Oh, Canada: Ethical Frameworks in Journalism and the Rob Ford Scandal

              dailyshowimageIn February 2014, Robyn Doolittle – a City Hall reporter for the Toronto Star – was interviewed in the US by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show[1]. While her main purpose was promoting her book on the crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, there was inevitable mockery of how this shenanigan could have happened in such a large city for so long, along with the typical American/Canadian banter. Despite the humour, Doolittle somewhat defended public voters by emphasizing the differences in journalism between the two nations. When questioned on how Ford has managed to get away with his behaviour for such an extended period of time (since he became a Councillor in City Hall in 2000), Doolittle highlighted that access to information laws in the US are perhaps taken for granted; in Canadian law, it is a much more lengthy process to get the information you need to report a fact-checked story. She also noted that Canadian journalism is considerably less concerned with the private lives of political figures, and Rob Ford is presenting a change in this dynamic. When Stewart asked if Canadian news media is conflict-based or if it exercises restraint, Doolittle points out that Canada’s news media has recently begun to shift to an American style, where things that are said in a more commentary setting, such a talk radio, are perceived as factual, and errors start to become truths. These are just some of the points brought to light by the Rob Ford scandal, and how it has exemplified some of the ethical issues in journalism. Although the Ford story began as a cutting edge news story that challenged journalism ethics, it was quickly framed by the tabloids as a celebrity meltdown. The dilemma of the Daily Show interview was not one of US/Canada relations, however, yet a friction between a reputable, well-established Canadian newspaper, and a comedic, opinion-based television program, which could explain the missing link in understanding the ethical difficulties of investigating and reporting on Rob Ford.

In the debate of journalism ethics, there is a question of if there’s a universal ethical framework or various national ethical frameworks. I argue that there is neither a universal nor a national ethical framework. Instead, there exists what I will define as transnational ethical frameworks that are divided by cultural differences, such as corporate structures/business models, political principles, and foundational ethics within individual news agencies. To exemplify these characteristics, this essay presents theoretical arguments of ethical issues of reporting on Rob Ford that translate across nations but not necessarily across all news agencies; and then looks at the practical segregations in news media agencies that are comparable in the US, the UK, and Canada, while considering the aspect of libel law in each state.

For a reputable, factual newspaper like the Toronto Star, the ethical issues of publishing this type of story strongly oppose those faced by the satirical blogging site Gawker[2]. The initial decision to publish faced the question of how much fact-checking was necessary, the confidentiality of their source, and the dilemma of paying for information. As the story became more heated, ethical boundaries Ford’s privacy and the privacy of those related to him were called into question (and does it qualify as stalking), and how news agencies should treat reporting done by other news agencies (that is, do you acknowledge that it is factual without having access to their sources).[3] While journalism sources such as Gawker may deal with these issues differently, it is arguable that these ethical debates would have happened and been dealt with in the same manner in newsrooms in other national contexts, and drawn the same conclusion. One can therefore draw parallels of ethical frameworks not by nations, but by transnational factors that influence a news agency’s ethics of reporting and publishing.

Ethical Journalism: Where the Ethical Boundaries Lie

In the timeline of events both before and after the publication of the Toronto Star’s headline on the alleged video, the debate on ethical journalism most likely would have occurred in April, as Doolittle and fellow reporter Kevin Donovan deliberated how to deal with the information they’d been given. As Doolittle and others have suggested[4], the Rob Ford story signified a shift in the landscape of journalism in Canada. Shapiro (2014) would suggest, however, that the Ford story did not signify a shift in Canadian journalism, per say, but instead exemplified the controversies in ethical boundaries for a certain type of news agency, one that’s values are paralleled in other nations, thus the argument for transnational ethical frameworks. The debate therefore lies in how we define responsible journalism, what qualifies as media ethics, and who is held to this standard. Ethics on a global/universal scale do not exist (Couldry, 2013, p.26), making a discussion of meta-ethics (operating in a normative framework) a difficult conversation with multiple contestations (Couldry, Madianou, & Pinchevski, 2013, p.8). We can, however, think of ethical frameworks in a categorical sense, by considering practical measures, such as corporate structures, political positions, etc. This transnational ethical framework assists in describing the behaviour of journalists within news agencies around the world that have a common understanding of their purpose. The opinion that responsible journalism follows the philosophy of participating for the betterment of the public good (Merritt, 1998,p.96;Couldry, 2013,p.15) is limiting, in that the perception of the ‘public good’ is highly contestable, and as Couldry (2013) notes, “the practical conditions of working journalists are inimical to ethical practice” (p.14). In addition, the journalistic practice defies the establishment of ethical standards (Zelizer, 2013, p.271) by pushing boundaries preconceived notions of journalism ethics, as the world has seen recently through scandals such as the News of the World, Edward Snowden and Wikileaks, and, as I will argue in Canada, the Rob Ford crack video.

As previously mentioned, one of the primary concerns of the Toronto Star was the degree of fact-checking and anonymity; at what point can a ‘responsible’ journalist publish something as ‘truth’ that they themselves have only been exposed to in a limited context? Dayan (2013) explains that the danger of decontextualizing a statement or source is that once it is validated by the media, it tends to be accepted by all parties (p.163). On this thought, he refers to Lyotard (1988), who states “reality is a status of referent that results from the effectuation procedures of fact-establishment” (p.32). In actuality, once the Star published the story and made the claim, despite Ford’s continual denial, there was little doubt that the video existed, and more so a collective effort by the media and the public to obtain the video from the source. Instead of speculation for the truth, it became a waiting game for the next big move by either the media or the Mayor. As Thompson (2007) points out, the increase in the prevalence of political scandal is not the result of the lowering moral standards of politicians, but a change in the moral conventions used to assess the behaviour of politicians (p.262). Once Gawker published the headline that the video was for sale, I would argue the Toronto Star had little choice but to publish the story due to extenuating factors such as competition. Had Gawker not been a factor, the Toronto Star may have been more hesitant, and taken more time to back rumour with fact, and ensure they were not breaching Ford’s right to reputation[5].

In conjunction to the practice of fact-checking, academics in the field of ethics often highlight the importance of truth-seeking as an ethical standard in journalism. Couldry (2013) suggests that truth-seeking is not only vital to journalism, but is a “value for all effective forms of human organization” (p.16). Thurth-seeking fits into Couldry’s (2013) broader ethical framework that he composes of three elements: accuracy, the aim to truth; sincerity, the act of only making statements that align with what you believe; and care, the disposition to show care for the common characteristics of interaction that the media make possible (p.25). While perhaps these characteristics must be revisited and considered in the actions of journalists, Couldry’s virtues are idealistic, and do not define the standards by which even responsible journalists work. As O’Neill (2013) notes, “since the disciplines of truth-seeking are constraining, appeals to truth-seeking can at most support conceptions of media freedom that incorporate the relevant constraints” (p.25). Although responsible journalism ideally aims to seek the truth, circumstances exist that surpass the importance of this virtue, as was the case in the publication of the alleged Rob Ford video. It was put into practice that although the utopian virtues of ethics exist in the newsroom, they are separated from the behaviour of journalists by other extenuating factors that influence actions.

