The myopic complaints about media bias

A deadly attack somewhere in Europe. A wave of news coverage and sympathetic posts on social media. And then, inevitably, the widely-shared items denouncing the Western media’s failure to cover violence in the Middle East.

There’s an infographic making the rounds on Facebook which claims that attacks against Europeans were “headline news,” while attacks in Muslim countries generated “no headlines.” AJ+ produced a video that critiques both the level and tone of the coverage:

First, these memes are simply incorrect. It’s ironic that they’re often written in English, shared by Americans and Europeans who presumably don’t speak much Arabic or Turkish or Urdu. How would they have learned about the attacks if not for coverage in Western media?

The Yemen mosque bombings that killed 130+ people last year appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Last June’s hotel attack in Tunisia was on the cover of countless newspapers, including such prominent sources of foreign-affairs coverage as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. And so on: every single one of the attacks mentioned in the above infographic was covered in Western newspapers, sometimes across multiple days.

Nor are Western journalists the only ones who use problematic language in their reports. The above video lambastes the Western media for describing Beirut’s southern suburbs as a “Hezbollah stronghold.” Fair enough. But here’s an Arabic-language item from Al Jazeera, the parent organization of AJ+, that uses the same phrase. And another, from Al Arabiya — where it’s used in the headline.

But, the critics would argue, it’s a question of degree: the Brussels attack generated round-the-clock coverage; the Beirut bombing did not. Indeed. Yet as I write this, you have to scroll about a third of the way down the homepage of Brazil’s largest newspaper to find any mention of the Brussels bombings. Does this mean Brazilians are indifferent to bloodshed in Europe? No. It means their president is facing impeachment proceedings, which Brazilian editors decided is a more relevant and compelling story for their audience.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn barely mentions Brussels at all on its homepage—just a small blurb in the “world” section near the bottom. The lead story is about 84 Pakistanis being deported from Russia. Should we infer that Pakistanis don’t care about European deaths, only about their countrymen?

You could ask this about any story. Violence against Rohingya Muslims was probably reported far more in the pan-Arab media than in the Kenyan press. The average Guatemalan likely doesn’t read that much about al-Shabab. Editors in Papua New Guinea presumably don’t devote many column inches to the European debt crisis and the resurgent far right.

Perhaps someone should make a meta-meme: why are these critiques only directed at Western news outlets? Do their authors think Western journalists are the only ones capable of transcending their cultural biases to cover the world evenly?

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