Marketing a Crisis Through Media Expertise Why do some international crises attract more attention than others? Political science professor Clifford Bob of Duquesne University says some groups have learned to capture the attention of the media and non-governmental organizations.

Marketing a Crisis Through Media Expertise

Marketing a Crisis Through Media Expertise

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Why do some international crises attract more attention than others? Political science professor Clifford Bob of Duquesne University says some groups have learned to capture the attention of the media and non-governmental organizations.


Why is it that more people in the world probably know more about Tibet's struggle for greater autonomy from China than they do about seven million Chinese Uighurs who have similar aspirations? Why is it that the crisis in Darfur doesn't get as much attention as ones in Ethiopia or Bosnia did, but it gets more than the continuing humanitarian disasters in Congo? What makes some crisis into world concerns while others languish outside of the spotlight? That's the question political scientist Clifford Bob poses in his new book, The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media and International Activism.

Mr. Bob teaches at Duquesne University in Pittsburg and he joins us from member station WDUQ there. Professor, thanks very much for being with us.

Professor CLIFFORD BOB (Professor of Political Science Duquesne University): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: There's so much at stake in who gets attention from money to international pressures from the United Nations, from governments. You suggest that it's not just the luck of the draw but that it's marketing.

Prof. BOB: Right. Especially in the case of local level insurgents or social movements in the developing world. It's essentially the savviest of the groups who get the most international attention. And they do so by trying to market themselves internationally. They tend to get more support from transnational, nongovernmental organizations in human rights or environmental or humanitarian fields than other, possibly needier or similarly needy groups in various parts of the world.

SIMON: When you talk about the nongovernmental organizations, it's everything from Amnesty International to World Vision to Unicef?

Prof. BOB: Right.

SIMON: Give us some for instances.

Prof. BOB: One case that I looked at in particular involved the Niger Delta Region of Nigeria, an area in Southern Nigeria where much of the oil in that country is found. There are numerous small minority groups in that region who have long been at odds with the Nigerian government, primarily over the amount of representation that they have in Nigerian politics over economic development or really the lack of it in that area and over poverty. In the early 1990s, one of these groups, the Agoni(ph), tried to get international attention for its plight in Nigeria and tried to get support of environmental and human rights NGOs by focusing primarily on what I would consider really sort of secondary issues in their conflict involving environmental problems resulting from the oil exploitation in the region.

As the Agoni reframed the conflict, particularly as they focused on the role of multinational corporations in causing the environmental problems in the region, they then started to attract the attention of the international NGOs. So it's a marketing process.

SIMON: So if they focused on what they saw as the roles of multinational corporations, they could count on a network of international support among environmental and human rights groups who had been outspoken about those issues.

Prof. BOB: That's right, and the NGOs have a certain set of goals and issues that they're particularly interested in. These are ones that primarily are appealing and interesting to international audiences and audiences in the West that provide the support and the funding for these groups. For the local level social movements and insurgent groups, this means that they need to frame their causes in those terms to make them more likely to be taken up by the NGOs.

SIMON: You mention -- I want to get you to talk about the Zapatistas in Mexico.

Prof. BOB: Sure. This is a group of perhaps two to three thousand indigenous peoples in Southern Mexico. And the indigenous in Mexico historically had been marginalized politically and economically but had really not found much international support for their plight. In 1994, the Zapatista Group mounted a small scale rebellion which involved most prominently their seizure of a fairly large city in Southern Mexico for only a day but enough to bring in international media and international NGOs who were fascinated, first of all, by the apparent power of this group to take over the city. But then by, in part, the personality of the leader of the group. And also they focused on the role of civil society organizations in democratizing Mexico and opposing NAFTA.

And this group of issues that these Zapatistas promoted became a real avenue to gaining international media attention and the support especially left-leaning NGOs in Europe and the United States.

SIMON: The comandante was a charismatic figure?

Prof. BOB: No doubt about that. He was also apparently a professor of communications at a major Mexican university prior to heading into the jungle in the early 1980s. And he was extremely adept at working the media, if you will, and also very articulate in Spanish and English.

SIMON: Does an insurgent leader have to speak English these days or does it help?

Prof. BOB: It certainly helps.

SIMON: Is that a little bit like these days in politics nobody gets elected in the United States unless they make a good public relations presentation on television and elsewhere? I mean isn't that just a fact of life? Why, what's the discovery?

Prof. BOB: Well, in a way I think you're right. Perhaps the new thing here is that a lot of people, I think, believe that we're paying attention to the most important issues, the key issues worldwide, and I think the problem tends to be that we miss out on some very important problems, some very important movements worldwide who may not have the knowledge of how to exploit the international system, who may be involved in conflicts that are parochial or somehow localized and that are nonetheless extremely important, but they don't get the international attention and support that they should.

SIMON: Clifford Bob with Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. His new book is The Marketing of Rebellion: Insurgents, Media and International Activism. Thanks very much.

Prof. BOB: Thank you.

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