Thursday, November 05, 2009

Great News:"Happily, Human Rights Groups Are At Least Partly True To Their Mission"

"The truth is," [Thomas] Friedman wrote, "the Western press coddled the PLO. . . For any Beirut-based correspondent, the name of the game was keeping on good terms with the PLO, because without it would you not get the interview with Arafat you wanted when your foreign editor came to town."
Jeff Jacoby, "Trading Truth For Access?"
Fear of terrorists is a potent dissuader--something that we occasionally hear of in connection to reporters, but not in connection to the human rights groups. Maybe that's because they have a different motivator.

In their response to Robert Bernsteins criticisms of Human Rights Watch, the group that he founded, James Ron and Howard Ramos respond with Statistics tell the real story of rights watchdogs and Israel. What they write, however, belies that claim. Actually, its not about the statistics at all:
Finally, a country's policy relevance also seemed critical, since Amnesty wrote more about abuses in countries that were already heavily covered by the western media.

What does all this mean?

Happily, human rights groups are at least partly true to their mission, since they report more frequently on countries with more abuse. Both Bernstein and the watchdogs should be relieved.

Yet human rights groups also seek visibility, relevance and impact, and this pushes them to report more on the most pressing abuses of the day. Like most any advocacy group, watchdogs respond to media demand, and the more journalists ask about a country such as Israel, the more Human Rights Watch and Amnesty will respond.
Let's see if we have this right: the media of course covers countries that they think are the most interesting and will garner the most viewers. Period. Israel therefore appears in the news more often than, say Egypt--or Darfur. Therefore, these human rights watchdogs will follow Egypt and Darfur less than Israel?

Are the motives that drive human rights groups and the media really that similar?
Let's hope not.

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