Landmine Monitor 1999

Media Coverage of Landmines

Media Coverage of Landmines
by Richard Price and Daniel Hope, University of Minnesota

1. Introduction

This appendix reports on the extent of media attention to landmines issues. By establishing a baseline of media coverage for future comparison, it will be possible to track public media reports of landmine use and other land mines issues to identify future trends in public attention. Public attention on landmines issues has been important in creating pressures for acceptance of a new international norm prohibiting anti-personnel landmines, and thus tracking media coverage is an important component of monitoring the spread of the norm. If public attention wanes, the sense of crisis so important for rapid acceptance of the mines taboo may lessen, with a resulting decrease in this source of pressure on states that have not yet signed or ratified the treaty.

Scholarly research on the development of international norms suggests that an important factor in the development of international norms over time is the public treatment of violations of weapons taboos as just that - violations - instead of being justified as tolerable events or ignored as unremarkable occurrences. For example, as the idea has spread and deepened that torture is unacceptable practice for civilized states, press attention to violations of that norm does not disappear; on the contrary, each single violation actually gains in relative significance as an unacceptable deviation from tolerable behavior. Similarly, the tracking of allegations of the use of land mines can serve as an important indicator of the acceptance of the new prohibitionary norm. Allegations of the use of land mines by parties to a conflict, even if such allegations are being employed solely for propaganda value, indicate that the accusing party acknowledges the taboo status of land mines. For example, it would be particularly significant if a non-signatory state were to begin accusing another state or group of using landmines, since one would only make such an accusation if that kind of behavior was to be regarded as not acceptable. In this way even allegations can contribute to the gradual acceptance of the norm over time.

Similarly, even specious denials of the use of mines by parties to a conflict can contribute to the spreading delegitimization of land mines, particularly when compared to the open acknowledgment or even defense of the use of land mines as legitimate, and rejection of the prohibitionary norm as invalid by accused parties. The history of chemical weapons provides a useful illustration. When chemical weapons were first utilized on a large scale during World War One, the Germans defended their use as an acceptable practice of warfare. In the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the Iraqis did not defend their use of chemical weapons and would not even admit they had used them. However, the lack of a significant international condemnation in response to Iraqi violations greatly weakened the spread and strength of the chemical weapons taboo in the region.

It is in this spirit that the database that provides the information for the graphs in this appendix will thus track changes in statements by governments and parties to conflicts concerning allegations of the use of mines, defenses of the use of mines, denials of such use, and affirmations of the validity of the mines taboo. With this data Landmine Monitor can identify changes in toleration of the use of land mines by thepublic, governments and non-state actors. The database itself was not available for the 1999 Landmine Monitor report; this appendix is therefore confined to reporting on general trends in media attention of landmines issues and landmine use to provide a baseline for future comparison.

2. Findings

Two major kinds of media coverage were surveyed for different sources: general stories about land mines, and stories that concerned incidents of the use of land mines. The data shows that whereas mine incidents were rarely reported upon before the campaign to ban land mines reached prominence, since that time they have been treated increasingly as newsworthy events deserving of political attention. Reports about mine use in major newspapers, magazines, newsletters, wire services, and non-U.S. English printed sources all show a very gradual increase from 1989 to 1996, with an enormous increase in 1997 as the campaign gained widespread international attention. Reports about the use of land mines dropped dramatically in 1998, often to near 1996-levels, except for reports in newsletters which saw a very small decrease. This indicates that the major public media already have fallen behind the organizations which publish newsletters in attempting to keep up the attention level of land mines incidents. The sole exception to these trends are medical publications who were out in front in giving attention to the use of landmines by peaking in 1996, and falling significantly thereafter. This is suggestive of the role of the medical community in helping define and politicize the landmines issue as a health and humanitarian crisis.

Trends in coverage of general landmines issues exhibit a similar steady increase from 1989 to 1996, with an enormous increase in 1997 (a doubling of magazine coverage, a four-fold increase of major newspaper coverage). Coverage of landmines in 1998 dropped by about half in major newspapers and by about two-thirds in non-U.S. media as reported in World News Connection. However, coverage in magazines, newsletters and Canadian publications actually held steady or even increased in 1998. This may in part be attributable to the aftereffects of the signing of the landmines treaty in December 1997, and thus particular attention must be paid to media coverage of landmines issues in subsequent years to see if this level of attention is sustained.

3. Methods and Limitations

The date presented in the graphs are preliminary, and provide an approximate - not exhaustive - guide to the relative attention to land mines issues in various public media. Part of the rise of numbers of stories on land mines may be attributed to the rise in number of surveyed publications over time in the Nexis search engines. However, in an important respect this would not invalidate the findings; on the contrary it would be consistent with the hypothesis that the increasing availability of media has facilitated the high public profile of the land mines issue in the 1990s. Surveys of electronic media - e-mail traffic, reports on the world wide web, and television coverage - are not available, so the results of the data provide only a relative comparison of attention in print media, radio reports (as tracked by FBIS and World News Service) and wire services. Each individual story found in the searches will be catalogued into the database during 1999 to provide a baseline for future surveys, and this process will identify any spurious results in the searches. For example, the search terms used toidentify stories about the use of land mines could potentially result in the inclusion of stories about other issues. While the information for the graphs does not yet include this possible correction, any spurious results are likely to be random and not systematically biased in any particular direction.