Revisiting Couldry’s (2013) ethics element of ‘care’, the Rob Ford scandal acts as a prime example of how respect for the interactions that the media make possible – a component of journalism ethics – can become side-lined by other weighted priorities in the behaviour of journalists. While the Toronto Star is a well-respected liberal news agency ( though Shapiro (2014) views this to be irrelevant, as it is a differing paradigm from that of ethics), the decision to contribute to the betterment of public life outweighed the importance of ‘care’, consequentially creating tensions in the interactions of the media with politicians in Toronto. When considering this situation, it is not only external factors such as competition that were integral to decision-making, but components of ethics that conflicted with one another.

An important consideration in the ethical dilemmas of the publishing of the Rob Ford scandal is power in the newsroom. An editorial piece – written as a follow-up to the publication by a writer at the Star – focuses on the role of the Star’s lawyer, who was closely involved in the decision of if publishing anonymous sources in this case was irresponsible journalism, and broke the Star’s policy on confidential sources (Gunn, 2013). In this sense, can the journalist be solely responsible for their ethical actions, or do other figures within the same newsroom hold more weighted power? Undoubtedly, certain powers pressure journalists, and manipulate journalist behaviour. As Silverstone ( 2007) argues, the current crisis in journalism ethics is due to the “capacity of the global media to fulfil their responsibilities to a world which at the same time, in its political and economic dynamics, continues to undermine that capacity” (p.163); for example, there are media outlets that “embody the more commercial pole with relatively little journalistic autonomy and where economic capital dominates over journalism’s cultural capital (Hanitzsch, 2011, p.479-480). If we think of editors, newsroom lawyers, and business directors, as collectively pushing for political and economic dynamics, there is a system that is consistently conflicting with the purpose and goals of the journalist. These dynamics act as the controlling forces of the ethical framework under which the journalist operates, and work in various ways across different countries, hence putting into practice transnational ethical frameworks.

Ethics in Practice: Transnational Ethical Frameworks and Libel Law

In the US, the story of Rob Ford has been little more than a farce – a series of YouTube videos, late-night comedy sketches, and blog posts asking “Is this guy actually a politician?” In the UK, the Rob Ford crack video story became the second most-read item on BBC’s global news website (Fernandes & Kline, 2014). At the Toronto Star, however, the Rob Ford story and the uncovering of the infamous crack video has been a dilemma of journalism ethics, and how far a reputable newspaper can push the envelope. While the stories are very different, one could compare the decision to publish to the struggle faced the New York Times and the Guardian on Edward Snowden, or the unethical behaviour or the phone-hacking scandals and the Leveson Inquiry; the comparison is in the decision to publish information obtained in an unethical, irresponsible manner[6]. I argue that in terms of ethical decision-making in the newsroom, equivalent ethical divisions and areas of contestation can be found across the UK, the US, and Canada; divisions in the news media are based on other factors than national ethical values, such as views on the role of the journalist. I will however make the case that the element of the ‘national’ is brought into the deliberation of ethical frameworks through the workings of defamation law, and the different law systems used by each country.

Divisions in ethical frameworks implemented by journalists can in part be explained through perceptions of journalists’ role. These perceptions are not only defined by the journalist themselves, but are embedded in the structure and purpose of the news agency they represent. According to Hanitzsch (2011), there are three key areas of contestation in journalists’ role perceptions: interventionism, power distance, and market orientation (p.481). Interventionism describes journalists who pursue specific missions or promote certain values. In this case, journalists can either be involved – whereby they are socially committed and assertive in their reporting – or uninvolved – where they maintain objectivity, neutrality, and impartiality. Power distance is a journalist’s position towards the allocation of power in society. Journalists either act as a ‘Fourth Estate’, or as a loyal opportunist who collaborates with ruling elites in political processes. Lastly, a contested area of role perception is market orientation, which dictates how a journalist perceives his or her audience; market orientation is higher in journalism cultures that “subordinate goals to the logic of the market”, and lower in cultures that prioritise public interest and use the dissemination of information as a tool to create an informed citizenry.[7]

In simpler terms, these three divisions can be viewed as the foundational values of specific news agencies (interventionism), political principles (power distance), and corporate structures (market orientation). In various combinations, these choices form an ethical framework individual to each news agency, but that categorizes it into a broader spectrum of journalism practice. While these divisions are not themselves ‘ethics’, they have a strong role in determining ethical behaviour. Applying these variables to the case of Rob Ford and the decision to publish, it becomes clear how other news agencies even in the same country, like the Sun News Network (which according to Shapiro (2014) is the Canadian equivalent of Fox News in the US) would consider extremely different factors than did the Toronto Star (which works more similarly to a newspaper like The Guardian in the UK).

Although it is a large topic that cannot be fully unpack in this essay, libel/defamation law and the law systems that constrain journalists in different countries is integral to the question of ethical frameworks and ethical behaviour. Despite my argument of transnational ethical frameworks, it is one factor that operates at the national level, and visibly influences ethics in the newsroom. The UK, the US, and Canada all operate under Common Law systems, yet libel law has transpired differently in each country. In Canadian courts, freedom of speech is more balanced with the right to reputation (Shapiro, 2014). The UK, however, reformed its defamation law in 2013, and it is now required that a defamatory claim must have caused or be likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant (The National Archives, 2013). This reform acted in response to the ‘chilling effect’ that libel law has had on the freedom of expression, and legal threats faced by journalists in the UK. It also acts against ‘libel tourism’, whereby foreigners would come to the UK to sue journalists, where their defamation charges were likely to be accepted (The Guardian, 2013). With the consideration of libel law alone, it is evident that the Rob Ford scandal probably would have disseminated under different circumstances, and the ethics of anonymous sourcing would have likely been more highly contemplated.

In the US, libel law was widely defined by the case of the New York Times vs. Sullivan in the Supreme Court[8]. Due to the result of this case, it is now implied that Congress will make no law that impedes the freedom of expression, which will always be prioritized in court. According to Shapiro (2014), American journalists would have nothing to lose on Rob Ford, and the story would have proliferated with considerable less consideration of ethics and responsible journalism.

In Canada, “truth or justification is a complete defence against libel in Canadian law” (Cohen and McLean, 2014); that is, if the fact is true, it has a full defence for libel. In the case of the Rob Ford video, as long as the reporters published their own experience of viewing the video, they were not making untrue claims that could have subjected them to a lawsuit. The differentiation of libel law in practice in each country is a major factor in the previously discussed ethics of truth-seeking and fact-checking, and supports the argument that ethical frameworks in different nations may be further paralleled or segregated by similar/differing law systems that dictate the degree to which ethical virtues affect journalist behaviour.


                  Despite the argument that Canadian journalism is tempered by the Canadian culture for greater respect for authority and the “reserved nature of Canadian social intercourse” (Desbarats, 1987, p.A7), there are several more factors in considering journalism ethics than the national reputation for politeness and manners. Factors beyond ethics have proven to prevail in journalist behaviour, and “the fight is on for ever-more lurid stories both online and off” (Phillips, 2013, p.261). Foucault ( 1994) writes that in order for a person to have ethical behaviour, the individual must be free to make moral judgements[9]. As this essay has argued however, journalists are not free to do so; they are constrained by external factors that define the limitations of the ethical frameworks in which they operate. Unfortunately for Rob Ford, both ethical virtues and factors such as corporate structures, political principles, and foundational aspects of news agencies are all forces collectively working to bring him down.

