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Fellows' Papers
Journalism & Democracy Practice of Journalism
Middle East

The Death of Osama bin Laden: Global TV News and Journalistic Detachment

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

Richard Lawson, an editor and producer at the BBC World Service, has written a compelling and timely study, investigating the way BBC World News, Al Jazeera English and CNN International covered Osama bin Laden's death in May 2011.

He begins ‘The Death of Osama bin Laden: Global TV News and Journalistic Detachment’ by exploring the long-running debate around impartiality and objectivity. He insists that journalistic detachment should remain a vital part of journalism in the 21st century, however paradoxical and difficult it often is. He then uses the coverage of bin Laden's death to examine what impartiality and objectivity actually mean in practice. He analyses the present state of BBC World News, Al Jazeera and CNN International in considerable depth, and he deploys a mixture of content analysis, close reading of the three channels’ output, and interviews with journalists to examine how journalistic detachment interacts with other factors in TV news - funding, audiences, and each news organisation's structure and culture.

His conclusion is that all three of these channels oscillate between genuinely global perspectives, and much more national or regional ones. His research raises vital questions about what impartiality and objectivity ought to mean in an age of globalisation, whether 21st-century audiences want localised or international forms of journalism, and the strategic challenges currently facing global TV news.

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.