The media have long controlled which global events warrant considerable coverage and which do not. The ‘CNN Effect’ (Graybill, 2004) still plays an integral role in influencing foreign policy today, with selective coverage of events that are considered to be significant shaping the perceptions of the western world.
This is evident in the presentation of modern day atrocities, with terrorist attacks that have occurred in the west generally receiving more attention than those that have occurred elsewhere.
ISIS’ recent, devastating onslaughts in Paris and Brussels succeeded in administrating terror across the globe, with extensive media coverage further complementing the chaos.
In light of the events, the media sought to inform to the best of their ability, supplying rolling news, death tolls, and joining in unison to show their respects and express their condolences to the victims; even social media website Facebook got involved, deluding people into believing they were an activist for layering a French flag over their profile picture.
However, one display of affection at a time seems to be enough for both the media and these diehard social change advocates, with similar catastrophic attacks elsewhere in the world just months later provoking almost no attention whatsoever.
In March, a car bombing in Ankara, Turkey killed 38 people, injuring over 125; three days later a bus bombing in Peshwar, Pakistan killed another 15 people, injuring 25; and on the same day suicide bombings in Maiduguri, Nigeria killed another 22, injuring an additional 18.
The reason the western world adopts such a naïve attitude towards activities beyond its geographical boundaries is because it is generally ill-informed. Yes, the media report on these events, but there is no extensive, subsequent ‘Pray for Paris’ type campaigns to follow them up. They occur, they’re reported, and they’re forgotten.
The difference in support for nations such as Paris, in comparison with those such as Pakistan, is that the majority of the nations in the western world have bidirectional relationships; whether that be through trade, or other forms of political treaty that mean raising awareness and support is in their best interests.
This omission of coverage for countries with little political and financial benefit to the first world is an idea recognised in a 2014 article by international activist group ‘Anonymous’, which analyses the media’s coverage, or lack thereof the genocide that occurred for over two decades in Darfur, Sudan: ‘No Media Coverage Because There is No Oil?’.
Since 1989, as many as 300,000 people have been killed as a result of the corruption within Sudan; because of the minimal media coverage and awareness, there was no pressure on the government to intervene until as late as 2009. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda followed similar correlation; “Why did Clinton not intervene in Rwanda? Because the media, representatives of which had been evacuated as the genocide unfolded, were simply not there to report what was happening.” (Graybill, 2004, p 170)
As true as this may have been at the time, I do not believe that, in the digital age, a lack of media presence is a justifiable rationale for minimal acknowledgement of terrorist attacks outside of the western world.
The main reason is in fact the stubborn attitudes of the western government, its media, and in-turn its public. This nonchalant ‘if it doesn’t affect me, why should I be bothered?’ perspective intensifies the accuracy of Martin Niemoller’s famous ‘First they came’ poem; proving that unless directly affected, the western world remains relatively unfazed.
Evidence of this attitude was displayed in the response to the November Paris attacks, with the US and the UK joining business allies France in conducting airstrikes on ISIS-inhabited areas of Syria. ISIS had coordinated numerous large scale attacks prior to the ones in Paris, however the Western world had not been affected; once they became the targets, extensive media coverage added pressure on an already shaken government, influencing such retaliation.
Unfortunately, the media continues to adopt this minimalistic approach to reporting events outside of the western interest, and I imagine it will do so for years to come. Just this week, copious fatal terrorist attacks have devastated Iraq, Ukraine, Turkey, and Nigeria, however the main media focus has been the evacuation of Old Trafford over a fake bomb left behind from a training exercise.
As sad as it is to accept, the Western world will always be at the top of the hierarchy in terms of importance, and the media play a significant role in emphasising this.