A hierarchy of death
By Roy Greenslade
Why do 32 deaths in Virginia receive blanket coverage while nearly 200 fatalities in Iraq are barely reported?
04/20/07 “The Guardian’ — 04/19/07 – Thirty-two die in American university shooting. Result? Huge media coverage in the US and Britain. In Iraq, almost 200 die, arguably the worst day of carnage in that beleaguered country since the coalition invasion. Result? Coverage so restrained as to be, in many cases, totally negligible. Could you even find it in the Times this morning? Why?
General reasons first. The media operate what amounts to a hierarchy of death. Here are the criteria: foreign deaths always rank below domestic deaths. Similarly, on the basis that all news is local, deaths at home provide human interest stories that people want to know about, while the deaths of foreigners are merely statistics.
Sure, the victims and their families are human beings, too, but if they are thousands of miles away they cannot – in the eyes of the media’s editorial controllers – generate the same sympathy and interest as deaths near at hand.
Deaths in ongoing conflicts always receive less coverage than unexpected deaths elsewhere (because the latter are, by their nature, unpredictable and news values always rate new-ness above old-ness).
Now let’s get down to some other controversial home truths. The deaths of non-white people in foreign parts – and, I would contend, often at home – are never accorded equal status by the white, western media. The deaths of Arabs and Muslims (and, in many media eyes, there is no difference) are overlooked because they are, variously, anti-western, anti-Christian or anti-capitalist, or all three, and are therefore undeserving of sympathy. By virtue of their religion and their ethnicity they cannot expect the same treatment as the people in the west (who, of course, are also more civilised, better educated and altogether more wholesome). In other words, it’s racist.
Finally, specific reasons. Iraq is considered to be a basket case.
There’s no hope. We cannot understand it. Sunni v Shia (like Catholic v Protestant) is surely too difficult to resolve. There’s no point in going into depth about deaths among fanatics and fundamentalists. They are, as I said earlier, just statistics now. So home-grown massacres are infinitely more newsworthy and (dare I say so) sexier.
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