Weather and Racism

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What the media chooses to cover … and to ignore

Liam Mac Uaid, an editor of the British journal Socialist Resistance, published this in his always-excellent blog today. His comments are equally true of journalism in Canada and other parts of the global north.

London, September 7, 2008 — At the moment about 97% of journalists working for British media organizations seem to be in the United States at the moment. Running commentaries on what Sarah Palin  may or may not choose to have for lunch and interviews with some chap her husband talked to in the barbers a year or so back account for most of the news bulletins and a fair chunk of the printed coverage.

The other big exciting story was the evacuation of New Orleans. This included the good news that No pets left behind in New Orleans evacuation.Standard procedure for this type of item is an earnest interview with the local weather reporter who is flattered to be given an international audience and one of the BBC/ITV/Sky regular standing getting soaked in a howling wind with a minor risk of being blown to the ground. The British press reports severe weather events in the United States almost as if they were domestic news stories. And as this weekend’s floods demonstrate that means taking up about 50% of each bulletin.

It’s when they report events in other, not very distant from New Orleans, parts of the world that the provincial Atlantacist racism breaks through. The deaths of 90-100 people in India and the fact that 3 million people had to leave their homes received a fraction of the coverage. The deaths this week of hundreds of Haitians when it is reported is done through video clips provided from charity organizations and none of the BBC’s big names are sent to Gonaives to stand up to their necks in water which may be why there have been none of the expressions of sympathy and solidarity that an American city would have received from Queen Elizabeth or Gordon Brown.

Getting to Havana from London is very straightforward. There are several flights each week. The damage that Cuba has suffered is infinitely more severe than anything that has happened this year in the United States. Fidel Castro has compared it to Hiroshima. Are the Cuban authorities overwhelmed with journalists requesting access to the disaster hit areas? Of course not.

The ideological convergence of the three major British parties and the lack of stories about strikes and class struggle has gone some way to making us forget just how ideological news reporting is. It’s true that most British news organizations allow themselves to be manipulated by the Ministry of Defence in Iraq and Afghanistan but that has become the background propaganda war.

As climate change creates more severe weather events it will be the world’s poor who will die and suffer disproportionately and you will be hard pushed to find out too much about it from your TV. On the other hand you will get lots of footage of hardy journalists mugging to the camera before running back to the nearest four star hotel.