Lehrstuhl für Politikwissenschaft, Friedens- und Konfliktforschung

Forschungsbereich B: Wissenssoziologie internationaler Politik


Dissertationsprojekt von Lena von Naso

News reports on sub-Saharan Africa are dominated by reporting that focuses on crises. This is in large part responsible for reinforcing the picture of ‘Africa, the hopeless continent’. Therefore, the question of why reporting assumes this form is important and is closely interconnected with the formation of public opinion on political issues. People from the Western cultural sphere are almost invariably consulted when it comes to assessing conflict situations. It is striking that two thirds of the sources used in news reports are non-African, with representatives of humanitarian organisations playing a prominent role, mostly positively framed in the coverage. Whereas the aid sector has experienced a rapid boom since the first decade of the twenty-first century, there has been a marked decrease in the number of foreign correspondents. What does the interaction between correspondents and humanitarian organisations look like? What kinds of motives and cost benefit analyses underlie their cooperation? Where do the interests meet? Where are they contradictory? The interests of the media and the aid sector seem to intersect in the field of ‘crisis themes’: the media perform a key role for the aid sector when it comes to the representation of the work of the aid sector, its employment as an instrument for realising political and economic objectives, and its fundraising. In return, humanitarian organisations, with their dense information and contact networks, are valuable partners for journalists when the latter need figures, estimations, analyses, or logistical help.

The research is motivated by the fact that science knows very little about the way this interaction takes place, on an actor level between foreign correspondents and communication staff of humanitarian organisations, as well as on a system level between the media and aid sector. However, I hold the link to be important in order to gain a better understanding of media and aid networks, the production process of news coverage on sub-Saharan Africa, and thus the recipients’ opinion on events.

The project is conceived as a comparative design. The data is obtained in interviews with American, British, and German correspondents, and communications staff of humanitarian organisations in Nairobi – the prime location for correspondents covering sub-Saharan Africa, and base for humanitarian projects throughout the continent. The research aims at making the work of both, correspondents and humanitarians, visible to a broader audience, showing the perspectives of those directly involved in the process of media production on site. The project sheds light on how the interactions take place, on a system, as well as on an actor level, and points out the impact that these interactions could have. To understand actions on an actor level, the system level has to be taken into account since it determines and enables actions, and is shaped by the actor level at the same time.  The study contributes to the on-going discussions within both sectors about their relationship that is yet to made public.

How do the actor relationships interrelate with the general media coverage?  What does this mean for the political dimension on foreign affairs, as well as the monetary flows to humanitarian projects on the African continent?

The project is funded by the Elite Network of the Bavarian State.