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Arts & Culture Series: Research Spotlight

New report reveals which news outlets actually report on humanitarian crises

Dr Mel Bunce is one of the co-authors of a new report that was launched at City, University of London

by City Press Office (General enquiries)

Very few international news organisations routinely cover humanitarian affairs. That is one of the key conclusions of a new report that describes “the state of humanitarian journalism”.

The report is based on a four-year research project carried out by Dr Martin Scott (University of East Anglia), Dr Kate Wright (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Mel Bunce (City, University of London). Their analysis of news coverage reveals that only a small handful of international news outlets regularly report on humanitarian affairs.

The researchers examined English language reporting on humanitarian crises and issues around the world and found that only 12 news outlets consistently reported on this topic. These are:

  1. Agence France-Presse (AFP)
  2. Al Jazeera English
  3. Associated Press (AP)
  4. BBC World Service
  5. China Global Television Network news (CGTN), formerly CCTV News
  6. The Guardian
  7. Humanosphere (now closed)
  8. IRIN News
  9. Reuters (including the Thomson Reuters Foundation)
  10. Voice of America
  11. The Washington Post
  12. Xinhua News Agency

Funding models and gaps in coverage

Notably, almost all of these news outlets are supported in some way by government subsidies or private foundations. The report raises questions about these funding models, as the revenue may be insecure. For example, the news outlet Humanosphere, an important provider of humanitarian news, has recently closed down as its foundation funding dried up

The authors also identified a number of important gaps in humanitarian news coverage. Almost no articles looked at the specific problems faced by women and girls in relation to the conflicts in Yemen and South Sudan in 2017, for example.

The report also shows that audiences are more interested in humanitarian reports than many journalists think. In a largescale survey of Western audiences (in UK, France, Germany and the US), more people claimed to follow news about “humanitarian disasters” (59 per cent) either “closely” or “fairly closely” than any other type of international news. The Aid Attitudes Tracker has surveyed 8,000 people in each of these countries, every six months, since 2013. This survey was overseen by David Hudson, Jennifer Hudson and Will Tucker.

The authors argue that, “because of the high costs of producing regular, original journalism on humanitarian issues, commercial news organisations do not usually cover humanitarian issues, with the exception of major ‘emergencies’”.

The authors also said that, “humanitarian journalism is one of the most expensive forms of journalism to produce and one of the least profitable. It is facing an economic crisis, just at a time when it is needed most”.

The report, The State of Humanitarian Journalism, was launched at an event hosted by the Humanitarian News Research Network at City on Monday 15th October 2018.

Definition
Humanitarian News Research Network (HNRN)

The HNRN is based at City, University of London. It brings together researchers and practitioners who work on humanitarian news and communication. The network is interested in a range of topics, including:

- The content and ethics of humanitarian communication
- The citizens, journalists and organisations that make humanitarian news
- The political, economic and technological factors that shape humanitarian communication
- The impact of humanitarian news on audiences around the world.

More information: https://blogs.city.ac.uk/humnews/

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