 Works Cited

Blatchford, C. (2013, November 8). Paid-for video new journalism low; Rob Ford: New footage of Toronto mayor in full rant bought by newspaper and posted online. Vancouver, BC, Canada: The Vancouver Sun.

Couldry, N. (2013). Why Media Ethics Still Matters. In S. J. Ward, Global Media Ethics: Problems and Perspectives (pp. 13-29). West Sussex, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Couldry, N., Madianou, M., & Pinchevski, A. (2013). Ethics of Media: An Introduction. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 1-18). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dayan, D. (2013). On Whose Terms Are You Shown?:(or, at least, following what principles?). In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 161-177). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Desbarats, P. (1987, December 11). Canadian Journalism respects privacy staying out of the gutter. Toronto, ON, Canada: The Globe and Mail.

Doolittle, R. (2014, February 7). The Daily Show . (J. Stewart, Interviewer)

Fernandes, S., & Kline, A. (2014, January 28). Rob Ford Around the World: What International Coverage Spotlighted about Differences in Media Law. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from The Canadian Journalism Project: http://j-source.ca/article/mayor-and-media-how-toronto’s-news-gave-j-students-crash-course-media-law-and-journalism-eth##world

Foucault, M. (1994). In P. Rabinow, Ethics: The Essential Works of Michel Foucault. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Gunn, F. (2013, April 6). Reporting on Rob Ford. Toronto, ON, Canada: The Toronto Star.

Hanitzsch, T. (2011). Populist disseminators, detached watchdogs, critical change agents, and opportunist facilitators:Professional milieus, the journalistic field, and autonomy in 18 countries. The International Communication Gazette, 477-494.

Lyotard, J.-F. (1988). Le Differend. Paris: Minuit.

Merritt, D. (1998). Public Journalism and Public Life. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

O’Beirne, R., & Kolm, J. (2014, January 28). Time to Publish: How Gawker drove the story forward. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from The Canadian Journalism Project: http://j-source.ca/article/mayor-and-media-how-toronto’s-news-gave-j-students-crash-course-media-law-and-journalism-eth

O’Neill, O. (2013). Media Freedoms and Media Standards. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 21-38). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Phillips, A. (2013). Journalism, Ethics and the Impact of Competition. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 255-270). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Shapiro, I. (2014, April 8). Phone Interview. (K. Fuller-Jackson, Interviewer)

Silverstone, R. (2007). Media and Morality: on the rise of the mediapolis. Cambridge: Polity Press.

The Guardian. (2013, December 31). Libel: new Defamation Act will reverse ‘chilling effect’, ministers claim. The Guardian. UK: Press Association.

The National Archives. (2013). Defamation Act 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2014, from legislation.gov.uk: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2013/26/crossheading/requirement-of-serious-harm/enacted

Thompson, J. B. (2007). The Nature of Political Scandal. In R. Negrine, & J. Stanyer, The Political Communication Reader (pp. 261-265). London: Routledge.

United States Courts. (n.d.). New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). Retrieved April 17, 2014, from Supreme Court Landmarks: http://www.uscourts.gov/multimedia/podcasts/Landmarks/NewYorkTimesvSullivan.aspx

Zelizer, B. (2013). When Practice is Undercut by Ethics. In N. Couldry, M. Madianou, & A. Pinchevski, Ethics of Media (pp. 271-285). Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

[1] See Doolittle, 2014; edited transcript in Appendix A

[2] A brief background of the Rob Ford scandal is given in Appendix A (See O’Beirne & Kolm, 2014)

[3] See Shapiro, 2014.

[4] See Stewart, 2014; and Blatchford, 2013.

[5] The right to reputation is a part of libel law, which will be discussed in Section 2.

[6] I acknowledge the differences in the various scandals, but for the purpose of this essay, I have chosen not to elaborate on the case of each individual scandal, and instead use the examples as a reference point to demonstrate the common ethical dilemmas across various news agencies and nations.

[7] See Hanitzsch, 2011, p.481.

[8] In 1960, the New York Times published an ad criticizing the Montgomery, Alabama police department and their treatment of civil rights protestors. The police commissioner, Sullivan, won his appeal in the Supreme Court of Alabama, but after arguing the case to the US Supreme Court pleading the First Amendment and winning their case, setting the tone for freedom of expression in American journalism. (United States Courts, 2014)

[9] See Phillips, 2013, p.262.

 Appendix A: Brief Background of Rob Ford Scandal

Before differentiating between ethical frameworks used by different news agencies, it is important to outline the unravelling of the Rob Ford scandal, and the ethical issues that were faced by the Toronto Star. Years before word of a video of the Toronto Mayor smoking crack cocaine ever emerged, Rob Ford was already making headlines. He was commonly seen in a drunken stupor in public and at political events, and was known for his aggressive behaviour both at work and at home. On April 1, 2013, Robyn Doolittle received a call from an anonymous source claiming to possess a video of the Mayor smoking crack. The source was demanding $100,000 for the video, and although he did not initially show the reporter the video, he eventually did in a future meeting on May 3. Meanwhile, the video was also shown to John Cook, the editor for the American tabloid website Gawker, who then proceeded to contact acquaintances at CNN to try and pool resources to purchase the video. Soon after, Gawker published a headline that read: “For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine”. The following day, the Toronto Star published on its front page “Ford in ‘Crack Video Scandal’”, along with a photo of Ford that was given to Doolittle by the initial seller of the video. A crowd-funding campaign was quickly started to raise money to purchase the video, and the Mayor immediately aggressively defended himself – along with his brother, Doug Ford – and the story was picked up by every major news agency in the city, some of whom claimed they were also contacted with an offer to purchase the video. After months of media speculation and a war of words between the Fords and the Toronto news media, in October, 2013, Toronto Police announced that in a separate drug investigation, they have retrieved the alleged video on a hard drive. (Kolm and O’Beirne, 2014)

Appendix B: Edited Transcript of the Daily Show

Part 1 of Interview:

Jon: So there’s rumours of domestic abuse, drugs, and absenteeism, and everyone waited a year…(laughter). How does he get away with this? …What keeps him loveable and in charge?

Robyn: Well, part of it, I think you guys take for granted how great your access to information laws… That’s a big part of the problem when you’re reporting on these issues, is it’s so hard to follow up on this stuff, and it took a full year to follow up on this investigation.

Part 2 of Interview:

Jon: What is Canada’s digestive process for how they destroy people? Because I know what we [Americans] do.

Robyn: You know part of the reason, because you asked me earlier, that something wasn’t done earlier – In Canada, we are much less comfortable with getting into people’s personal lives. So when I was writing the book, I was really torn about including details about his siblings, his wife, who are not elected officials. And that is the part of the story that is truly crazy, is the sister, two of his siblings struggled with hard drug addiction. His sister’s estranged husband murdered her boyfriend. She was shot in the face by another boyfriend…with her father’s gun… These details are hard to be pulled out…

Jon: Because of your culture.

Robyn: Because we’re just like, that’s their private business.

