Monday, October 6, 2008

The Role of Media: A Driving Force or a Mere Follower?

The issue of sexual exploitation and abuse in conflict zones has found media coverage from the beginning of the issue. As the UN itself cites, “it [the issue of sexual exploitation] was brought to the forefront of public attention in 2002 following allegations of widespread sexual exploitation and abuse of refugee and internally displaced women and children by UN workers and peacekeepers in West Africa.” (OCHA) The issue was “brought to the public attention” through international news sources after the release of a supposedly classified report prepared by UNHCR and Save the Children UK (which was also the first major step taken in this issue area).

The very nature of the issue and especially the actor who is the ‘violator’, the UN in this case, had an effect on how this issue was elaborated in media. The initial coverage of the issue had a more neutral tone and was limited to repeating what has been said in the report prepared by the Save the Children-UK.

Since the UN was actively involved from the beginning of the issue, it is difficult to identify whether the media was deliberately urged by the activists to put emphasis on the issue. However, it could be argued that the existence of the UN as the central actor in the issue may have been sufficient enough reason for the media to pick up on the issue.

As the time goes on, the media became more vocal about the newly revealed cases of exploitation and critical about the steps taken by the UN to deal with the issue. Most of the news were still based on the classified and public reports prepared by the UN (revealed either by the UN itself or the news sources) or statements made by UN officials. Although independent information collection was almost nonexistent, the media coverage put significant emphasis on the shortcomings of the UN actions and urged it to take more proper actions.

Again, the very central role that the UN has been playing in the agenda setting process makes it difficult to assess the contribution that media coverage made to this issue. However, I believe it is safe to argue that, their continued attention did not harm the cause but instead contributed to the issue by keeping people’s attention on the issue. Nonetheless, it is important to remind that most of the news relied on the information gathered from the UN and therefore, it is almost impossible to identify the net contribution that they made to the issue or whether media coverage was essential to the cause (or whether the media coverage was a mere reflection of what has been already done).

No comments: