20-26 November 2015 #783

Selective outrage

Some events are more important than others
Tsering Dolker Gurung

This week the world mourned the victims of the Paris terror attacks which claimed 129 lives. The international community released statements condemning the massacres, monuments across the globe were lit up in the French tricolour and candlelight vigils were held, including in Kathmandu (pic).

On Facebook people used a feature which allows an overlay of the French flag over one’s profile picture. On Twitter the solidarity hashtag #prayforparis went global. While much of the content on social media platforms were for solidarity with the French people, the level of attention given to Friday’s attacks in the French capital also made many question the Western media’s news judgement.

Why didn’t a similar attack carried out only a day before in Beirut that killed more than 40 receive similar coverage? Why weren’t the Kenyan flags flying on Facebook when an Al Qaeda attack in a university in Kenya killed 150 students in April? Where is the international outrage over attacks by Boko Haram which continues to kill and maim in Nigeria? 

This is not to say that the media does not report on terror attacks outside the western hemisphere. But the truth is that when Beirut was attacked, it didn’t get 24-hour saturation news coverage. When Kenyan students were slaughtered in school it received much less priority than Paris. TV pundits didn’t do a minute by minute analysis of the Boko Haram attack on a mosque in September that killed 117 Muslims. 

Closer to home, India’s blockade of Nepal until recently was virtually ignored by the international press. Why is a siege that is much more devastating to Nepal’s economy than the earthquake not newsworthy enough? 

A terrorist attack in Lebanon or Iraq or Syria is not as shocking as one in London or Paris because it is far too common, journalists argue. Some even claim that despite their best attempts to push news items about non-European, non-American countries, readers are simply not interested and rarely click on such stories. Meaning, news is driven by what readers want to read. The measure of an importance of a life is the number of hits it will get online. 

Then there’s the factor of familiarity.  The average news consumer in Europe will have little idea about political goings-on in Nepal, the reasons for the blockade are just to convoluted to be explained simply in inverted pyramid style. Nepal is unfortunately not strategically important enough for journalists and their readers in the West. 

OK, we can understand the western press isn’t bothered, but why isn’t the Indian media interested? Except a few op-eds by anti-Modi liberals, most coverage of the Nepal crisis in the Indian media reads like leaks dictated by the Ministry of External Affairs. 

The result: Despite a blockade that has crippled the lives of 28 million people for two months, much of the world has no idea what is going on here. Hospitals have run out of medical supplies, businesses and schools have been forced to shut due to lack of fuel, earthquake reconstruction has come to a standstill. Shortage of essential commodities has caused immense suffering and hurt the poor the most. There may not be blood and gore on the streets, but what Nepal is going through is an enormous crisis that should be newsworthy by any measure.

It took the world only few hours to read and hear about the attacks in Paris. Sadly it took an attack in Paris for many of us to learn about the bombing the previous day in Beirut. Therein lies the problem with the definition of news and the news cycle: it is selective compassion and outrage.

By now most of us have read the heartbreaking testimonies of the survivors in Paris. We know who the assailants were and we know that France has now declared war on ISIL. We also know of Diesel, the French police search dog that was killed by terrorists on Wednesday’s raid. Due to media’s obsessive coverage of Paris, we will never forget what happened there for a long time.

Wish the same could be said about the tragedies in Kenya and Nigeria and all the other countries that continue to escape the limelight.


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