Who Cares?

3 Nov

There are places in the world that matter, and places that don’t. There are people who matter, and people who don’t. That, at least, is the attitude of our media. I was reminded of this by Hurricane Sandy, which devastated large parts of the Caribbean, then hit New York and other parts of the USA. While the hurricane was sweeping through the (poor, black) islands, the BBC and most other news outlets just talked at great length about what was likely to happen when it hit the States, and then about what did happen, and then about the clear-up. This is because Americans (rich, culturally similar to us) matter, whereas Caribbeans do not. The 69 dead in the Caribbean managed a princely one sentence out of a thousand-word BBC web article on the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Of course, there was some coverage. There is a blog post on the Guardian site all about this skewing of the media, and another BBC web article about the effect on Haiti, where 54 people were killed out a population of 10 million (compared to 90 out of the USA population of 300 million).

This isn’t an isolated incident. In one of those strange co-incidences that life seems made up of, there were a number of bus crashes over the space of a few months, most of them involving students or young people. The one in Surrey in September, returning from Bestival, you’ve probably heard of. Three people were killed, others received horrific injuries. The ones in Iran (26 dead) and India (11 dead, not students) in October, you may or may not have done, but I can pretty much guarantee that you heard not a peep about the terrible crash in Albania in May. Thirteen students were killed and another twenty badly injured when a bus plunged over a cliff. One girl was left in a coma and had to be told, upon recovery, that her fiancé had died in the crash.

I know about it because I get an Albanian newsfeed through Facebook, and have a lot of Albanian friends and family, too. Over the years I have been annoyed, although I’m no longer surprised, whenever there have been wildfires or floods or droughts or violence around the elections in Albania, and there has been not even a one-sentence mention of it on the TV news. Albania is a place that does not matter, as far as our media (and, I suppose, most people) are concerned. The country would have to sink into the sea like Atlantis or (more realistically) help or threaten one of our allies or enemies before it would warrant a mention. (Although I should say that, once again, there is a BBC web article. Some Albanian news is there if you go looking for it, but if you’re looking for it then you probably know about it already.)

Now I understand why the Bestival crash received more attention. It’s natural to be interested in things that happen in your own country to your own people, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s also understandable that we get more news about our allies or, in the case of Iran, or enemies, since these things have a more direct effect on us. Human nature means that we’re probably more interested in the two Brits who died in an (hypothetical) air crash than the 70 non-Brits.

The amount that news is skewed towards us and our allies is out of proportion, though. OK, Albania is a special interest of mine, but how can it possibly be right that the 6 o’ clock news can fail to mention the trail of death and devastation Sandy left in Haiti, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas etc., but can give 5-10 minutes (of a half-hour programme) to speculation about how the hurricane will affect the election of the leader of a foreign country? Of course, the main TV news is not the only information out there. I should probably listen more to the world news programmes, and it’s a failing on my part if I’m not interested enough to do so. But I just wanted to express my conviction that the dichotomy in the mainstream media between the “matters” and the “don’t matters” is unfair, morally pernicious, and makes things worse for the suffering areas of the world that we should care about more.

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