The media is constantly criticized for biases in covering terror in the Eastern part of the world. I am not trying to pile on criticism. Rather, show how unresponsiveness to this bias might lead to an increase in hatred towards these “others” or “outsiders” who are ignored by global media.
As a college student majoring in journalism, receiving an opportunity to intern at one of the leading global media outlets was thrilling. The most exciting experiences came in the form of breaking news: I witnessed the newsroom at the break of Harper Lee’s death and the attack on Brussels. While I was not present on the Sunday of the Lahore attack, the following days hugely differed from what I experienced the days after the attacks on Brussels, Belgium. The world stopped as the news of the twin attacks in Brussels spread across the globe. There have been many other incidents of terror that shook parts of the world before; however, they easily slipped the minds of media giants.
Walking into the newsroom on the day of the Brussels attack was interesting to say the least. Everyone was scrambling about to get more information on the attacks. We needed people who could talk about the incident—eyewitnesses, victims, relatives of victims, anybody who could relay the story of what happened in the peaceful city of Brussels.
All the pre-planned shows were cancelled to go live for the day, covering any and every new tidbit coming out of Brussels. Two days after the attack, news anchors were flown into Brussels to follow up on the story amidst the agitated people terrorized by the bombings.
Within the same week, another bombing terrorized the people of Lahore, in the not-so-peaceful country of Pakistan. But this time, no shows were cancelled. The channel’s schedule went on as planned, with very few interruptions from the breaking news. No news anchors had to go to Pakistan; regional reporters sufficed.
The follow-up on Lahore differed vastly compared to Brussels. The Monday after the Lahore attack, a quick glance at the websites of four media giants showed something shocking: almost a week-old news of Brussels occupied space on each of the four homepages, while only one had a story about the Pakistan bombing on its homepage.
The Brussels twin attack killed a total of 35 and stayed breaking news for at least two days. Whereas the suicide bomber attack in Lahore, which killed twice as many people, did not get such wide coverage. The claim is not that there have been no media coverage of terror outside of U.S. and Europe, but the coverage is very minimal.
Even though the Western media has been condemned for selective coverage of world news before, these two attacks within the same week made it clearer that media biases still exist and some lives are ignored while the others are sensationalized.
With the increasing number of criticism for such biases, many media personnel have taken it upon themselves to reason why they do what they do. According to Minnesota Public Radio’s blog, which quotes an editor of The Guardian, this imbalance in stories exist due to reader interest. “It’s harder to get mainstream reader empathy and interest in terrorism attacks that occur further from our shores.” In order to drive online traffic, media has chosen to feed what the audience wants to hear, instead of equally reporting on everything that goes on in the world.
We fail to understand that this is not healthy. Giving importance to news from only certain parts of the world and down playing the rest creates a mental divide between the West and the East. This has a long-term domino effect, which we do not comprehend; since there is little interest in “outside” stories, the media fails to report on it.
With no extensive coverage of such stories, there is a shortage in accessible information, which births ignorance. Ignorance cultivates egocentrism, which eventually lead us to think of ourselves as superior. The more superior we feel, the less we pay attention to those who do notfit in with us, creating an even greater divide between the West and the rest of the world. Self-centered interests grow, and our minds become narrower, with little to no interest in knowing about the world. Media will continue to feed only what the audience want to hear, and this vicious cycle will go on.
Biases in any shape or form are not healthy. It is time that media rethought how they prioritize news coverage. Although statistics and driving traffic is important for media as a business, media cannot forget its primary responsibility towards the society—to keep them informed. A child cannot be fed only junk food just because that is the only kind he enjoys. Despite his liking, it is a parent’s responsibility to feed him healthy nutritious food. Similarly, it is in the hands of media to report on everything equally, capture the stories as it is and enlighten the audience of the existence of “others” whose only fault was to be born in the same countries as extremists but have no association with radical ideologies.