Around the time of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, another atrocity was occurring: Boko Haram’s massacre of the Nigerian town of Baga, which has reportedly left as many as 2,000 people dead or ‘unaccounted for’. Yet while the Western media is rife with articles on the many facets of the Charlie Hebdo shootings – from the Islamophobic backlash to the widespread vigils and marches to the questions raised about freedom of speech – Boko Haram’s recent acts have attracted comparatively little attention. The fact there has been such a great outcry about Charlie Hebdo but not about Baga raises questions about how the Western media prioritises some victims over others. Why is Baga not getting more attention?
It is worth asking if media consumers are simply more interested in Charlie Hebdo than in Boko Haram. In the West, the events in Paris strike much closer to home; we are far more likely to have a personal interest in France than in Nigeria. The events in Paris also feed a growing trend towards Islamophobia and far-right xenophobic discourse, something Nigel Farage insensitively exploited only a day after the shootings when he blamed them on ‘really rather gross policy of multiculturalism’ on LBC. Indeed, it seems that there is a lot of agenda-driven discourse and action on the subject of Charlie Hebdo, whether it’s world leaders seeming to use the Paris march honouring the victims as a photo opportunity or if it’s cartoonists and journalists defending Charlie Hebdo and freedom of speech as part of defending their own professions. No one, on the other hand, is making this much spin on the subject of Baga. It’s not feasible.
It’s also just much easier to report on events in Paris than in Baga. There are more journalists, more news agencies, more cameramen and more media resources; it’s easier, and safer, to get into Paris and other parts of France to report on the scene. In Baga’s case, the infrastructure for mass communication is lacking and it’s mostly unsafe and difficult to report from there, or even to go there. The Western media’s bias is therefore in part a practical issue.
But it’s also due to the fact that events are being played down, or are totally unmentioned, by Nigerian political figures, who may be keen to save face in the run up to elections scheduled to happen in February, so there are few condemnations and statistics to write about. There have also been few reports in the African press: it’s not even as widely talked about closer to home. Is no one really interested in Baga? Are the lives of 2,000 Nigerian civilians viewed as less valuable than 12 staff members of a satirical magazine? Even to their own state? It’s possible, and might begin to explain why #JeSuisCharlie is much bigger than #BagaTogether, and why Nigerian politicians will condemn the Charlie Hebdo shootings but say nothing about Baga.
It’s possible that journalists want to write and say more about Charlie Hebdo because it’s personal to them too; the attack on Charlie Hebdo could have been an attack on any Western media outlet, and it’s in the interests of media staff to write about what affects and threatens their own livelihoods. Baga is a tragedy but we’re too far away from it, both geographically and culturally. Charlie Hebdo, on the other hand, is far more relevant not just to the people reading about it, but to the people writing about it. This may be the biggest reason for the Western media prioritising certain victims over others – it is simply selfishly prioritising itself.