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Human Rights and the Mediatization of International Law


This article considers the relationship of international law and the media through the prism of human rights. In the first section the international regulation of the media is examined and visions of good, bad, and new media emerge. In the second section, the enquiry is reversed and the article explores the ways in which the media is shaping international legal forms and processes in the field of human rights. This is termed the ‘mediatization of international law’. Yet despite hopes for new media and the Internet to transform international law, the theoretical work of Jodi Dean warns of the danger to democracy of commodification through the spread of ‘communicative capitalism’.

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1 The media is a subject of greater analysis in other disciplines. See further M. D. Alleyne, Global Lies? Propaganda, the UN and World Order (2003); C. Bob, The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media, and International Activism (2005); J. Der Derian, Virtuous War: Mapping the Military–Industrial–Media–Entertainment Network (2009); H. Friel and R. Falk, The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (2004); Gilboa, E., ‘The CNN Effect: The Search for a Communication Theory of International Relations’, (2005) 22 Political Communication 27; S. Redhead (ed.), The Paul Virilio Reader (2004); Robinson, P., ‘The CNN Effect: Can the News Media Drive Foreign Policy?’, (1999) 25 Review of International Studies 301; J. Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, trans. S. Faria Glaser (1994 [1981]); N. Couldry, Media Rituals: A Critical Approach (2003); G. Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. D. Nicholson-Smith (1995 [1967]); J. Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. T. Burger with the assistance of F. Lawrence (1991 [1962]); E. S. Herman and N. Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (1994); M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extension of Man (1964); N. Mirzoeff, Watching Babylon: The War in Iraq and Global Visual Culture (2005); J. B. Thompson, The Media and Modernity: A Social Theory of the Media (1995).

2 Oxford English Dictionary online (2001), entry for ‘media’, n., I.1. simple uses.

3 For further discussion of this uneasy relationship in a domestic context see L. Gies, Law and the Media: The Future of an Uneasy Relationship (2008).

4 There are important exceptions. See further S. Marks and A. Clapham, International Human Rights Lexicon (2005); G. Schwarzenberger, International Law and Order (1971); R. Falk, Law in an Emerging Global Village: A Post-Westphalian Perspective (1998); C. G. Weeramantry, Universalising International Law (2004); Anderman, J. M., ‘Swimming in the New Stream: The Disjunctions between and within Popular and Academic International Law’, (1996) 6 Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law 293; D. Kennedy, The Dark Sides of Virtue: Reassessing International Humanitarianism (2005); D. Kennedy, Of War and Law (2006); Werner, W. G., ‘Armed Conflicts, Images of Law and Legal Semiotics’, (2001) 14 International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 327; Nagan, W. P. and Hammer, C., ‘Communications Theory and World Public Order: The Anthropomorphic, Jurisprudential Foundations of International Human Rights’, (2007) 47 Virginia Journal of International Law 725; Steinitz, M., ‘“The Milosevic Trial – Live!”: An Iconical Analysis of International Law's Claim of Legitimate Authority’, (2005) 2 Journal of International Criminal Justice 103; A. Carty, ‘The Media and International Law in European Foreign Policy during the Bosnia-Herzegovina Crisis’, in C. Harding and C. L. Lim (eds.), Renegotiating Westphalia: Essays and Commentary on the European and Conceptual Foundations of Modern International Law (1999); Altheide, D. L., ‘The Mass Media, Crime and Terrorism’, (2006) 4 Journal of International Criminal Justice 982; Balguy-Gallois, A., ‘Protection des journalistes et des médias en période de conflit armé’, (2004) 86 (853)International Review of the Red Cross 37; M. Craven, S. Marks, G. Simpson, and R. Wilde, ‘We Are Teachers of International Law’, (2004) 17 LJIL 363; Hakimi, M., ‘The Media as Participants in the International Legal Process’, (2006) 16 Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law 1; M. G. Kearney, The Prohibition of Propaganda for War in International Law (2007); F. Mégret and F. Pinto, “‘Prisoners’ Dilemmas”: The Potemkin Villages of International Law?’, (2003) 16 LJIL 467; Moghalu, K. C., ‘Image and Reality of War Crimes Justice: External Perceptions of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’, (2002) 26 (2)Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 21; Odora, A. O., ‘Criminal Responsibility of Journalists under International Criminal Law: The ICTR Experience’, (2004) 73 (3)Nordic Journal of International Law 307; B. S. Murty, Propaganda and World Public Order: The Legal Regulation of the Ideological Instrument of Coercion (1968); A. Orford, Reading Humanitarian Intervention: Human Rights and the Use of Force in International Law (2003); M. E. Price and M. Thompson (eds.), Forging Peace: Intervention, Human Rights and the Management of Media Space (2002); M. E. Price, Media Sovereignty: The Global Information Revolution and Its Challenge to State Power (2002); Reisman, M. W., ‘International Lawmaking: A Process of Communication’, (1981) 75 American Society of International Law Proceedings 101; P. Sands, Lawless World: America and the Making and Breaking of Global Rules (2005); Verfuss, T., ‘Trying Poor Countries’ Crimes in a Rich City: The Problems of the Press from the Former Yugoslavia’, (2004) 2 Journal of International Criminal Justice 509.

