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Does media coverage increase the probability of receiving disaster relief?

02.02.2006


Does media influence the allocation of disaster relief? Thomas Eisensee answers this question in his dissertation at The Institute for International Economic Studies, Stockholm University.



Each year, around 150 natural disasters occur taking about 63,000 lives and affecting 125 million people.

- Given the huge losses involved, it is essential that disaster relief is provided to those most in need. It is crucial to understand whether media has a causal effect on the decision to provide government relief to these disasters, says Thomas Eisensee.


Thomas Eisensee and his co-author, David Strömberg study how television news affected the allocation of U.S. government relief to natural disasters in developing countries over the period 1968-2002.

It is a difficult task to identify the effect of mass media on disaster relief, since media coverage of disasters and the decision to provide relief may be driven by the same factors (e.g. severity). However, the researchers solve this problem by using the occurrence of other news events at the time of the disaster, such as the Olympics or the O.J. Simpson trial. These events are obviously unrelated to disaster victims’ need for relief, but affect the media’s decision to cover disasters. This allows them to establish a causal link between media coverage and disaster relief.

They show that a disaster occurring during the Olympics requires three times as many killed as a disaster on an ordinary day to have the same chance of receiving relief. Moreover, disasters that occur when large news events take place, such as the O.J. Simpson trial, must have six times as many killed as disasters that occur during periods of news drought.

- The reason is that when there is plenty of breaking news around, news stories on disasters in developing countries are crowded out from the news programs. This, in turn, reduces the probability that the U.S. government provides relief, says Thomas Eisensee.

Thomas’ dissertation also includes two essays on fiscal policy and retirement behavior.

Agneta Paulsson | alfa
Further information:
http://www.eks.su.se

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