Close

Support Global Voices

To stay independent, free, and sustainable, our community needs the help of friends and readers like you.

Donate now »

See all those languages up there? We translate Global Voices stories to make the world's citizen media available to everyone.

Learn more about Lingua Translation  »

From Kivu to Gaza: How the Media Choose the Conflicts They Cover

Si un mort israélien vaut plusieurs morts palestiniens, combien faut-il de cadavres congolais pour un linceul gazaoui?

If an Israeli death is worth the death of several Palestinians, how many dead Congolese bodies for a Gazan funeral shroud?

Why conflicts in Africa receive such little media attention, in particular the horrors unfolding in Kivu, is an age-old question (as persistent as the question of why the international media, when they do cover Africa, only cover conflicts).

Elia Varela Serra wrote on this website on the same theme, just a few days ago, translating part of an article on Rue89 by journalist Hugues Serraf.  Serraf's treatment of these questions has generated controversy among many francophone readers, both Congolese and Muslim.

Some Rue89 readers agree with Serraf's general sentiment.

Rafa explains why the media in France pay so much more attention to Palestine than it does to Congo:

L’hyper-sensibilité de la société francaise au conflit israelo-palestinien vient du fait de la présence des 2 communautés en france, qui rejoue ici ce qui se passe la bas. D’autre part je pense que Israel étant un pays « occidental » dans le sens ou israel fait partie du « monde libre » (dixit Livni), les francais peuvent s’identifier aux israeliens, et le fait qu’un pays soi disant civilisé, une démocratie comme la notre, avec des gens qui on le meme mode de vie que nous, le meme genre de société, puisse se conduire d’une maniere si barbare, heurte certainement les esprits des gens. En comparaison le conflit au congo fait figure d’énieme drame sur un continent maudit, auquel les gens ne font meme plus attention tant ces drames sont fréquents.

French society's hyper-awareness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict comes from the presence of both of these communities in France, who replay over here whatever happens there.  On the other hand, I think that Israel, being a “Western” country in the sense that Israel is part of the “free world” (as Livni said), French people can identify with the Israelis, and the fact that it is a so-called civilized country, a democracy like ours, with people who have the same way of life as we do, the same kind of society, can act in such a barbous way, rattles us.  In contrast, the conflict in Congo seems like just another tragedy on a cursed continent that people don't pay attention to anymore because these kinds of tragedies are so frequent.

Another Ru89 reader, Pierre Haski:

Le mois dernier, j’ai même assisté place de la République à une manif de Congolais à propos du conflit dans leur pays. Ils étaient quelques dizaines, coincés entre les cordons de CRS, dans l’indifférence des passants. Samedi, j’ai assisté au démarrage de la manif Palestine, caméras de télé au rendez-vous.

Last month, I saw a Congolese protest at the [Place de la République in Paris] about the conflict in their country.  There were a few dozen, packed in between the ropes of the [riot police], passersby completely indiferent.  Saturday, I saw the Palestinian protest when it was just beginning; television cameras were already there.

But there were many who deplored the author's ignorance of the continent.  Serraf, in his article, said:

Moi, je suis comme vous. Je ne ne sais pas grand chose du Congo et de cette Armée de résistance du Seigneur…Surtout qu’il en y a deux, des Congo! Et puis l’Afrique, c’est extraordinairement compliqué. Entre les catastrophes naturelles, les épidémies, les chefs de guerre en Land Cruiser à tourelle, tout ça… Comment savoir qui sont les méchants et les gentils?

Me, I am like you.  I don't know a whole lot about Congo and this Lord's Resistance Army…Not only that, there are two Congos!  And then Africa is incredibly complex.  Between natural disasters, disease epidemics, warlords roving in Land Cruisers, and all that…How do we know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?

He also write that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be much better-covered in France because, at least from the perspective of the public, it is much easier to differentiate between the “good” and the “evil”.

Blogger Alex Engwete, who has been covering the conflict in Kivu with daily updates on his blog, rails, in a comment, against Serraf's self-stated ignorance:

J’avais commencé par me tisser une affinité avec votre indignation sur le silence autour de la catastrophe congolaise avant que je ne découvre dans les trois derniers paragraphes où vous vouliez en venir. J’allais même partager avec vous ce que m’avait confié à Nairobi l’un de mes amis pigiste pour la BBC à qui ce noble réseau de diffusion et de répercussion des nouvelles avait demandé de cesser d’envoyer des dépêches sur le Congo si le nombre de morts se chiffrait au-dessous de 50 ! C’étaient des noirs et le cœur des ténèbres, après tout, où la norme, c’est « l’horreur ! L’horreur ! » — depuis Joseph Conrad… Mais je me rends compte avec désillusion que le Congo n’est qu’une balise (prétexte sensationnel) menant vers la chute de votre rhétorique tordue ! Si vous ne connaissez rien du Congo, laissez ses morts tranquilles !