Part 3 of Interview:

Jon: What is your news media like up there? Are they conflict-based or do they also exercise restraint?

Robyn:…We are, very recently, evolving to an American style – thank you, America – where we’re seeing like talk radio… And I think talk radio contributed to this because the Fords ( there’s two of them, there’s a brother as well) will say things that aren’t true, and they’ll look into cameras, and just talk about it as fact. There’s not that sort of pause of fact-checking. And with talk radio, those errors become true.

Jon: Amplified.

Robyn: Right.

Jon:…Oh, you guys are going to start going in the shitter pretty soon. Yeah, it’s an absoluteloy crippling phenomenon that paralyzes a country’s ability to address its own problems, which in many ways, is the story of Rob Ford.

Robyn: And then we’re going to need a Daily Show to point out those hypocrisies.

*Photo courtesy of CTV News



The Representative Captain Phillips

Barkhad Abdi Captain Phillips Still





Cultural and ethnic stereotypes have been instilled in Western societies, and are continually becoming stronger and more prominent in today’s globalized world. Western processes of stereotyping and the alienation of the Other have strengthened and become increasingly problematic, hence bringing authors such as Amin (2012) to call for action, stating that “without new sentiments, there will be little momentum behind scripts of minorities and strangers as equals, and within Europe, no reason for publics to question powerful national and state narratives of belonging that prey on fear and animosity” (p.113). The national and state narratives to which Amin is referring extend to the media of the entire Western world, and are frequently in both the media and other forms of communication. A prime example is the feature film Captain Phillips (2013), which is the focus of this essay. The film, based on a true story, depicts the plight of a captain and his crew aboard a container ship that is seized by Somali pirates. While the audience is easily convinced that the film portrayal parallels reality, I would argue that the film strengthens Western stereotypes and risks the further alienation of Western audiences from the developing world and its people.
In applying theories of Othering, stereotyping, and conventions of media representation to the example of Captain Phillips, this essay will demonstrate how this film is contributing to the solidarity of these issues within Western society. The final key point discussed will be, with reference to Amin’s (2012) former statement, the imbedded fear and evilness of the Other in Western societies, and this concept is highly visible and pertinent to the film Captain Phillips.
Captain Phillips (2013) is the story of American Captain Richard Phillips and his crew who are taken hostage on a container ship – the Maersk Alabama – by a group of four Somali pirates. It is based on the book that the “real” Richard Phillips and his wife wrote about their story. Director Paul Greengrass chooses to eliminate the wife’s storyline, and shifts focus to the story of the pirates, and more specifically to their leader Muse, and that of the captain and his crew aboard the ship. In an interview with the Economist, Greengrass explains that he felt he clearly expresses the motives of the pirates (E.F., 2013), blurring the lines of who the true victims really are. The film opens by establishing the background for each character; Phillips saying goodbye to his wife in Vermont as they head to the airport, and provides a vivid contrast as Muse, selected by gangsters in his quiet Somali village, is forced to select his crew from among a rowdy crowd of men. The plot predominantly focuses on the struggle of the pirates to maintain control and the sacrifice of Phillips for his crew (for a detailed plot, refer to Appendix A), but ultimately the American military is successful in killing the remaining pirates and saving Captain Phillips.
Captain Phillips (2013) appears to be a classic example of “hero” vs. “villain”. It highlights and brings attention to a prominent global issue and purports to sympathise with the victimization of innocent Americans. The paradox, however, is in the story of the Somali pirates; the film raises the question of the victimization of the Somalis as well. The audience is initially driven towards feelings of compassion and pity towards the life and poverty of Muse, until the ‘serenity’ is abruptly disturbed by the arrival of criminal gangsters who subjugate him to violence and evil, setting the tone for his character for the film. Undeniably, the hero that emerges is the captain, an outcome that raised issues among the actual crew, who suggest that Richard Phillips acted irresponsibly, and placed his crew in the situation by not following orders to stay out of Somali waters (Escobedo, 2013). Further, he did not give himself in order to save his crew, yet acted irresponsibly and compliantly with the pirates, which resulted in him boarding the lifeboat (Escobedo, 2013) . This strategic change by the director exemplifies how not only can film form an antagonist, but it also attaches specific qualities to the image of the hero.
An integral aspect of the analysis of the film is the meaning behind the theory of ‘Othering’. Its roots delving into psychoanalysis and Western philosophy, the ‘Other’ is anyone and everyone who is not oneself; It includes those who one may know closely, and those who may seem worlds apart. Our relationships to others is what forms human experience. The ‘Other’ further is self-reflective; in recognition of difference between oneself and others, one constructs his or her own identity (Silverstone, 1999, p.135). Further, the stereotyping process of ‘Othering’ plays upon the concepts of power and knowledge to generate definitions of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ (Foucault, 1980). That is, by defining what makes us different, we create judgments of the ‘Other’ and create hierarchies. In a broader sense, commonalities in Western societies construct the sense of identifying as ‘us’; we share societal norms that allow us to identify with one another and feel solidarity. Therefore, if you are not part of this grouping, you are innately the ‘Other’. Said (1978) places this idea in the context of the Orient: “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (p.1). That is, the distinctive qualities that make the Orient – and other non-Western societies – stand out among Western social norms create a distance and separation of it within Western experience.

Othering and Imagination

Imagination is a key dimension of understanding media representations (Orgad 2012, p.16), and Western preconceived notions of understanding and meaning of the Other are central to the interpretation of Greengrass’ Captain Phillips (2013). In an increasingly globalized world, transformations in our understanding and in the way we imagine are largely shaped by representation; “the process of producing meanings [is] through the creation of symbolic forms and content” (Orgad, 2012, p.15) and thus is the catalyst behind our imaginative understanding of the world. These catalysts are a primary importance in the formation of power structures that media representations enforce. Foucault suggests that this discourse – which is perpetually generated by the media – produces knowledge, which in turn can generate hegemonic structures of power (Orgad, 2012, p.27-28).
Keeping in mind the banality and acceptance for these structures, the build-up of the plot as Captain Phillips parallels such power dynamics; the normalcy of the American suburban life of Richard Phillips contrasts starkly with the chaotic set-up of organized crime in a decimated Somali coastal village of Muse. In this case, the knowledge of Somali piracy is substantially limited by representations, both in the film and in other media; one innately evil and labeled the antagonist, while the other is the hero, and the one that the audience will predictably be rooting for to prevail. Ironically though, the audience is also subtly persuaded to sympathize with the Somali fishermen who are forced by outsiders into piracy.
The notion of the Other is of further critical importance to the analysis of Captain Phillips (2013), as it contributes towards the divisiveness and unequal relationship the audience may form with Phillips and Muse. Pickering argues that a characteristic feature of the Other is an ambivalence of response to it, belying its apparent fixity (Pickering, 2001, p.64). That is, we have a preconditioned acceptance of representations of the Other, highly dependant on stereotypical traits of former media representations that embed our imagination. It is with this that one could explain why an audience does not necessarily feel obliged to think critically of the representation of the Somali village; we have seen these images of poverty and desperation, and are familiar with these evoked feelings of compassion. Additionally, Otherness is a denial of belonging, and can be seen as an unrelenting sign of not belonging (Pickering, 2001, p.79). Undoubtedly, the partition of belonging and not belonging works as a defense mechanism, and a security of identity; by ‘us’ not being ‘them’, ‘we’ are reassured of being ‘us’. It is with this in mind, that one sees the ambiguity of cinematic representations in Captain Phillips (2013), and how the film comments on our relationship to poverty-stricken nations and their peoples.
In Amin’s Images Community (2012), the author puts this relationship into the context of European identity by suggesting that liberal intolerance in Europe alienates those who do not associate with this so-called ‘liberal’ identity. Accordingly, “negative feelings and associated moves to name and shame, curtail and contain, discipline and eject, domesticate and assimilate, are being defended – indeed deemed necessary – in the name of Europe’s liberal heritage” (Amin, 2012, p.122). Thus actions and sentiments in Western societies towards the Other are not only justified, but are essential to the protection of the liberal state and society. In its portrayal of Somalia as barbaric, corrupt, and villainous, one can automatically distance oneself from this scenario by invoking sentiments of pity, compassion, and even fear towards these characters. Captain Phillips (2013) thus further alienates the Somali characters and dictates the manner in which the audience perceives their predicament.
In the making of Greengrass’ film, the director purposefully chose Somali immigrants living in the United States to effectively embody the Somali characters (E.F., 2013). Barkhad Abdi – the actor who plays Muse – is a Somali American, and in reality relates more so to the livelihood of Phillips than Muse . An actor like Tom Hanks probably would have had to learn skills such as the use of weaponry, fighting, and strong swimming; Abdi had to complete intense training in preparation for the film. In an interview with Christiane Amanpour (2013), Abdi elaborates that when he was first cast, the Somali American community felt strongly that the film would be an embarrassment to Somali people. When asked about his interpretation of Somali representation in the film, he explains that growing up, “all I heard was all sort[s] of bad stuff about my country and everything going on” (Amanpour, 2013). The juxtaposition of the reality of Abdi and his American life to the character convincingly embodied by Abdi illustrates one of the dilemmas of cultural representations and Othering, and further emphasizes the importance of approaching media representations critically.


Preconceived stereotypes are key to audiences’ perceptions of this film. They are utilized as a cinematic tool that evokes a desired emotional reaction from the audience. Pickering (2001) suggests that stereotypes initiate at the ideological construct of normalcy. The naturalization and acceptance of norms is taken for granted, and therefore anything that defies this normalcy can be stereotyped. That is, “stereotypicality is authorized, and gains in authority, through this repression of the innocent, made to appear natural” (p.70). A Western audience takes for granted the state of Captain Phillips and his American lifestyle. In contrast – the life of Muse and his crew of pirates in Somalia – stereotypical representations are reinforced and legitimized.
Stereotypes specifically developed by Western media representations of Somalia are an additional factor to this film, as its turbulent history over the past twenty-five years paints a bleak picture of the African country. Structured Western ideas and imaginative narratives of what this African society entails create a baseline of understanding and an expectation of the stereotypical imagery should be used to represent this poverty-stricken state. As noted previously the director attempts to evoke feelings of sympathy for the pirates and attempts to portray them as victims to organized African cartels. Media that has covered the political turmoil and warfare in this country however, as Besteman (1996) suggests, has significantly oversimplified its cultural representation in Western media. The dilemma of misrepresentation thus raises questions “cross-cultural understanding, academic assumptions, Western epistemological biases, and deeply rooted American fears and prejudices” (p.128). With deeply rooted prejudices concerning Somalia’s history and conjured images that Western media has associated with its unrest, the imagination is guided to have specific expectations about the Somali subjects in the film and their lifestyle potentially further justifying the ‘Othering’ of the Somali characters and their lifestyle in the film. In Besteman’s quote, we must consider how these representations and assumptions not only reflect Somalia, but also are reflexive and critical of the condition of Western societies.
Pickering (2001) addresses the issue of stereotyping across cultures, and suggests that descriptively and evaluatively stereotypical images of minorities and outgroups act as sources of misapprehension and vehicles of ideological views and beliefs, and as manufactured consent (p.23). Media that utilizes stereotypical imagery and ideas of other cultures increasingly limits the ability to break the barriers of these stereotypes, and instead reinforce these limitations: such is the case of Captain Phillips. By giving a minimal amount of screen time and explanation behind the story of Muse and his fellow pirates, and by placing them within a specific context, director Greengrass is subsequently limiting the ability to imagine beyond stereotypical scenes and sentiments of Somalia, and effectively reinforce pre-existing stereotypes and judgments.

