Monday, December 12, 2005

western victims = media coverage

The photo on the front page of Saturday's Globe and Mail showed a vigil for the two Canadian hostages being held in Iraq, whose fate is still unknown. Many Canadians are especially concerned about Torontonian Jim Loney who has been involved in negotiating peace at Burnt Church and Grassy Narrows. From all accounts he is an upstanding man who shows respect for other cultures and has a gift for soothing conflict.

But even while I share in this world-wide concern for their fate, this strikes me as yet another example of when Western victims receive such disproportionate media attention and global sympathy. From a BBC newscast 'Analysis: Iraq's forgotten hostages' : "
Meanwhile - virtually unreported by the international media - the kidnapping of Iraqis for ransom has become commonplace, particularly in Baghdad."

We see this kind of focus on Western victims almost any time there is an international disaster or crisis. After the Tsunami disaster a great deal of media space was given to Australian, European and North America victims - while the local ones become statistics, nameless faces in the crowd.

What makes the fate of Jim Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Tom Fox and Norman Kember so much more important than the thousands of Iraqi victims - killed, kidnapped, left homeless and unemployed?

There is something about people identifying more strongly with people from their own culture. We relate better to people who speak our own language and use similar cultural references. So when waves wash out whole villages in Thailand, instead of profiling the numerous Thais who lost homes and loved ones, the media stirs us with big stories on stricken foreign tourists. Heroic attempts are made to rescue them - their fate takes priority and no one seems to challenge or question this.

I finally got up the courage to watch Hotel Rwanda the other night. There is a scene early in the movie when French troops are sent to evacuate all the foreigners - while Rwandans were left in the inferno of genocide. A genocide of over 800,000. Almost all the victims were African and the world was almost indifferent.

So when I read yet another story about the four hostages in Iraq, listen to yet another story about them on the radio, I wonder whose story we are not hearing. How many Iraqi's have died this month? How many families are grieving?

I wonder why our global perspective still remains so narrow.

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