• BAAGs latest report reveals imbalanced media coverage of Afghanistan – could this threaten development efforts?

BAAGs latest report reveals imbalanced media coverage of Afghanistan – could this threaten development efforts?

25 June 2014

Public opinion of Britain’s role in the Afghanistan campaign is far from positive.  In a YouGov poll earlier this year, only 25% of those surveyed believed that Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan had been worthwhile.  Public opinion can have a significant influence on the decisions of parliament.  The majority of the public depend upon the news media – print, online and broadcast – to keep them informed.  There is therefore a key role for the media to play in presenting a balanced and fair representation of developments in Afghanistan.

In late 2013 BAAG commissioned research by the London School of Economics.  A team of student researches conducted a thorough review and analysis of the British print media’s coverage of Afghanistan from December 2008 to November 2013.  Their report Afghanistan in the British Print Media was launched yesterday at an event in the Houses of Parliament.

The report findings confirm BAAGs concerns.  Within the overall space that Afghanistan received, a mere 4.3% of reports in 2013 focused on aid and development efforts within the country.  However, raw data used for the report showed that over the 5 years surveyed, 60% of articles focused on the military, conflict or politics.  Moreover, there has been a 52.5% decrease in the number of aid and development stories between 2010 and 2013.

With such a focus on the conflict, troop casualties and concerns regarding the Afghan government, there has been little scope for the public to read about the corresponding aid and development efforts.  But even when newspapers run a story on this theme, they are often framed negatively – such as the death or kidnapping of aid workers or the abandonment of certain aid projects.  The researchers also noted that, whilst positive framings of aid and development were recorded, it is clear that the intensity of language used in negative portrayals is much stronger.

Speaking in the launch event, womens rights expert Samira Hamidi applauded the coverage of womens rights abuses.  But she called for greater focus in such articles on the hundreds of dedicated Afghans making a difference for these women – the lawyers, doctors, activists etc who strive to be part of the change, to support abused women and to fight to prevent such abuse.  Theirs are the stories to tell.

Audience members commented that the accumulation of negative news about Afghanistan often prevents alternative and positive narratives from breaking through.   However, one experienced journalist present responded that journalists will always report on the well-documented failings of certain aid decisions and programmes and reflected that a few positive stories of progress do not counter the balance of Afghanistan’s continuing human rights and development crises.

BAAGs research with LSE is an attempt both to qualify our concerns about unbalanced reporting of development aid and also to allow journalists to put forward their views on the situation, challenges and possible remedies.  The report is a starting point for more effective communication between the development sector and media, and BAAG plan to follow up with more discussions on this theme.

‘The member charities we work with have supported some incredible gains in Afghanistan, but these are so rarely reported by the media’, says Jawed Nader, BAAGs Director.  ‘With public support comes increased government and donor support – so ensuring the public understand that aid has made a difference and will continue to do so is critical.’