Evil and Fear

The notion of fear prevails as a dominant force in Captain Phillips; not only due to the violent, turbulent scenarios that play out in the film, but also by strengthening and confirming that Western fear of the Other is justifiable and necessary. Amin (2012) addresses this fear as European xenophobia; “the vulnerable, unfortunate and stigmatized are being cast as the enemy that society as a whole is called to repel” (p.124). Fear is furthermore innately connected with the concept of evil. It is through the framing of fear and evil that the media allows for a Western audience to formulate judgments of the unknown. Judgments are thus the connecting factor that creates a relationship of connection or disconnection to the other, establishing classifications of good and evil (Silverstone, 2007, p.57). In Captain Phillips, these judgments are not only formulated, but strongly reinforced and integral to the storyline of the film. As previously discussed, the audience distinctly knows which character type will prevail, and which one will lose the battle.
The ability of film to evoke extremities of emotion functions as a tool to establish relationships both between characters within the film and between the audience and characters. By developing sentiments of being threatened, hostility, and anxiety towards the Other (Hall, 1997, p.238) – in this case, the pirates – one is establishing an inferiority of the Other, and hence enforcing personal superiority among the known ‘us’ or ‘self’ (Orgad, 2012, p. 54). According to Hall (1997), the recognition of difference and the Other is closely tied to racial stereotyping; in the case of Captain Phillips, these stereotypes arise through violence, chaos, and even a sense of desperation among the Somali characters, and can hence evoke sentiments of fear in a predominantly Western audience (p.238-239).
As Eagleton (2010) describes, evil can be seen as a purposeless wickedness, and not concerned with practical consequences; it does not ask ‘why’ because its ‘raison d’être’ to proclaim that everything has no meaning or will, and is purely about the exercise of power on the subject of its desire (p. 103). The limited build-up of the Somali pirates at the beginning of the film provides very little insight as to their purpose and motives, giving the potential to view their acts of meaningless expressions of violence purely for the sake of sadistic pleasure, and further alienating them from the rationalized Western ideals and motives of Captain Phillips and his crew.
A key issue with the portrayal of ‘evil’ in Captain Phillips is that evil has become a taken-for-granted category of analysis and judgment (Silverstone, 2007, p.59). That is, evil is automatically labeled to a specific entity – in this case, the Other and unknown: the Somali pirates. In an interview with the Economist (2013), Greengrass explains that he believes the motives of the Somali pirates were clear:
“[They] are at the end of a long chain of warlord gangster activity that stretches far away from those beaches. I wanted to explain that this began originally as the response of fishing communities to over-fishing and toxic-waste dumping, but very quickly became gangster activity. I wanted to show that these were desperate young men with no chance of employment, and that they generally culturally worship America” (E.F., 2013).
Victimization is thus a trivial aspect of the film, as emotions of pity can be cast upon all characters. As the character of Captain Phillips is stuck on the lifeboat with the pirates, a relationship forms with the youngest pirate, a teenage boy, and a sense of sorrow and pity is evoked as the audience develops an acute awareness of the dire circumstances of this character. The depth of knowledge on the ‘evil’ characters conflicts the desire to label good and evil, and raises the possibility that greater evils dominate those whom may be initially judged as evil.
Greengrass’ comment that these people “generally worship America” is further problematic, in that it expresses the sentiment of the Other or alien figure’s desire to assimilate. Western liberal democratic outlook, as Amin suggests, pushes to define, contain, vilify and discipline the Other (Amin, 2012, p.134); it aims to rejuvenate the other into the confines of what is ‘good’. Evil is thus redeemable, and the audience is given hope that the evil and feared can be freed and turned good; if not, however, evil shall fail and be doomed, as prevails in Captain Phillips with the ultimate death of most of the pirates, and the capture of Muse.
Captain Phillips (2013) is an excellent representation of the present-day story of the American hero. It plays on pre-existing stereotypes and judgments of the Other to tell the story of how the good hero prevails, and the evil villain ultimately meets his doom. As outlined, by demonstrating uses of Othering, stereotyping, and interpretations of evil and fear, it exemplifies typical representations of distant cultures and antagonistic characters that Western society only encounter and imagine through media. It gives little consideration to a new narrative that could be told about Somali piracy, and therefore acts as a prime example of the current “state narratives that prey on fear and animosity” (Amin, 2012, p.113). Even the aspect of victimization and pity towards the pirates are sentiments that Western media has played on before.
Amin (2012) states that there is currently no counter-narrative, and no perception of the escalations of xenophobia as unnecessary and unjust (p.126). A critical question hence is does Captain Phillips have the potential as a story to create an alternative narrative: one that defies stereotypes of the Other, and that breaks conventional views of good and evil. The book, after all, was a different storyline from that told in the film, and the details of the actual events that emerged differed greatly as well.
A large aspect of the film and its analysis that has not been discussed is the significance of racial stereotyping. This issue has a deep, controversial history, and is composed as an extremely large discourse on its own. It is a topic, however, that can be applied and interconnected with the three key ideas approached in this essay, and has a strong presence in the analysis of Captain Phillips (2013).
Captain Phillips (2013) arguably does not bring a new discourse to the frontier of the debate of cultural representation and global issues in media representations. It does, however, combine two categories of sentiments that are commonly evoked with Western media: compassion and fear. This juxtaposition is what has generated an intriguing reaction towards the film. While Amin’s new narrative is not necessarily achieved in Captain Phillips (2013), the film does act as a complex reflection of where this narrative currently lies.

1. Amanpour, C. (Interviewer) & Abdi, B. (Interviewee). (2013). Full Interview: Amanpour, Barkhad Abdi [Interview transcript & video clip]. Retrieved from CNN web site: http://
2. Amin, Ash. (2012). Imagines Community. In Amin, Ash, Land of Strangers (p.111-136). Cambridge: Polity Press.
3. Besteman, C. (1996). Representing Violence and ‘Othering’ Somalia. Cultural Anthropology, 11(1). pp.120-133. Retrieved from: http:// http://www.jstor.org/stable/656211/
4. Callahan, Maureen. (2013, October 13). Crew members: ‘Captain Phillips’ is one big lie. NY Post. Retrieved from: http://nypost.com/ 2013/10/13/crew-members-deny-captain-phillips-heroism/
5. De Luca, M. et al. (Producer) & Greengrass, P. (Director). (2013). Captain Phillips (Motion picture). USA: Columbia Pictures.
6. E.F. (Interviewer) & Greengrass, P. (Interviewee). (2013). On making “Captain Phillips” [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from The Economist web site: http://www.economist.com/
7. Eagleton, T. (2010). On Evil. London: Yale University Press.
8. Escobedo, Tricia. (2013, October 8). Controversy Surrounds New Tom Hanks Movie, ‘Captain Phillips’. CNN. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/08/showbiz/captain-phillips-movie-controversy/
9. Foucault. (1980). Power/Knowledge. Hertfordshire: Harvester Press Limited.
10. Hall, S. (1997). Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage Publications.
11. Orgad, Shani. (2012). Media Representation and the Global Imagination. London: Polity Press.
12. Pickering, M. (2001). Stereotyping: The Politics of Representation. Hampshire, UK: Palgrave.
13. Said, E. (1978). Orientalism. London: Penguin Books.
14. Silverstone, R. (2007). Media and Morality. Cambridge: Polity Press.
15. Silverstone, R. (1999). Why Study the Media?. London: Sage Publications.

Appendix A
The story depicts Phillips as a veteran ship captain who methodically strategizes and selects a route that navigates through known regions of piracy. It shows the pirates being assembled in a coastal village in Somalia, who then set out in pursuit of the ship. After repeated attempts to approach Phillips’ ship, the pirates finally succeed in boarding the ship, aggressively threatening the crew with machine guns. They immediately find Phillips and begin a negotiation process with the objective of achieving a large payday. The financial objectives of the pirates mission contrast significantly with what Phillips hopes to concede monetarily; Phillips offers them the ten thousand dollars he has in the safe, but the pirates demand millions. The crew, hidden in the engine room, manages to throw off the pirates by cutting power. When the pirates’ plan is thwarted by the wily crew, they agree to trade Phillips for Muse – as Phillips becomes the martyr in order to save the lives of his crew – and escape with the ship’s lifeboat. The Somali pirates capture Phillips, at which point the American Navy initiates a mission to reclaim control of the ship. After days spent with the pirates and attempts of Phillips to negotiate and potentially gain the trust of the pirates, the plot comes to a climax when the Navy chooses to take down the pirates. Before doing so, they manage to convince Muse to return to the ship to negotiate, at which point he’s arrested.

A Policy Paper: Somali Piracy in the Horn of Africa

Introduction and Background

Like much of the Horn of Africa, Somalia is plagued by poverty. The World Bank in 2009 estimated that 40 percent of Somalia’s population lived on less than one dollar per day and approximately 75 percent of households lived on less than two dollars per day (Gilpin, 2009). Gross national income (GNI) is also extremely low at $150 per capita (World Bank, 2012). Nearly 4 million Somalis also depend on food donations to survive (Kunertova, 2010). Further, two thirds of youth in Somalia are unemployed. Education levels are also low, even in relation to the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, with only 32.5 percent of children enrolled in primary education (Gilpin, 2009).

Political instability in Somalia has been at the forefront of Somali security issues. After the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, the government has struggled to reestablish itself and achieve successful democratic reform. Three clans make up the political divisions within the state, with Somaliland in the northwest, Puntland in the northeast and Central Somalia in the south (Gilpin, 2009). Lacking from the leadership of a centralized government, clan militia took it upon themselves to attempt to protect the territorial waters of Somalia from poachers and polluters. These groups – often using titles like the Central Somalia Coast Guard or the National Volunteer Coast Guard – would board ships that entered their waters to collect taxes and fines. Boarding these ships eventually turned to hijacking and is now regarded as piracy by the international community (Gilpin, 2009).

