Sometimes you wonder why after December, 2013, analysts and NGOs were crying foul that the world had “forgotten” South Sudan. Was it the world that did forget about the death, the horror, the destruction and the continued displacement that wrecked South Sudan until this day, or was it the international media that failed to portray the image longer for the world to take it serious?
It seems like the events in South Sudan or the neighboring country that we assume should make news have a specific timeline of say one week. After that, it don’t matter whether the problem persist or not. The killings in Juba, Bor, Malakal, Bentiu and other small towns survived only 3hours on the headlines, before they got displaced by other “western” stories of concern.
The killing of over one hundred students in Mandera in Kenya lasted the siege hour when the terrorists held the students hostage. After that, the news faded away for other “important western” news.
When 9/11 happened, the world stopped for 6months. Now when Paris happened, the world seemed to have stopped for the last 6days. International News outlets have devoted nonstop coverage to the terrorist attack in Paris. The headline has remained throughout out the screen has “Breaking News” even though it happened on Thursday night. Many people have changed their Facebook or Twitter profile pictures to show solidarity with France. Maybe you have too.
But have you asked yourself why this attack? Why didn’t the suicide bombs the day before in Lebanon, or the staggering of the South Sudan peace agreement, or the killings in Jalle of civilians in Jonglei, or the slaughter of more than 100 college students in Kenya earlier this year, draw such an outcry?
You wonder exactly what does News mean to the journalists in the west.
It’s important to keep two things in mind about how the western news media sets its priorities.
First, “news” is generally considered to be something especially unusual. The journalism truism is that “dog bites man” is not a story, but “man bites dog” is. That’s not a judgment on whether dog bites matter; it’s a judgment about what’s surprising.
Second, news outlets are influenced by their consumers. Human beings are especially interested in events that might affect them personally. If the media outlet’s readers or viewers are likely to feel that an event has implications for them, that will be covered as a more important story than if the events are unlikely to touch the audience’s lives.
So why Paris?
Well, one reason the attack drew so much international attention was that France doesn’t experience nearly as much terrorism and other acts of violence as countries with comparable recent attacks, such as South Sudan or any of the African countries. Disasters are a common phenomenon in Africa. Reporting on the peace disagreement in South Sudan won’t make no new news.
It’s true that terrorism in less-developed countries is worth our attention as well. Crises, such as the Syrian civil war, deserve much more media coverage and policy focus.
But the Paris attack continues to draw interest because of the relative rarity of terrorism in France, the fact that the country receives visitors from around the globe, the shocking nature of the attack, and the potential implications for the Islamic State’s future plans.
Additional information: Brian J. Phillips, the Washington Post