While the world mourns the tragedy that killed at least 30 and injured 230 others in Brussels, Belgium, it’s important to also honor the victims of recent attacks in Turkey. Both of those attacks happened in the last ten days, although major broadcast media made almost no mention of it.
On Sunday, March 13, a car bomb in Ankara killed 36 people and injured over 100 nearby. And just days ago, an ISIS-affiliated suicide bomber killed four people in a busy tourist area in Istanbul. Many on Twitter pleaded with the world to show Turkey the same solidarity it so easily had with Paris in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks, and now with Brussels after today’s bombing.
so horrific to hear what happened in brussels.. but why didn’t ankara get the same kind of attention?
— soph (@gerrxrd) March 22, 2016
— Conflict Observer (@EyesOnConflict) March 22, 2016
— Sean (@seanyballs) March 22, 2016
It’s important to note that while the media did cover the Ankara attacks, the coverage was extremely disproportionate when compared with the nonstop coverage devoted to the Charlie Hebdo attacks and last November’s attacks on Paris. Independent media critics, including this site, reported on similar disproportionate coverage of the Paris attacks and the bombing of Beirut, Lebanon, which happened in the same time frame as Paris, killed 43 and wounded approximately 200, yet received only passing mentions in the media.
Of course, it isn’t as though the media completely blacked out coverage of the Beirut bombing. Major national papers like the New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as prominent news magazines like The Economist, and even gossip rags like the Daily Mail ran at least one story on the attack in Beirut. But everyone knows that covering something in passing is not the same as nonstop, 24-hour, week-long coverage.
There are obvious media biases in coverage of terrorist attacks in Western nations in comparison with attacks in areas traditionally marred by conflict. For example, between 2011 and 2014, there were over 100 terrorist attacks in Kenya, killing at least 370 and injuring almost 1,100 people. The Global Terrorism Database reported that in 2014, Lebanon endured at least 200 terrorist attacks that killed 114 people.
To contrast, France only had one terrorism-related fatality in 2014. So in January 2015, when a dozen Parisians were killed in the Charlie Hebdo attacks, in a global metropolis not known for outbreaks of violence, it was the biggest story in the world.
However, this doesn’t excuse the media’s lack of effort in humanizing the victims of terror attacks in Middle Eastern countries as was done for the victims of the Paris attack. The New York Times used a narrative lead-in for a heart-wrenching story about the Paris attacks, painting a scene for readers of Parisians enjoying a sporting event, going out to dinner, and enjoying the city’s nightlife before the city was shaken by horrific violence.
Obviously, Kenyans and Lebanese citizens also enjoy dining out and watching sports, and they are likewise rendered speechless after a terrorist attack, though papers like the Times don’t typically go out of their way to humanize residents of far-away cities like they would for the residents of popular tourist destinations for their Western readers.
As Justin Peters wrote for Slate, what editors deem newsworthy can be best summed up as, dog bites man is not a story, but man bites dog is. It isn’t surprising to Western readers when terrorist attacks happen in continents other than Europe and North America. So regardless of how unfair it may seem, terrorist attacks in Western nations like France and Belgium will almost certainly get far more media coverage than terrorist attacks in countries like Kenya and Lebanon.
Regardless of how much coverage each attack gets, it’s the duty of American media consumers to take our role as global citizens seriously, and challenge ourselves to offer the same heartfelt sympathy for victims of brutal violence in the Middle East as we did for those killed in Paris last November, or in Brussels today.