Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan… almost every day we hear about conflict somewhere. But how much do we really know about the wars happening in the world? We may be well aware of the violence that happens in Gaza City, Baghdad and Helmand Province, but do we know about the conflict that takes place every day in the DRC, or the continuing tensions in southern Sudan or northern Nigeria?
Virgil Hawkins at Stealth Conflicts makes some startling observations:
There is a newsroom truism in the USA that “one dead fireman in Brooklyn is worth five English bobbies, who are worth 50 Arabs, who are worth 500 Africans”. Sounds pretty bad. But the reality is much much worse. For a start, from the perspective of the news media in the West, 500 Africans have nowhere near that kind of value. The death toll from conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is literally one thousand times greater than that in Israel-Palestine, yet it is the latter that is the object of far greater media coverage, if that is any indication of the news value of the two conflicts. The numbers of victims from conflict in Israel-Palestine are counted down to the last digit, and the intricacies and nuances of the conflict, political situation and peace process are almost obsessively analysed and presented. Death tolls from most African conflicts (if anyone bothers to count) are usually rounded off to the nearest one hundred thousand (at times the nearest million), and the conflicts are frequently brushed off and dismissed as being chaotic, or worthy of some vague pity or humanitarian concern, but rarely of any in-depth political analysis.
The reality is that the scale of a conflict has very little at all to do with whether a conflict gets the attention of the media or not. Other factors (like the political interest of key policymakers at home, skin colour, simplicity and sensationalism) appear to be the key determinants. Once a conflict is ‘chosen’, it becomes the centre of attention, at the expense of all other conflicts – however destructive they may be. read more
I would add another factor, that the western media is driven largely by fear. In the UK we only care about armed conflict when it makes us feel vulnerable. If it is geographically close to us (Kosovo), or if we feel the conflict has the potential to spill over into our region (the Middle East), or if those suffering are people we perceive to be similar to ourselves (New York Twin Towers). When the conflict is in a far off land, in countries so poor that there is no threat of the conflict spreading outside of the region, between peoples of a different skin colour to us, we are able to give our sympathy but then turn off the TV and simply forget.
5.4 million people have died in the DRC in the last 10 years. It’s time we lifted our eyes up from our own preoccupations and saw the reality of the world we live in: