Monday, January 03, 2005

Natural vs political disasters

With global news still being dominated by the Asian tsunami, the English language service of Der Spiegel (which I subscribed to on the advice of a German friend) notes in its review of Germany's daily newspapers one of those horribly salient points that we - and by we I mean the media - usually choose not to dwell on: Why doesn't the world respond as quickly to political disasters that kill many more people than any natural disaster? The financial daily Handelsblatt, while praising the response, elaborates:
    When such international solidarity and such massive mobilization is possible in the case of a huge civil catastrophe it begs the question of why the same response is never manifested during a political crises. Prime examples of such theaters of war include Congo, Rwanda, and Sudan. These are just catchwords for a long list. But, in these places, we were also confronted, day after day, with humanitarian catastrophes. In Asia, the UN is showing that in terms of finances and logistics it can lead the way in crisis management. It should engage itself this way more often, also when the climate is a tough political one.

Unfortunately, the answer is simple, at least as far as the media awareness component is concerned: The tsunami is novel, whereas wars and even genocides are all too common, and therefore boring to Western audiences. Political disasters have multiple causes, making these stories much more complex than a nice simple tsunami or earthquake. There's less spin and propaganda over natural disasters. It's easier for journalists to gain access to the effects of natural disasters because there's less likelihood of their running into people who want to kill them. And frankly it's not always easy for the media to figure out the good guys from the bad guys in political disasters. Overall, the media just have a much tougher time dealing with political horrors than with natural ones. I think if they had their druthers the media (well, certainly local news and the cable channels) would prefer to stick to the natural variety of disaster; they make for easy stories and because the stories are essentially weather-related - and we just can't seem to get enough of weather reports - they're more likely to find a receptive audience in the West.


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