Wouldn’t it be nice to hear some news?

So, I clicked on to the ould My Yahoo! home page this morning (I’m a Yahoo! user, old school), where I have lots of RSS feeds for the news, mostly Yahoo! news, but also different updates from Reuters, AP, and a number of other sources. To my surprise, I read that there is a presidential election in Brazil coming up. Not only that, but it is in the final stages of completion.

Don’t you think it is odd that information like this isn’t of more significance? Firstly, I don’t think the elections results will effect me drastically, nor do I know anything about the candidates, but Brazil is one of the largest economies in the world, and definitely the most significant economy in the Southern hemisphere. But, this is the first time that I have read anything about the election. The fact that I had to hear about it through Yahoo! news, and not from one of the major newspapers that turn up in my inbox on a daily basis, such as the Irish Times, The Guardian, and the New York Times, is a poor reflection on the quality of the diversity of the news reporting in the world today.  Here is strong evidence that the mass media determines our sphere of interest and what we actually know.

Further to this, when you consider that the report from Yahoo! news was merely an update on the candidates and their campaigns, and not an actual report on the real electoral issues facing Brazil, this gives me more fuel to burn off in this little rant I’m aspiring to here.

This news story is being treated like the kind of news that pops up after it happens, like you hear that there’s a new maths teacher in your school, or that someone won a race. But, why do we have to wait until something as significant as the presidential elections for the eight largest economy in the world, almost as soon as they’re over? The fact that the candidate leading the race is a woman is also far from news headlines. There are, no doubt, numerous details which will not be shared with us.

Whose priorities are served most by the news media that only share with us certain details? Every day there is news of a possible conflict between Japan and China, or that the Chinese won’t do something with their currency. Or it’s the possibility that Iran might have enough uranium to enrich into an atomic bomb,  thus levelling the balance of power in the middle east to an uncontrollable fulcrum for the western powers. Sure, if we want to know everything we could spend hours scanning the national daily newspapers from every major nation, but can we not expect that the newspapers share some details from time to time, not least important economic and political issues in the largest economy in South America and a key player in global decision making?

This reminds me of so many other instances where the media has dictated where people’s knowledge base comes from. I am especially concerned here with international news, and not domestic political interests which is a topic of its own altogether. In international news, if you take a look at any world or international news section of a newspaper, the editor dictates where many people have to rely on their information from. Of course many people do specifically search for information related to particular countries and international situations, but in terms of a daily newspaper going out of its way to report on an international or domestic crisis that does not effect the country in which the newspaper is based, these instances are few and far between. In many cases we remain oblivious to much of what is going on, despite maintaining the belief that we are well informed because of all the newspapers we read.

Another case that draws attention to this goes back to the Cheonan crisis in South Korea, where I live. I kept reading the newspapers in Ireland looking for some unbiased report of the situation. Of course, considering that the two countries could have possibly gone to war last spring, the Irish Times failed to send a correspondent to Seoul to ascertain a true sense of the situation on the street. Instead the newspaper allowed their Beijing correspondent to report from Beijing with reports based on government press releases. This really bothered me as the situation on the penninsula was far from certain and there was, unlike after September 11th in the United States against Al-Queada, a united front against the accused North Korea as many questions had still to be answered.

By not sending someone to clearly investigate the full situation, the newspaper did not give people the chance to question the reality that a war could be the eventual outcome. Accepting what a government reports is far from the Irish Times’s prerogative, and this lack of investigation was an embarrassment because it failed to present a clear picture to its readership. If you could imagine the same lack of in-depth analysis for the banking crisis, then you’ll see where I’m coming from.

Another example we can all relate to is the case of the entire continent of Africa. It is only when there is a large body of European or American troops involved that the media takes notice. The conflict is reported on then the reporters leave when there appears to be peace, and then the conflict resumes.

Here are some examples. It was only when Somali pirates began to attack intercontinental trade (this article is one of a number available – there was a very good report about the reality in The Times but that’s only available to subscribers now) that the world’s media began to take notice of the impoverished state of Somalia and began to realise that the piracy was more than just greed, but a cry for help, a reaction to seeing the world’s wealth sail by every day while nothing of benefit came to the horn of Africa. Now that people have been kidnapped and money has been lost, navies from France and Britain have come to police the waters that the non-existent Somalian navy couldn’t, and attention has been focused on the instability of the Somalian political system. But, only because that instability became a problem for the all too comfortable western world.

Another case of ignoring the rest of the world came about ten years ago, again on the Horn of Africa. Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of the poorest countries in the world, went to war. To be honest, maybe it’s my own fault that I didn’t hear about this because at the time I was far from the infoholic I am now, although I definitely thought I was. In fairness to me, this war has been called by the BBC as  “one of the most bloody and under-reported on the continent [of Africa]”. When I did hear about it I went beyond shock when I learned that a war took place that was far from front page news. In many reports casualties of over 100,000 very reported, but there was very little focus in the media. Still conflict between the countries continues but there is, as expected, very little reported as it rarely effects the international shipping lanes or oil fields that attract so much focus across the Red Sea.

When I said earlier that the many times a conflict arises and then the UN and newspapers follow, but after there is peace or some form of a settlement, the newspapers leave or as the case may be, report from Johannesburg or Cairo that the situation is serious and that diligence is required in the peace efforts. There is one place in particular in which I am talking about, and that is the Congo in central Africa. For over ten years a war has raged with no sign of the conflict ending, over a million people have lost their lives and more than 300,000 people have been displaced.

If it wasn’t for the hard work of agencies such as Amnesty International who raise awareness constantly, this conflict would have just settled back into the administrative coffers of the U.N., never to be heard of again. It is only the hard work of charities that constantly remind us, and sometimes when the crisis is reaching another high-water mark, that we hear news of the tragedy of rape, murder, genital mutilation and displacement again. Otherwise, the newspapers just seem to remove it to the archives only to pull out the entire history again in a surge of humanitarian guilt and expectation that something can be done briefly until some other more pressing situation emerges.

The Congo is a true backwater of the planet. It is not near any international trade routes, far from a major economy, and not located close to major world players in financial and technology. The natural resources are what take the focus towards it, but not ours, but the attention of multimillion dollar exploration companies in search of raw materials. The instability allows them to keep their prices high and a steady market for new weapons that are bought from major manufacturers in the developed world.

The main reason for all this is purely because of news worthiness. Why should the people who read the paper need to care about South America, the truth behind a major international crisis in east Asia, or the humanitarian and political disaster taking place in Africa every day? Surely the newspapers are making a mockery of us and focusing our attention on news that ignores so much more of the rest of the world.

Our media focuses on where the financial interests of the readership lie, not where their humanitarian focus should be directed. In Ireland there is always lots of news about the E.U., in Korea the news invariably focuses on China, Japan, and the United States with minor mentions of the E.U. (of course if there’s an achievement outside the country or a major leader visits the news hardly shuts up about how great all things are), and in the New York Times rarely goes a day without mentioning the relationships, diplomatic and economic, around China, the United States’ biggest competitor, or should I say most aggressive competitor.

The readers are ignored purely for the back pockets of economies. Are we ever fully informed then of what is going on? Are we ever going to be told what matters or what is happening outside the interests of editors and owners? The twenty-first century will be the most globalised and informed century in history, with the technology for greater information acquisition. But, if we are to allow people to dictate where are information comes from, will we ever really know what the news actually is?

(Just in case you want to know: Much of this post may sound like hearsay and rumour, but I’ve read a number of articles over the years that have given me the background to write about what I’ve covered in this post. Simple searches on the internet will reveal my background)

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