PJ Media

Gaza vs. Congo: A Tale of Media Double Standards

While the conflict between Israel and Hamas unfolded in Gaza over the past few weeks, many innocent Gazan civilians stuck in the middle have no doubt suffered much. Meanwhile, another group of civilians further south has been going through a nightmare of no lesser proportion. You may be forgiven if you haven’t heard about the dire situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where over 1,000 civilians have been killed by a Ugandan rebel group since Christmas (Source: ResolveUganda). After all, the papers were so filled with coverage of the situation in Gaza, they had left little space to report this story; the late-night news devoted half its time to scenes of death and destruction in Gaza, running out of time before they had the chance to update you on the massacres in the DRC.

There are longstanding complaints about mainstream media bias in its reporting on Israel and websites such as honestreporting.com and bbcwatch.com seek to highlight this ongoing phenomenon. The contrast in reporting between the coverage of Israel’s war on Hamas and the massacres of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) presents an interesting case study in media bias, and a disturbing one at that.

There are a remarkable number of similarities between the two conflicts:

  • Hamas is a radical Islamic militia headed by an imam with the aim of creating a state under Sharia law. The LRA is a Christian militia headed by a “spokesman of God” with the aim of establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments (Source: GlobalSecurity).
  • Hamas and the LRA have both refused to sign peace agreements with their enemy, a U.S. ally. Both are designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. Department of State.
  • Following the end of a negotiated truce period and responding to ongoing Hamas rockets, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead on December 27, 2008. The ongoing conflict has lead to the deaths of 1,000 people to date, a third of whom are civilians. Meanwhile, two days earlier on Christmas Day, following the end of a UN peacekeeping mandate, the LRA attacked civilians with machetes, sparking the current conflict. To date, there are reports of 1,000 dead, all of whom are civilian.
  • The most newsworthy anecdote of the Gaza conflict has been the reported deaths of 40 civilians, including women and children, by an errant Israeli shell as they gathered to seek shelter at a safe haven, a UN school. Meanwhile, in the village of Doruma, more than 100 people, including women and children, were hacked to death by the LRA as they sought refuge in a safe haven, a Catholic church. Body parts were scattered all around the church and village (Source: The Monitor; ABC News).

Given the similarities, one would expect to get an equal level of media coverage on the two conflicts. I must admit that until yesterday, I knew nothing about the situation in the DRC and I think it would be a safe bet that most of you have not heard about this conflict until today. Here’s why.

A Google News search I ran on a mix of keywords relating to the two conflicts, the respective terrorist organizations involved, and the newsworthy anecdotes of the conflicts showed that reporting has been evidently skewed. When adjusted to factor in the newsworthiness of the story, as measured by the number of civilian deaths involved in the incident, the bias is beyond just proportion.

Coverage

Ratio

Adjusted

Hamas: LRA

67:1

202:1

Gaza crisis: Uganda crisis

136:1

409:1

UN School bombing: Church Massacre

242:1

807:1

Without getting into a debate about the morality of the operation in Gaza (see my other article on that subject), surely you would have to agree that a story about a civilian killed by an errant shell (aimed at rocket launchers 30 meters away) is not 807 times more newsworthy that a civilian hacked to death in a church on Christmas Day. While admittedly a higher standard of responsibility is rightly applied to a democratic state than an African terrorist group, surely the responsibility for the safeguarding of civilian life in enemy territory is somewhat mitigated by its right to defend the citizens of its own territory.

Confronted with two crises of a similar scale evolving over the same timeframe, the media chose to devote its full attention to one while blankly ignoring the other. Looking at these statistics, the mainstream media has little right to preach the doctrine of proportionality.

So, what makes a reporter decide to write yet another article about the crisis in Gaza rather than break the news from the DRC? The only plausible explanation for this disproportionate coverage is racism. It seems that while no one wants to read about another thousand dead Africans, everyone wants to read about those “warmongering Jews.” And so a pogrom of media reporting begins.