Global study: Leading broadcasters present balanced view of international violence

LONDON, UK: Media Tenor and the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) recently announced the results of Peace & the Media, the first study into the accuracy of international TV news programmes with regards to violence, conflict and peace issues. The study reveals that while a majority of broadcasters present an accurate view of violence levels*, key UK and US broadcasters devote more than 50% of their time to topics of violence.
Global study: Leading broadcasters present balanced view of international violence

  • US, UK broadcasters dedicate most coverage to violence
  • Middle Eastern broadcasters more positive than US, European counterparts
  • Al Jazeera providing broadest coverage on Afghanistan war

The study analysed 37 TV news and current affairs programmes from 23 networks in 15 countries** and cross-referenced this with measured levels of violence from the 149 countries ranked in the Global Peace Index (GPI). Broadcasters such as CNN International, the BBC and Al Jazeera were examined in the study, and a total of 197 649 reports were analysed by Media Tenor. The coverage from BBC 2 Newsnight in the UK, ZDF Heute Journal in Germany and CBS Evening News in the US was most aligned with the rankings of the GPI

Peace & the Media also includes a case study on Afghanistan, which shows that coverage of the country's violence is accurately portrayed in volume terms. Unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of coverage is focused only on defence and crime, and neglects to highlight the critical issues of corruption, the economy and human rights.

Encouragingly, there are 20% more stories on topics related to the structures of peace - well-functioning government, sound business environment, equitable distribution of resources, free flow of information, low levels of corruption, acceptance of the rights of others, high levels of education, good relations with neighbouring states - than stories that focused on conflict.

Of the outlets included in the study, the majority of programmes reported on violence less than 40% of the time.

Key comparisons:

  • Four programmes included in the study devote more than 50% of their time to topics of violence: CBS Evening News, Fox Special Report and ABC World News from the US and ITV News at 10 from the UK
  • The 10 TV programmes reporting the most violence dedicate an average 48% of total reports to violence
  • The 10 TV programmes reporting the least violence dedicate an average 24% of total reports to violence
  • 8 of the top 10 programmes with the most violence coverage are from the US or UK
  • The group of programmes with the lowest percentage of violence reports comprises mostly South African and Middle Eastern programmes.

"The media's ability to influence attitudes is well known, and it's reasonable to assume that focusing on peace will have an influence on future outcomes. If coverage focuses on the structures that are necessary to create peaceful societies, there is a better chance of building a safer global economy, and would go far to help conflict-ravaged countries like Afghanistan," said Steve Killelea, founder of the IEP. "This is regardless of whether the tone of the coverage was positive or negative. This is simply because attention would be brought to important areas of nation building that have not been covered in the past; thereby increasing the focus on what is important for nation building."

Case study: Afghanistan

CNN International, BBC World Service and Al Jazeera English were called out for specific comparison in terms of coverage on Afghanistan. While all three TV networks had a similar number of reports on the topics receiving the most total coverage - warfare, elections, crime and international politics- Al Jazeera's coverage brings a greater focus on the structures that create peace. Al Jazeera English had the broadest coverage with 22 out of a possible 33 topics covered. This was four more than BBC World Service "The News" and CNN International Desk, which covered 18 topics each. Furthermore, Al Jazeera also reported the highest number of positive stories.

"Informing the public on what will build long-term peace and stability, regardless of whether the tone of the coverage is positive or negative, is highly beneficial and in the best traditions of a free press," said Roland Schatz, CEO of Media Tenor. "What is challenging is to determine how to reframe the news coverage so that it is appealing to the audience but still includes the structures of peace. If a TV network succeeded in achieving this, it would create a unique differentiation from other networks that should result in an increased market share."

Lack of diversity in conflict coverage restricting change in most violent nations

With the exception of Zimbabwe and Afghanistan, all the countries with the most coverage are the leading economies of the world. While this points to wider reporting for countries with geopolitical influence, diversity in coverage on peace and conflict issues is critical to ensuring that countries are not stereotyped. Covering various aspects of a war provides viewers - domestic and international - with greater insight on tackling the most critical issues.

"It's human nature for us to feel more empathy for people and societies we know more about," said Killelea. "If we don't know the issues, all of the issues, that are factors in a conflict, it is impossible to achieve a lasting resolution."

