The past two years have seen unprecedented attention lavished on disasters by the media, by the public and by aid organizations across the world. The record hurricane season in the Caribbean, the South Asia earthquake and the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami combined to catapult so-called ‘natural’ disasters into the limelight. The response has also been unprecedented.
Last year, the resources committed to humanitarian aid reached at least US$ 17 billion – outstripping any other year on record. Over US$ 5 billion of this was donated by private individuals to tsunami survivors. So it may seem a strange time to speak of disasters and humanitarian crises being ‘neglected’. Yet for every crisis that takes centre stage, there are a dozen more waiting in the wings for a walk-on part.
Common sense would dictate that the larger the disaster, the greater the media attention and the more generous the response. That was certainly the case with the tsunami. But it is not, unfortunately, a universal rule. Research across a range of disasters reveals that there is no clear link between death tolls and media interest. Rather, Western self-interest gives journalists a stronger steer.
Publication date: 06/11/2006
Document status: Final