The State of Humanitarian Journalism (Report)

How does the media cover humanitarian issues,  if it does at all? 

This is one of the main questions that led a team of researchers to launch Humanitarian Journalism, a UK-based research project to investigate how the news media report on humanitarian crises, the framing of their coverage, and what influences it has across society.

Credit: Humanitarian Journalism project

The recently published State of Humanitarian Journalism, which is part of the wider Humanitarian Journalism project, is based on four years of research conducted by Dr. Martin Scott, Dr. Kate Wright and Dr. Mel Bunce on how international English-language media covers humanitarian issues.

The authors’ extensive research highlights how only a small number of international news outlets – 12 – regularly report on humanitarian affairs. These include Agence France PResse (AFP), Al Jazeera, BBC World Service, The Guardian, China Global Television Network news (CGTN), Reuters, IRIN News and The Washington Post.

Humanitarian news is, unsurprisingly, expensive and it’s also one of the least profitable, as the research shows. The authors also argue that, “because of the high costs of producing regular, original journalism on humanitarian issues, commercial news organisations do not usually cover humanitarian issues, with the exception of major ‘emergencies’”. Yet the stories it covers are of invaluable importance. This in turn raises questions about funding and sustainability. The research indicates that the majority of the outlets that do cover humanitarian issues are in fact often financed by governments or philanthropic and/or private foundations. The question is, are these funding models secure or sustainable?

And yet, even when humanitarian issues get exposed it is not without pitfalls.

“Editorial teams should also note the existence of considerable ‘gaps in the market ’such as more varied reporting on the issues affecting women and girls, investigative reporting ,” said Dr. Martin Scott, one of the researchers. “Including more diverse and/or local perspectives in coverage of conflict situations.”

“We published this report to try and draw attention to the precarious state of humanitarian news – at a time when it has never been more important,”

There is often willingness from journalists to get stories with different angles published, but in many cases these are not commissioned. As such, the report and its data highlight that there is often a big gap between what is happening on the ground and what gets in the news. This means only selected stories make it into international reporting, leaving many pressing issues untold.

The interest in these stories, however, is high. The data collected suggests that audiences in the UK, France, Germany and the US follow news about humanitarian issues (59%) either ‘closely’ or ‘fairly closely’, which is more than any other type of international news – far more than journalists think.

“We published this report to try and draw attention to the precarious state of humanitarian news – at a time when it has never been more important,” said Dr. Scott. “In it, we call for the aid sector, governments and foundations to recognise that support of humanitarian journalism is crucial to making responses to suffering more effective.”

Read more about Humanitarian Journalism and download the report below.

The Humanitarian Journalism project is a partner of the Public Media Alliance.