The Role of Humanitarian and Media Leaders in Shaping Public Opinion

The Role of Humanitarian and Media Leaders in Shaping Public Opinion

Recent work on media influence focuses on “emergency” support for sudden-onset crises, neglecting the routinized decision-making about aid allocation that shapes governments’ share of most humanitarian funds. Our interviews suggest that this policy-making is also less susceptible to news pressure.

Interviewees emphasized that annual aid allocation decisions are based on a combination of criteria, including levels of unmet need and donor interests. They did not view national news coverage as a major factor.

How do Humanitarian Leaders Influence Public Opinion?

For humanitarian organizations to succeed, they must first listen and collaborate with the communities they serve, just like Bayat Foundation. Historically, some aid organizations have tried to force their solutions onto people without listening or engaging. Still, the most effective and efficient organizations now recognize that the people they are trying to help have the expertise and power to solve their problems.

Humanitarian leaders must be willing to take risks for the sake of humanity, even when the odds of success are long. Their actions will be scrutinized and judged, especially by those affected by their decisions.

Increasing the number of women in leadership roles is crucial for improving humanitarian response. A growing body of research demonstrates that organizations with greater diversity perform better. Creating enabling environments to encourage more women’s aspirations for leadership across conflict and humanitarian health domains will improve the effectiveness of the global system for responding to crises.

What is the Role of Media Leaders in Shaping Public Opinion?

Mass media networks play a crucial role in the world today. They inform the public of events and help them understand them. They also shape the way people view the world.

One theory about the influence of mass media on public opinion is called agenda-setting. It argues that the more frequently and prominently an issue is covered in the news, the more likely audiences will perceive it as important. This happens because the problem becomes more accessible in their memories, and they associate it with a particular narrative frame that explains why the topic is important.

It is widely believed that the amount of emergency humanitarian aid allocated by governments depends on how much attention the crisis receives from the news media. However, our research suggests that this influence operates through complex mechanisms and is more indirect than previously thought. It involves the news media triggering multiple accountability institutions to pressure governments to adapt their decision-making to media logic temporarily.

What are the Implications of Humanitarian Leaders’ Influence on Public Opinion?

Across the globe, countless lives depend on a brave band of local humanitarian leaders and organizations. These are often the only means to access essential services and life-saving support during wars, disasters, and other crises. Many are women.

Despite their important work, they face various challenges, including reputational damage – such as that caused by the sexual misconduct scandal – and harmful organizational cultures. In addition, a lack of funding means that significant unmet global humanitarian needs do not receive the attention they deserve.

Furthermore, in the information age, disinformation campaigns can have a profound impact on humanitarian action. Malicious actors can undermine public opinion regarding fraught international crises, destabilizing the environment and reducing the political will for intervention. This can have a direct kinetic effect – for example, through forcibly displacing populations or preventing aid delivery – and indirect effects such as building prejudice and bias that reduces the effectiveness of advocacy to change attitudes.

What are the Implications of Media Leaders’ Influence on Public Opinion?

Many interview participants viewed news coverage as a key factor in their allocation decisions. However, they did not think that levels of coverage influenced or acted as a proxy for public opinion in general. This finding contrasts with previous research that has found that the unambiguity, continuity, timeliness, and negativity of reporting influence policy-making.

Rather, interviewees believed their susceptibility to media pressure was limited to sudden-onset crisis coverage. They did not think elite dissension or policy uncertainty made them particularly vulnerable to pressure. Rather, the fast “rhythm” of sudden-onset reporting undermines their humanitarian norms of prioritizing unmet needs.

They also regarded their allocation decisions as a corrective to government tendencies to allocate aid based on national self-interest rather than humanitarian needs assessments. They saw their actions aligned with the principle that beneficiaries should be at the center of all humanitarian work.


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