I began with a certain affinity for your indignation over the silence surounding the Congolese catastrophy before finding out in your three last paragraphs where you were going.  I was even going to share with you what one of my journalist friends at the BBC confided to me in Nairobi, that that noble broadcast network asked him…to stop sending dispatches from Congo if the number of deaths was below 50!  They were blacks and it was the heart of darkness, after all, where the norm is “the horror!  The horror!” — according to Joseph Conrad…But then I realized, disillusioned, that Congo is nothing more than a beacon (sensational pretext) leading us toward the anticlimax of your twisted rhetoric!  If you don't know anything about the Congo, let the dead rest in peace!

Families take shelter in a destroyed building after being forced to flee their homes due to the intensification of conflict in the province of North Kivu. (Photo by UNHCR/ S. Schulman)

case en construction writes:

La surmédiatisation des horreurs commises actuellement à Gaza ont tendance à détourner le regard des médias (et par extension du grand public) de celles toujours en cours au Kivu. Certains journalistes peu scrupuleux en profitent même pour instrumentaliser, à des fins de propagande pro-israélienne, la faible couverture médiatique de la guerre à l'est du Congo.

The media frenzy over the horrors currently being committed in Gaza have had the tendency to turn the attention of the media (and by extension, the public at large) away from what is still happening in Kivu.  Certain, unscrupulous journalists have even profited by using, for the purpose of pro-Israeli propaganda, the weak media attention given to the war in the east of Congo.

Users on the web forum islamie.com were similarly turned off by Serraf's comparison and the sensationalization of the attacks on Gaza by the media, in general.  Abdullah asks, sarcastically, “How many Afghan bodies for a Gazan funeral shroud?” [Fr]:

Face à l'engouement actuel pour Gaza, je suis très mal à l'aise depuis que j'ai lu une phrase d'Abou Ghazi disant que des massacres il y en a tout le temps notamment en Afghanistan et que personne ou presque ne s'en émeut. Non que je me sente plus concerné qu'un autre ni même moins. Mais une telle phrase, ça révèle (au sens premier du terme) beaucoup de choses.

Quelle misère dans laquelle nous sommes ! Nous nous laissons bercer, berner, balader par les médias.

J'ai sincèrement la nausée.

In light of the current passion for Gaza, I have been very uneasy since I read a quote by Abou Ghazi saying that there are massacres all the time in Afghanistan that no one, or almost no one, cares about.  It's not that I feel more or less concerned about one or the other.  But a quote like that, that reveals (in the first meaning of the word) many things.

What a miserable state we are in!  We let ourselves be fed, fooled, led around by the media.

It really makes me sick.

Jounaïda:

La phrase d’Abou Ghazi renvoie simplement à notre médiocrité. Elle révèle aussi une chose : celle que nous sommes vraiment les pantins des médias, assoiffés toujours de sensationnel.

Des actions concrètes pour nos frères et sœurs opprimés, il en faut et en faudra toujours, du moins tant que ce n'est pas la parole de Dieu qui règnera sur terre.

Abou Ghazi's quote simply reflects our mediocrity.  It also reveals one thing: that we really are the puppets of the media, always thirsty for the sensational.

We need, and we will always need, concrete actions for our oppressed brothers and sisters, at least until God's words rule the earth.

Palestinian men bury the body of 4-year-old Lama Hamdan at Beit Hanoun cemetery in the northern Gaza Strip December 30, 2008. Lama and her sister were reportedly riding a donkey cart Tuesday near a rocket-launching site that was targeted by Israel. (Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi)

Souleymene:

…cette reflexion je me la suis posée plusieurs fois depuis ces derniers jours.Mais j'dirais plus, la mobilisation que l'on est en train de vivre n'est qu'un épiphénomene.Quand toute cette affaire va se tasser ( wal 3ilmou liLeh pour son issue) car un moment donné ca va rentrer dans “l‘ordre “, vu les houkams que l'ont a, y'a aucun risque d'embrasement.Les candidats au djihad que l'on a vu dans les télés au Yemen et en Jordanie entres autres n'iront nul part qu’ ALLAH les retribue pour leur intentions.Les musulmans retourneront à leur préoccupations mondaines, la Palestine sera oubliée et le sang versé à Gaza avec.

…I've asked myself this sort of thing many times in the last few days.  But I would say more, the mobilization that we are living is just an epiphenomenon.  When this whole affair dies down (and Allah knows better…) for at a given moment it's all going to go back to “order”, and seeing the rulers we have, there is no risk of unrest.  The would-be jihadis that we see on the television, in Yemen and in Jordan among other places, won't be going anywhere, may ALLAH reward them for their intentions.  Muslims will return to their mundane preoccupations, Palestine will be forgotten, and the blood spilled in Gaza along with it.

Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »

Guidelines

  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.