Independence of South Sudan

The Role of Mass Media in the Responsibility to Prevent
Wilfrid Laurier University Press (CA)
  • 1. Auflage
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  • erschienen am 28. November 2014
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  • 182 Seiten
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978-1-77112-084-5 (ISBN)
The Responsibility to Protect, the report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS), focused on three international responsibilities in the area of human security: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react, and the responsibility to rebuild. The report acknowledged the difficulty of identifying countries likely to experience widespread civil violence and then predicting when this would occur. But the authors of this book submit that if ever a case of a 'responsibly to prevent' was possible to anticipate, South Sudan was it. A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the Sudanese second civil war in 2005 with a call for a referendum to be held in South Sudan in 2011 to determine the region's future, In the event, an overwhelming majority voted for independence for the region. The question that motivated this book is whether the CPA would set in motion a process resulting in yet another brutal conflict, and, if that conflict was widely predicted, what should be the response of the international community in terms of 'responsibility to prevent'? Mass media coverage has been identified as an important factor in mobilizing the international community into action in crisis and potential crisis situations; however, the impact of media reporting on actual decision-making is unclear. Thirty-plus years of research has demonstrated consistent agenda-setting effects, while a more recent stream of research has confirmed significant framing effects, the latter most likely to occur in cases where advocacy framing is used. This book examines the way in which the press in Canada and the United States interpreted the potential for violence that accompanied South Sudan's independence in 2011, and whether or not their governments had a responsibility to prevent.

E. Donald Briggs is a professor emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Windsor, where he taught full-time for nearly forty years.
  • Englisch
Wilfrid Laurier University
  • 1,21 MB
978-1-77112-084-5 (9781771120845)
1771120843 (1771120843)
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Over the past half century southern Sudan has been one of the most conflict-prone areas of the world, having been embroiled in two civil wars lasting nearly forty years-the first from 1955 to 1972, and the second from 1983 to 2005. Estimates of deaths attributed to the latter alone stand at between two and two-and-a-half million, with an additional four million reported displaced from their homes. In assessing the severity of the situation, Sudan's heavy-handed response to the Darfur crisis and the consequent indictment of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes and genocide should also be borne in mind.

A Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ended the second civil war in 2005. That agreement provided for a referendum to be held in the south in 2011 to determine the region's future status vis-à-vis the north. One of the options in the referendum was independence for the region, which turned out to be the nearly unanimous choice (close to 99 percent) of those voting in January 2011. This result had been widely expected, as had large-scale violence to follow. Francis Deng, a prominent Sudanese diplomat and scholar, forecast over a decade ago that "self-determination for the South has been recognized as a right that cannot be denied, wherever it leads" (2002, 85; italics added), and, as the date of the referendum neared, US National Security Director Admiral Dennis Blair observed that "of all the countries at risk of experiencing a widespread massacre in the next five years, 'a new mass killing or genocide is most likely to occur in southern Sudan'" (quoted in Sheridan, 2010a; italics added). It would have been difficult to find anyone who quarrelled with that assessment.

The relatively simple question that motivated this study, therefore, was what efforts were made by the international community to implement the "responsibility to prevent" doctrine identified by the 2001 report of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) as the first and best method of controlling serious conflict? The idea of prevention, along with the other components of the ICISS's Responsibility to Protect (that is, to react to failure to protect people at large, and to rebuild following serious conflict) appears at best to be a work in progress, as events in Libya, Mali, and perhaps Syria most of all, demonstrate. In other words, there is little consensus to date as to where and how these ambitious principles should govern state behaviour, or, as Frank Chalk and associates (2010) put it, there is obvious inconsistency in the Will to Intervene in serious conflict situations on humanitarian grounds. For those very reasons, examining the issue in the context of a case in which widespread bloodshed was thought to be virtually certain is important in terms of the development of international norms.

