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Hidden wars, forgotten disasters and global media

Hidden wars, forgotten disasters and global media

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Published by Manoj Bhusal
An essay by Manoj Bhusal
An essay by Manoj Bhusal

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Published by: Manoj Bhusal on Dec 18, 2011
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Hidden Wars, Forgotton Disasters and Global South inGlobal Mainstream Media
By Manoj Bhusal, October 2011
25 years after Michael Buerk'sbroadcasts from Ethiopia, thedocumentaries have stopped, but the starvation hasn't.
(The Guardian,19.10.2009)
 Mid-September this year, a deadlyearthquake rocked the Himalayanregion that claimed many lives andcaused a huge damage across manyparts of Nepal, India and Tibet. Thesame quake destroyed a BritishEmbassy wall in Kathmanduentrapping and killing three people.That day the BBC breaking news, onits online service, read: Three PeopleKilled as a British Embassy wallCollapses!Later on the BBC didpublish/broadcast sporadic reportingabout the disaster and how relief work was going on in the ground, but such reporting was put somewhere ina regional section of its website. Thefalling of a British embassy wallbecame breaking news, perhaps asymbolic sensation, whereas, theactual toll of the disaster andsuffering of hundreds of thousands of people didn’t get that much mediaattention, and whatever details werepresented, they were quicklyarchived.This week the same news corporationprioritized and published a piece of news titled
‘North Korean leader's grandson Facebook pages revealed’.
The report included the grandson’sflavor for democracy and hisnostalgic wall posts and photocomments for an ‘unknown’ girl, onthe social networking site Facebook.The above mentioned two examplesand a plenty of other examples in theWestern media make one ponderabout the prioritization of mainstream, largely Western, globalmedia when it comes to reporting thedeveloping world. Not only that, it appears that the trend of reportingabout and from the developing worldis in a transition as many newsagencies have closed down theirbureaus in different parts of thedeveloping world (Constable 2007 &Russo 2010).This essay examines some of theissues related to the reporting andnon-reporting ‘culture’ of mainstreamWestern media when it comes toevents and issues in the developingworld. In addition, the essay tries topresent some theoreticalperspectives on the phenomenon anddiscusses the media neglect andapathy and a perpetuation of suffering caused by that. A fewexamples and notable cases havebeen presented throughout the text primarily to support the argumentspresented herein.
Hidden wars and the globalmainstream media
Only about five or six per cent of the American evening news beforeSeptember 11 was about foreign news.Instead it was the story about California congressman Gary Condit'srelationship to his former internChandra Levy that made the headlines.(Corera 2003, 254)
After the Second World War, much of the developed world has achievedrelative peace as at least, with someexceptions though, no fatal interstateinsurgencies and conflicts haveoccurred during the last decades.However, the scenario in thedeveloping world, home to 5.5 of theplanet’s 6.7 billion people, has been adifferent one. Still struggling toovercome harrowing scorches of absolute poverty, the developingworld, faces worst natural disasters,arguably exacerbated by climatechange, and has been grappling withsome of the most deadly conflicts inhuman history. Apart from intrastateconflicts, genocides and civil wars, afew countries in the developing worldalso face interstate wars, occupationand various forms of exploitation andsubjugation.The developing world has been abattle ground for a vast majority of today’s wars as ‘apart from the warsin the former Yugoslavia, most of thepost-Cold War conflicts -intra ratherthan inter-state - have taken place inthe global South (Thussu &Freedman2003, 1). Some of these conflicts doget into international spotlight and bepart of a global discussion and,consequently, possibly, receive aglobal response, however ‘there arethe ‘invisible’ conflicts, which mayhave claimed millions of lives - war inSudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are prime examples- but rarely register on international mediaradars, which tend to cover only theconflicts where the West, led by theUnited States, is seen to be a peace-maker’(Thussu &Freedman 2003, 1).We can assume that the nature of conflicts and their dynamics havesignificantly changed in the moderntimes. There seem to be variations informs, aims and strategies the waywars are waged and conflicts arefought, however, the fatalities, themassive destruction of lives andlivelihoods and the human sufferingcontinue to mount.Simon Cottle argues that despite‘major intensive wars fought forterritorial conquest and control havedeclined in the world, civil wars andother forms of intrastate conflictsoften involving extreme violence,including genocide and the deliberatetargeting of civilian populationcontinue.’ He adds that such conflictsoften cause ‘large number of internally displaced people and anexodus of refugees to neighboringterritories.’ However, he contends,‘many of them go unreported andunnoticed by the world.’ (Cottle 2008,114,115.)Nevertheless, it appears that some of the hidden wars and ‘silent’ conflictsdo get widespread internationalcoverage; however, their setting,timing, priorities and the content seem to vary. Past incidents showthat when an immediate globalresponse is needed, often, nocontextual reporting is done, that inturn, prevents the victims fromreceiving any possible internationalassistance. For instance, ‘the genocideperpetrated in Darfur, in westernSudan, went unreported for years andhas only found intermittent coveragefollowing high profile US declarationsof genocide in 2004’ (Cotle2008,116). This very example raisesquestions about the structural set-upand the expressed as well asunexpressed priorities of themainstream global media, and thisalso demands an answer to thequestion who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ of 
media coverage and, most significantly, why.Galtung & Holmboe argue that as themainstream media are elite centered,it is likely that ‘in an elite centerednews communication systemordinary people are not even giventhe chance of representingthemselves’ (Galtung & Holmboe1965, 68).On the basis of theirempirical findings, they furthersuggest that ‘the more the event concerns elite nations, the moreprobable that it will become a newsitem’ (Galtung & Holmboe 1965, 68).None or scant coverage of suchhidden wars and silent sufferingscannot be explained solely on thebasis of geographical remoteness orlogistical inconvenience specially at atime when modern means of masscommunications haveunprecedentedly narrowed down thetime gap in communication and havechanged the perception of distance.Simon Cottle argues:The structured silence of hidden wars, courtesy of the media, is all the moreremarkable on a planet now constantly orbitedby communicationsatellites and whereconflicts and crimesagainst humanity can becommunicated fromalmost anywhere onEarth shortly thereafter,if not in real time (Cottle2008, 115).The observations made above implythat the media neglect of hidden warsdoesn’t seem to be caused by merelya logistical, financial or geographicalinconvenience. This has more to dowith the perception and priorities of the mainstream media. It is a matterof inquiry and discussion whether it attributes to a general apathytowards and distancing as well asintentional alienation of thedeveloping world.
Forgotton disasters and unnoticedsilent sufferings
 Again last year, there were many deaths from starvation. The crisis was revealed not by British TV, but by CNN whichwas putting together a one-hour special with Unicef.
(The Guardian, 19.10.2009)
Galtung & Holmboe argue that ‘theevent that takes place over a longertime-span will go unrecorded unlessit reaches some kind of dramaticclimax’ (Galtung & Holmboe 1965,66). This perspective can be relatedto ‘non-reporting’ of hidden wars asthey often happen systematically for acontinuous period of time and mediaare not interested until some decisiveclimax comes to the sight. Then againif sudden incidents were to be givenprompt and extensive coverage,disasters in the developing worldwould have got that. The trend,however, is not that.‘Disasters hit hardest in the poorest parts of the globe. Ninety-eight percent of those killed or affected bydisasters each year come from thedeveloping world’ (Franks 2006,281). However, in terms of mainstream media coverage, theyseem to get a minimal space. Forinstance, ‘everyone knows that Katrina devastated New Orleans but far fewer people recall that soonafterwards Stanley caused similarhavoc and loss of life in Guatemala.This is hardly surprising, since by theend of January 2006 there were 3,105

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