Humanitarian Media Events: On the Symbolic Conditions of Moral Integration

Humanitarian Media Events: On the Symbolic Conditions of Moral Integration

Robin Vandevoordt (University of East Anglia, UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9967-0.ch007
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Abstract

When somewhere in the world disaster strikes, chances are that West-European NGO's will put their hands together by launching national fundraising appeals. In these appeals, the media, public institutions and individual citizens are asked to contribute their share by donating a sum of money or, better still, by organizing their own fundraising activities. If all goes well, the appeal then soon acquires a festive character, as an entire nation interrupts its regular course of affairs to organize fundraising activities ranging from small family barbeques to widely broadcasted live shows. This chapter proposes to conceptualize these appeals as ‘humanitarian media events', by drawing attention to some of their distinctively symbolic character. These theoretical reflections are then applied to the case of the Belgian appeal for Syrian refugees, launched in April 2013. This analysis consists of three components: the media, by comparing the coverage on Syria during the most important period of the appeal; the campaign, relying on in-depth interviews with campaigners and campaign material; and the audience, by drawing on interviews with audience members who organised a small-scale fundraising activity. This presentation thereby aims to develop a neo-Durkheimian, symbolic-cognitive framework to understand the nature and course of national humanitarian appeals, and the role played by a variety of social actors.
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Introduction

When somewhere in the world disaster strikes, chances are that West-European NGO’s will put their hands together by launching national fundraising appeals. In these appeals, the media, public institutions and individual citizens are asked to contribute their share by donating a sum of money or, better still, by organizing their own fundraising activities. If all goes well, the appeal then soon acquires a festive character, as an entire nation interrupts its regular course of affairs to organize fundraising activities ranging from small family barbeques to widely broadcasted live shows. In this essay, I propose to conceptualize these appeals as ‘humanitarian media events’ by drawing attention to their distinctive features, in line with recent trends to broaden the notion of ‘media events’ (Liebes, 1998; Katz and Liebes, 2007; Dayan 2010; Couldry, Hepp and Krotz, 2010). In the first part I will sketch the theoretical contours of these events by identifying the symbolic preconditions that are required for these appeals to develop into fully fledged humanitarian media events involving the engagement of the organizers, the broadcasters as well as the audience. In the second part, I will briefly demonstrate these theoretical reflections by applying them to the case of the Belgian appeal for the Syrian refugee crisis, launched in April 2013.

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