On January 3, Boko Haram, the Islamist group that has been terrorizing northern Nigeria since 2009, razed and massacred the town of Baga and other villages on the country’s border with Chad. The ongoing occupation of the town and ravaging of the countryside makes it hard to get reliable numbers, but it appears that as many as 2,000 were killed, up to 30,000 were displaced, and some 1,000 Baga citizens who fled the violence by swimming into Lake Chad are now starving on Kangala Island. It was the single most audacious, horrific, and massive attack carried out by the terrorist group—and one that cemented their control over a block of territory more than twice the size of Vermont.
Yet this unprecedented atrocity, part of an ongoing and truly concerning conflict, received almost no immediate media attention. Then on January 7, when 17 people were killed in Paris, 12 of them satirists from Charlie Hebdo magazine, the media erupted (and continues to erupt) with heartfelt outrage and constant coverage. Responding to the event, citizens and 40 world leaders organized a 3.7-million-man march in support of the victims and the press freedoms symbolically assailed in the attack.
While both attacks are unmitigated atrocities, worthy of condemnation and commemoration, the seemingly inverted disparity in coverage has not gone unnoticed. Some, like Simon Allison writing in South Africa’s Daily Maverick, have taken the imbalance as a sign that the media and the world do not mourn deaths in Africa the way they do those in the West. While gut instinct suggests Allison is right, situations like these are also worth examining as media phenomena—and while racism and Western views of Africa are certainly part of this equation, the debacle clearly points towards serious failures in editorial judgment and a systematic problem with the way we choose which stories to prioritize as writers and as readers alike.
Some try to brush the events at Baga aside, noting that the murky death toll may be as low as 200. Others may think that the uneven coverage was not so bad, especially considering the relative access journalists had to the two areas. But even 200 human beings killed, as part of an ongoing and geopolitically important terror campaign is worthy of far more note than Baga received. And while it’s true that the lack of communications and security in Baga meant vastly less reporters than in Paris, the media’s inattention goes beyond that simple explanation. One media analyst has drawn up clear and depressing graphs of the relative blind eye turned towards Baga in both the global and Nigerian media alike.
But the media doesn’t always turn a blind eye to African suffering. The international press spent a good amount of time and ink covering Boko Haram’s terrifying abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in April 2014, a blitz of attention that included statements from the White House, celebrity commentary, and the ever-sharable #bringbackourgirls hashtag. Not that it made much difference; nine months later, almost all of these girls are still missing, married off or possibly enslaved by the terror group, with no sign of any particular plan of action to get them back. And the West wasn’t alone in its failure to devote time to Baga. Many commentators have noticed that African leaders like Gabon’s Ali Bongo Ondimba and Mali’s Ibrahim Boubacar Keita attended the solidarity march in Paris, but they (and even Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at his Thursday reelection rally) have remained eerily silent on Baga.
The world didn’t turn away from Baga solely because of where it was or who lived there. And it didn’t turn a blind eye only because it was hard to reach and report from. It didn’t even favor the Paris attacks because they involved journalists—writers regularly ignore the deaths of journalists, even when frequent and numerous, in other parts of the world. Instead it seems like we passed on covering Baga in any great depth because, while it was a worthy story, to many in media it wasn’t a “gripping tale.” But why?
SOURCE: Good . is