Suffering in Silence: Media Coverage of War and Famine in the Sudan
IN CONTEMPORARY world politics, the media are important, though sometimes fickle players, lavishing attention on some crises while ignoring others. Bosnia falls in the first category, while the carnage in Afghanistan, Nagorno-Karabakh, Kashmir, and Angola, to name but a few areas, falls in the latter.
Why do some situations become the object of intense news scrutiny while others of an exact or similar nature remain obscure? What makes for a newsworthy humanitarian affairs story? If we can address these and related questions, we may also come to understand how to assist the news media in covering humanitarian crises. The place to begin is with a careful analysis of the key factors in news decision-making.
Gatekeeping in communication theory is the process by which a nearly infinite array of possible news items is narrowed to the relative handful actually transmitted by the media and heard, read, or seen by audiences. 1 Some messages are prominently displayed, facilitating low-cost public consumption, while others remain obscure or altogether absent. 2 As a theoretical construct applied to social phenomena, gatekeeping studies got their start nearly fifty years ago with the work of Lewin. 3