The Latin Bias: Regions, the Anglo-American Media, and Human Rights


  • This research was supported by funds from the Canadian Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and the Harold E. Stassen Chair of International Affairs, University of Minnesota. We are greatly indebted to Oskar Niko Timo Thoms for his superb research assistance, to Howard Ramos for his advice, and to the international studies faculty at CIDE for their detailed feedback. We also thank three ISQ reviewers and the international journalists who commented upon our findings.


Hafner-Burton, Emilie and James Ron. (2012) The Latin Bias: Regions, the Anglo-American Media, and Human Rights. International Studies Quarterly, doi: 10.1111/isqu.12023
© 2012 International Studies Association

Media attention is unevenly allocated across global human rights problems, prompting anger, frustration, and recrimination in the international system. This article demonstrates that from 1981 to 2000, three leading Anglo-American media sources disproportionately covered Latin American abuses, in human rights terms, as compared to other world regions. This “Latin Human Rights Bias” runs counter to broader trends within the Anglo-American general coverage of foreign news, where Latin America’s share of reporting is far smaller. The Bias is partially explained by the region’s proximity to the United States (US), its relevance to US policy debates, and by path dependency. A significant portion of the Latin Bias remains unexplained, however, despite our best attempts to rigorously model explanations offered by leading Western journalists. These findings suggest that geographic regions are an important factor in the media’s perception of global human rights problems and that both human rights policymakers and scholars may be inappropriately drawing general lessons from regionally specific and biased patterns. We conclude with suggestions for future research.