The specific focus of this study is the role the mass media played in interpreting and advocating the newly proclaimed (2005) prevention obligation. Precisely how much influence media have with respect to foreign policy decision making is still a matter of debate among communication and political scholars, but it seems clear that it lies somewhere between the determinism alleged by the "CNN Effect" (see Cohen 1994) and the dismissiveness of the suggestion that media outlets are primarily mouthpieces for governments. The study is therefore based on the assumption that mass media have a definite, if imprecise and varying, impact on all aspects of political life, including international relations. In the view of the authors, repetitive, ongoing media coverage (agenda setting), and the way in which critical events are explained in that coverage (framing), go a long way toward revealing why not all humanitarian crises are treated equally (see Soderlund et al. 2008)

Certainly both the volume of media attention that international crises receive and the opinions of the adequacy of whatever coverage occurs differ considerably. With respect to the Darfur conflict which began in 2003, for example, there is disagreement about both the extent and effect of media treatment (see Thompson 2007; Grzyb 2009; Sidahmed, Soderlund, and Briggs 2010; Hamilton 2011a), but there is virtual unanimity that the civil wars between north and south Sudan were severely under-reported by Western media (Livingston and Eachus 1995; Minear, Scott, and Weiss 1996; Livingston 1997; Soderlund et al. 2008; Prunier 2009). Both these cases involved the actual, ongoing, large-scale destruction of human life. How was the mere possibility of such an occurrence to be treated by media, bearing in mind that the Responsibility to Prevent became a recognized norm only in 2005, too late to impact either Sudan's civil wars or Darfur? It is hoped that what follows will shed some light on that question.

In summary, the book sets out to accomplish a number of major objectives:

1. To explain the background and complexity of the violence-prone relationship between Sudan and South Sudan (Chapter 1).

2. To trace the development of the norms of international intervention in areas of domestic conflict down to the imperatives enunciated by the Responsibility to Protect (Chapter 2).

3. To review approaches aimed at identifying situations calling for preventive measures and to assess the relative effectiveness of major strategies of conflict prevention, both long-term (development aid, capacity building, and trust and confidence building) and short-term (diplomatic efforts and the rapid deployment of peacekeeping forces to stabilize a developing crisis), when applied to dysfunctional societies and failed states (Chapter 3).

4. To review agenda setting (the transfer of "issue salience" from mass media to mass publics) and especially framing effects (media influence on how events are interpreted by mass publics) with respect to their relevance to the process which culminated in South Sudan's independence (Chapter 4).

5. To study US and Canadian mainstream press coverage of three key events in South Sudan's path to independence: the April 2010 country-wide elections, the January 2011 referendum in the south, and the July 2011 final declaration of independence. Reportage will be examined with respect to the identification of potential violence-producing problems and the framing of these in ways that might mobilize public opinion to support prevention efforts or other more forceful international interventions (Chapters 5-7).

6. To evaluate South Sudan's independence process in terms of the interaction between press coverage and international (especially US) diplomatic efforts to avoid a humanitarian disaster (Chapter 8).

7. To reflect on what constitutes "success" and provide readers with an account of the problems that faced the new state and region in the four-year period following independence (Postscript).

This book had its origins in the authors' collaboration on Humanitarian Crises and Intervention (2008), which compared the impact of mass media coverage of international intervention in ten humanitarian crises of the 1990s, including a chapter on the Sudan's Second Civil War. The idea of the project was reinforced by a second collaborative effort, The Responsibility to Protect in Darfur (2010), with Abdel Salam Sidahmed (updated and printed as a paperback in 2012), which noted important connections between Darfur and the Second Sudanese Civil War, some of which have reappeared in the contested area of Abyei and in the Nuba Mountains region. As the crucial referendum approached, therefore, we felt compelled to turn our attention to it.

We began work on the project in the spring of 2010 by studying the April elections that returned President Omar al-Bashir to power, and followed that up with a study of the January 2011 referendum, before completing it with a study of the potentially deal-breaking violence leading up to and including the declaration of South Sudan's independence in July 2011. During that period three conference papers were presented: "The South Sudan Referendum, Round #1: North American Press Coverage of the 2010 Sudanese Election" (Canadian Political Science Association, May 2011); "Framing the Responsibility to Prevent: North American Press Coverage of the South Sudan Referendum" (Canadian Communications Association, June 2012); and "The Responsibility to Prevent: From Identification to Implementation" (Canadian Political Science Association, July 2013). Comments of discussants, fellow panelists, and audience members helped to identify arguments in need of clarification.

Books do not, of course, appear without significant help from many whose names do not appear on the cover. In this case our thanks go in particular to Abdel Salam Sidahmed, who initially was slated to be co-author of the book. He contributed his expertise to the design of the project, but in 2012 he was asked by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish a country office in the Republic of Yemen to promote and protect human rights during that country's transition to democracy. As this required his full attention, he was unable to contribute further, but we are heavily indebted to him for the enlightenment he has provided over the years with respect to Sudanese history and politics in particular.

We also wish to thank our graduate research assistant, Kiran Phull, who...

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