Advances in Applied Sociology
2012. Vol.2, No.2, 155-158
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Crisis Journalism and World Peace
Bonachristus Umeog u1, Ojiakor Ifeoma2
1Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
2Department of Mass Communication, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria
Email: {bonaumeogu, ojiakor99}@yahoo.c om
Received April 1st, 2012; revised April 8th, 2012; accepted April 22nd, 2012
With the increase in violence and unrest in many countries, the searchlight has been turned on the media
who are supposed to work for peace. This paper is of the position that journalism has a big role to play in
maintaining relative peace just as they have the power to fuel crisis. In as much as objectivity should be
upheld, it has to go with responsibility.
Keywords: Crisis Journalism; Peace; Peace Journalism; Hypodermic Needle Theory
Crisis is as inevitable as death. If a family of only parents
and children; no matter how close knit they are experience cri-
sis, how much more people, countries, nations and continents.
The comparison between death and crisis is because despite
how well you take care of yourself and your vital organs; the
amount of time and energy expended in the name of keeping fit,
does not deter death in any way. If that is the case, then despite
the relative peace experienced in any human setting, there
abounds to be crisis. This is because no organization, country,
nation or people are immune from a crisis so all must do their
best to prepare for one .The difference will now be in the dura-
tion of the crisis and the magnitude.
On several occasions, I am scared to the point of being re-
luctant to tuning to the mass media. Why is that? This is simply
because what we see or hear are the news of bombings, kidnap-
pings, rebellions, protests, earthquakes, landslides, Tsunami and
other natural and manmade disasters. This is what I call crisis
journalism. I am not alone in fearing the unknown because
President Abraham Lincoln said, “We live in the midst of
alarms, anxiety beclouds the future; we expect some new di-
saster with each newspaper we read.”
It is as if crisis journalism is the new definition of what con-
stitutes news—“scary, alarming and bloody”. In other to under-
stand crisis journalism in relation to world peace, the hypoder-
mic needle theory will be used as the theoretical framework.
The hypodermic needle theory posits that “the mass media
could influence a very large group of people directly and uni-
formly by “shooting” or “injecting” them with appropriate mes-
sages designed to trigger a desired response”.
If the tenets of this theory are effective, what role do you
think crisis journalism will play in relation to world peace?
In trying to analysis the extent of crisis news, one local net-
work and one foreign network were the sample of this study.
The headlines were content analyzed over a period of two
weeks to determine if crisis journalism is real or a myth and the
recurrent or dominant themes in the headlines of both networks.
Powerful Media Effects
“The media are powerful so much so that they are capable of
influencing individual’s behavior; converting existing attitudes
and pushing people to adopt their promoted ways of living”
( This theory heralded the hypodermic
theory which states that “messages are able to hit individuals
directly and personally. This was based in the assumption that
the mass society is composed by individuals who were undif-
ferentiated, isolated, automated, anonymous, with a poor level
of education and easily suggestible”.
Well, this is an insult to the sensibilities of the people who
are active and capable of organizing stimuli and information’s
around them. Yes! The media affects the receivers, if not; they
would have lost its relevance. If it does not affect, then there
would have been no room for new media like the computer and
internet. The bone of contention here should be the type and
magnitude of the effect on the individual receivers.
Hypodermic Needle Theory
The name of this theory without an explanation is enough to
give a mental picture of what it is all about. That notwithstand-
ing, wrote that this theory
suggests that the mass media could influence a very
large group of people directly and uniformly by shoot-
ing or injecting them with appropriate messages de-
signed to trigger a desired response.
The propounders of this theory went ahead to say that the
people are seen as passive and are seen as having a lot media
material “shot” at them. People end up thinking what they are
told because there is no other source of information. This the-
ory which became popular in 1920 after the panic broadcast of
the “war of the lords” see people as passive and have the ten-
dency of believing whatever is thrown at them in the way of
information. In fact, this theory likened the receiver to a sitting
duck that is left at the mercy of the media. That is one of the
faults found with this theory.
Another is that it over exaggerates its effect. For instance,
over 12 million people watched the broadcast while a mere 1
million believed the media. If the audiences are really sitting
ducks, why was the remaining eleven million not affected by
the broadcast? The point is that every communication effort has
the tendency of having an effect but it is erroneous to assume
that there will be a uniform effect because of individual dif-
ferences and intervening variables. It is the intervening variable
that will make some people believe what they see or hear in the
media while others will wait for opinion leaders to double
check their stories. It is the same variable that will cause people
to retaliate by fighting while others will calmly wait for the
government to address the situation.
