Public Awareness of Human Rights: Distortions in the Mass Media

International Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 12, 2009

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper

63 Pages Posted: 6 Oct 2009  

Eric Heinze

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law

Rosa Freedman

Queen Mary, University of London

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Date Written: October 4, 2009

Abstract

The mass media decisively shape global perceptions about human rights, yet fail to reflect the realities of global violations. Situations of egregious abuse are often overshadowed by those which receive attention for reasons extraneous to any specific concern for human rights. Distortions in established media sources arise not necessarily from deliberate misrepresentation, but from the inevitable disparities that arise when human rights abuses are reported as by-products of military, economic, or other interests. This study examines day-by-day coverage of global human rights, during the three-month period from October to December 2006, in two American and two British broadsheets: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian and The Financial Times. The aim is to understand the kinds of factors which, albeit tangential to violations of fundamental human rights, nevertheless influence both the quantity and the quality of reporting. While various editorial pressures, such as the need to focus on topical stories, are not denied, it is argued that the news media must make greater efforts to achieve proportionality between the gravity of human rights situations and the degree of coverage those situations receive.

Keywords: Afghanistan, China, Darfur, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Israel, Japan, human rights, international law, journalism, media, terrorism

JEL Classification: K1

Suggested Citation

Heinze, Eric and Freedman, Rosa, Public Awareness of Human Rights: Distortions in the Mass Media (October 4, 2009). Queen Mary University of London, School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1482695

Eric Heinze (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law ( email )

67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields
London, WC2A 3JB
United Kingdom

Rosa Freedman

Queen Mary, University of London ( email )

Mile End Road
London, London E1 4NS
United Kingdom

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