Positive-peace stories - those documenting active steps to rectify violent situations - make up just 1.6% of the total number of media stories covered in the study. This may be partly related to what is considered newsworthy with dramatic, high-impact, violent or controversial events being considered the most relevant. International broadcaster Al Jazeera and Germany's ARD Tagesschau ranked highest on this factor, with both dedicating 8% of their conflict coverage.

Middle Eastern broadcasters more positive than European, US outlets

Of special interest is how the three regions cover each other. European TV is balanced between coverage of the Middle East (27%) and North America (29%), while US programmes are more concerned with the Middle East (40%) than Europe (24%). Middle Eastern coverage suggests a much stronger interest in European affairs (36%) than events occurring in North America (21%). The BBC World Service was the broadcaster with the most international scope of coverage.

Of the three regions, US programmes are the least likely to be of a positive nature, while Middle Eastern programmes are more likely to be positive, and also the least likely to be negative. Although there was a high level of negative reporting on Africa, it did also receive a higher level of positive coverage from the Middle East compared to Europe or the US. Both the US and European TV programmes devote more than 60% of their coverage of the Middle East to violence, while the level of coverage of violence for the US is well below what would be expected given its GPI score.

Both European and Middle Eastern TV programmes were more likely to report positively on North America than other regions, which mirror their low levels of coverage of violence issues in the US. By contrast, coverage of the Middle East, by both European and American TV programmes, had both a high level of violence reporting and a high level of negative coverage.

*Correlation of r=.56; figure would be higher if a few notable outliers are removed; outliers are cases where the media reporting does not match the level of peacefulness of the countries. For example, Finland ranked as the 9th most peaceful country in the 2010 GPI, but 64% of international coverage on the country was violence related due to the spate of school shootings.

**Table 1.TV programmes included in analysis

Media NetworkTV ProgrammeCountry
Al ArabiyaAl Arabiya NewsSaudi Arabia
Al JazeeraAl Jazeera NewsQatar
Al ManarAl Manar SATLebanon
ARDARD TagesschauGermany
ARDARD TagesthemenGermany
BBCBBC1 10o'clockUK
BBCBBC2 NewsnightUK
BBCBBC World Service The NewsUK
CBSCBS Evening NewsUSA
CCTVCCTV1 News HourChina
CNNCNN International DeskUSA
Dubai TVDubai TVUAE
FOXFOX Special ReportUSA
ITVITV News at TenUK
LBCLBC NewsLebanon
NBCNBC Nightly NewsUSA
Nile TVNile News PanoramaEgypt
RTLRTL AktuellGermany
SAT1SAT1 18:30Germany
SFSF TagesschauSwitzerland
TF1TF1 Le JournalFrance
TRT1TRT1 Ana Haber BülteniTurkey
TVETVE1 Telediario2Italy
ZDFZDF HeuteGermany
ZDFZDF Heute JournalGermany
SABCSABC News @ OneSouth Africa
SABCSABC News @ 10South Africa
SABCSABC Afrikaans NewsSouth Africa
SABCSABC English NewsSouth Africa
SABCSABC Africa News UpdateSouth Africa
eTVeTV Prime TimeSouth Africa
SABCSABC Zulu/XhosaSouth Africa
SABCSABC SiSwati/NdebeleSouth Africa
SABCSABC Venda/TsongaSouth Africa
SABCSABC SothoSouth Africa

Table 2. Examples of 'Violence,' 'Peace' and 'Other' issues

Violence issuesPeace issues"Other" issues
Demonstrations/ProtestsParliamentary workStock markets
Politically motivated crimeLegislative procedureState visits
Suicide bombingEducation policyCourt cases
AssassinationsEducation and demographic developmentConferences/summits
TerrorismPositive economic outlookNational elections
KidnappingHuman rightsCurrency market
MurderPeace negotiations Human interest
Nuclear weapon developmentCo-operation of political partiesAnimal stories
Conflicts in generalCo-operation of parliamentAwards/ prizes
Negative coverage media freedomTreaties, agreementsAppointments
Social unrestArms control, non-proliferationDomestic policy
War activitiesPositive fiscal policyEconomic situation
Civil warPositive monetary policyMusic
Negative coverage on human rightsPositive local conditions for investmentsCampaigning
Failed electionsEconomic development projects International politics
Air strikesImprovement of economic policyForeign policy
Oppression of the people by statePositive labour legislationResignations
InsurgencyPositive economic restructuringFilm/cinema
War crimesState incentives for innovationsCommittees, events
Violent crimePositive tertiary educationEconomic policy

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