Somali piracy has quickly gained international attention. It has been grouped with other security issues in the Horn of Africa, such as liberation movements, guerrillas, bandits, criminal gangs, etc., all of which have been collectively labeled as terrorism (Gilpin, 2009). Somali piracy has been growing exponentially in recent years. The pirates are mostly in their late teens to their early thirties and generally are poorly educated and unemployed men. Piracy initially began to protect the fishing industry, which has been exploited by international fishing vessels. Reductions in seafood populations have impacted Somalia’s food security and gross domestic product, with today’s catch being only 10% of what it was ten years ago (Kunertova, 2010). Toxic dumping is also affecting Somali waters, especially after the 2004 tsunami when toxic and radioactive waste made its way into the Gulf of Aden. Piracy initially was the result of these threats, with fishermen working to stop foreign vessels from entering and then taxing them before they were able to leave. In 2008, there were 111 attacks and 47 hijacks, and the highest recorded ransom paid was reported at $3.2 million (Gilpin, 2009). Further, records in 2009 are believed to have surpassed those of 2008 in just the first five months of the year.

While Somali piracy poses a threat to international trade, it primarily affects national economic growth due to factors such as regional security, illicit trade, loss of revenue from reduced maritime traffic, and environmental threats (Kunertova, 2010). Piracy further threatens the livelihood of Somalis, as ships carrying food donations and other support cannot always afford armed defense. Increases in piracy could therefore worsen the malnutrition crisis already prevalent throughout the country, and in much of the Horn of Africa. It is also believed that piracy only promotes criminal activities and organized crime, and creates a greater potential threat for these issues throughout the rest of the state and its neighbouring countries (Kunertova, 2010). In order to improve the quality of life and rates of economic growth in the Horn of Africa, it is essential to resolve issues of Somali piracy and increase maritime security. Current initiatives by international parties are underway, but are failing to end piracy, and do not provide long term strategies, as they only tackle current security issues in the Gulf of Aden.

International initiatives acknowledge that Somali piracy is hindering global aid efforts within the Horn of Africa, and must therefore be resolved before implementing other economic growth strategies. The UN Resolution 1816, created in 2008 to provide recommendations for international policy to deal with piracy, has been a starting point for policy making in many states (UN Security Council, 2008). One of its main initiatives allowed foreign vessels to enter Somalia’s territorial waters, given that they had the intent of fighting acts of piracy.  Those vessels would also have to adhere to relevant international law, and were given permission to enter by the Somali government only for a period of six months. The resolution primarily aimed to minimize attacks of piracy so that food and other aid could be effectively distributed to Somalis in need. In many ways, this resolution was and still is a temporary solution, as it gives permission to foreign vessels to enter for a short period of six months, and does not provide any long term, sustainable resolutions to issues of piracy.

In response to the passing of Resolution 1816, four groups of international actors began operations to fight piracy: Combined Force 151, NATO, the European Union, and national contingents (Kunertova, 2010). Initially, Combined Force 150, led by the US in 2001, was started as a part of the war on terrorism. While this included fighting piracy, the initiative evolved in 2009 into Combined Force 151. This mission clearly stated that piracy was a part of the terrorism that the twenty sponsoring countries were battling.

NATO’s initiatives were based on the UN Security Council’s request to have armed escorts provided for vessels carrying food aid shipments. Originally, NATO relocated part of its Maritime Group from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gulf of Aden. This mission grew, however, and was replaced by Operation Ocean Shield, sending ships from the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, Turkey, and the US. This operation still remains and is expected to finish at the end of 2012.

The European Union’s response has been similar to that of NATO, but also seeks to address the EU’s trade interests and the aid required in Somalia. The mission, labeled the Atlanta-Mandate, aimed to end armed robbery and other acts of piracy. The EU also created the Maritime Security Centre in the Horn of Africa to warn vessels of risks and safety concerns in the Gulf of Aden.

Other initiatives have been taken by various states, including Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, Iran, and India. The African Union has also initiated a peacekeeping mission to secure Somali’s government and the port in Mogadishu.

Policy Options

New policy initiatives are essential to ending Somali piracy and in providing long-term solutions. As current NATO missions are scheduled to end at the completion of 2012, strategies for new missions must be put forth immediately. The UN Resolution fails to tackle some of the key issues that pertain to piracy and its motives. Environmental rehabilitation, economic growth and employment opportunities, national political reform within Somalia and other neighboring states in the Horn of Africa, and maritime security must all be addressed when drafting new resolutions.

National security is undoubtedly an inherent threat of Somali piracy and must remain a part of policy making in the Horn of Africa. It is recommended that current missions therefore be extended and continue to play a key role in international peace building strategies in the Horn of Africa. An increase in military presence by international actors could create a scenario of too high opportunity costs for Somali pirates; the risks of facing foreign military force are too high for the amount of payoff in acts of piracy. Further, if security measures throughout the Gulf increase, the port of Mogadishu could revitalize its ability to engage in global trade, improving trade opportunities across the Horn of Africa. Increasing the degree of military force within the Gulf of Aden also presents however the risk of further instability and political divisions among Somalis. Regional and ethnic cleavages have already created friction in Somali society, and an increase in military force could present an opportunity for greater warfare.

While the Somali government gave permission for foreign vessels to enter its territorial waters, the actual initiatives of these vessels was left moderately open, leaving room for each group to form their own strategies, none of which deal with the current environmental degradation in Somali waters. Piracy began due to the exploitation of fish resources and toxic dumping by foreign vessels. Though it is important to monitor vessels entering and exiting these waters, it is equally important to rebuild the depleted resources that left Somali pirates to resort to acts of terror. It is therefore recommended that new initiatives be created to begin the clean up and restoration of the Gulf of Aden, making it a hospitable and thriving environment for fish populations, and giving Somalis back a form of livelihood. Further, this initiative would aid unemployment rates among Somalis, specifically Somali youth, and present new trade and investment opportunities throughout the Horn of Africa.

One of the primary concerns raised due to piracy is the effect on food aid vessels working in the Horn of Africa. Though food and emergency aid resources are still needed in the Horn and essential to the survival of many Somalis, these initiatives must be expanded. Emergency aid responses tend to imply short-term relief. It is necessary to work on long-term strategies to achieve economic growth and improve the quality of life for Somalis and all populations in the Horn of Africa. This includes but is not limited to funding education and related infrastructure, providing wider access to medical care, improving access to clean water, and assisting local industries to grow and increase economic opportunities in the Horn of Africa. These goals can only be achieved though if aid resources are able to reach Somalia. This implies that increased national security is essential for the success of aid relief efforts.

Lastly, political reform and an acceptable level of political stability are necessary for the coordination of future policy. Somalia has lacked a government that rules its entire state since 1991 (Warbrick, 2008, p.691). Instead, it has been replaced with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). This government has only succeeded at controlling parts of Somalia, and is hindered by ongoing conflict in areas of the state. Forming a functioning, democratic government will be an important part in the solution to Somali piracy. If Somalia manages to achieve a solidified government, the processes of distribution of aid, building improved infrastructure, increasing environmental sustainability and improving national security will be simplified. Government reform, however, is not a guaranteed occurrence, and policymakers cannot depend on this happening at any given point. While it is an essential part of future growth for Somalia, it will most likely be a lengthy process. We must therefore develop policies that do not fully depend on Somali government reform and its cooperation.



