The independent news organization of Duke University

Examining western apathy

Earlier this month, a devastating bombing shook the city of Mogadishu in Somalia, resulting in upwards of 300 civilian casualties and hundreds of others left with severe injuries from the blast. Families were destroyed and lives were irreparably changed in a matter of seconds after an explosive-laden truck detonated, causing what was the most fatal terrorist attack to occur in Somalia and one of the world’s largest since 9/11. However, despite the severity and magnitude of the event, you might not have even been aware it happened. This serves as just one example of a larger irresponsible pattern in Western media reporting habits that under-prioritize regions outside of Europe and North America.

When it comes to air time allocated to tragedies, political strife in the global south is consistently treated with only a fraction of the attention it deserves. Even when widely-read publications like Metro have covered this story and the indescribable loss it wrought, they still devalue the weight of these events by choosing to display significantly less important news headlines, like Taylor Swift eating kebabs, on their front pages instead. This prioritization of asinine celebrity gossip over the bombing in Mogadishu shows truly how little significance Western media has attached to the lives of Somalis. In contrast, the recent Las Vegas shooting was covered non-stop for days following the attack and international news outlets like CNN even halted their normal programming to devote more time to coverage. Although domestic agendas are the primary ones for countries like the United States and UK, there is an overtly apathetic reaction to terrorist attacks that occur in war-torn countries like Somalia and Yemen. Martin Plaut, an editor of African news coverage for BBC World from 2003-2012, explains that this passiveness is a problem of Westerners assuming violence and death is more or less inherent to those regions. 

The discussions surrounding Somalia—along with many other regions of the world—infrequently involves the same detailed analysis and contextualization that are granted to incidents of comparable importance in the West. Crucial historical background and the region-specific circumstances that birth terrorist attacks like these are excluded from already meager coverage. Reporters routinely neglect the systemic and geopolitical structures that allow for these problems to persist, which paints dangerously inaccurate and incomplete images of these nations. Additionally, these commentary deficiencies dehumanize non-Westerners and reduces their suffering to an ahistorical inevitability. 

For far too long, even the most trusted news outlets in the West have failed to give struggles in the global south the platform they should be afforded. If tragedy and devastation continue to be normalized and treated like a symptom that can’t be cured, then we will never see a day where tragedies like the one in Mogadishu cease to occur. In order for the global community to take steps to combat terrorism and mend the social, political and economic ills that culminate in acts of violence, Westerners must first demand those issues be given more importance in media.

Discussion

Share and discuss “Examining western apathy” on social media.