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Media attention to the earthquake in Turkey and Syria – a reflection on news media coverage of humanitarian crises

The earthquake of the latest 6th of February was the “greatest tragedy since 1939” in Turkey and led Syria to a situation “worse than the war” that the country has endured for more than a decade, according to a piece’s title of Diário de Notícias newspaper[1]. Nevertheless, in a search on its website for the terms ‘earthquake’, ‘Turkey’ and ‘Syria’, the results presented only go until the fourth page. The same search on the website of Expresso –  the Portuguese weekly of reference – only shows eight pieces related to the tragic event [2].

I’m more aware of the Portuguese and Brazilian news media landscape not only because of scientific interest, but also for cultural and sentimental reasons. Despite not following international news media with the same regularity though, I have the feeling that the overall coverage of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria has not been big. It seems that the killing of 50 thousand people[3], the distant suffering of the Turkish and Syrian people, and the humanitarian appeals made by the United Nations (UN)[4] are not sufficient to provide a great presence in the news.  

This kind of absence is even more astonishing in the case of Syria. The armed conflict in the country boosted a huge displacement of people that has put Syrian refugees on the top of the worldly list of refugees per geographic origin[5]. Moreover, the flow of people from Syria seeking asylum – many times, through perilous means – gave rise to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’.

As the insufficient coverage of the earthquake also indicates, that crisis was less seen and framed as a crisis for the refugees (not only Syrians) and more a crisis for Europe[6]. Clara Ferreira Alves, in her column for Expresso Pluma Caprichosa – had already indicated in 2015 such hypocritical stance of European politicians and public[7]. The journalist pointed out that the war in Syria had then four years, but the public outcry only sparked when thousands of refugees started to (try to) cross European borders.

One could argue that even minor attention to the earthquake in Syria, when compared to Turkey, relates to the obstacles to humanitarian aid in a country divided and whose infrastructure was already precarious before the quake[8]. I comprehend that it should be difficult to obtain information from the ground and news media outlets are dependent on what is shared by the UN and related organizations, which have also faced difficulties to access affected areas.

Nevertheless, an event of this magnitude in an already devasted area should receive more attention. As Martin Scott, Kate Wright, and Mel Bunce demonstrate[9], media attention influences the allocation of humanitarian aid. Through interviews with bureaucrats from 16 governments with the largest humanitarian aid budgets, they confirmed that, in some circumstances, sudden and intense news coverage can increase the levels of humanitarian aid – even if a crisis doesn’t merit it.

I conjecture one more effect that wide coverage – in the case of the earthquake in Turkey and Syria – could have: to influence Western governments in a collective effort towards a resolution for the conflict in Syria. I know this sounds naïve considering the complexities of this war and I do not believe that even the best coverage could alone leads to a resolution. But, as Scott, Wright and Bunce similarly point out, with its power to establish topics in the public agenda, news media can trigger the public, civil society organizations, and, ultimately, elected officials to action.

To finalize, I would like to invite you to reflect on why some humanitarian crises receive so much attention – from news media, politicians, civil society, and the like – and others are barely known in the Global North. Since its beginning, the war in Ukraine received more news coverage than 41 other humanitarian crises combined[10]. Maybe, has this happened because, as Myria Georgiou observes[11], we feel that Ukrainian people are ‘people like us’ (ethnically, racially, culturally)?


[2] I conducted the search on the 27th of February 2023.




[6] Moore, K., Berry, M. & Garcia-Blanco, I. (2018). Saving Refugees or Policing the Seas? How the national press of five EU member states framed news coverage of the migration crisis. Justice, Power and Resistance,2 (1), 66-95. 






Please find the Portuguese version of the text on the next page

Por favor, aceda à próxima página para a versão em português da publicação 

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Ester Minga (2023, 6 Março). Media attention to the earthquake in Turkey and Syria – a reflection on news media coverage of humanitarian crises. Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 22 de Maio de 2024, de

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