British Journalism Review 

"Is saving the world journalism's job?" is the title of the cover piece in the new editiion of British Journalism Review. It is by  our own Dr. Suzanne Franks and Prof. Jean Seaton of the University of Wesminster (co-author of the text book 'Power without Responsibility' with which you are all familiar). It is a superb contribution to the debate about the BBC's refusal to broadcast the DEC Gaza Appeal and a tremendous example of how a firm grasp of history informs and enhances  excellent journalism.

When the exams are over I hope you will all make  time to read it, enjoy it and debate it.     


If the DEC were to produce their appeals entirely independently, could they not then be kept at arm's length in cases like this, as with Party Political Broadcasts?

I realise that it's not just the choice of images/heart-rending selectivity that matters, but the political implications of it (IE: opposition to Israel's policy), but couldn't appeals then be judged for approval by the SCALE of suffering and perceived need of aid, to preclude accusations of impartiality?

This is the very nub of the problem. Disasters are so much the creation of the media. There are countless tragedies that kill thousands and even millions which barely register on the consciousness of the western world - because they are not covered by the media. The worst disaster in terms of deaths in the second half of the twentieth century was the Chinese famine which killed probably as many as thirty million but almost no one (except those suffering) knew about it because ithe authorities deliberately kept it a secret. Similarly the most deadly war since 1945 was in the Congo in the late nineties.  If we were to consider scale of suffering as you suggest then the priorities would be quite different. There would have been appeals for Congo throughout the 1990s and also for the catastrophe of the Lords Resistance Army which displaced over a million people in northern Uganda - but because there were virtually no pictures they were ignored and no one called for an appeal. Read 'Blood River' if you want to get some idea of what went on there.

It sounds callous but the death toll in Gaza was minimal by international crisis standards - for example the recent  Tamil catastrophe killed far far more people - but crucially Gaza was covered by television, whilst the Colombo government made sure the media was excluded. So 'objective need' is trumped by good pictures.

And similarly the 'perceived need of aid' is also highly arbitrary....The appeal for the tsunami was the biggest and most successful ever, by several times - and far outweighed the relative scale of need. But once again because there were great pictures (and western victims) the aid poured in. The Commission for Africa report talks of a 'tsunami every day in Africa' when describing the regular suffering and death toll of children from malaria etc but this does not make headlines and encourage dramatic appeals.

So alas we are nowhere near any kind of 'objective assessment 'of need and scale. If we were then the agenda for appeals (and possibly media coverage) would look quite different.

Given that, as you say, media coverage is so closely linked to aid provision in disasters, should that type of objectivity be aimed for?

If the influence on the amount that people give (regardless of appeals) is taken into account, then doesn't that mean that the 'tsunami every day' in Africa should receive a greater deal of coverage?

With regards to the Michael Buerk quote in the article (below): isn't a much more strict definition of impartiality necessitated by the fact that the conclusions people come to about "what is right and wrong" are SO dependant on the media in these cases?

"It is not our purpose to solve the world’s problems but to so inform a working democracy that those people will come to their own conclusions about what is right and wrong."

In the end though, our propinquity, our sense of identification with other people is what makes us care about them, and the media has to reflect that in its coverage, too, I guess. Hmm.

Is saving the world journalism's job?