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Haiti, Media

Half hour for Haiti: 1000 dead Haitians not worth the words on paper

A leaked email from a BBC editor highlights the Western media’s lack of interest in Haiti. David Edwards writes

The whistleblower’s editor had listed several stories which he described as “not that interesting”, followed by the comment: “Dull stories – every one of them, don’t you think?” These were the stories:

“The leading anti-drugs judge in Afghanistan has been assassinated. “There’s been an angry reaction in France following the magazine publication of photos of Taleban fighters displaying trophies they’d stripped from French soldiers killed in an ambush. “The authorities in Haiti say the number of those killed in the wake of Tropical Storm Hanna has risen to more than sixty. “A United Nations report says the world’s wealthiest countries are failing to deliver on their promises to boost development aid.”

By the end of the week the number of Haitian dead had risen to 500 and now it is estimated that at least 1000 have died. The number of displaced is in millions. It’s not just Haitian stories that are dull and not worth the words on the paper. Another example of the discrepancy in reporting and value attached to people’s lives is the reports on the floods in the Indian state of Bihar. Hardly a word has been heard on the British TV and radio news including the World Service. Apparently Westerns are not able to empathise with people who live in places like Bihar and Gonaives. Black people, People of Colour – are too remote to reach people’s imaginations.

“[I]t would be dishonest to ignore some of the darker reasons for the discrepancy in the media coverage of these two disasters. One is a failure of empathy in the West. People can envisage themselves stranded in New Orleans, but not a village in Bihar. And then there is the sad reality that, even in our globalised age, lives lost in the developing world are regarded as less newsworthy than lives lost in the rich world. Even when subject to the undiscriminating violence of nature, it would appear that all men and women are nothing like equal.”

Dan Beeton writing in the Upside Down World interviewed a number of journalists on why they failed to report on Haiti. Their answers show a mixture of laziness, disdain and racism.

Jennifer Bauduy, a former Reuters correspondent who reported from Haiti for two years, explained in an e-mail: “Haiti is not rich in resources, is not a significant trading partner, is not a major tourist destination, and so is not significant to the U.S. media. Added to this is a combination of racism and the language barrier.”

New York Times investigative reporter Walt Bogdanich characterized part of the challenge to presenting a balanced picture of developments in Haiti as such: “Any story that veers from the conventional wisdom is going to encounter resistance.”

Veteran freelance reporter Reed Lindsay described U.S. reporting on Haiti as suffering from a kind of parachute approach, in which correspondents unfamiliar with the country swoop in for a week or two. “Their coverage,” he said, “tends to be very superficial at best, and often very distorted, because they don’t have time to get to know the country.” He said biased reporting often results from correspondents’ reliance on elite sources.

Some actions readers can take:

Links: Media Lens “Not very interesting news…”

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone.

Ask the Independent why it has had so little to say about the crisis in Haiti.

Write to the Independent’s foreign news editor, Katherine Butler Email: k.butler@independent.co.uk

Write to Roger Alton, editor of the Independent Email: rogermalton@googlemail.com

Please send a copy of your emails to us Email: editor@medialens.org

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