Distant Compassion: CNN and Borrioboola-Gha

People speak of the "CNN factor": Thanks to the immediate and insistent diffusion of such images of suffering, democratic governments have come and will continue to come under pressure to undertake humanitarian interventions.

Issue: Spring 1996

As human beings have always suffered, so have they responded to the suffering of others. Compassion is as old as the human race. What is new is our window on the distress of fellow human beings no matter how remote from us. Thanks to the impact of the information revolution, there is no instance of suffering anywhere that is out of range of the camera or that, once recorded, is not instantly available for display everywhere. Often we view these reproductions "live" as the suffering actually occurs. Should we miss them the first time around, we can count on the most gripping ones being replayed again and again. Without leaving our living rooms we have the sorrows of the world at our fingertips. As the French commentator Pierre Hassner has noted, the power of televised horrors has vindicated (in a manner of speaking) Immanuel Kant's hope that a violation of right anywhere on earth would be felt everywhere on it.

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