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The power of information

Today the world benefits from swifter and denser networks of communications—making it much more difficult to cover up abuses. At present there are some 145 commercial communications satellites carrying millions of conversations, data streams and news reports around the globe.55 While in the Biafran war in 1967 it took two days for film about the war to travel from Africa to Western television screens, nowadays a reporter has to do little more than use a computer to send news and pictures back to base for instant onward transmission around the world.56

Yet the flow of information is far from perfect. The media are very selective about where they invest their time and money, and the cult of 'instantaneity' that technology encourages can flatten information into a homogenous stream of violent images and instant analysis. Nor is news reporting independent of the events under observation. Wars have always involved propaganda offensives alongside military ones. Much military strategy nowadays is directed towards capturing not just territory but headlines.

Aid agencies also get caught up in the media game. In Somalia, the first resort of most reporters unfamiliar with the events was to interview Western aid workers. Apart from often giving a one-sided picture, it raises the possibility that agencies may use publicity opportunities for fund-raising purposes.

Despite the reservations, modern media have certainly opened up channels that do allow both local people and international agencies the opportunity to get the information out and touch the world's conscience.


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