The World Is Watching: Media Globalisation and the Advancement of Human Rights

The information revolution at the turn of the 21st century has resulted in full-fledged media globalisation. While media outlets have always served as vehicles for the interchange of information, the advancement of communications technologies, (with the creation of the Internet and subsequent social media platforms,) has greatly extended the media’s ability to influence global discussion and action, especially in terms of human rights.

Image courtesy of Takver, © 2013. Some rights reserved.
Image courtesy of Takver, © 2013. Some rights reserved.

Globalisation has led to a degree of interconnectedness in present-day society that is resulting in increasing deterritorialisation of economic, political, and social matters, and subsequently, the growing irrelevance of the notion of national sovereignty. The days of “avoiding foreign entanglements” are long past, and there is now an expectation that states work towards international interests rather than solely pursuing national interests. In the latter half of the 20th century, fear of infringing upon another nation’s national sovereignty, a right awarded to all member-nations in the UN Charter, was utilised as justification for staying out of a state’s domestic affairs.  This was most disturbing in terms of the lack of aid provided during severe humanitarian crises. Though the Geneva Convention technically superseded the non-intervention clause of the UN Charter, states weren’t subjected to enough accountability and therefore weren’t pushed enough to intervene in cases such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.

Media globalisation has resulted in more coverage of basic human rights violations across the international community, thereby making it significantly more difficult for states to claim ignorance of ongoing conflicts and human rights abuses. In addition to introducing issues to the global agenda that may have normally been marginalised, the media also publicises the world’s action or inaction in regards to these issues. World leaders are judged and pressured by their citizens and the foreign public to take a stand on human rights; if they choose not to act, their abilities as true leaders are seriously called into question.

This held true for US President Barack Obama as he was pressured to take a stand against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. The LRA is a rebel group under the leadership of the notorious Joseph Kony that ravaged the peace of Uganda and fuelled the nation’s civil war. It devastated the villages of Uganda with unthinkable human rights violations that included rape, mutilation, child soldiery, and massacres. The severe struggles of Uganda were not at first caught by mainstream media. A documentary by the non-profit organisation Invisible Children detailed the painful journeys of children avoiding capture by the LRA and its popularity spread through social media. It brought about wide scale awareness and pressure to act on the issue, which eventually resulted in President Obama signing the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act of 2009. This pledged the US’s support of pursuing the LRA and stopping its reign of terror in the region, and also led to Obama’s authorisation of 100 US Special Forces troops sent to Uganda in October of 2011.

Though there has been debate on the degree of effectiveness of US support in Uganda, it cannot be denied that Western presence has had, at least to some extent, a positive impact on the situation. The devastation in Uganda is one of the longest running conflicts in Africa. Before the rise of global awareness and the involvement of the US, the LRA had approximately 1,000 members that wreaked a highly disproportionate amount of destruction upon the people of Uganda and its surrounding regions. The awareness that stemmed from extensive media coverage has intimidated and accordingly lessened the number of LRA fighters to 300, all of whom have fled from Uganda. Though the LRA is around within the neighbouring regions of South Sudan, the Central African Republic, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, they are being actively pursued by the US Special Forces and are not nearly as much of a threat as before. The argument here is not that the situation in the region is completely resolved, but that the status quo has been bettered by the effects of media globalisation.

Throughout the past decade, there have been countless examples of how media coverage and consequent public pressure on the course of human rights have influenced states’ plans of action. The globalisation of the media has led to the end of nations ignoring the hardships of other members of the international community, and the successive advancement of human rights.

Perhaps one of the most impressive feats of media influence came with the gender-equality debate in India last December. The unprecedented media attention of the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman (known as Damini) challenged the workings of the masculinity-dominated Indian culture. Cases of violence against women never before received the same amount of consideration, and the media’s coverage of the case highlighted the unfair clemency the Indian government exhibits towards initiators of female violence.  Millions of individuals across the world protested for justice to be served. Four men implicated in the attacks received the death penalty, one committed suicide in his jail cell, and the sixth (who was a juvenile at the time) received the maximum sentence of 3 years at a special correctional juvenile facility. The sentencing was unusual in a nation where corrupt government officials place little importance in the preservation of women’s rights, but can be seen as a direct reply to the public outrage that was fuelled by media awareness. The media’s coverage of Damini’s case resulted in the start of India’s gender-equality revolution.

There is no denying that we live in a globalised world where there is increasing appreciation for the bigger picture. This shift from the domestic to the international affects the global society in both a positive and negative light, making the judgment of globalisation’s overall impact quite difficult. When it comes to media globalisation however, it is hard to ignore the advancements that its widening scope has made in the field of human rights. It has in no way completely resolved human rights violations within the international community, but has lessened ignorance on such issues. This increases the accountability individual nations have to act on infringements of human rights, thereby leading to undeniable social advancements.

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