Two deadly terror attacks occurred in January of 2015, but only one garnered a worldwide reaction, a solidarity march attended by prominent world leaders and a a social media campaign carried out by celebrities and civilians alike.
I am talking, of course about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, but also of about the Boko Haram attack on the Nigerian city of Baga, where over two thousand civilians were killed and entire town wiped out.
The attacks in Paris, which left 17 dead, garnered much more immediate attention and coverage in the news than those in Baga. The Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher attacks were covered on the front page of the New York Times several days in a row, while articles about Baga made it to pages A6 and A8. Even African news media and governments stayed silent on the issue. Gabonese president Ali Bongo Ondimba, made his way to Paris for the solidarity march but did not make any comment on the atrocities happening on his own continent.
The disparity of coverage could be blamed on how difficult it is to cover, with safety being the main concern, or perhaps the fact that the Charlie Hebdo killings were an attack on journalism. But I believe the lack of coverage can be blamed on the devaluation and stereotyping of the “other”.
This problem is so systemic, to borrow from Fleras, that even African journalists were not covering these attacks. The stereotype of the “dark continent” filled with danger and disease has become so pervasive that even an attack that wipes out an entire town warrants little news coverage. According to Fleras, “Deliberate or not, an exclusive focus on negativity induces the systemically (inadvertent) biasing effect of portraying minorities along one-dimensional lines.” In this case, the focus on reporting only negative news out of Africa, and particularly Nigeria over the last few years has caused a catastrophic mass killing to be seen as par for the course and therefore undeserving of front-page coverage. The same can be made for the way the media has ignored the conflict in the Central African Republic. Black Africans attacking other black Africans is not nearly as easy a narrative for the audience as innocent Parisians being attacked by a violent Muslim other.
The same can be said of reporting on black-on-black crime on in North America. Because the negative stereotype of the “dangerous black ghetto” has become so pervasive, stories like that of Chicago’s sky rocketing gun violence barely make the news, while the killing of white-spring breakers by black gunmen is front and centre.
This kind of bias in reporting is dangerous both at home and abroad, as noted in the “Memo to Reporters Covering the Protests in Ferguson Notes” by Color of Change “Research shows there are dire consequences when stereotypical images of Black people rule the day; less attention from doctors, harsher sentences from judges, and abusive treatment by police, just to name a few.” We as journalists have to make sure that all stories are reported whether or not they fit into a convenient or popular narrative about race. Violence both at home and abroad deserves reporting on regardless of the victim's colour or nationality.
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