Mark Jones of AlertNet has an excellent visualization of media attention imbalance as concerns the December 26th tsunami and other major international crises. Using data from Factiva, AlertNet compared attention paid to the Asian tsunami (nearly 35,000 press mentions) to other crises like the Sudan war, the conflict in the DRC, the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda, as well as ongoing health issues like HIV/AIDS and chronic diseases like malaria. The top ten “forgotten emergencies”, in total, got less attention than the tsunami over the past year.
While the results are well-presented, useful and thought-provoking, they’re not startling. Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge, in outlining factors they believe explained media attention in “The Structure of Foreign News”, suggested that newsworthiness has a great deal to do with the timespan of an event. The tsunami happened unexpectedly, at one moment in time, and over a scale where newspapers could show the event and consequences. Malaria, on the other hand, is expected, happens continuously, and has consequences for lives and economies that are hard to demonstrate. It’s frustrating that the crises AlertNet mentions get little attention but, unfortunately, all too predictable.
Unfortunately media controls a lot of what people see and believe in. Like you said, there are a lot of other issues in Asia and the rest of the world that deserve equal, if not more, attention and financial funding that the tsunamis garnered, but due to lack of exposure or choice coverage, they have been ignored. It’ll take alternative media channels to change this.