Written by the Students in COM321 | pols330

Autumn 2009, vol. 4, Issue 2

Communication and International Relations

Media as International Actor


research review

Analyzing the CNN Effect

By David Fawcett

Many professional and academic works have been published about a theory called "the CNN effect." This theory attempts to explain the role of media as an international actor and political catalyst. According to communication scholar Eytan Gilboa, the CNN effect refers to the idea that “global television networks, such as CNN and BBC World, have become decisive actors in determining policies and outcomes of significant events.” Research into the CNN effect seeks to better understand the prevalence and conditions under which media can influence government policy.
One article written by Gilboa in Political Communication titled "The CNN Effect: The Search for a Communication Theory of International Relations" points out many of the flaws of previous studies supporting the CNN effect. Gilboa presents the case that a new research agenda needs to be adopted for studying the effects of global communications on international affairs. While Gilboa doesn’t argue that global television networks have no effect on international relations, he does argue convincingly that studies have yet to present sufficient evidence validating the CNN effect. He states that a meaningful study of this effect requires a workable definition, whereas researchers have to date employed a variety of confusing definitions. As a result, he states that the “scholarly and professional studies of the CNN effect present mixed, contradictory, and confusing results.” In most of these studies a cause-effect relationship, he argues, has yet to be decisively established.

Gilboa’s article doesn’t claim to have disproved the CNN effect theory. The article simply argues that current studies either define the theory too broadly, or fail to support its implications and present a clear cause-effect relationship between global communications and international affairs. Gilboa’s aim isn’t to put the debate to rest, but rather to encourage more studies about the CNN effect. He succeeds at this by making his point articulately and clearly.