Policy Recommendations

Future policy must address and encompass all threats to humanity and the environment in the Horn of Africa. That is, strategies must consider more than just maritime security in order to structure a successful long-term plan. While foreign interest by many states in providing security to the Gulf of Aden has been high, collective solutions will be essential moving forth.

As UN Resolution 1816 was successful in persuading countries to act on the issue of Somali piracy, it would be beneficial for the UN Security Council to draft a new resolution. This must address problems of access to resources, environmental degradation, security in the Gulf of Aden and the port of Mogadishu, and trade opportunities and investments throughout the Horn of Africa. New policy can then be developed through the collaboration of leading international parties, such as NATO, the EU and other states with invested interests within the Gulf of Aden. Missions and projects that emerge from this policy should be added on to current missions, as to avoid a break in the level of international involvement in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The policy recommendations provided are clearly just a starting point, and the further development of strategies is needed. These suggestions do, however, imply that long-term solutions and a collaborative global effort will be required in resolving the challenging and daunting issue of Somali piracy.




1.     Gilpin, Raymond (2009). Counting the Costs of Somali Piracy. United States Institute of Peace, 1-17.

2.     Kagwanja, Peter (2006).  Counter-terrorism in the Horn of Africa: New Security Frontiers, Old Strategies. African Security Review, 15(3), 72-86.

3.     Kunertova, Dominika et al. (2010). European anti-piracy Strategy: Somalian Piracy: Today’s Challenge Addressed by an EU Initiative. NewSecEU, 1-30.

4.     UN Security Council. (2008, June 2). SC/9344: Resolution 1816. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2008/sc9344.doc.htm.

5.     World Bank. (2012). Data: Somalia. Retrieved from http://data.worldbank.org/country/somalia.


An OpEd: The Millenium Development Goals on Water


When the Millennium Development Goals were released in September 2000, the United Nations gave the world just fifteen years to eradicate some of the worst problems facing humanity. Eradicate extreme poverty. Achieve universal primary education. Ensure environmental sustainability. Within the latter goal is Target 7.C: to cut in half, by 2015, the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. While this optimistic statement provided hope for immediate global change, the likelihood of actually achieving it seemed somewhat meek. On World Water Day held on March 22, 2012, this goal, against all odds, was achieved. The question moving forth, however, is if this goal is sustainable.

Water has quickly become the world’s most valuable resource. Three quarters of the planet is covered with water. Only three percent of that is consumable freshwater. Of that three percent, 99.9% is frozen in glaciers and ice fields, or underground. The remaining fraction of freshwater must then be divided among the world’s growing population, which has now passed seven billion people.

Water is a necessity of life. Neither humanity nor our ecosystems can survive without it.  The maintenance and sanitation of freshwater resources is also essential, and remains a significant threat to human health. Water pollution, dam construction, irrigation development, and flood control all cause the spread of preventable diseases through water consumption. Diarrheal disease (more commonly known as diarrhea), for example, is responsible for 4.1% of the global burden of disease, and kills an estimated 1.8 million people per year. 88% of this disease is related to the consumption of unsafe drinking water. As well, new concerns are now emerging associated with the consumption of contaminated water. A recent study released by the World Health Organization, for instance, expresses concerns of low levels of pharmaceuticals in drinking water that pose threats to the safety of human health.

Access to water is also a cause of armed conflict. A lack of water supply has resulted in bombings and other terrorist attacks, as well as protests in many regions, most recently in parts of India, Pakistan, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Further, it has resulted in hundreds of thousands of displaced persons searching for increased access to consumable water. A refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya is just one example and is currently housing 160,000 Somali refugees looking for water. Currently 1.2 billion people are living in areas of physical water scarcity, a number that is only expected to rise. By 2030, it is expected that 47% of the world’s population will be living in areas with an extreme lack of freshwater access.

Although Target 7.C has now technically been achieved, I believe it would be a grave oversight to consider access to water and sanitation no longer a huge threat to humanity. Even the World Health Organization’s 2004 report – which gives an update on the status of access to water since the MDG was initiated – acknowledges that the statistics on access can be misleading. When this report was published, 83% of the world had water coverage, meaning that we were on target to meet the goal of access to water prior to 2015 (which has now officially been achieved in 2012). The goal on sanitation, however, is a more difficult task, as there still remained in 2004 2.6 billion people without improved sanitation facilities. The rates of improvement also vary greatly per region, skewing the overall statistics. For example, between 1990 and 2002, South Asia was showing impressive growth of coverage, going from 71 to 84 percent. This jump though was mainly fueled by India with a population of over 1 billion. When this increase then gets factored into overall global improvement, it will make a huge difference in the statistics, since India holds such a large percentage of the world’s population. It is not, however, a good representation of improvement to global coverage. How then does this apply to our current situation? Even though we have halved the proportion of people without access, we must still consider that there are many concentrated areas suffering from extremely low levels of access to water.

Despite global increases in coverage, it is vital to consider the quality of water to which we are gaining access. In the developing world, water access is provided through the drilling of wells, and utilizes underground water resources. My immediate thought when I consider this strategy is about an orphanage I worked in outside of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The orphanage had a well, which served as the primary source of water for all the children. I would play with the kids regularly and would constantly wonder about white scabs and markings on their heads. When I finally asked the orphanage director, he said it was from water-born diseases. While statistically these children had access to freshwater, their consumption of it was only hindering their health and potentially putting their lives at risk. So even though achieving Target 7.C on paper may seem impressive, I approach it with great skepticism.

It is uplifting to hear that we have achieved at least one MDG on time, but the longevity of this achievement is uncertain. In the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon’s address on this achievement, he focuses on the question of sustainability. He states that unless we can learn to use water wisely, specifically in agriculture, we will fail to end hunger and will face bigger threats such as those of illness, drought, and famine. Even though we have made unbelievable improvements to water access in many regions, 800 million people still remain without access. It is essential that we do not stop strategizing long-term solutions for providing safe water resources that are sustainable and can carry our world’s population well into the future.


1.    Arsenault, Chris. (2011, June 29). Water Wars: 21st Century Conflicts?. AlJazeera. Retrieved from http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2011/06/2011622193147231653.html.

2.    Easterly, William (2009). How the Millennium Development Goals are Unfair to Africa. World Development 37(1), 26-35.

3.     Fugelnes, T., Mehta, M., & Virjee, K. (2005). Financing the Millennium Development Goals for Water and Sanitation: What Will It Take?. Water Resources Development 21(2), 239-252.

4.     Lenton, R., Lewis, K., & Wright, A. (2008). Water, Sanitation, and the Millennium Development Goals. Journal of International Affairs 61(2), 247-258.

5.     United Nations. (2012, March 15). Secretary General SG/SM 14163. Retrieved from http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2012/sgsm14163.doc.htm.

6.     World Health Organization. (2012). Water Sanitation Health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/2011/pharmaceuticals/en/index.html.

7.     Winpenny, J. (2003). Financing Water for All. Report for the World Panel on Financing Water Infratsructure. <http://www.worldwatercouncil.org&gt;.