Our Parochial Press

We have already tweeted a few times and posted briefly about the shameful manner in which the British press has ignored the events in Kyrgyzstan, but there is a wider issue about the nature of our press in the UK, and perhaps what it says about the British public.

With the honourable exception of the Guardian, who have been running significant amounts of coverage and comment on their website, even the broadsheet newspapers have been relatively muted in their coverage of the terrible events in Kyrgyzstan. The events should be news worthy enough because of the terrible violence and the numbers killed, but given the rather precarious broader situation in the Central Asian Republics, we should certainly be paying more attention than is currently the case.

Take a quick look at the Daily Mail website, and count how many times you see articles about celebrities in bikinis before you reach the article about events in Osh. We promise there is an article, it is just an awful long way down – and there are a lot more about the far more pressing issues of who has the best bikini body.

Neville Chamberlain once dismissed the possibility of going to war for people from a far off land of whom we know nothing. Sadly, the British press seem to have little interest in reporting on events which fall outside either the Western world or those other parts of the globe which are deemed relevant.

We have little doubt that many would struggle to find any of the Central Asian Republics on a map, but equally there is much of the world which seems to be something of an enigma to much of the population – and this is at least in part due to the fact that the press is very selective with regard to what it pays attention to. One of our guest contributors has a particular bug-bear about the fact that when the Boscastle floods occurred (garnering huge amounts of press attention) there were simultaneous floods in Africa’s rift valley, which left thousands homeless but warranted merely a brief clip on the television news.

There is a magnificent scene in the West Wing, where Martin Sheen’s President asks a new staffer why an American life mattered more to him [the President] than an African one. The staffer replied that he didn’t know why, but it did. This seems to be true of our press, and perhaps our public. Anyone who has watched a report on a tragedy overseas is familiar with the line from reporters that there are x number of people dead – two of whom are British – as though the British lives are more valuable, or their deaths more tragic than those of other nationalities.

We are sure that a sociologist could seek to explain this by saying that we feel more kinship with those people who are most like us, and an anthropologist could explain how this developed. To us, however, it is repugnant. We should feel a shared humanity with people wherever they are from – and our heart should be just as heavy for those suffering in Kyrgyzstan as much for those anywhere else.

We know that there is no magic wand that will make caring liberals out of everyone, nor much that we can do to suddenly make the general public want to engage with events around the world and make them care about making things better. A quick look at the comments section of newspapers when aid is discussed show plenty of ‘concerned from Surrey’ who are arguing that we should be helping people at home before we help those overseas.

We would like to think though that those attitudes can change, and we can see the benefit and moral imperative of helping those less fortunate than us, wherever they may be. It would be a lot easier to start this process if our press woke up and started paying world events some attention.

The LabourLive Team

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