5 A. Pearce Higgins, The Binding Force of International Law (1910), 41.

6 E. Root, ‘The Need of Popular Understanding of International Law’, (1907) 1 AJIL 1.

7 Hersch Lauterpacht was especially prominent in calling for the regulation of propaganda, sedition, and hate speech as part of the emergent framework for international human rights protection. See, e.g., H. Lauterpacht, An International Bill of the Rights of Man (1945), 108.

8 For much greater detail than is possible here see E. Barendt, Freedom of Speech (2005).

9 See, e.g., M. Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), 90.

10 See further African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), Arts. 9 and 27(2); as interpreted in Constitutional Rights Project, Civil Liberties Organization and Media Rights Agenda v. Nigeria (Communications 140/94, 141/94, 141/95), Decisions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, November 1999; American Convention on Human Rights, Arts. 13 and 14; American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, Arts. IV and XXVIII; as interpreted in Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Advisory Opinion on Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism, Advisory Opinion OC-5/85, 13 November 1985; Arab Charter on Human Rights, Arts. 4, 24, 32.

11 See further F. Schauer, ‘The Exceptional First Amendment’, in M. Ignatieff (ed.), American Exceptionalism and Human Rights (2005), 29.

12 Handyside v. United Kingdom, (1976) 1 EHRR 737, para. 48.

13 Goodwin v. United Kingdom (16/1994/463/544), Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, 22 February 1996, para. 39.

14 Inter-American Court of Human Rights, supra note 10, para. 69.

15 See, e.g., ECHR, Art. 17. This notion of abuse of rights is a civil law concept which has been adapted to the international law context and is sometimes seen as a general principle of international law or as part of customary international law. See further H. Lauterpacht, The Function of Law in the International Community (1933), ch. 14, esp. at 298, where he concludes that ‘the prohibition of abuse of rights is a general principle of law’. See also Byers, M., ‘Abuse of Rights: An Old Principle, a New Age’, (2002) 47 McGill Law Journal 389, esp. at 397.

16 See, e.g., ICCPR, Art. 5, which operates as an abuse of rights provision in relation to other rights protected, such as freedom of expression in Art. 19.

17 For a full-length study of the prohibition of propaganda for war, see Kearney, supra note 4.

18 Art. 20 of the ICCPR is not, as such, replicated in the regional human rights frameworks.

19 ICCPR, Art. 20(2).

20 See, e.g., the discussion of propaganda in E. Castrén, The Present Law of War and Neutrality (1954), 208–10. See also J. Stone, Legal Controls of International Conduct: A Treatise on the Dynamics of Disputes and War-Law (1954), ch. 11, Discourse 15, 318–23. See further for a limited view of state responsibility for offending media broadcasts, H. Lauterpacht, ‘Revolutionary Propaganda by Governments’, in H. Lauterpacht, International Law, collected papers arranged and ed. E. Lauterpacht, Vol. 3, The Law of Peace, Parts II–VI (1977), ch. 8, esp. 293–5.

21 Streicher Judgment, Judgment of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals, available at

22 Charter of the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, Art. 6.

23 Streicher Judgment, supra note 21.

24 Ibid. Note the reference in Art. 6 of the Charter of the International Military Tribunal to ‘persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal’ as forming a part of the definition of crimes against humanity.