Relevance of Hypodermic Needle Theory
Most people assume that the hypodermic theory is obsolete
in today’s society but I beg to differ. What is the origin of most
of the crisis being experienced in the time past and presently? It
is as a result of the message they got from the media. Saying
that it is obsolete is as good as saying that the media has no
effects. If that is the case, why bother with advertising; public
service announcement and what have you since you do not
envisage the message having an impact on the receiver. The
concern should rather be on the nature of the impact because a
message intended to have a positive impact might end of having
a negative impact which often leads to or escalates crisis situa-
Purposively, one local network and one foreign network
were considered the sample for this study. The local network is
Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) while on the foreign scene,
Aljazeera was used. NTA was chosen based on the position it
occupies in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. When it comes to
getting the news as it happens, they are most reliable especial ly
during the prime time of 9 pm which is the network news time.
Aljazeera was chosen because of its stance on objectivity and
being unbiased and the time frame for monitoring of headline
was usually between 5 pm to 6 pm. It has to be noted that this
research was primarily concerned with the headlines which by
nature are the summary of the news bulletin for tha t moment.
A Quick Look at the Term “Crisis”
As there abound writers and researchers, so also abound
definitions of what crisis means. One thing that always stands
out is that crisis causes a disruption in the normal way of things;
poses a threat to all the people involved both the leaders and the
citizenry; affects the reputation of all the parties involved nega-
tively. According to Dilenschneider 2000 in Coombs, 2007, “all
crises threaten to tarnish an organization’s reputation”.
Well, in truth, it is not only organizations within the financial
sector that experience crisis; countries and nations do and al-
ways have their fair share of it which means that crisis have the
tendency of dragging the reputation of a country to the mud.
For instance, considering the recent activities of “Boko Haram”
and its subsequent coverage by both foreign and local media,
what is the reputation of Nigeria against the backdrop of the
current crisis? Borrowing from Walter Lipmann’s quote of the
world outside and the pictures in our heads”, what are the
pictures the international community have in their heads with
regards to the image of Nigeria as a terrorist country?
Coombs (2007) summarizes what crisis means by outlining
the characteristics of crisis thus:
A crisis can create three related threats: 1) public safety,
2) financial loss, and 3) reputation loss. Some crises, such
as industrial accidents and product harm, can result in
injuries and even loss of lives. Crises can create financial
loss by disrupting operations, creating a loss of market
share/purchase intentions, or spawning lawsuits related
to the crisis”.
What I have been able to deduce so far is that crisis usurps
the normal way of things and most often than not always end
and have negative consequences.
Crisis Journalism
This paper has seen crisis journalism as the report of the dis-
ruptions and the problems and its aftermath on the lives of the
people. President Abraham Lincoln in Wikipedia said that “we
live in the midst of alarms, anxiety beclouds the future; we ex-
pect some new disaster with each newspaper we read. Well,
are the journalists guilty of not promoting world peace in the
course of doing their job? Well, from time immemorial, the
quest for truth and objectivity has been the cornerstone of what
is considered as good journalism. The second principle in the
international code of ethics has it that
the foremost task of the journalist is to serve the peoples
right to true and authentic information through an honest
dedication to objective reality whereby facts are reported
conscientiously in their proper context, pointing out their
essential connection and without causing distortions, with
the deployment of the creative capacity of the journalist
so that the public is provided with adequate material to
facilitate formation of an accurate and comprehensive
picture of the world in which the origin, nature and es-
sence of events, processes and state of affairs are under-
stood as objectively as possible.
Coming back to Nigeria, NUJ knowing the relevance of Ac-
curacy has it as one of its principles and it reads thus:
The public has the right to know. Factual, accurate, bal-
anced and fair reporting is the ultimate objective of good
journalism and the basis of earning public trust and con-
When journalists report happenings in crisis situations in line
with being objective and accurate, it is called crisis journalism
and thereby meant to look like sadists or promoters of crisis.
