News Media and African Genocide
- Joachim J. SavelsbergJoachim J. SavelsbergDepartment of Sociology, University of Minnesota; Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study
- and Wahutu SiguruWahutu SiguruCollege of Liberal Arts, University of Minnesota
Today, genocides and other episodes of mass violence are, under specific circumstances, subject to extensive media reporting. A case in point is the mass violence in Darfur, unfolding during the first decades of the 21st century and categorized as genocide by many, including the International Criminal Court. Media reporting about Darfur shows noteworthy patterns. They are revealed by a study supported by the National Science Foundation, involving content analysis of 3,387 reports and opinion pieces published in prominent newspapers of eight countries in the Global North, accompanied by expert interviews, and a doctoral dissertation on the journalistic field in Africa and its reporting on Darfur. First, today’s media reporting replaces denial with acknowledgment. Second, it frames the violence most often as criminal, and frequently as genocidal, even though humanitarian emergency and armed conflict frames also fare prominently. Third, throughout the history of reporting, Africa correspondents, central actors in the journalistic field, adapt to opportunities and external pressures from surrounding social fields. Economic forces (media markets) and politics affect the frequency of reporting. The criminal justice-oriented human rights field, the humanitarian field, and the diplomatic field influence the frames through which the violence is interpreted. Fourth, the criminal justice-oriented human rights field is especially effective in coloring reports, despite substantial barriers between criminal courts and the journalistic field. Fifth, reporting in all countries is affected by interventions by international institutions, including the UN Security Council, the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur, and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC’s decision to charge Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, for example, intensified reporting in all countries. Sixth, the receptivity to the criminal justice frame varies by country. Seventh, in addition to cross-country similarities and differences within the Global North, a comparison of journalistic fields in the Global North with those in Africa shows distinct patterns, but also astonishing similarities between Global North and African reporting on Darfur.