25 Odora, supra note 4.

26 Prosecutor v. Ruggiu, Case No. ICTR 97–32-I, Trial Chamber I, Judgement and Sentence, 1 June 2000.

27 Prosecutor v. Ferdinand Nahimana, Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza and Hassan Ngeze (hereafter Nahimana), Case No. ICTR-99-52-T, Trial Chamber I, Judgement and Sentence, 3 December 2003. For more extensive background to the media's role in the Rwandan genocide than is possible here, see A. Thompson (ed.), The Media and the Rwandan Genocide (2007).

28 Nahimana, supra note 27, para. 953.

29 Ibid., at para 979. This case has subsequently been appealed, but the characterizations of the media as attack dog remain a significant feature in the jurisprudence.

30 J. Naughton, A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet (2000), 43.

31 For further information on the activities of ICANN see their website, available at

32 See the work of the Internet Society (ISOC), which is an umbrella organization for a number of bodies involved in ‘global co-ordination and co-operation on the Internet, promoting and maintaining a broad spectrum of activities focused on the Internet's development, availability, and associated technologies’. See further See also International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Resolution 101, ‘Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks’, Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunication Union (1998) aiming to achieve co-ordination between the Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and ISOC; see further the Internet Governance Project, available at See further W. H. Dutton and M. Peltu, ‘The Emerging Internet Governance Mosaic: Connecting the Pieces’, OII Forum Discussion Paper No. 5 (2005), available at; W. H. Dutton, J. Palfrey, and M. Peltu, ‘Deciphering the Codes of Internet Governance: Understanding the Hard Issues at Stake’, OII Forum Discussion Paper No. 8 (2007), available at

33 See, e.g., African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Banjul Charter), Art. 9.

34 Weeramantry, supra note 4, at 139–41.

35 First Phase of the WSIS (10–12 December 2003, Geneva), Geneva Declaration of Principles, WSIS-03/GENEVA/DOC/0004, principle 1.

36 Geneva Declaration of Principles, Principle 55.

38 See the following regarding debates over the ‘right to communicate’ and the efforts within UNESCO to develop a New World Information and Communications Order. UNESCO Resolution 4.121, Right to Communicate, 1974; UNESCO Resolution 3.2, Right to Communicate, 1983; MacBride Commission, ‘Many Voices, One World: Communication and Society. Today and Tomorrow’, 1980, all available at; UNESCO Resolution 4.19 related to A New World Information and Communication Order, XXI session of the General Conference, Belgrade, 1980.

39 See further Kennedy, Dark Sides of Virtue, supra note 4; Kennedy, Of War and Law, supra note 4; Werner, supra note 4; A. Balguy-Gallois, supra note 4, at 37; Gutman, R. W., ‘Spotlight on Violations of International Humanitarian Law: The Role of the Media’, (1998) 80 (325)International Review of the Red Cross 619; Kearney, supra note 4; Mégret and Pinto, supra note 4; Orford, supra note 4; D. C. Hallin, The ‘Uncensored War’: The Media and Vietnam (1989); Der Derian, supra note 1; Mirzoeff, supra note 1. The ICRC website is also a useful resource regarding the media and international humanitarian law, available at!Open.

40 For an excellent history of war correspondents and their role in the coverage of conflict see P. Knightley, The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Iraq (2004). For an analysis of the significance of the media in the Vietnam War see Hallin, supra note 39. For a more recent analysis of the interaction of global visual culture and the second Iraq war see Mirzoeff, supra note 1.

41 See further T. de Zengotita, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It (2005). He writes that mediation ‘refers to the arts and artefacts that represent, that communicate – but also, and especially, to their effects on the way we experience the world, and ourselves in it’ (at 8). This is also a term used in Mégret and Pinto, supra note 4.

42 Thompson, supra note 1.

43 Ibid., at 18.

44 D. Garland, The Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society (2001), 86.

46 Hakimi, supra note 4; Marks and Clapham, supra note 4; B. Simma and A. L. Paulus, ‘The Responsibility of Individuals for Human Rights Abuses in Internal Conflicts: A Positivist View’, in S. R. Ratner and A.-M. Slaughter (eds.), The Methods of International Law (2005), 23, at 29; Crawford, J., ‘Negotiating Global Security Threats in a World of Nation States: Issues and Problems of Sovereignty’, in Crawford, International Law as an Open System (2002), 95, at 116.

