Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Double standard: Guantanamo vs. Darfur coverage in the Western media

via Daimnation
An excellent post from Atlantic Review that raises very good questions. Cartoons? Look at the Spiegel covers. "Stark" indeed.
Popular German magazines such as Der Spiegel frequently put US critical pictures on their cover. Critical reporting about the world's sole superpower is necessary, but statements like "Torture in the Name of Freedom" (as seen on a recent Spiegel cover) appear to be malicious distortions to sell more copies rather than critical, ethical journalism...

Although Darfur is much closer to Europe than the US, the mass murder, expulsions and rapes in Darfur (some call it "genocide") seem to be covered more extensively in the US than in the German media. American NGOs devoted to Darfur are more vocal than German NGOs. Do Germans care more about alleged torture, abuse, human rights violation and inhumane living conditions in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib than about much worse conditions in Darfur and many other war zones?..

Darfur is more outrageous in both magnitude and intensity than Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib, but the US scandals are more in the news because the media is more interested in the perpetrators than in the victims. US perpetrators are more sexy than Sudanese perpetrators, it seems...

It would be easy, and yet true, to bemoan Europe's reflexive anti-Americanism yet another time but it's just one piece of the puzzle.
The bias of such reporting practices results from implicitly 'racist' attitudes which lead to the perpetuation of a double standard in media coverage of international news. (full disclosure - I hate this particular usage of the word, ‘civilizational condescension’ would be a much more appropriate term but I’d have to explain it first so I’ve got to settle for the former). It is an unspoken, patronizing assumption on the part of the media that ‘those savages’ cannot be held to the same standard as ‘civilized people’. 100,000 people ‘over there’ have been made to starve, thousands have been tortured and died - such reports could only produce a collective yawn. It’s the same story all over again. On the other hand, ‘US perpetrators’ of real or imagined digressions are not just ‘sexy’ – they are ‘just like us’ and thus their failings can be instantly translated into a feeling of our own moral superiority, which in turn make Germans/Canadians/French/NDP members etc. feel so good about themselves.


At 12:23 AM, Blogger A. Shah said...

I think you're right that the West generally doesn't care about Sudan because the perpetrators AND the victims are too forgeign.

Another reason for outrage focusing on the Iraq I think is somewhat practical. The citizens of the US and other 'axis of the willing' countries are more outraged by Iraq because it is their own governments and tax dollars that have been used towards that conflict. People feel more of a direct obligation for, and an ability to influence, the actions of their own government. Hence the greater outrage.

By the way your own focus on how the 'West' is reacting to the Darfur situation rather than talking about the actual conflict itself, can be construed as resulting from the very bias that you describe.

At 12:57 AM, Blogger Oleksa said...

Well, Germany is not part of the 'coalition of the willing' and the article I qouted actually points out to the geographical proximity of Darfur to Europe as well as to the fact that so called 'abuses' in Guatanamo pale in comparison with human rights violations occuring elsewhere.
The title of my post must've been misleading, to an extent. Because I do believe it's not just the fact that there's direct Western involvement in Iraq that makes it more more 'newsworthy'.
This just confirms my long held suspicion that, firstly, America is held to a much higher standard when comes to human rights violations etc., assuming that America is a unique country, the world leader, and should be treated as such. But when America tries to act upon this principle the media are screaming about 'American unilateralism'. This is an instrumental part of what I called the anti-American bias.

At 1:00 AM, Blogger Oleksa said...

By the way your own focus on how the 'West' is reacting to the Darfur situation rather than talking about the actual conflict itself, can be construed as resulting from the very bias that you describe.

True enoug, I have to admit to it. As a matter of fact, I sometimes get so tired of this crap that's going on and I just wish that the West 'disengage' from the world.


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