The ugly truth behind media coverage

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You don’t need to be fashionable to be a part of the paparazzi. Engin Akyurt via Unsplash

Framing populations as deserving the horrors they experience is extremely harmful

Since the start of the year, we have been watching news coverage of the tensions between

Ukraine and Russia. Today, a war has emerged from the situation. This has affected the lives of millions of people. As an African, I have always been aware of the cruelty of war because it is something that my parents have experienced. War separates people. It separates families, it destabilizes communities, it leads to intergenerational trauma, it affects how people view the world, and it affects the recovery of a country. Understanding the impact of war and politics is important.

Many have heard statements such as “they seem like us,” “these are people who look like us and drive cars like ours,” “this is not happening in Afghanistan or Syria,” and “this is
Europe.” There is the belief that war is happening for the first time in humanity, to civilized Europeans – the same Europe that has been at the heart of a multitude of wars and genocides. This is the same Europe that started the transatlantic slave trade. For starters, the same regions that journalists are implying to be uncivilized are the regions where civilization started. These are all statements that have come from war journalists who pretend to be allies of the global South.

Charlie D’Agata, a senior foreign correspondent at CBS stated “Ukraine isn’t, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European – I must choose those words carefully, too – city, where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” I guess it is okay to utter disrespectful statements if you say, “with all due respect.”

David Sakvarelidze, the former deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, explained that it was difficult for him to see “European people with blue eyes and blond hair being killed.”

Another former Conservative member of the European Parliament known as Daniel Hannan wrote “…they seem so like us. That is what makes it so shocking. War is no longer something visited upon impoverished and remote populations. It can happen to anyone.” For some powerful leaders, the fact that there is war occurring in Ukraine is shocking because, quite frankly, how could such a civilized country go through something so painful? That begs the question, how could Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Palestine go through the same thing?

These statements imply that some groups deserve war whilst other don’t. Nobody deserves war. Nobody deserves to have their livelihoods flipped upside down. The most difficult thing to do is to have to leave your country as a result of war to foreign lands. Hannan’s statements highlight the lack of empathy for the global South. The fact of the matter is that we should empathize with anyone who is fleeing from war, regardless of the colour of their skin. Lucy Watson, ITV News correspondent, stated “this is not a developing third-world nation, this is Europe.” The selective empathy that has been oozing from journalists has been interesting to watch.

Ukrainians who are fleeing from war are referred to as refugees while Afghan refugees were referred to as migrants by French media. As Ukrainians fled to Poland, they were welcomed with open arms by the same country that left Iraqi, Syrian, and Afghan refugees to freeze to death at the border. Polish authorities refused to accept the asylum seeker applications of some refugees. There is the implication that one side has refugees who are well-read, well-educated, smart, and talented, while the other does not. This is an assumption that emphasizes that only a specific type of refugee is welcome. Many people who come to the West as refugees from the global South are people who used to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and students in their respective countries.

The reality is that some of the war coverage from Ukraine is rooted in racism, colonialism, and otherism. The remnants of colonialism make up a world where conflict in one region is normalized but the same cannot be said for countries in the West. Humanity has become so desensitized that we are only able to feel pain for people who might look like us when we should feel pain for every single person who has ever known war.

I don’t want to live in a world where people are genuinely flabbergasted that war can happen to anyone, not just Brown and Black people. The type of racism we have seen in the hypocritical media coverage is not necessarily in your face. It is subtle, casual, and laced with microaggressions. Referring to one region as civilized and another as uncivilized hurts people in the global South. It is a painful reality that these individuals will always be left to stand on their own after the West destabilizes them. The day that President Joe Biden called Russia a bully was the same day that America bombed my country, Somalia. The hypocrisy of America calling Russia a bully when they have been undermining and destroying countries in the global South is a phenomenon that will be studied by historians for years to come.

The situation in Ukraine has only highlighted dark secrets of our world that many minorities are already aware of. None of this is news to many of us. These are beliefs that have been ingrained into the minds of many people, even those who claim to be progressive allies of the global South.

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