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Atrocity Prevention in the New Media Landscape

  • Rebecca Hamilton (a1)

Extract

Journalists have traditionally played a crucial role in building public pressure on government officials to uphold their legal obligations under the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. But over the past twenty years there has been radical change in the media landscape: foreign bureaus have been shuttered, young freelance journalists have taken over some of the work traditionally done by experienced foreign correspondents, and, more recently, the advent of social media has enabled people in conflict-affected areas to tell their own stories to the world. This essay assesses the impact of these changes on atrocity prevention across the different stages of the policy process. It concludes that the new media landscape is comparatively poorly equipped to raise an early warning alarm in a way that will spur preventive action, but that it is well-positioned to sustain attention to ongoing atrocities. Unfortunately, such later stages of a crisis generally provide the most limited policy options for civilian protection.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Footnotes

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I was a journalist prior to entering academia, and some of my reporting on atrocities in Sudan was supported with funding through the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The views expressed here are my own.

Footnotes

References

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1 Steve Coll, In the Shadow of the Holocaust, Wash. Post (Sept. 25, 1994).

2 Roy Gutman, Serbs Have Slain Over 1,000 in 2 Bosnia Camps, Ex-Prisoners Say, L.A. Times (Aug. 2, 1992).

3 Prosecutor v. Stakić, Case No. IT-97-24-T, Judgment, para. 171, (Int'l Crim. Trib. for the Former Yugoslavia July 31, 2003).

4 Roy Gutman, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

5 Anup Kaphle, The Foreign Desk in Transition: A Hybrid Approach to Reporting From There—and Here, in The New Global Journalism: Foreign Correspondence in Transition (2014).

6 Richard Sambrook, Are Foreign Correspondents Redundant? The Changing Face of International News (Reuters Inst. for the Study of Journalism 2010) (noting that this is principally a Western phenomenon).

8 Madeleine K. Albright & William S. Cohen, Preventing Genocide: A Blueprint for U.S. Policymakers (2008).

9 In the past decade, non-state actors and international organizations have developed promising qualitative and quantitative approaches to predicting the risk of atrocities. But, as yet, the best these frameworks can do is to identify a general level of relative risk across situations. See, e.g., UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes: A Tool for Prevention (2014); Statistical Risk Assessment 2018-19, Early Warning Project.

13 Research reconstructing U.S. policy responses to past genocides have shown that early warning information was available, but not acted upon for a variety of political reasons. See, e.g., Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (2002) (U.S. government failure to act on early warning information in Cambodia, Iraq, Bosnia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo); Rebecca Hamilton, Fighting for Darfur: Public Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide (2011) (same for Darfur); Charles J. Brown, The Obama Administration and the Struggle to Prevent Atrocities in the Central African Republic December 2012 - September 2014 (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Policy Paper 2016) (same for Central African Republic and Syria).

14 See Hamilton, supra note 13.

15 See, e.g., Steven E. Clayman & Ann Reisner, Gatekeeping in Action: Editorial Conferences and Assessments of Newsworthiness, 63 Am. Soc. Rev. 178, 186 (1998); Maxwell T. Boykoff & Jules M. Boycoff, Climate Change and Journalistic Norms: A Case-Study of US Mass-Media Coverage, 38 Geoforum 1190, 1192 (2007).

16 See, e.g., Steven Livingston, Clarifying the CNN Effect: An Examination of Media Effects According to Type of Military Intervention 6 (The Joan Shorenstein Center Research Paper R-18, June 1997).

17 See, e.g., IRP International Journalism Fellowships, International Reporting Project; About Us, Pulitzer Center.

18 See Sambrook, supra note 6, at 33.

19 Jodi Enda, Retreating from the World, Am. Journalism Rev. (Dec./Jan. 2011).

20 While this essay explores the potentially positive role of social media, the very same tools can of course be used in a negative way. For an analysis of the way in which social media can be used to facilitate the commission, rather than prevention of genocide, see Human Rights Council, Report of the Detailed Findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc. A/HRC/39/CRP.2 (Sept. 17, 2018). See also Emma Irving, Suppressing Atrocity Speech on Social Media, 113 AJIL Unbound 256 (2019).

21 See Paul B. Stares & Anna Feuer, Atrocity Prevention Since the Rwandan Genocide, Council on Foreign Relations (Apr. 7, 2014).

22 See generally Robert Chesney & Danielle Keats Citron, Deep Fakes: A Looming Challenge for Privacy, Democracy, and National Security, 107 Calif. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2019).

23 Alexa Koenig, “Half the Truth is Often a Great Lie”: Deep Fakes, Open Source Information, and International Criminal Law, 113 AJIL Unbound 250 (2019).

24 Joshua Rothman, In the Age of A.I., Is Seeing Still Believing?, New Yorker (Nov. 12, 2018).

25 Mike Battaglia, Convenience Sampling, Encyclopedia of Survey of Research Methods 149-50 (2011).

26 See Jacob Poushter, Internet Access Growing Worldwide But Remains Higher in Advanced Economies, Pew Research Center (Feb. 22, 2016).

27 Id.

28 Bill Keller, It's the Golden Age of News, N.Y. Times (Nov. 3, 2013).

31 Id. Of course, in terms of outcomes, that policy intervention has not succeeded. But that does not diminish the connection between the flow of information and policy action seeking to mitigate ongoing atrocities.

I was a journalist prior to entering academia, and some of my reporting on atrocities in Sudan was supported with funding through the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. The views expressed here are my own.

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