It seems safe to assume that media coverage changes the behavior of politicians and voters.  And it seems safe to assume this happens in...

It seems safe to assume that media coverage changes the behavior of politicians and voters.  And it seems safe to assume this happens in cases of humanitarian crisis.

But it’s really hard to go beyond these platitudes to determine exactly how this feedback loop works.  John Nathaniel Clarke’s new book, British Media and the Rwandan Genocide (Routledge, 2018), uses Rwanda as a test case to tease out the relationship between media coverage and policy.  To do so, he uses carefully structured, labor intensive and analytically rich process to determine exactly what the media was reporting and writing about the genocide.  By examining the media coverage so systematically, he is also able to detect changes over time in the nature of the reporting.  He then examines the way in which members of parliament respond to the reports, analysis and op-eds in a variety of British newspapers.

Clarke knows his way around an excel spreadsheet, and his analysis is statistically sophisticated and his conclusions carefully considered.  His book raise questions about the received wisdom about coverage of Rwanda.  But it also offers a model going forward of how we might understand the relationship between media coverage of mass atrocities and the decisions made by political leaders about how to respond to these crises.


Kelly McFall is Professor of History and Director of the Honors Program at Newman University. He’s the author of four modules in the Reacting to the Past series, including The Needs of Others: Human Rights, International Organizations and Intervention in Rwanda1994.

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