The CNN effect is a concept describing the influence of real-time, 24-hour news coverage on world affairs, especially in the case of international conflicts and war. The term reflects the role of TV news station CNN in flooding the world with images and commentary on conflicts such as the Gulf War of 1991and, most notably, the battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993. While CNN is the prototype of this theory, any major news station that provides focused, real-time coverage of international conflicts plays a part in perpetuating the CNN effect. This concept is often discussed and taught in the fields of media studies and political science.
Mass media, real-time News Stations are said to change the way people view international conflicts. This has the potential to strongly influence the course of foreign policy. When millions of people are watching a conflict unfold, those involved in this conflict are forced to rethink their strategies in light of these viewers. This can also force neutral governments and officials to prematurely "choose sides" in a conflict, so as to appear to be well informed in their leadership.
Political leaders are often forced to make public statements before they can possibly know the strategic risks and benefits of such statements in light of the current political climate. They are compelled to appear knowledgeable to the public. The rate of policy changes and political or military actions increases as leaders try to make sure that they appear to be effective and active. This may be a good thing to those who wish to see an open political process. However, it has the potential to threaten the goals of strategic military policies, which often rely on secrecy. These operations run the risk of being compromised by media analysis of possible causes for certain maneuvers.
The CNN effect can also bring a diplomatic solution to political conflicts that may otherwise end badly. While the conflict is in the public eye, leaders must be extremely careful to remain favorable in public opinion. Wherever media coverage is focused, any military activities that may bring public outcry are less likely to occur.