Sunday 22 November 2015

It's natural to care about those we are familiar with

Since the Paris terrorist attack last week, one theme that has emerged is the complaint that the Paris attacks received widespread coverage while a similar attack in Beirut that week received less attention.

It's a fair comment and we should never believe that the lives of people living here in the West are more important or valuable than people living in other parts of the world. In saying this I don't think we should feel guilty about the fact that the events in Paris have affected us more than similar events in other parts of the world.

Here in the UK, France is our next door neighbour. We know France, their culture, lifestyle, and history is similar to our own. The fact that something so awful and horrific has happened to one of our neighbours we naturally have a greater level of interest and concern for them than to other people from places we are unfamiliar with.

Despite some of the comments made in the last week, we shouldn't feel guilty about our feelings on what's happened in Paris. Terrible things happen everyday all over the world but some events are always going to have greater emotional impact on us than others and that may explain why certain stories and countries in the world gain greater media coverage.

When I thought about this, it reminded me about a book I read a few years ago on the Mexican drug wars called Narco. The book tells the story of the drug cartels rise to power and gives you an insight into how they murder and terrorise thousands of innocent people. But when I read the book I didn't just learn about the cartels, I learnt about Mexico itself. Its history, politics and culture. I suddenly thought: 'I know nothing about Mexico'.

Why do we not hear more about Mexico's drug wars when so many innocent people are dying? In reality we can substitute Mexico with so many other countries across the world who we know little about and hear few reports in the news.

In the last week I've read comments about media bias about how the news we receive in the West is too Western orientated. The truth is that all news is biased. When I travel home from work in the evening I read the London Evening Standard. The paper has a bias towards news from London! There's a clue in the paper's name.

When we watch the 10:00 news on the BBC or ITV there is only 30 minutes in which to cover various news stories and as a result choices or editorial decisions are made on which stories take priority and will be of interest to the audience.

At a recent journalism networking event I went to, I got chatting to a BBC journalist from Yemen. I said to her I'd never met anyone from Yemen and knew nothing about the country. She went on to tell me how difficult it is for her to get stories from Yemen covered by her editor despite the fact that there's a war going on over there.

When people complain that we don't hear enough about tragedies and stories from other parts of the world, they should ask themselves whether they and other people would be interested in hearing stories from countries we are unfamiliar with? Or about conflicts and issues we know little about?

My views on the media and our news agenda are certainly influenced by the fact that I've trained in journalism. Journalism teaches you how to find things out. Part of me thinks that if people genuinely want to hear and see stories from other parts of the world then there's nothing stopping them doing this.

With the growth of the internet and more 24 hour news channels, there's never been a greater opportunity for people to learn and discover more about the world around them. If you want to hear stories from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East you can find these stories if you're really interested and determined enough.

On Twitter I follow news stories from the Japan Times and Brazil Character Lab. I've been to Japan and Brazil and now have a natural interest in what happens in those countries. I don't have the same level of interest in some other countries around the world but we all have our own particular interests.

All news is biased and yes in the UK foreign news coverage is dominated by European and American stories. To some extent that's to be expected but we shouldn't apologies or feel guilty about that.

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