Call me old-fashioned, but I have this crazy notion about the universal value of human life. The media don’t seem to share this, and if they do, it’s not reflected in coverage. Some lives are more important than others. Sometimes the death of one is more important than that of hundreds or thousands. This might be because I associate “important” with “newsworthy”, and on reflection, they are very different things. The commercial media serves two purposes: to inform the public, and to provide a return for their shareholders. So their definition of newsworthy therefore must include: “what sells”. Perhaps that explains why they do what they do. It’s always important to consider the perspective and motivation of the writer when reading anything in the media (and yes, that even includes me).
So let’s say some deaths are more newsworthy than others. So the thousands of people that continue to be killed in Darfur are overshadowed by almost anything else anywhere in the world.
But what really puzzles me is how the profile of a series of deaths can also be a function of who is doing the killing. Take the current carnage going on in Lebanon. Lebanese troops have attacked terrorists in a Palestinian refugee camp. This is hardly the first time a group of armed forces from a sovereign state have attacked a terrorist group that embeds itself in an impoverished residential district. So it’s worth considering how the coverage differs from one such incident to another.
I recall a couple of years ago, the Israeli army launched an initiative in the town of Jenin. In the washup, some 50-odd terrorists were killed, and a number of civilians as well. Contrast this with Lebanons action in Nahr el-Bared, where so far the count is at 60 “militants” and 20 civilians (and that is not yet over).
But the media coverage is so different. In the case of Jenin, there were immediately calls of a “massacre”, where allegedly hundreds of civilians were brutally murdered by Israeli forces (later confirmed to be false after an investigation). Jenin was quickly transformed into a “humanitarian crisis” and condemnation was heard from the world over, especially those upright folks at the UN.
By contrast, while the Lebanon story continues to stay on the headlines of Yahoo, regular readers of my local newspaper The Age would be oblivious to what is going on.
So what is going on here? Why is one story more newsworthy than another? Why was one story inflated far beyond the truth, and another barely worthy of coverage?
The difference here is who is doing the killing. It seems quite OK with the world when Lebanon attempts to root out terrorists, but not when Israel does so. It also seems that the Palestinians have an interest in blowing any story involving Israel out of proportion, but not so when their fellow Arab brothers are doing the same or worse to them! So not only does the press value the death of a Palestinian terrorist differently depending on who killed them, but so do the Palestinians themlseves!
Any independent observer (and I don’t claim to be one) would find this totally bizarre. And any truly independent journalist would smell a rat, and realize that they are being manipulated to print what one side wants them to print.
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