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In the Congo, In the Congo
June 15, 2005 6:08 AM   Subscribe

In Congo, 1,000 die per day: Why isn't it a media story? "A media story is currently developing around the Congo - focusing, paradoxically, on how the conflict is not a media story." A journalist's-eye view of a story approaching the tipping-point towards widespread media coverage.
posted by ZenMasterThis (42 comments total)

 
Presumably western interests aren't being threatened. Wait until the Um Bongo factory goes to the wall, then you'll hear about it.
posted by biffa at 6:21 AM on June 15, 2005


Re: The Asian Tsunami:

This is why the current coverage of Congo's noncoverage actually leaves me optimistic that the country might be the next distant disaster to capture broad media attention.

I don't think so. People are always more captivated and sympathetic to "acts of God."
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:30 AM on June 15, 2005


It Ain't White (Or A Reasonable Facsimile Thereof) People. It's Darkest Africa. And it's people who are poorer than dirt. Strike three, you're out.

Congo, Darfur, Rwanda....Need I say more?

On preview: What C_D said. 1,000 people a day is peanuts; a tsunami that destroys civilian areas in multiple countries (with enormous loss of life, all at once) is a circus. If it's not sensational, it's not newsworthy.
posted by Floach at 6:36 AM on June 15, 2005


Presumably western interests aren't being threatened.

At least before the civil war, the US and France were Congo's biggest oil customers. Not to mention the diamond trade and the large natural gas reserves. Also, instability in Congo affects not just DROC and ROC, but also Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, Angola, and other near-by countries, some of which do hold Western Interests, who could be drawn back into the war with little provocation. So I doubt that's it. My guess is that it's more along the lines of our position on Rwanda during the genocide, bluntly, "It's not our problem."
posted by shawnj at 6:38 AM on June 15, 2005


Do they have oil?
posted by homodigitalis at 6:46 AM on June 15, 2005


There ain't no money in Africa and our interests are spread pretty thin.

If these people expect any relief they had better become Muslims and fly a few airplanes into buildings -- then they'll get some of that good ol' American style capitol 'D' democracy and Halliburton will build some roads.
posted by cedar at 6:49 AM on June 15, 2005


The day to day poverty is just too much for the media and public to really process. Sometimes an incident can get coverage, such as a drought, a tsunami etc.
posted by caddis at 7:02 AM on June 15, 2005


Darfur has received major coverage over the past year, and as a key focus for the upcoming G8 Summit, Africa in general is getting strong coverage at the moment. I wouldn't say Congo isn't getting noticed simply because it's in Africa.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:06 AM on June 15, 2005


Congo, Darfur, Rwanda....Need I say more?

Well, something is bad wrong with Sub Saharan Africa, the inhabitants have been killing each other with machetes for hundreds of years.

It is a problem, but it isn't exactly "new."
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:10 AM on June 15, 2005


And anyway, it's all over the BBC.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 7:10 AM on June 15, 2005


Clicks count. If CNN throws the story on the website and it sees little action, it will be gone in an hour and will never make it to the broadcast side of the house.

Michael Jackson is far more important to the American 'news' audience.
posted by mischief at 7:18 AM on June 15, 2005


Well, something is bad wrong with Europe and North America, the inhabitants have been killing each other with anything that comes to hand for hundreds of years.
posted by TimothyMason at 7:19 AM on June 15, 2005


Michael Jackson is far more important to the American 'news' audience.

. . . as are white college students gone missing on holiday. Enough already. How about the other 2,183 kids that go missing every day?

/end of rant and derail
posted by caddis at 7:24 AM on June 15, 2005


were any of the dead or injured Sports Illustrated swimsuit models?
posted by tsarfan at 7:28 AM on June 15, 2005


Well, something is bad wrong with Sub Saharan Africa the planet Earth, the inhabitants have been killing each other with machetes swords guns and bombs for hundreds of years.

Just because it's the way things are now, doesn't mean it's always been this way, or that it's always been this bad.
posted by skoosh at 7:29 AM on June 15, 2005


It is a catastrophe, and does deserve greater media scrutiny. The question becomes: What should the U.S. (or UK, or any other Western) government do about it? Note that the UN's attempts to "handle" the situation have been pathetic, at best. But what does more "media attention" get you, other than ink and electrons?

