Shaping the northern media's human rights coverage, 1986-2000

Howard Ramos, James Ron, Oskar N.T. Thoms

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    104 Scopus citations


    What influences the Northern media's coverage of events and abuses in explicit human rights terms? Do international NGOs have an impact, and, if so, when are they most effective? This article addresses these questions with regression analysis of human rights reporting by The Economist and Newsweek from 1986 to 2000, covering 145 countries. First, it finds that these two media sources cover abuses in human rights terms more frequently when they occur in countries with higher levels of state repression, economic development, population, and Amnesty International attention. There is also some evidence that political openness, number of battle-deaths, and civil societies affect coverage, although these effects were not robust. Second, it finds that Amnesty International's press releases appear to have less impact on media coverage when discussing abuses in countries that are central to the media's zone of concern. Indeed, Amnesty's press advocacy may be more effective when addressing violations in lesser-noticed countries. The article attributes this to the saturation of coverage of abuses in highly mediatized countries. Cumulative attention by multiple journalists and others raises a country's media profile but also makes it more difficult for any one voice to be heard. The authors conclude that Amnesty's press advocacy may have greater media impact when focusing on abuses in countries located away from the media's core areas of concern. Overall, the authors are encouraged by the Northern media's sensitivity to actual patterns of repression and to Amnesty's lobbying, since both indicate that the media is potentially a useful ally in efforts to combat abuses worldwide. Yet, the discouraging effects of poverty on the media's human rights coverage are cause for concern.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)385-406
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Peace Research
    Issue number4
    StatePublished - Jul 2007


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