With a distinct lack of media options here in Cuba, and relying almost solely on CNN for international news, this Guardian article rings true:
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.
The massacre at Virginia Tech was horrific and deserves coverage but the almost pornographic pleasure in analysing every detail, and therefore ignoring the rest of the world in the process, shows the sickness at the heart of the American media (perhaps the Australian media is currently the same.) It’s not surprising that many people I’m speaking to here correctly claim that the American media shows a lack of interest in non-white deaths around the world.
Yesterday I spoke to a number of Cuba’s leading dissidents, some of whom have been in jail, some of whom have just been released from jail (due to bad health) and many of whom risk returning to jail. They have spent their entire lives fighting the Castro regime and often being ignored by the world for their pains. Of course, they have their own agendas – and some remain very close to Miami and Washington, and some do not – but their detailing of human rights abuses here was chilling.
Displaying a healthy sense of scepticism is always important in these situations, but their criticisms of the state-run media and the lack of freedom of speech was hard to argue with. They told me that the younger generations simply didn’t believe in the revolutionary Castro-style fervour anymore, and wanted change. What form that could take, of course, greatly depended on the ways in which the US and Latin America reacted after Fidel’s death.
In the evening, I went to an orchestral concert at one of the country’s finest cultural centres. An original concert of Latin American music, and a young crowd that jumped to its feet at any available opportunity, gave the sense that music was indeed one form of expression that had thrived over the years. Some of the pieces sounded a little like Gorecki – that ominous and driving tone – but the spirit in which the night proceeded was actually not dissimilar to a rock concert in Sydney or New York.