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The Influence of News Coverage on Humanitarian Aid


We examine if and how news coverage influences governments’ humanitarian aid allocations, from the perspective of the senior bureaucrats involved in such decision-making. Using rare in-depth interviews with 30 directors and senior policymakers in 16 of the world’s largest donor countries, we found that the majority of these bureaucrats believed that sudden-onset, national news coverage can increase levels of emergency humanitarian aid allocated to a crisis. They said that this influence operated by triggering other accountability institutions (the public, civil society, elected officials) who put pressure on aid bureaucracies to announce additional funding. However, these practitioners claim that annual humanitarian aid allocations—which are much larger—are unaffected by news pressure. Intriguingly, we also find that many respondents interpret a lack of news coverage as grounds for increasing their annual aid allocations to what they call “forgotten crises”. We argue that “bureaucratic mediatisation”, rather than the “CNN Effect” or the “Cockroach Effect”, provides the most appropriate theoretical perspective to understand these multiple, concurrent and indirect forms of media influence. These findings have important implications for government donors, news organisations and aid agencies, and for our wider understanding of how news coverage may influence foreign policy.

Scott, M. Bunce, M. and Wright, K. (2021). The Influence of News Coverage on Humanitarian Aid: The Bureaucrats’ Perspective. Journalism Studies. Online First.

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