47 Metzl, J. F., ‘Information Technology and Human Rights’, (1996) 18 (4)Human Rights Quarterly 705; International Council on Human Rights Policy, ‘Media: Reporting Human Rights Issues’ (2002).

48 O. C. Okafor, The African Human Rights System, Activist Forces, and International Institutions (2007), 134.

49 M. E. Keck and K. Sikkink, ‘Activists beyond Borders’, extracted in O. A. Hathaway and H. H. Koh, Foundations of International Law and Politics (2005), 217.

50 F. M. Abbott, ‘International Relations Theory, International Law, and the Regime Governing Atrocities in Internal Conflicts’, in Ratner and Slaughter, supra note 46, at 146–7.

51 Pearson, Z., ‘Non-governmental Organizations and International Law: Mapping New Mechanisms for Governance’, (2004) 23 Australian Yearbook of International Law 73, at 95–7.

52 Ibid., at 97.

53 See further the classic critique of the ideological character of mass media and its technique of ‘framing’ issues in Herman and Chomsky, supra note 1.

54 A. Clapham, ‘UN Human Rights Reporting Procedures: An NGO Perspective’, in P. Alston and J. Crawford (eds.), The Future of UN Human Rights Treaty Monitoring (2000), 175.

55 ECOSOC Resolution 1503 (XLVIII) of 27 May 1970 as revised by Resolution 2000/3 of 19 June 2000; this procedure has been revised, though confidentiality retained, in the Human Rights Council, UN HRC Resolution 5/1 on institution building of 18 June 2007.

56 The issue of the protection of anonymous sources is far from resolved in domestic law; see D. Joyce, ‘The Judith Miller Case and the Relationship between Reporter and Source: Competing Visions of the Media's Role and Function’, (2007) 17 (3) Fordham Intellectual Property, Media and Entertainment Law Journal 555. This issue has also arisen in the context of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), where journalists have differed in their approach to giving evidence, some refusing to do so on the basis of protecting their relationship with their sources. See Prosecutor v. Radoslav Brđanin and Momir Talić, Case No IT-99-36-AR3.9, Decision on Interlocutory Appeal, 11 December 2002; S. Powles, ‘To Testify or Not to Testify – Privilege from Testimony at the Ad Hoc Tribunals: The Randal Decision’, (2003) 16 (3) LJIL 511; see also Heeger, A., ‘Securing a Journalist's Testimonial Privilege in the International Criminal Court’, (2005) 6 San Diego International Law Journal 209.

57 Amartya Sen, Development as Freedom (1999), 181; Stiglitz, J., ‘On Liberty, the Right to Know, and Public Discourse: The Role of Transparency in Public Life’, in Gibney, M. (ed.), Globalizing Rights: The Oxford Amnesty Lectures 1999 (2003), 115, esp. at 135–6.

58 ‘A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility’, Report of the High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change, UN General Assembly, UN Doc. A/59/565, 2 December 2004, paras. 98–99.

59 As the editor of the influential UK Guardian newspaper writes, ‘Some of the most critical developments concerning economics, security, the environment, and social policy are immensely complex and worthy of careful explanation. But they do not necessarily sell newspapers.’ Rusbridger, A., ‘A Chill on “The Guardian”’, (2009) 56 (1)New York Review of Books.

60 See further Orford, supra note 4.

61 P. Alston, ‘Beyond “Them” and “Us”: Putting Treaty Body Reform into Perspective’, in Alston and Crawford, supra note 54, 501 at 513–14; see also Pearson, supra note 51, at 87.

62 I am unable to explore these wider systemic changes in this article. See further International Council on Human Rights Policy, supra note 47.

63 M. S. McDougal, H. D. Lasswell, and L. Chen, Human Rights and World Public Order: The Basic Policies of an International Law of Human Dignity (1980), 255. David Kennedy has powerfully written of the CNN effect and warfare, of the perils of representation by human rights professionals, of the construction of the ‘international community’ by reference to the ‘first world media audience’, and of the bureaucratization of human rights: Kennedy, Dark Sides of Virtue, supra note 4, at 22–3, 26–30, 276–7, 280, 295, 311.

64 Pearson, supra note 51, at 97–8.

65 See further D. Rieff, A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis (2002); S. Cohen, States of Denial: Knowing about Atrocities and Suffering (2001).