Addressing this dilemma, Kempf (2007) asserts that
Of course it is urgently necessary that the usual under-
standing of objectivity in journalism must be revised and
constructively enhanced; to radically turn away from the
demand for objectivity not only endangers the acceptance
of the peace journalistic project in the journalist commu-
nity, however, it also can cause peace journalism to
squander the trust bonus that its recipients have granted
What I understand from this excerpt is that people are now
concerned about the role of crisis journalism in achieving rela-
tive peace and thereby wishes to be spared some details which
will not escalate crisis or cause new ones. The same people who
wanted to know it all to make rational decisions are not capable
of handling the information and now want it filtered. This also
proves that crisis communication directly or indirectly works
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
against unity and peace.
It was this realization that prompted researchers, media per-
sons and even journalists to think about how the potential of the
media could be used not only to fuel conflicts, but rather to
encourage peaceful conflict settlement and serve as mediators
of peace-building and reconciliation processes. This concern
led to the term “peace journalism” and which Shinar 2007 in
Kempf (2007) explained as
journalism with peace as an external aim. It understands
itself as a normative mode of responsible and conscien-
tious media coverage of conflict that aims at contributing
to peacemaking, peacekeeping, and changing the attitudes
of media owners, advertisers, professional s, and audienc es
towards war and peace.
In addition, Kempf (2007) noted that the Art 3 of the 1978
UNESCO Media Declaration, for instance, states that,
the mass media have an important contribution to make to
the strengthening of peace and international understand-
ing and in countering racialism, apartheid and incitement
to war (UNESCO, 1979, 102). Also the numerous ethical
codes for journalists that apply in almost all the countries
of the world give expression to similar self-imposed obli-
gations and contain the obligation to act for peace and
against any kind of war propaganda.
Crisis Journalism and World Peace
In the course of this research, I found out that crisis journa-
lism is at the point of being replaced by peace journalism. One
recurrent theme is that the media have so many roles in peace
keeping or conflict escalation. In fact, the role of the media in
conflicts has led to the advocacy on peace journalism. Peace
journalism advocates that journalists and media practitioners
should take a more active role in finding solutions to conflict.
This is because journalism as it is willingly or unwillingly em-
phasizes and encourages violent conflict by its coverage and
treatment of the issues. McGoldrick 2000 in (Hanitzch 2004)
described peace journalism as a “new form of journalism”
which looks “at how journalists could be part of the solution
rather than part of the problem”.
Writing on this, Kempf (2007) commented that
It has generally been acknowledged that conflict coverage,
whether by international news agencies or local reporters,
produces its own significant impacts on conflict. As such,
more and more local and international groups, media
trainers, media institutions and others have developed
methodologies for interventions aimed at countering the
dangerous effects of poor or deliberately manipulated
conflict coverage or for media interventions designed to
reduce conflict through a change in the way the media
In the same vein McGoldrick 2005 in Kempf (2007) opines
that “Journalists are responsible for the way, for how they re-
port; and even the creation of opportunities for society at large
to consider and to value non-violent responses to conflict.
A Glance at Crisis Journalism Headlines
Betz, M. explained that “an estimated one-q uarter to one-third
of UN member states are conflict-stressed or emerging democ-
racies. All of these are multi-ethnic states with racial and/or
ethnic divisions and will ultimately need to go through a peace
building process”. Please take a look at these headlines and say
whether they are helpful in the peace building process or not.
US experts warn of looming food crisis in west and central
UN downgrades Somali famine but situation still dire.
US accuses Sudan of bombing civilians in southern Kordo-
fan and B lue Nile States.
MEND resumes bombing.
Political violence in Senegal.
Flood in 2010 killed over 1 million people and displaced 21
Russian foreign minister warns speculation about Iran’s
nuclear programme could have “catastrophic consequences”.
20 more bodies of migrant recovered from a boat that cap-
sized off the Dominican Republic raising the death toll to
Unicef warns of a malnutrition crisis in badly hit Sindh
Uprising in Syria as Syrian military continues shelling and
rocket attacks on western city of Homs.
2 dead, 40 wounded in Egypt violence over football match.
6 injured in Sunday car bomb, 5 arrested.
Crisis Journalism and Management
Wikipedia sees crisis communication as a part of larger
process referred to as crisis management though it may well be
a major tool of handling a crisis situation in government, or-
ganization or business. If crisis is seen as an unexpected and
detrimental situation or event, then crisis communication can
play a significant role by transforming the unexpected into the
anticipated and responding accordingly.
