The Latin Bias: Regions, the Anglo-American Media and Human Rights
18 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2011 Last revised: 7 Oct 2015
Date Written: January 7, 2011
Global media attention is unevenly allocated across human rights problems and conflicts worldwide, leading to tension, anger and frustration in the international system. In recent years, scholars have made great progress in explaining these variations, focusing on factors such as the strength of transnational ties, local conditions for activist mobilization, the nature of the abuse in question, and more. The importance of world region, however, has been neglected. Our study of Western human rights media country coverage from 1981 to 2000 relies on existing and new data, including a unique dataset of the Catholic Church’s strength. We examine the role of regions in media coverage, and find that abuses in Latin America were covered more heavily than those in other world regions, controlling for a host of relevant factors. We dub this the Latin Bias, and argue that it is largely explained by the region’s geographic proximity to the United States, American policy relevance, strong democratizing trends, powerful Catholic Church, and path dependency. Our findings offer two broad lessons for scholars of international relations. First, they strengthen existing concerns that existing human rights scholarship has been unduly influenced by early lessons from Latin America. Second, they offer systematic empirical support for the hitherto anecdotal claim that Western elites perceive similar events differently across world regions.
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