Commentary | Hyde Park: No news is bad news

“If it bleeds, it leads,” goes the journalistic maxim. But it is clear that not all blood is equally worthy of the front page.

Supposedly impartial news productions aim to catch your attention, pull at your heartstrings, and keep your interest.

Photographers capture what you’ll look at; journalists write about what you care about. Nothing more is warranted, some believe, because why report on stories no one cares about?

This explains why certain conflicts go practically unnoticed while others become the focus of world attention.

The world’s focus on the Palestinian death toll may have led people to assume that Gaza is the worst place of conflict in the world right now. This is not the case.

On October 14, Sudan finally agreed to arrest Ali Kushayb, leader of the Janjaweed militia, for his role in the Darfur genocide – of which many of us have already forgotten. The International Court of Justice convicted him of crimes against humanity back in 2007. How many of us were aware of that?

On November 4, in roughly 24 hours, over 150 people were killed. It was the massacre of Kiwanja by the Mai Mai militia. Of course, we never heard about that, because it happened in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This was just one day in the conflict that has been ongoing since the end of the summer, though hostilities there have been unceasing since 2000, with a death toll roughly estimated at one million.

We’re all far more concerned right now about the conflict that began on December 18 in Israel. It turns out that we have learned little from recent history.

There are parallels between now and 1956, when 2,500 Hungarians were killed and 200,000 became refugees during their revolution, while the world’s attention was focused on the Suez crisis. Why? Because Suez was about oil; it was a conflict that directly affected the West. We didn’t care about the welfare of the Hungarians then, and we don’t care about Africans now.

I was shocked to open up my January 20 Globe and Mail to find that practically the entire “A” section was Obama. There wasn’t a single piece of world news. What of the announcement about increasing the Darfur peacekeeping effort to “full strength” (26,000 soldiers, according to The New York Times)? Or that three bombs hit the Afghan town of Khost, killing a teen and wounding 16? Or that a Russian human rights lawyer and a journalist were assassinated in Moscow? These all happened during inauguration week, yet remain largely unmentioned in our local papers.

Israel and America are only two of the 195 countries in the world right now, depending on which ones you believe have the right to self-determination . I am concerned with the situation in Gaza, and I appreciate the significance of the first black American president, but I remain conscious of the fact that these occurrences are not the only ones of geopolitical significance in the past two months.

I’ve asked numerous people why they care about the conflict in the Middle East, but no one seems able to explain to my satisfaction. I could apply the reasons they list to countless situations that have remained below the radar of headlines. The question remains: do we care because the news tells us all about it, or does the news tell us all about it because we care?

We should care about the Middle East, and I believe that many of us genuinely do. But it is also crucial that we concern ourselves with the issues of other nations that don’t share our government-type, history, or cultural association.

To think that those in the Congo don’t matter as much to our lives, or that we can’t possibly understand the ways of such “others,” is to accept that what we don’t immediately understand isn’t worth attempting to know.

E.D. Cauchi originally wrote this piece for The Strand, a student newspaper at the University of Toronto, and a member of the Canadian University Press.


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