The other night I was out enjoying a few cocktails with a friend in Melbourne. As we enjoyed the atmosphere and absorbed the beautiful city and everything it had to offer, it wasn’t long until we met two friendly American males. Or so it seemed at least… After a few more drinks, things escalated and before we knew it we had engaged in an extremely heated debate about anything, and everything. Already feeling frustrated enough about their comments about American superiority and its empire; I took a stab and asked them their thoughts about international news and provided them with an example. I explained that while the world was ‘shocked’ by the Boston bombings and the three Americans who were killed, on that same day, 45 people died in a bombing in Northern Iraq. A further 16 people were killed over that weekend in airstrikes by regime forces in Syria, and a series of suicide bombings in Somalia killed 29 people in the most violent wave of attacks since 2011. I then proceeded to ask why they thought this American event dominated the news substantially and why the events in the Middle East and Africa hardly even got a mention. And in that moment, without a second in delay, one of them responded.
“It’s because they’re not as important,” he said.
His words squealed in my head over and over again, not as important, not as important, not as important.
And they got me thinking, especially because they reiterated the lack of interest in news from the Middle East, Africa and all other Third-World Countries. He reiterated that basically if it happens in the United States of America – everyone must know. Conversely, if it happens in a country like Syria it’s not as bad and thus, in most cases won’t even be placed in the mainstream news queue. There are many reasons argued as to why this is the case, but I can’t help but wonder how someone can wholeheartedly believe that it’s because they are simply not as important.
I should clarify that I am not denying that the events that took place in Boston were horrific in any shape or form. I’m not arguing that it’s less important than the attacks in Iraq, Syria or Somalia. But, I merely think there needs to be a shift in the current perspective that lives within Western societies today, a heightened interest in international news and an understanding why those in Third-World Countries are just as important as those who live in America, or Australia.
Unfortunately, horror strikes across the world during every hour of the day. Predominately in places like the Middle East. It’s perhaps because of this, the attacks in Syria and Iraq become less newsworthy to broadcasters because of their regularity and instead those of rare nature, such as the Boston bombings, become the headlining stories.
But what exactly separates a death in Syria, or Iraq from one in Boston? According to McLurg’s Law, a greater amount of drama is required for a foreign event to be covered. He basically says, ‘one dead Briton is worth five dead Frenchmen, 20 dead Egyptians, 500 dead Indians and 1,000 dead Chinese’. But, why is this the case? No matter the violent event or where it took place, at the end of the day both the Boston Bombings and Iraqi bombings had the intent to kill, or at least ruthlessly injure.
Currently, what is captured and portrayed by media outlets is on a severe level of disproportionality and this was especially evident during the event in Boston. But, a death is a death — no matter what race or religion someone follows, in some shape or form someone suffered various degrees of horrific agony. Yet, the event in Boston took precedence over the news from Iraq in which approximately 200 more people were affected. For days, the coverage of Boston continued and details continued to emerge, names of victims were released, and blame was placed. However, in comparison when a bombing is reported in Iraq or Somalia, particularly in mainstream media outlets, we only receive the bare facts. Any level of individuality is removed and their deaths are stripped of any element of empathy that was so emotively transcribed for the victims affected by the Boston bombings. Those in the Middle East instead are not portrayed as human beings, but instead a group of people — without personality or identity — making it even more difficult for those living at a distance to connect on a personal level.
As I was scouring the internet for answers, I came across a comment by a user who goes by the name of ‘Soupy’. Soupy decided to give his point of view as to why Boston garnered all the news.
“Who gives a rats ass about what happens in Somalia or Iraq? It’s the Third World, bound to happen.”
As controversial as his comment may be, it’s not surprising there are opinions like these. How can we grieve the loss of 45 Iraqis, 16 Syrians and 29 Somalis when we don’t know their names, how their families feel about their killing, whether there were any heroes who saved some of the victims, or the name of the doctor who sacrificed all to save the life of a little child from the malicious attack. Because of this, people simply cannot find and generate any sympathy, empathy or connection.
Proximity is a huge driver when it comes to presenting news in Australia. There is a tendency for broadcasters and publishers to concentrate on stories which are local, especially in countries with a close proximity politically, socially, culturally or geographically. Because of this when you tune into the news, you will often hear stories about things affecting America and England before you hear what’s occurring in the Third-World. And when a foreign story is actually selected for coverage, it’s often presented in a way which confirms our idea that by living in a Western democracy we are the safest that can be, and that unfortunately, someone has it worse off than us. At the end of the day, it’s merely just an ego boost to leave us relieved that it’s happening there and not here.
To put it simply, the media aren’t to blame for the lack of coverage. If we want news which reports on worldwide events equally, where attention is given to all events and they’re reported on sincerely, instead of sensationally, we first need to begin creating a demand for it. To make a difference in the world, to find a mutual respect for those existing across the boundaries of geography, religion, race and class and to give each and every single death the dignity it’s worth, would be the first step in changing not only the news but also the ignorance that lay so blissfully in Western societies. Because the truth is, those living in the Third World are just as important as you, and I. A bomb blast in Iraq and a bomb blast in Boston all hurt the same and a life should not be valued greater than any other when based purely on geography and privilege, or lack thereof.