66 See further

67 See the Crimes of War Project at See also Gutman, supra note 39.

68 See, e.g., the description of environmental organizations as ‘watchdogs’, in P. Sands, Principles of International Environmental Law (2003), 199–200.

69 Pearson, supra note 51, at 98–9.

70 Witness, The Hub, available at

71 B. Stelter and N. Cohen, ‘Citizen Journalists Provided Glimpses of Mumbai Attacks’, New York Times, 30 November 2008.

72 L. Grossman, ‘Iran Protests: Twitter, the Medium of the Movement’, Time, 17 June 2009, available at,8599,1905125,00.html; D. West, ‘The Two Faces of Twitter: Revolution in a Digital Age’, Huffington Post, 22 June 2009, available at See further the Iran Election Twitter Feeds at the Huffington Post website:

73 Google blog, ‘A New Approach to China’, 12 January 2010, available at

74 J. Goldsmith and T. Wu, Who Controls the Internet? Illusions of a Borderless World (2006).

75 J. Watts, ‘Behind the Great Firewall’, Guardian, 9 February 2008, 17.

76 See further Y. Benkler, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom (2006); Coleman, S., ‘New Mediation and Direct Representation: Reconceptualizing Representation in the Digital Age’, (2005) 7 (2)New Media and Society 177; D. Gillmor, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People for the People (2004); Carroll, W. A. and Hackett, R. A., ‘Democratic Media Activism through the Lens of Social Movement Theory’, (2006) 28 (1)Media, Culture and Society 83.

77 C. Gearty, Remarks, CRASSH seminar on Human Rights and Evidence, St John's College, Cambridge, 27 April 2007. See further R. Brett, ‘The Role and Limits of Human Rights NGOs at the United Nations’, in D. Beetham (ed.), Politics and Human Rights (1995), 96; C. Chinkin, ‘Normative Development in the International Legal System’, in D. Shelton (ed.), Commitment and Compliance: The Role of Non-binding Norms in the International Legal System (2000), at 29.

78 See further S. Marks, ‘Introduction’, in S. Marks (ed.), International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (2008), 6; C. Miéville, ‘The Commodity-Form Theory of International Law: An Introduction’, (2004) 17 LJIL 271; C. Miéville, Between Equal Rights: A Marxist Theory of International Law (2006).

79 K. Marx and F. Engels, The Communist Manifesto, with introduction by G. Stedman Jones (2002); K. Marx, Capital, Volume 1, with introduction by E. Mandel (1976).

80 J. Dean, Publicity's Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy (2002), 110.

81 Ibid., at 3–4.

82 Ibid., at 45.

83 Ibid., at 3. See further A. Mattelart, Networking the World, 1794–2000 (2000); J. Anderson, J. Dean, and G. Lovink (eds.), Reformatting Politics: Information Technology and Global Civil Society (2006); J. Dean, Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies: Communicative Capitalism and Left Politics (2009).

84 Dean, supra note 80, at 9.

85 Ibid., at 47.

86 Ibid., at 76, 89.

87 ‘Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law’, Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission, Finalized by M. Koskenniemi (2007); S. Marks, ‘Exploitation as an International Legal Concept’, in S. Marks (ed.), International Law on the Left: Re-examining Marxist Legacies (2008), 281; A.-C. Martineau, ‘The Rhetoric of Fragmentation: Fear and Faith in International Law’, (2009) 22 LJIL 1.

88 Dean, supra note 80, at 166.

89 Ibid., at 175.

90 For a different take on these themes and the dichotomous presentation of the Internet, see Hand, M. and Sandywell, B., ‘E-topia as Cosmopolis or Citadel: On the Democratizing and De-democratizing Logics of the Internet, or, toward a Critique of the New Technological Fetishism’, (2002) 19 Theory Culture Society 197.

91 Herman and Chomsky, supra note 1.

* Research Associate, Australian Human Rights Centre, University of New South Wales []. This article draws on doctoral research in the field of international law and the media conducted at Cambridge University. It was first developed while the author was the Erik Castrén Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Helsinki in 2008–9. The author would like to thank Susan Marks, Stephen Humphreys, Katie Dyer, the two anonymous referees, the editors of this journal, and friends and colleagues in Sydney, Cambridge, and Helsinki for their feedback and criticism.

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