The Reality and Hyperreality of Human Rights: Public Consciousness and the Mass Media

EXAMINING CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN RIGHTS: THE END OF AN ERA? R. Dickenson et al., eds., Cambridge University Press, 2011

Queen Mary School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series

34 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2011  

Eric Heinze

Queen Mary University of London, School of Law

Date Written: February 13, 2011

Abstract

Most human rights scholarship remains highly formalist, with a focus on norms and institutions. However, at least as powerful as, if not more powerful than, those norms and institutions, are the mass media. Consonant with David Kennedy’s concern that rights discourse can privilege some interests at the expense of others, the media must be seen as the force that overwhelmingly decides which norms and abuses count, and which are neglected. Public consciousness of human rights emerges not out of political reality, but out of a media-generated ‘hyper-reality’, impermeable to some of the world’s most heinous abuses. The media remain immune from the values of even-handedness that are conceptually presupposed by human rights law. In principle, human rights shun any zero-sum game, whereby the rights of one person or group may be traded off against those of another. The media not only plays that game, but must play it, as a matter of sheer time and resources. A ‘Hollywoodisation’ of rights still further contributes to forging a hyper-reality that remains at odds with the realities of global human rights.

Keywords: human rights, international law, journalism, media

Suggested Citation

Heinze, Eric, The Reality and Hyperreality of Human Rights: Public Consciousness and the Mass Media (February 13, 2011). EXAMINING CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON HUMAN RIGHTS: THE END OF AN ERA? R. Dickenson et al., eds., Cambridge University Press, 2011; Queen Mary School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1760919

Eric Heinze (Contact Author)

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

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

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