Illusions of Influence: The CNN Effect in Complex Emergencies
THE INCREASE in the number and apparent deadliness of manmade disasters over the past five years has caused policy-makers to focus on the international disaster response system and whether it works well or might be improved. The broader focus of this chapter deals with how such a system is activated to respond--who makes the decision to respond, how the decision is made, and what pressures are brought to bear on the decision-making process. It will not deal with the operation of the response system itself. More specifically, this chapter will examine whether the news media play a central role in forcing public policy- makers to attend to a major foreign disaster and when the media's role is peripheral or irrelevant.
It is readily demonstrable that media coverage of disasters profoundly affects both public opinion and policy-making process. 1 If it is particularly thoughtful and continuous, coverage can educate the public about the developing world and about the consequences of disasters. Media coverage can also serve an important function as a mechanism for raising resources. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use this exposure to raise funds privately to manage their disaster response operations. This same exposure encourages Congress to spend more taxpayer dollars on the disaster response--through contributions to governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations.
Generally, the longer a disaster continues, the more intense and influ-