This paper uses a new dataset on US media coverage of developing countries to test the hypothesis that the media are an important determinant of US foreign aid flows, all else equal. Controlling for several other determinants of foreign aid distribution it examines whether or not the coverage in major US newspapers and television sources influenced the amount of official development assistance a country receives from the US from 1970-1994. It finds that when a natural disaster, epidemic, or war in a developing country is mentioned in a major US media source five times during a typical five-year period —or an average of once a year—that country receives roughly one percent more in US aid per capita over the course of the period than it would otherwise receive. This is the average effect across countries and over time, and by no means must hold true for any given country at any given time. For some countries, even a small amount of media coverage could be worth millions in aid. This result has direct implications for the cost effectiveness of media relations activities by both nongovernmental and governmental organizations interested in affecting aid levels.
The effectiveness of aid has been a subject of much investigation. It has been charged that bilateral aid is especially culpable for being structured to reap gains for the benefactor and not for humanitarian purposes. Contrary to this belief, research indicates that it is bilateral aid, rather than multilateral aid, that has had a more significant positive effect on development in the South. The following essay will attempt to demonstrate that the presence or absence of political and civil rights in the recipient country has one of the greatest effects on the efficiency with which aid promotes development. It will also link this finding to the greater effectiveness of bilateral aid, and concludes that while aid may aggregately benefit the North more than the South at this point in time, progress relating to the political rights variable could extensively alter this balance of aid value.
Very broadly speaking, there are two schools of thought when it comes to foreign aid; the crusaders and the infidels. The crusaders hold that the United States and other economically advanced nations — the collective West — spend much too little helping poor nations overcome their poverty. The infidels maintain exactly the opposite; i.e., that the West spends too much. Which school has it right? Paradoxically, they both do.
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