Subjective Coverage of Human Rights Abuses


As the age of globalization has reaped technology and information sharing, people have become both more aware and more concerned with human rights abuses in foreign countries.

Last week, a statistical analysis of the news from 1981-2000 was released that concludes that Latin America is the world region with the most media coverage of human rights abuses. The data was analyzed and verified from news stories published in the Economist, Newsweek, and the New York Times.

Journalists asked to explain this coverage offered two dominant theories. The first being that countries affected by U.S. foreign policy are more frequently featured in the news mostly because of U.S. economic interests. The second being the dominant presence of the Catholic Church in Latin American countries increases human rights coverage.

The 19 years of news coverage analyzed in this study encompass human rights atrocities such as the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and the beginning of the Darfur conflict in Sudan in 1989. Both of these conflicts are momentous in the history of human rights abuses and were of interest to the international community, yet received less media coverage than Latin America. It is important to note that there were no major, widespread abuses in Latin American at this time period. Human rights abuse is an unfortunate aspect of human nature and so it was prevalent in Latin America at this time, but not in proportion to its coverage in the news.

The news is meant to be an objective vision of the truth for the people. However, if U.S. news media focuses on what is most connected to its foreign policy and economy, and what is most likened to its society, such as the dominance of the Catholic Church, is this reliable reporting and a truthful representation of the world? Is it unfair to report what directly affects our own country over immense corruption in a country incomparable to our own in economics and institutions, such as Rwanda? Is the press doing an injustice to the people in selectively reporting? Can we trust the press as a gatekeeper of the information that is most important to the world community and of what we need to know as world citizens?


2 Comments on “Subjective Coverage of Human Rights Abuses”

  1. Taryn Winston says:

    I find it encouraging that the growth of globalization and technology has resulted in a greater awareness of human rights struggles around the world. Personally speaking, I know that I do not always fully understand nor seek to learn more about these human rights cases. Yet I do understand the importance in shedding light on these incidents. I was also unaware that Latin America received the most human rights coverage. While I have doubts over the journalists’ second theory regarding Catholicism, I can see how economic and foreign policy interests could play a role in the increased coverage. For while the United States is certainly expanding its coverage of human rights issues, we are and will continue to be a nation primarily concerned with our own self-interests. Thus, if it affects us (directly or indirectly), we want to know about it and if it does not affect us, then we tend to not give it much attention. Regarding the questions you posed at the end, I do believe that the press is doing the public injustice simply because I believe that the press’ responsibility, first and foremost, is to report and inform its audience of all issues. If the press is serving as this “gatekeeper of information”, then how are we ever truly to know about all of these human rights incidents? And perhaps most importantly, this distortion does give us an inaccurate perception of the world.

  2. Eli Watkins says:

    I would say the U.S. news media also does a generally poor job of covering domestic concerns. Any crisis becomes the disaster of the moment, and the underlying issues that led to the crisis are very rarely discussed. Political coverage is not about policy because it gets boiled down to the sound-bite and the horse race. With all of the shallow domestic coverage, there often isn’t time or room to oversimplify the rest of the world. I don’t know if this is just the fault of the media though. It seems like what the majority of consumers want.

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