I listen to NPR quite a bit. Since I'm driving to/from work roughly the same time each day Tuesday thru Saturday, I'm usually listening to Morning Edition and All Things Considered, two of NPR's flagship programs that mainly deal with news stories. They're longer than a 30 minute TV newscast so they usually go into a little more detail than just a teaser and a couple of sentences, but it always amazes me to hear the types of stories they have - not just how long they are. Of course they, like everyone else, are covering the presidential primaries and the crazy weather across the US, but they also have other stories that I hardly hear mentioned elsewhere. They talked about the situation in Sudan (Darfur) before it made headlines with famous people taking up the cause. This morning I heard another story that caused me to think about a different region of Africa.
The story is about Congo and talks about the number of deaths that have gone on there since the civil war in 1998. That war has been over since 2002 but people continue to die in large numbers that now total well over 5 million. The genocide in Rwanda and the recent political conflicts in Kenya are things we've heard more about in this country, but there's been little, if any, coverage of Congo. Why?
The story talks about some of the reasons - these people are dying slower, quiet deaths from things like malaria and malnutrition - the results of the fall out from the war as opposed to direct, traumatic deaths. When the tsunami hit, it was massive and sudden and got headlines all over the world. The situation in Congo is drawn out and lacks powerful photographs that grab your attention. Another reason is simple economics; the US doesn't have any economic or political interest in Congo. I'd imagine another reason is simply that tv newscasts are looking for ratings and only have so much time to tell the stories that are going to draw in viewers.
Why do you watch the news? Are there certain stories that you want to or don't want to see? Have you changed the channel to see a newscast that was telling a story you cared about more than the previous channel's?
I always think that I'm watching the news (or listening to the news) to learn more about what's going on in the world. But when I tune in to a newscast or a radio news show, I'm trusting the people who put that show together to decide on my behalf which stories are worth being included. Can I trust them to show me the stories that are truly important? As a Christian and a humanitarian I can't bear to hear stories of en masse suffering, and I know that if I really knew about what was going on everywhere, it would be overwhelming. A person can only take so much in before you either get desensitized or you shut down (which was part of the reason I could work 911 only 4.5 years), so how do we determine when something becomes newsworthy? When is it too big to ignore?