To put it more finely to those of you claiming we're ignoring it because there's no oil, money, etc.: What should we do? (And fwiw, my personal opinion is that we should try to put an end to the fighting (i.e., exercise some military force), and give the country a chance to stabalize. But can that be reconciled with anger at the U.S.'s actions in the middle east? What business does the U.S. have interfering with a country's sovereignty? Is it OK sometimes, but not others? Where is the line drawn?). What a mess.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:30 AM on June 15, 2005


I'm afraid that The Jesse Helms has nailed the real reason for the lack of care: fatigue. Since I was young all I've heard from Africa is constant news of war or famines, and often both at the same time. At first you're concerned and you donate money and raise awareness of the problems, but as the decades drag by you begin to wonder if anything can be done at all.
posted by Vaska at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2005


Good questions, pardonyou?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:32 AM on June 15, 2005


Thanks. I wish I had good answers.
posted by pardonyou? at 7:40 AM on June 15, 2005


I think part of the problem is that CNN et al focus on "news", things that are happening or changing at the moment. The tsunami of last year is a perfect example of this, its easy to cover because it happened suddenly.

More continuous situations, like wars, are generally covered a series of discrete events. Take for instance, the nightly coverage of the attacks against American forces in Iraq.

To cover something like the war in the Congo is more difficult, since the American people are not already aware of the issues. The media would have to get everyone up to speed on the background, then cover the events, which is a much more difficult task. Add to this the fact that information is probably difficult to get out of the region(lack of infrastructure, language difficulties etc.), at least compared to other parts of the world. It just makes coverage of the Congo seem quite difficult, for very little perceived reward.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:22 AM on June 15, 2005


"Since I was young all I've heard from Africa is constant news of war or famines"

Your statement reminds of the time in 1982 I found an entire collection of Time magazine from the late 40s through the 50s. Paging through them, I was struck at how the same headlines kept repeating about terrorist attacks in the mideast as well as wars and famine in Africa.

I still say the best thing for the rest of the world to do about Africa is to ignore it completely; stop the foreign aid, stop the commerce, stop the shipments of weapons, and let them wipe themselves out or grow up and become civilized.
posted by mischief at 8:28 AM on June 15, 2005


How very altruistic of you mischief.
posted by caddis at 8:41 AM on June 15, 2005


You are Mother Theresa and I claim my £5.

Great solution. Born into poverty, no access to education, no health care, no social security, no capital and with every chance that some dickhead will start a war on your doorstep, potentially forcibly co-opting you to fight but with every chance that you'll have no option but to move away or be killed, thus losing your land and social network. Clearly it's your own fault. Just grow up.
posted by biffa at 8:44 AM on June 15, 2005


Part of the problem is that the 1,000 people a day are indirect casualties of war -- in a world where we don't even know how many Iraqis are being killed as a direct result of war, it isn't surprising that the world isn't paying more attention the Congo's tragedy.
posted by Cassford at 9:54 AM on June 15, 2005


In Congo, 1,000 die per day: Why isn't it a media story?

FOX News did a mutilpart/multinight special on the Congo. But I guess since no one around here would admit watching FNC, they didn't see it.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 10:00 AM on June 15, 2005


"Then I noticed a small sketch in oils, on a panel, representing a woman, draped and blindfolded, carrying a lighted torch. The background was sombre -- almost black. The movement of the woman was stately, and the effect of the torchlight on the face was sinister."

I blame King Leopold and those damn Belgians.
posted by Snyder at 11:45 AM on June 15, 2005


Why isn't it a media story?

"It's Chinatown, Jake!"
posted by alumshubby at 12:04 PM on June 15, 2005


FOX News did a mutilpart/multinight special on the Congo. But I guess since no one around here would admit watching FNC, they didn't see it.

You mean the one a couple of months ago about how awful the UN is - sex abuse by peace keepers, etc.? I think the Congo was just a foil to attack the UN some more, no?
posted by caddis at 12:40 PM on June 15, 2005


I'm sorry, but can we just agree that people who write leads like "A media story is currently developing ... on how the conflict is not a media story," should be taken out and shot?
posted by wendell at 1:31 PM on June 15, 2005


No, wendell, we can't. As a non-journalist, I actually find stories about how the media select their stories rather interesting.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 5:25 AM on June 16, 2005


You mean the one a couple of months ago about how awful the UN is - sex abuse by peace keepers, etc.?

