The terrorist atrocities in Paris last Friday generated blanket news coverage. Cyberspace was jammed with tweets, emoticons and Facebook posts, in a veritable outpouring of emotion and volley of opinions. Yet some responses were not focused simply on security and Islamic extremism; they also zeroed in on the media coverage itself.
Many noted that the day before, 43 people had been killed in Beirut. IS claimed responsibility, just as they did for Paris. However, the news coverage compared to Paris was muted by comparison. And then there were the 147 people killed at Garissa University College in Kenya in April. Again, the reporting was scant compared to Paris.
Is this a case, as was suggested, of ‘selective outrage’? Indeed, some go further, alleging that we care less for people in the developing world and consider their lives less valuable. They equate news coverage with compassion, which is a mistake.
When I worked in a BBC newsroom, we naturally discussed news priorities. A producer on the Today programme once opined that news items are categorised according to two criteria: interesting and important. Both are admittedly subjective, but they’re essential to understanding why the Paris attacks were covered so heavily. First, citizens of Western nations are disproportionately interested in what affects them personally. This is human nature. Second, the Paris attacks profoundly affect the West’s response to IS. Regrettably to some minds, they are of far greater importance than the attacks in Lebanon and Kenya. France was bombing IS targets days later.
In addition, many news organisations are businesses, and reporting is inevitably market-led. The truth is, the Paris coverage generated far more clicks on websites than news stories about Lebanon or Kenya.
What makes news? In many respects, whatever is deemed interesting and important by news organisations. Yet God is interested in all human beings, and they are all important to him.
Sadly, news coverage will never fully reflect God’s compassion for his creatures. For all the good it brings, media is inevitably unbalanced and impoverished when it comes to providing the wisdom and guidance we need. In a broken world, why would we expect otherwise? Still, in these insecure times, Christians can find wisdom and security in a sovereign God – and invite others to discover the same for themselves. For, while God’s purposes are sometimes hard to discern, his ways are always just, and his love endures forever.
Richard Collins works with Living Leadership, a charity which provides training and support to church leaders around the UK. He blogs at Mirth and Melancholy.
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