With more than 20 million people at risk of starvation and famine, the world is facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the Second World War. Media coverage has been proven to have lasting effects, influencing stereotypes of minorities and encouraging ‘poverty porn’ – exploitation of suffering by a person or group of people to sell newspapers or stories.
As part of the Humanitarian News Research Network (HNRN), City Journalism researchers have developed new protocols and frameworks to help the news industry improve their reporting. Combined with interventions with specific news outlets and NGOs, the HNRN has increased the range of humanitarian news available to audiences and shaped how elite decision-makers and audiences respond to distant crises.
What did we explore and how?
As part of their work to support and improve communications around humanitarian crises, members of the HNRN conducted the first global survey of humanitarian journalism, identifying which crises are most reported and the frames that dominate this news.
They paid particular attention to shortcomings in reporting on asylum seekers, most notably the failure to include the views of refugees themselves.
Turning to the charity sector, they also analysed how NGOs use poverty porn in their marketing material and the long-term negative impact of these stereotypes on audiences.
Benefits and influence of this research
With a membership of 250-plus policy makers, journalists, NGO workers and researchers, the HNRN continues to challenge and improve the way we report humanitarian crises.
Dr Mel Bunce, Reader in Journalism and founding director of the HNRN, has helped The New Humanitarian (formerly known as the IRIN) adapt their editorial strategy to report on topics and approaches neglected by other news media. For instance, writing more stories on health issues and climate and foregrounding local analysts and experts in their news stories.
Such changes are important to The New Humanitarian’s audience, which includes employees of NGOs (36%), the United Nations (9%), academia (9%) and national governments (8%). Results of a 2018 survey showed that a majority of these individuals have either ‘some’ (34%) or a ‘significant amount’ (30%) of decision-making authority within their organisations.
Another key initiative has been the work of Dr Zahera Harb, Senior Lecturer in Journalism, who has worked with the Ethical Journalism Network to produce extensive protocols and codes of conduct to improve reporting on sensitive and inflammatory issues. News industry leaders from Egypt, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia have testified about the use of the protocols to change their reporting on crises.
Extensive work also has been done to raise public awareness of these issues in humanitarian reporting. For example, ‘Aid Memoir, an award-winning play by Dr Glenda Cooper, Senior Lecturer, enabled audiences to engage with issues that are created when the media stereotype victims of humanitarian crises.
City Journalism academics continue to advise executives at key NGOs on their media strategies, including work with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Bond, Christian Aid, Concern, The World Food Programme, The Disaster Emergency Committee and the Overseas Development Institute.
Details of this research
Research status: Ongoing
Topic: Humanitarian crises; International aid; Journalism; Media; NGOs
Industry/sector: Charity, Journalism, Media