No, it was about the civil war. But hey, keep your head in the sand.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 5:57 AM on June 16, 2005


Until the (racist) image of Africa being full of savages who kill eachother for no reason is deconstructed, people will continue to ignore, justify, and accept.
posted by iamck at 8:52 AM on June 16, 2005


pardonyou? writes "to put an end to the fighting (i.e., exercise some military force),"

Maybe you can't put an end to violence using violence? Maybe there is no one magic bullet that will solve the problems that countries like DRC have. I have yet to see a US military intervention that has increased the peace. Yes, I include Bosnia in that list, it is the ongoing presence of UN troops that contribute to peace, the bombing having done very little good, very late in the game. There is much at stake for the greedy, gold, coltan, diamonds, timber, coffee and copper are up for grabs. Uganda, Rwanda, Angola, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are all involved in pillaging the country. Mining and oil companies are also involved. Just follow the money to find the source of the trouble.

The situation we see today is the result of many years of colonial exploitation and abuse, it is a complex and difficult problem.

Ken Wiwa has some interesting insights:
'The problem is that Africans have been forced to live in nation states whose raison d'etre was not to enrich the lives of the people within them; rather, they existed to transfer the resources abroad.'
posted by asok at 9:27 AM on June 16, 2005


I have yet to see a US military intervention that has increased the peace.

World War II
posted by pardonyou? at 9:59 AM on June 16, 2005


World War II.
posted by iamck at 10:36 AM on June 16, 2005


Until the (racist) image of Africa being full of savages who kill eachother for no reason is deconstructed, people will continue to ignore, justify, and accept.

Precisely. That, and that throwing money at the problem like we are apt to do doesn't solve anything.
posted by shawnj at 11:26 AM on June 16, 2005


iamck: Are you saying that Wrold War II do not end? Are we still in a state of war with Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan? Or are both these countries subjugated under the iron boot of the United Nations? Or is the war still going on somewhere because the U.S., with it's UN allies, have been unable to stop it? Or are you saying that the end of WW II dosen't count because the atom bomb was used? What is your point?
posted by Snyder at 1:37 PM on June 16, 2005


I'm saying having your skin melted probably doesn't feel like peace.
posted by iamck at 1:47 PM on June 16, 2005


FOX News did a mutilpart/multinight special on the Congo. But I guess since no one around here would admit watching FNC, they didn't see it.

Coincidentally, the Washington Times ran an incredible seven-part article on the Congo that was the most amazing investigative journalism I've ever seen, but unfortunately, only in the print edition. You'd all know about it if you weren't too busy reading Mother Jones and the Utne Reader, ya fuckin' hippies.
posted by iron chef morimoto at 2:12 PM on June 16, 2005


I'm saying having your skin melted probably doesn't feel like peace.

Neither did sucking Zyklon-B in Auschwitz. What's your point?
posted by pardonyou? at 2:13 PM on June 16, 2005


My point is how you define peace.
posted by iamck at 3:22 PM on June 16, 2005


Well, how do you define peace? I mean, there are plenty of things that don't feel like peace, like getting blown up my a grenade, riddled with machine-gun bullets, or burned alive which were some of the various fates awaiting American and Japanese soldiers, as well as Japanese civilians and emergency conscripts if an invasion of the Home Islands occurred. you could argue about which is worse, of course, or that the Home Islands didn't need to be invaded, but there were plenty of other people in WW II who didn't feel peace either. And didn't peace ensue (in as much people not getting shot or blown to bits or burned alive) among the primary non-SE Asian combatants (namely Japan, US, Europe and Russia) after the war?

Hell, I bet a hoplite nicking you with a bronze spear, so you get infection and blood poisoning and die horribly dosen't feel like peace either. So you could say that you have yet to see any military intervention that increased the peace, but you didn't. So what's special about mentioning US military intervention?
posted by Snyder at 5:49 PM on June 16, 2005


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