Humanitarian aid at the time of global disasters
In a situation in which the nature of both disasters and media is changing, it is vital to readdress the questions of humanitarian communication: how do humanitarian aid organisations perceive and accomplish their missions, how is the relationship between humanitarian organizations and the media being shaped and what is the role of ordinary people? According to Oxfam (2009), the total number of natural disasters has quadrupled over the last two decades and, during the same period, more people have been affected by them. Today disasters are characterised by the way in which they cross geographical boundaries, both in terms of impacts and in terms of their humanitarian, emotional and political responses (Rodríguez et al. 2007). Accordingly, in a global age, they are mediated in and through complex communication flows and news formations (Cottle 2009). It is in the increasingly globalised communication environment, and in the increasingly crowded humanitarian aid field, that humanitarian NGOs struggle to raise public funds for their humanitarian work and compete for media attention. Humanitarian communication is a form of communication that aims to make us care about people we will never meet. It has been seen as being deeply intertwined with traditional media. Existing studies typically consider the relationship between media and humanitarian organisations in a time of crises as a symbiotic one (Minear et al. 1996; Philo 1993; Harrison & Palmer 1986). Humanitarian organisations are identified as important agents in global civil society, promoting universal human rights (Chouliaraki 2006; Beck 2005), but their capacity to do so has been regarded as being highly dependent on the practices of the media (Benthall 1993). It is argued that media and journalism serve as a bridge linking aid agencies and their fieldwork with the publics and potential donors (Cottle & Nolan 2007). However, the emergence of new communication technology has had an intense impact on the field of humanitarian aid (UN Foundation 2011). New computer-mediated technologies are now rapidly changing communication in disasters (e.g. Starbird & Palen 2011). The new communicative conditions are reconfiguring the communicative power of the humanitarian aid field at times of disaster. There is evidence that humanitarian organisations are increasingly willing to act as their own news agencies, disseminating information and speaking directly to their audiences (Tikka et al. 2010; Price et al. 2009). Ordinary people are also participating in humanitarian communication as digital volunteers appealing for those who are suffering (Pantti & Tikka 2012). This doctoral dissertation strives to provide a profound understanding of the dynamics of humanitarian organisations, media and ordinary people participating in humanitarian communication in today’s complex media environment. The political and humanitarian implications of this relationship on the aims and agendas of humanitarian aid are scrutinised.