Reporting Humanitarianism: Are the New Electronic Media Making a Difference?
Edward R. Girardet
ARE WE ANY better informed today about the world's conflicts, humanitarian crises, or environmental disasters than we were, say, two decades ago? Has the age of the satellite dish, the Internet, and other forms of electronic media really improved our capabilities of understanding Afghanistan's continuing madness or why up to half a million people were murdered in Rwanda? Or are we simply deluding ourselves that this massive onslaught of information is indeed providing us with the sort of quality data and insight that will enable us not only to grasp what is happening, but to deal more effectively with such crises?
As a journalist who has covered wars, refugee crises, and other forms of humanitarian predicaments in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world for over fifteen years, I am not convinced that we are in any way better informed today than we were during the 1960s or 1970s. Despite having far greater access to an overwhelming surfeit of information sources than ever before, the public (and policymakers, for that matter) may not really have a more enlightened command of the humanitarian state of affairs in Angola, Afghanistan, or even the Bronx.
Attention spans are shorter and one can only absorb so much. Whether professionals or concerned members of the public, most people today simply do not have the time or patience to sift through this array of global data. Most still end up relying on a small selection of regular or proven outlets for their information: two or three television channels, a