of the Media in Shaping Opinion in Case of Humanitarian Interventions, Example of Somalia

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o EWHA Woman’s university|
Role of the media in shaping opinion in case of humanitarian interventions| Example of Somalia|
Mass Media and Society|
June 2010|

ThesisThe way that TV news is creating emotion (through the power of images) in its audience is an essential element to understand how some humanitarian interventions have been decided|


Nowadays, communications come across boundaries, thus we can, more easily than never, be aware of what is happening in isolated areas. Who, in Europe or in the USA, doesn’t remember the shocking images of people dying in Somalia that were diffused in all television, in all newspapers? In this particular case, it was the raise of public opinion, asking their governments to stop these atrocities that lead the countries to launch a humanitarian intervention there. This new form of communication has changed the way politicians and governments are acting, especially in developed countries with liberal views, and the importance they are giving to what their people think. But it also raises another question: the one about mass media agenda setting. When we see how many people are suffering in so many places all over the world, we undoubtedly ask us why media are talking about issues in some countries while other situations remain unknown by public opinion. And how do the media do to choose which humanitarian issue to emphasize and which not?

By considering the use of the right of humanitarian intervention when the population of a country is in danger and that its State is unwilling or unable to protect them, the UN Security Council can intervene in countries where serious gross human rights violations are taking place. Indeed, in such case like apartheid or genocide, the Security Council is authorized by the United Nations Charter to take coercive measures. As a result, it is most often admitted that the International Community has a “responsibility to protect” in such cases. However, tragedies like that are innumerable and daily, and yet, there have not been humanitarian interventions in every countries that could have needed it.

Then, it raises the question if there are "good" and "bad" tragedies. The first ones attract international aid like a magnet while the seconds are ruled out because they did not reach public opinion. How to explain that interventions are being decided in some countries rather than in others? To respond to this question, it is necessary to highlight the unknown role of media in a sort of consensual policy where they only talk about subjects if the other media are doing the same. During an interview given to Marie Dominique Perrot, the Swiss journalist Jean-Philippe Rapp clearly explained that the channels information is taking respond to the way globalization is working and that everything is interlinked. This way of coverage creates shadow areas and areas we speak a lot about, all over the world. No television can pretend acting by its own because all must work together. Thus, they are gathering, selling or exchanging their news together. But, undoubtedly, the most powerful ones have more weight.

A news organization of medium importance only produces 40 to 45% of what it broadcasts. It cannot be at the same time in every place in the world... Of course it can send its own teams abroad, but most of the time it will use images or information from others. “It follows the movement when it is focused at a point on the globe. Media are all reluctant to talk about a situation for which they have no sequence to show”. (Perrot, 1994, p123) Here, the influence of the three major agencies of the world is considerable and in a way, they set the public agenda. Indeed, the Reuter Agency, Agence France Presse and the Associated Press covers 80% of the information that circulate all over the world. To a certain extent, they can decide what to talk about and what not. Mccombs (2004, p117) argues in the same...
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