The western media’s reporting of terrorism is biased

At least 327 people lost their lives in Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu just two weeks ago, when almost 400 people were injured in a violent blast that left some bodies unidentifiable. The terrorist group al-Shabaab have claimed the attack as their own, stating that it was made in retaliation to the American and Somali governments’ militancy against them.

On the same weekend, Britain’s sky turned orange due to dust blown into the air by ex-hurricane Ophelia. This dominated much of the press, and no wonder. Why report the deaths of hundreds of innocent people in a far-away land when there’s something so intriguing happening right above you?

This is not an isolated phenomenon. Journalism in the UK and America is horribly biased towards home affairs which often have far less impact on people’s lives than events happening elsewhere in the world. 6,081 terrorist attacks took place in the Middle East and Northern Africa last year according to the Global Terrorism Database. 3,356 of these happened in Iraq where, in 2016, an average of 33 people a day died due to terrorist attacks. These figures are shocking not only because they relate a level of human suffering that’s difficult to comprehend, but because we’ve heard so little about them. How is it possible for over 12,000 people to be killed in Iraq in one year without huge media coverage?

A study by WC Adams, a professor of public policy in the States, found that high death tolls do not necessarily guarantee more airtime. Adams claimed that it is proximity to the USA, and popularity as an American tourist destination, that guarantees American media attention in the wake of terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

The same can certainly be said of the British media. Adams’ theory explains why the attack in Nice last year, which killed 86 people, received so much more attention than the July attack on Baghdad, which claimed 382 lives. Some would argue that this bias is understandable, and even commendable. Isn’t it obvious that reports of terrorism in countries to which we feel closer, should take precedence over those to which we have barely any connection?

Nonetheless, this viewpoint is rooted in a far more dangerous belief: that some lives, specifically the lives of white westerners, are more important than others. By prioritising coverage of the death of certain groups of people, we effectively say that their lives are worth more. This is the sinister message being spread by western media through its biased reporting.

The implication here is not that journalists are evil and are intentionally trying to marginalise entire continents. If anything, their stance is reflective of the biases of the public. Almost everyone finds attacks in Europe more shocking than those in the Middle East. It is easier to sympathise with those with whom you share a cultural background, and if terrorists can hit places such as Paris and Nice, then we feel as if London or even Edinburgh could be next. While these excuses are in some ways understandable, it is time that we look outward and attempt to understand that human suffering and death is equally upsetting for people all over the world.

It is the role of the media to provide the public with important truths about the world in which they live.
One of the most obvious of these truths is that no matter where a terrorist attack takes place, the deaths of innocents are tragic and the actions of attackers are deplorable. It is time that the British media reflects this.

Image: Amison Public Information via Flikr

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