Now, that might seem like a sweeping, bold, naïve statement. Often, as those subscribed the Vox’s YouTube channel are all too aware, left-wing, liberal organisations use these grand statements to draw people in and create controversy. However, I use this not to do that, but rather to state a very simple, objective fact: When the BBC, or CNN, or Fox has to choose between a small incident in Europe or North America and a large crisis in far-away lands, they invariably report on the incident in the western world.
I’m not trying to say that mainstream media is racist when reporting incidents within the western world. They don’t (usually), have a distinct bias in their reporting towards white people — for example, defending a white criminal without reason or a white supremacist group. However, in choosing where to report from, the media — most probably sub-consciously — pick the West.
In the past few days, for example, there have been two major crises. One was the collapse of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, Italy; the other a major flooding event that has been rumbling on since August 8th. The bridge collapse in Genoa has an official death toll of 43 — which absolutely makes it a story worthy of reporting.
However, the flooding and subsequent landslides in Kerala, India, has killed 361. The BBC’s reporting of it, as well as ITV’s and most major news stations’, has been limited. The Genoa story has always held priority over it, despite the divergence in the death tolls. Despite rumbling on for 12 days now, I only learnt of the story two days ago due to the lack of reporting, whereas the Genoa bridge collapse was immediately top story.
There is a valid argument, in this specific case, that there are other factors at play. Indeed, there are — I’m not just a simple-minded idiot hell-bent on an agenda. For example, the bridge collapse is an incident with a man-made structure, and this creates a more interesting story with a political side. Moreover, India has regular flooding incidents during the monsoon season, and perhaps the same stories every year would be repetitive and boring.
However, these particular floods are the worst for 100 years in Kerala, and as such, the story should be interesting enough for mass reporting. The media could focus on the role of climate change and the exacerbated impact of these particular floods and landslides, and very easily create an intriguing story.
There are countless examples of this bias towards the western, developed world — for example, whenever there is a huge disaster in Haiti, possibly the unluckiest country on the planet, attention focuses instead on foreign politics or a (comparatively) small issue such as the Oroville Dam spillway crisis.
Repeatedly the media favours our neighbours over those who are truly suffering. Of course, the media is going to focus on the country that it is based in — CNN are going to focus on the US, the BBC on the UK, Sat.1 on Germany. But the tendency to over-report European and North American issues often delays the reporting of major incidents in Asia and Africa, and often suppresses them entirely.
Huge stories such as the Renaissance Dam crisis in Ethiopia are completely disregarded by western media, despite their potentially huge consequences. By building the dam on the Nile, Ethiopia has angered Egypt as they rely on water from the river. The debacle is rather consequential, and it could lead to a full-blown war in the region, and yet the media has managed to completely ignore it.
Instead of recognising these crises, we hyper-focus on slight flare-ups between Russia and NATO, or China and the US, or Canada and Saudi Arabia. Very few of these incidents ever lead to huge issues — the greatest impact of one in the past few years was the recent fall of the Turkish lira due to US tariffs.
Wars don’t happen in the West anymore. They happen instead in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. However, the media doesn’t wish to focus on tensions in these regions that could lead to war, so we hear more about “trade wars” and “diplomatic wars” in the West. This language is used to dramatise the slight incidents that the media report, so that we, the consumers of the news, don’t find these organisations out.
That’s not to say that those whose job it is to report the news are told to do this, but rather that the culture within the world of media is biased towards news in the developed world. It still hurts our perception of the world, though, and it looks set to continue.
So I’ll leave you with this: Don’t just use the BBC, CNN, or PBS for your news. Actively search for different news, from different places — you’ll soon understand the world a lot better.