Sunday, March 20, 2011

"The CNN Effect" and Humanitarian Aid

In Chapter 11 of her book, Graber mentions the "CNN effect," a phenomenon whereby the U.S. intervenes in foreign affairs as a result of graphic media coverage. While Graber remains hesitant about the theory, she cites the media as greatly influencing U.S. humanitarian interventions.

A recent book review I read in The New Yorker discusses this idea, albeit with more emphasis on the consequences of aid itself. Below is the beginning of the article:
Alms Dealers
Can you provide humanitarian aid without facilitating conflicts?



In Biafra in 1968, a generation of children was starving to death. This was a year after oil-rich Biafra had seceded from Nigeria, and, in return, Nigeria had attacked and laid siege to Biafra. Foreign correspondents in the blockaded enclave spotted the first signs of famine that spring, and by early summer there were reports that thousands of the youngest Biafrans were dying each day. Hardly anybody in the rest of the world paid attention until a reporter from the Sun, the London tabloid, visited Biafra with a photographer and encountered the wasting children: eerie, withered little wraiths. The paper ran the pictures alongside harrowing reportage for days on end. Soon, the story got picked up by newspapers all over the world. More photographers made their way to Biafra, and television crews, too. The civil war in Nigeria was the first African war to be televised. Suddenly, Biafra’s hunger was one of the defining stories of the age—the graphic suffering of innocents made an inescapable appeal to conscience—and the humanitarian-aid business as we know it today came into being.


“There were meetings, committees, protests, demonstrations, riots, lobbies, sit-ins, fasts, vigils, collections, banners, public meetings, marches, letters sent to everybody in public life capable of influencing other opinion, sermons, lectures, films and donations,” wrote Frederick Forsyth, who reported from Biafra during much of the siege, and published a book about it before turning to fiction with “The Day of the Jackal.” “Young people volunteered to go out and try to help, doctors and nurses did go out to offer their services in an attempt to relieve the suffering. Others offered to take Biafran babies into their homes for the duration of the war; some volunteered to fly or fight for Biafra. The donors are known to have ranged from old-age pensioners to the boys at Eton College.” Forsyth was describing the British response, but the same things were happening across Europe, and in America as well.

The article draws an interesting connection between the media and U.S. aid culture. From where do our humanitarian inclinations really arise? You can finish reading the article at the address below:

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