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Media Coverage and Funding for Disasters

Maya Brahmam's picture

During the latest round of the global Development Data Challenge held in London at the end of August, various members of the open data community got together at the Guardian to explore the limits of recently released aid and government spending data. One of the challenges proposed was to explore whether media coverage influenced funding for disasters.

This is interesting, not only because a fair amount of research has been done on the topic, but also because popular wisdom supports the idea that media coverage spurs disaster funding – the so-called "CNN effect."

According to this challenge, five major natural disasters were selected from the last 10 years: the Indian Ocean Tsunami (2004), the Haiti Earthquake (2010), the Pakistan Floods (2010) the Japan Earthquake (2011) and the East Africa Drought (2011). Using databases and official reports from NGOs, the participants in the challenge sourced the number of people affected by each disaster, as well as the amount of funds given from various sources. Finally, they connected to the YouTube API and used a filter to find television media coverage from news organizations, such as CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters. They sourced humanitarian aid data from the UN’s financial tracking service. Based on the chart shown on the Poverty Matters post, there doesn’t seem to be a strong correlation between media coverage and disaster funding. You can see a more interactive visualization with data-point specifics here.

Susan Moeller notes in her article, “Media Coverage of Natural Disasters and Humanitarian Crises,” which appeared in the Public Sentinel: News Media & Governance Reform, that “…in 2002, two Danish charities examined whether media coverage actually did make a difference in funding to victims and came away with a conditional “maybe.” Three factors actually seemed to matter – donor security interests, stakeholder commitment, and media attention.” The most important factor was the security concerns…”

Moeller goes on to say that new media offers opportunities for new players to engage and this means that the public at large can control the conversation and to get the word out in real time. For example, in 2008 when an 8.0-magnitude earthquake struck western China, killing around 70,000 people, the news broke via Twitter. ICT tools, often using SMS technology, are now playing an important role as well. Moeller thinks that development agencies need to think more innovatively and strategically about relief and alleviation during disasters and crises, and new media outlets can play a significant role.

More important, the general public now has the sense of agency and can become influential players for mobilizing attention to disasters. In that vein, I wanted to flag that TEDxSendai is being sponsored by the World Bank on the theme of natural disasters on October 10 in Sendai, Japan. This will be a great opportunity to mobilize people interested in natural disasters to share their views and spread ideas from a number of different thinkers and doers who will be presenting in Sendai.

Photo: Flickr user dyobmit

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Submitted by Sam Lee on
Hi Maya, Fantastic post! Interesting to think about different/innovative ways to test hypotheses and to explore the role of new media in disaster relief. Eagerly look forward to the discussion and outcomes of TedxSendai!

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