Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2006/07/the_statistics_of_war.html
This week, the Editor of the BBC Ten O'Clock News made an interesting point about deaths, body counts and statistics. He pointed out that on average 30 – 40 people are dying every day in Israel and Lebanon. Time devoted on the average news bulletin: 10–15 minutes. Meanwhile in Iraq 100 die daily. Time devoted: 3–5 minutes (provided its something more substantial than your average car bombing). And in the war in the Congo, 1,200 people die every day. Yes, there's a war in the Congo.
To their credit, the Ten ran a piece on the conflict on Monday night, but the programme's editor Craig Oliver felt it neccessary to justify his running order:
…our judgement is that Middle East (sic) is currently the biggest story in the world – by a wide margin – and it has the greatest implications for us all.
The Congo conflict is "desperately" important he says but it's being going on for decades. Does that make it any less important?
Yesterday, Holly argued that the Lebanese are getting more media "sympathy" because more people are dying in Lebanon than in Israel and so appear more readily as the victims. Surely then, by this rule, the Congolese should get more attention, as their daily death toll is 30x greater? Of course this isn't the case – the death toll is but one facet in any conflict.
So why is the Middle East conflict more important? Well as most people point out, the Middle East has oil and Israel has nukes. And of course our glorious western governments have their grubby fingers in many a pie in the region so we all follow the Bush/Blair party with interest – it's a British angle on an international conflict.
I fully appreciate this, but I'm sorry, I can't ignore some of the world's more severe conflicts on the African conflict as not as important. Even putting Congo aside, there's a potentially devastating war about to erupt on the Horn of Africa as Somali Islamists steadily take over more of the lawless country with Ethiopia and Eritrea sharpening their bayonets ready to fight over the spoils. And this weekend, hugely significant elections are taking place in the enormous D.R. Congo, which have been marred by scores of deaths. And the Democratic Republic has its own fair share of oil and diamonds.
Will these events get a dozen correspondents plus their entourage of satellite trucks? No.
One person responded to Craig Oliver by accusing the media of being institutionally racist:
The main reason wars in Africa get barely a mention in the mainstream media is obvious: The media is owned, controlled, and bought by white people…White people don't care about starving blacks killing each other.
Unfortunately, I believe this is a sad truth. Do editors in London give a toss about Africans killing each other? And even more sad, do audiences in Britain give a toss?
The complexity of it all
Craig Oliver's second justification for the importance of the Middle East over African conflicts went simply:
The sheer complexity of the situation requires space to help provide context and analysis.
The Middle East conflict is complex. But so is the Congolese conflict. And the Somali one. Even more so, and I'd wager a bet and say while the average joe on the street could profer a vague explanation of the Israel/Lebanon crisis, they'd be flicking through an atlas trying to find out where the hell the Congo is.
Context and analysis are vital – in all serious conflicts. But the mainstream media has conclusively failed in "context". The BBC et al have had 6 years to explain and analyse the rise of Hizbullah. Similarly, they've had decades to explain and contextualise why Israel and Palestine don't get on. They had two years to explain and contextualise the genocide in Darfur.
But they didn't.
Instead the mainstream media waits for a situation to explode in a television friendly way before they cover it, and thus find themselves talking to an audience who they haven't prepared.
It was decent of the Ten O'clock News to try and justify their editorial decisions, but Craig Oliver's explanation doesn't even begin to accept nor address the deeper more worrying trends within the international news media, contextual, racist or otherwise.