International news coverage of the developing world has seen a steady decline over recent years which has recently been reversed due to intervention in developing countries by western governments. The primary example of this has been the Iraq conflict. The media’s focus tends to cover traditional realist issues such as the relations between states. Many of the important political and social issues in developing countries do not concern these inter-state relationships and are therefore overlooked. Diplomacy and intervention by western governments in developing countries fits this realist agenda and accounts for the upsurge in interest in developing countries, particularly in Iraq. In contrast, many of the most important issues to developing countries such as poverty, hunger and civil war are marginalised in international news coverage. They exist outside of the traditional realist conception of inter-state relations and do not concern western governments, companies, readers and audiences directly. They also reflect the inequality of a global capitalist system which keeps the developing world in its unequal position to ensure the prosperity of the developed world. The media is naturally wary about pointing out the horrendous ramifications of this inequality to its readers and viewers.
Research conducted by VSO, an organisation which works with many international development charities does not believe that developing countries get the international news coverage they deserve. Its website claims that factual coverage of the developing world is at the lowest level ever recorded It claims that in 2004 BBC1 and ITV1 showed less than twenty hours of factual programming which was filmed in developing countries. It went on to note that international news coverage of all media types was failing to comply with the Communications Act, passed by Parliament in 2003, which required that adequate space be given to international news coverage.
Another study by ibt.org suggests that the amount of news stories covering the developing world increased and decreased across most news organisations at the same rates. This led them to the conclusion that news events, rather than editorial policies, primarily determine the amount of foreign news coverage They continued this theme by noting that an increase in news coverage of the developing world after 2003 could be explained by the Iraq conflict and the interest shown in it by the western media.
Opinion is therefore divided about the significance of the figures involved in international news coverage of the developing world. The issue is not just about the amount of time and space given to the developing world. The nature of the coverage is also important. The ibt.org study pointed out the significance of the Iraq conflict in increasing news coverage of the developing world. However, this conflict involves governments, troops and companies from the developed world and could be seen as interesting the western media for this reason. The media’s interest in the developing world is so high because it temporarily ties in with governments, people and issues which are normally the primary concern of the international media. This questions the nature of events in the developing world which are deemed worthy of attention by the western media.
International news coverage can be seen as reporting issues which cover the main concerns of the countries and societies which produce them. Traditional realist international relations theory holds that the primary actors in the international system are states. Relations between states are the most interesting and most significant areas of analysis, and the history of international relations is the history of relations between states. Steven Lamy points out the importance of the structure of the international system and its role as the primary determinant of state behaviour. War and diplomacy (which in the developed world has now largely replaced war) are seen as the most important elements of international relations. News coverage of international issues follows this pattern and focuses on the developing relationships between states.
However, many political relations within developing countries do not necessarily follow this realist way of thinking. Many of the important issues within developing countries do not concern relations between states. According to liberal international relations theory, developing countries are beset with issues that do not concern inter-state relations. Poverty, disease, hunger and civil war beset many developing countries and have little to do with relations between states. Developing countries do not have the same history of state relations as developed countries and the issues which concern them and which may be worthy of international news coverage are on a smaller, longer-term scale than the inter-state relations of the developed world. They often do not fit into the perceived pattern of international relations which the western media is primarily concerned with.
This fits in with the case of increased media interest in the Iraq conflict. Diplomacy and inter-state war are involved and fit the realist agenda of what is significant in the realm of international relations. The issues at stake concern an international order which developed governments have a clear interest in. The conflict touches the lives of the readers and audiences of the western media, either through the success or failure of their governments, the price of their oil and petrol, or the lives of loved ones fighting or working in Iraq. In contrast the horrendous devastation which the conflict has cause to the Iraqi people is not the main issue reported by the media. International news coverage reports on the developing world but not about it. Its primary concern is the realist actions of developed states and those working for those states.
In contrast to the media coverage of a conflict involving developed states in a developing country many of the biggest concerns of developing countries remain unaddressed by the western media. The many civil wars which blight African countries receive little media attention because they do not involve inter-state conflict and because they involve protracted disputes over objectives which do not fit realist principles. Poverty and hunger, some of the biggest issues affecting developing countries do not make for intensive media coverage except in extreme cases. This is partly because they are such an overwhelming part of everyday life in so many parts of the developing world. Caroline Thomas notes how a billion people in the developing world face hunger on a daily basis but the western media has tended to direct attention away from the ever-present unvoiced crises that hunger and poverty represent(and) the focus has been on soft travel and wildlife issues.
Recent news coverage on the crisis of poverty in the developing world has focused on diplomacy between western governments. This again reflects the realist tendency to see issues in terms of state relations. The grim reality of how these issues concern the lives of ordinary people in the developing world is overlooked. The political consequences of this poverty are seen in terms of relations between developed governments instead of an analysis of domestic politics in developing countries.
This lack of focus on the everyday problems faced by many people in the developing world can also be explained from a Marxist perspective. The developing world is seen as being held in its unequal position by the global capitalist system which works in favour of the developed world. Michael Rush notes that underdevelopment is not a stage on the road to a capitalist society, but a condition or symptom of capitalist domination. Our prosperity is ensured by the poverty of others. From this point of view everyone in the developed world is partly responsible for the unequal relationship between the developed and developing worlds. Western readers and viewers may wish to help out particular crises in the developing world with charitable donations but suffer a kind of ‘compassion fatigue’ (and even guilt) if they are exposed to prolonged exposure to the everyday horrors that many people in the developing world face.
In conclusion, the amount of international news coverage of the developing world tends to vary according to events. The media focuses on inter-state diplomacy and conflict, particularly when developed governments and armies are involved. This is well shown in the case of western governments’ involvement in the Iraq war and the interest shown in it by the western media. In contrast many of the issues which really matter in the developing world such as poverty, disease and civil war go largely unreported in international news coverage. These issues do not fit in with the dominant realist conception of international relations as interactions between states. On top of this these crucial issues can be seen as being caused by the unequal relationship between the developing and developed worlds inherent in the global capitalist system. The developing world deserves, and indeed needs to have these issues addressed if they are to be resolved.
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