The Global Rights Agenda

Background

The intensity and frequency of human rights reporting by NGOs and media has climbed since the human rights discourse made its international debut in the 1970s. Reporting of this kind can have powerful effects, impacting a country’s aid, trade, economic and diplomatic relations, as well as its appetite for repression. In some cases, moreover, this reporting can also provide aid and encouragement to protesters or insurgents.

Question

Why do some countries receive more human rights attention than others?

Funding

Data collection funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada; the Canadian Innovation Fund; and the Canada Chairs Research Program.

Research

James Ron and his collaborators built an original dataset of country human rights reporting by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Economist, and Newsweek. To this, they added interviews with NGO officials and journalists, original data on the country strength of the Catholic Church, and information on country population size, war casualties, regime type, aid, trade, military strength, economic growth, civil society, and more. They also used data from other scholars on human rights reporting by the New York Times.

To further interpret our findings, they presented their work, and conducted interviews at Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and with multiple leading journalists.

Findings

Amnesty International’s reporting is associated with absolute levels of human rights abuse, as well as with previous Amnesty work on the country; GDP; U.S. military assistance; and coverage of the country’s human rights conditions by the Economist and Newsweek.

Human rights reporting by these two media sources, moreover, is shaped by similar factors, as well as by a poorly understood media preference for Latin American human rights problems from 1981 to the year 2000.

Together, these findings suggest that the global human rights arena is not a level playing field; the sheer quantity of human pain influences global human rights reporting, but so do other factors. There is no global “meritocracy of suffering.”

Publications

2013

RON, J. & E. HAFNER-BURTON. Anglo-American Media: Why so Interested in Latin America’s Human Rights Abuses? openDemocracy, January 30.

RON, J. & E. HAFNER-BURTON. What Region Gets the Most Coverage of its Human Rights Abuses? – Latin America, According to a Statistical Analysis. Columbia Journalism Review, January 30.

RON, J. & E. HAFNER-BURTON. ¿Por qué los medios de comunicación angloamericanos estuvieron tan interesados en las violaciones a los derechos humanos en latinoamérica? Foreign Affairs Latinoamérica. January 28.

HAFNER-BURTON, E. & J. RON. The Latin Bias: Regions, the Anglo-American Media, and Human Rights. International Studies Quarterly.

2009

RON, J. & H. RAMOS.”Why are the United States & Israel at the top of the Human Rights Hit Lists?” ForeignPolicy.com. November 3.

RON, J. & H. RAMOS. “Statistics Tell the Real Story of Watchdogs & Israel.” Ottawa Citizen. October 31.

2007

RAMOS, H., J. RON & O.N.T. THOMS. Shaping the Northern Media’s Human Rights Coverage, 1986-2000. Journal of Peace Research 44/4: 385-406.

2006

RON, J., H. RAMOS & K. RODGERS. “What Shapes the West’s Human Rights Focus?” Contexts 5/3:23-28.

2005

RON, J., H. RAMOS & K. RODGERS. “Transnational Information Politics: Human Rights NGO Reporting,” International Studies Quarterly 49: 557-587.

RON, J., H. RAMOS & K. RODGERS. “Finding Bias in Human Rights Reporting,” Globe & Mail, May 31.

RON, J., H. RAMOS & K. RODGERS. “Skewed Reporting,” Baltimore Sun, June 3.