Crisis management is a process designed to prevent or lessen
the damage a crisis can inflict on an organization, its stake-
holders or the general public. In fact, the primary concern in a
crisis has to be public safety. A failure to address public safety
intensifies the damage from a crisis and even extends the dura-
tion of the crisis period.
When public safety is a concern, people need to know what
they must do to protect themselves. When there is a crisis, the
people naturally lose direction and will always run to mass
media for direction on the next line of action. This is normally
where you lose or hold the public. The government or officials
in charge always have good plans to contain a crisis but how
well they are able to contain the crisis depend on how well the
crisis management efforts are communicated to the disarrayed
public. According to Coombs (2007)
The news media are drawn to crises and are a useful way
to reach a wide array of publics quickly. So it is logical
that crisis response research has devoted considerable
attention to media relations. Media relations allow crisis
managers to reach a wide range of stakeholders fast. Fast
and wide ranging is perfect for public safety—gets the
message out quickly and to as many people as possible.
Also throwing more light of effective communication as a
tool in crisis management, Coombs (2007) asserted that
In the face of crisis, leaders must deal with the strategic
challenges they face, the political risks and opportunities
they encounter, the errors they make, the pitfalls they
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 157
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
need to avoid, and the paths away from crisis they may
pursue. The necessity for management is even more sig-
nificant with the advent of a 24-hour news cycle and an
increasingly internet-savvy audience with ever-changing
technology at its fingertips.
The mention of ever changing technology is an advantage to
people in authority because it reminded them of the power of
the media and how well it can be used in conflict management
to reduce the casualties and loss to the barest minimal. What I
have been trying to establish is that there cannot be effective
crisis management without communication.
Effects of Crisis Journalism on the Public
One of the effects of crisis journalism is the loss of bro-
therly love and unity. If I always watch the bombing of
Christians by Muslims, how will I be seeing the Muslims
that are my neighbor? If I want to be truthful, it will not be
with love no matter how close we were before the start of
the crisis.
In every seminar, owing to the increased rate of diseases,
people are always advised to manage their stress levels. The
truth is that crisis journalism adds to the stress which at the
moment is difficult to control as a result of the poor eco-
nomic condition of the country. What about the psycho-
logical trauma experienced by the people?
It leads to lose of lives and properties. In fact, it primarily
leads to lose of life because it is the living that will acquire
properties. Have you ever bothered to calculate the number
of people who have lost their lives for no just cause all in
the name of crisis? I once came across a YouTube video
where a terrorist was saying that they will revenge the death
of their religion brothers. Who told them their brothers were
killed? It is through the media especially through the con-
struction of their headlines. For instance, if I see a headline
that reads: 5 churches attacked on Christmas day. A sooth-
sayer is not needed to explain that Christian were the target
of the attack. Fanatics after listening to such news might
retaliate by launching counter attacks thereby killing and
maiming lives. The situation might be different if the head-
line was: places of worship attacked on Christmas day.
Headline fans like me will not know that it was churches
thereby sparing the fanatics the details that would have led
to crisis.
Our world is rapidly changing and adjusting to face the chal-
lenges that are threatening world peace. As it is, crisis journa-
lism or core objectivity in journalism is one of the biggest
threats an d challenges facing the informa tion age. In the course
of this research, it has been found out that the desire on many
researchers and citizens alike is to replace crisis journalism
with peace journalism since the reportage and handling of crisis
issues have done more harm than good.
This paper do not advocate the complete disregard for objec-
tivity but practitioners should always consider the greater good
for man in whatever approach they deem it fit to take in report-
ing. The media acts as a mirror through which we see the world.
Journalism and the media do, however, play an essential role in
the societal construction of reality that can be fulfilled through
the type of news coverage chosen they can give an impetus
either to the escalation or to the de-escalation of conflicts. Be-
cause few of us experience terrorism firsthand, the media play
an important role in informing us when major incidents occur.
Also, because of its speed and ability to reach many audiences
at once, the electronic media and particularly television can
have a significant impact on the various players who become
involved in a particular crisis.
The fact that most people feel that world peace is a myth;
that man is violent in nature and would work against its
achievement should not deter journalists and man from striving
towards it. After all, it has been said that a journey of a thou-
sand miles looks impossible but all it takes to actualize begins
with a step.
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