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Presentation made to a symposium titled Documenting Mortality in Conflicts, organised by WHO/CRED with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, and held in Brussels, 6-7 November 2008.

This slightly amended web version (published 2 February 2009) has been updated to reflect the latest statistics in the IBC database.

Media sources and their contribution to IBC total

Jan 2006–Sep 2008

Sources 12,934 Incidents 59,553 Deaths
Iraq Body Count 100.0% 100.0%
REU 42.9% 59.7%
NINA 27.2% 36.3%
AP 27.2% 51.2%
VOI 26.7% 34.2%
McCla 26.0% 37.3%
Al-Shar 25.3% 37.5%
AFP 20.5% 35.5%
LAT 17.5% 38.5%
KUNA 17.4% 27.1%
CNN 15.1% 33.6%
NYT 14.0% 37.0%
DPA 12.9% 25.2%
XIN 11.2% 25.1%
WP 9.0% 24.9%
BBC 6.3% 23.2%

Putting the Data to Work slide 3

The vast bulk of our information to date is derived from media reports. This data has the important advantage of being mostly disaggregated — that is to say, it is specific, detailed and event-based, unlike most of the information currently available from official or NGO sources.

This does not, however, make the media-derived data consistent: one reason for the range in our figures is that reports from different agencies don't always agree on the numbers killed in particular events. Although dealing with such inconsistencies adds complication to our work, their presence does indicate that the on-the-ground news sources we monitor aren’t simply copying each other or tapping the same primary sources.

Incidentally, the sources in green lettering are Iraqi or regional sources whose output originates in Arabic.

Another way in which we “add value” to published reports, beyond keeping cumulative track of reported deaths, is by integrating media output from multiple sources.

As we work outside commercial boundaries, we can integrate this data freely, in the process making IBC into a a kind of news source itself, one that is significantly more comprehensive (on this subject) than any single news agency. Basically put, gaps in the reporting of deaths in any one media source can be covered by the output of others.

This means that the media source with the best coverage both of incidents and of deaths during this 1000-day period, namely Reuters, had a little over 40% of the incidents and around 60% of the deaths in the integrative output of IBC. Most other sources had significantly smaller percentages of IBC's output, particularly with regard to incidents.

As the graph indicates, all media sources had better coverage of deaths than of incidents — principally because they can be depended upon to to report the larger incidents more reliably.

In isolation, each of the media sources listed here — and these are the most comprehensive of the dozens more we continually monitor — fails to report many, typically smaller, events that occur. But taken as a whole, their coverage contains a perhaps surprising proportion of smaller incidents.