In Nigeria earlier this year Boko Haram carried out its deadliest attack yet with the slaughter of an estimated 2,000 people in an indiscriminate weeklong attack.
The BBC and Amnesty International reported that Boko Haram militants opened fire on Northern Nigerian villages, leaving bodies scattered everywhere from the streets to surrounding bushes and wiping out whole villages, with the full extent of the carnage still unknown.
Massacres and bomb attacks in Africa and the Middle East are happening almost every day and are often going unreported. They rarely make it into the 30-minute nightly news segment on mainstream media channels.
For example, the headlines during this particular incident were instead relating to the siege attack in Paris on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that resulted in 17 people being killed.
It is interesting that the Paris attack had non stop media coverage, a hash-tag #JeSuisCharlie and leaders from all over the world converging on Paris to show their solidarity, but something like Boko Haram’s massive bloodletting is barely mentioned in the media or condemned by world leaders and is quickly forgotten about.
In no way were the events that unfolded in Paris that day not horrific and terrible, but it begs to ask the question; why was more emphasis placed on this attack than other similar incidents in other countries?
The reason is us.
It all comes back to the age-old debate of whether media is a reflection of society or if society is a reflection of the media. Both are true to some extent but this example, and there are many others like it, confirms the argument that society influences the media much more.
The media’s obligation to disseminate information to the public so that they are informed is conditional on the basis of the public’s interest. If an issue is not in the interest of the public then the media has no real reason to communicate this information. For news to be effective and of value it must speak to the consumer and their interests.
And the bleak truth is that our society is becoming increasingly shallow and self-interested. We care only about matters that directly affect us in some way and we continue to go about our daily lives, remaining ignorant of events occurring outside our own self-absorbed bubble. If it were a first world country being massacred in the way of Nigeria would we care? If it were a first world citizen caught in the crossfire in a bomb attack in the Middle East would we show interest?
Take for example the Sydney Siege in which two people were gunned down and 13 others held hostage for up to 17 hours. This was the number one news story in Australia for some time, and deservedly so. It was occurring to our people in our country and was an extremely horrifying and devastating event.
The day following the siege however, 130 children were slaughtered and their teachers burnt alive in front of them in Pakistan. But we never heard about it, despite the fact of its much higher death toll. Didn’t this incident deserve at least some acknowledgement by our mainstream media? Apparently not. And it all relates back to society and basically what we choose to give a damn about.
We cared about the Sydney Siege because it had potential to affect our lives and it was of extreme relevance since it was occurring in our own backyard, don’t get me wrong. But to not even acknowledge our fellow human-beings being wiped out in such large numbers seems a bit crass and leads me to wonder; is each life worth the same in terms of news values?