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Looking Good: Mediatisation and International NGOs


Many international NGOs value those parts of their work that are suited to media representation: campaigning, advocacy, projects that produce the right sort of images. In this article I make three points about this change. First, those parts of the NGO most reliant on media – such as the campaign desk – may be becoming more powerful. This can change the internal dynamics of NGOs. Second, the increasing use of media means that NGOs, like other organisations, hold themselves accountable in new ways. Third, NGOs may appear to look more and more like media organisations. These changes have received relatively little attention in the literature on NGOs, though they reflect a broader set of debates about the role of media in society. Using a case analysis of an international NGO, I suggest that the concept of mediatisation might be a useful way to understand some of the changes observed in the NGO sector.


Beaucoup d’ONG internationales donnent de plus en plus valeur aux parties de leur travail qui sont adaptés à une représentation médiatique : organisation de campagnes, défense d’intérêts, et projets qui produisent ‘le bon type’ d’images. Dans cet article, je mets en avant trois arguments concernant ce changement. Premièrement, c’est que les parties des ONG les plus dépendants des media (comme le bureau d’une campagne) peuvent devenir plus puissantes et changer les dynamiques internes de l’ONG. Deuxièmement, l’utilisation croissante des medias font si que les ONG (comme d’autres organisations) soient tenus responsables dans des nouvelles formes. Troisièmement, les ONG apparaissent de plus en plus comme des organisations médiatiques. Ces changements n’ont pas reçu beaucoup d’attention dans la littérature sur les ONG, cependant ils réfléchissent une série de débats plus larges sur le rôle des medias dans la société. Utilisant un analyse de cas de une ONG internationale, je suggère que le concept de médiatisation peut nous donner une nouvelle façon de comprendre quelques-uns des changements observés dans le secteur des ONG.

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  1. I should also, at this point, say that the use of the term media – as opposed to ‘the media’ – refers to the broad set of technologies through which NGOs communicate their work.

  2. In this I take a slightly different approach to conceptualising mediatisation than can be found in the literature on political communication, where the focus is on how ‘the media’ shapes and frames the processes and discourse of political communication (Lilleker, 2008, p. 117).

  3. Interview with AMREF senior management, conducted Kampala, 1 July 2010.

  4. In 2007, AMREF made clear its desire to move away from ‘purely service delivery, toward capacity building, and advocacy’ (AMREF, 2007, p. vii). In the same report AMREF (2007) spoke of a commitment ‘through our national offices in Europe and North America … to take African evidence and an African voice to policy and decision makers in the North’ (p. 32).

  5. Interview with AMREF project staff, conducted Katine, 8 July 2010.

  6. Vestergaard (2010) similarly argues that the NGO sector is itself increasingly ‘pushed … more forcefully into the media field’, though she examines this in terms of how NGOs get tied to the sorts of logics found in the commercial sector (p. 169).


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I would like to thank Nicholas Baynham for providing research and support for this article. I would also like to thank Martin Scott, Henrik Nielsen, Daniel Wroe and Karen Lauterbach for comments on earlier drafts of the article, and the University of Copenhagen, the Danish NGO Forum and the University of East Anglia for allowing him to present draft presentations of the argument. Finally, I would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their useful and incisive comments.

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Jones, B. Looking Good: Mediatisation and International NGOs. Eur J Dev Res 29, 176–191 (2017).

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