Media focus – how it shapes public opinion

One of Chomsky’s arguments in Manufacturing Consent is that the media in the West shapes public opinion by what it includes and doesn’t. It doesn’t have to lie explicitly but it can shape public opinion by simply ignoring whole stories.

I haven’t looked at UK media for a while but last time I did look it was full of images of suffering Ukrainian civilians. I have no doubt there is a vast amount of suffering in Ukraine. A terrible tragedy.

I would assume UK media is still running with this story.

Meanwhile, there is another story. The humanitarian disaster in Afghanistan. Widespread malnutrition – people including babies dying of hunger. This crisis was caused a) by the US having created an artificial economy dependent on external cash injections suddenly withdrawing that and b) apparently by US and Western sanctions which are making it hard for aid organisations to move cash into the country. [1] According to Al Jazeera using Afghan figures 17,000 babies have died of malnutrition in 2022. Of course the figures, provided by the Taleban government may be exaggerated but then again perhaps not – there is no doubt at all that hunger and malnutrition is absolutely widespread in the country. As the article in Al Jazeera makes clear, citing aid agencies, this massive crisis is a result of economic and political decisions.

The liberal Guardian has covered Afghanistan recently. Many of the stories concern women’s rights and girls education – also Paralympians, and the liberal concerns about possible human rights abuses by the Australian SAS and the difficulties faced by Afghan refugees in Europe. The question of sanctions is often framed in terms of the Taleban’s “repressive regime” i.e. the suggestion is that starving millions of people is part of the struggle for human rights (the same story as with the sanctions on Iraq after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – which also led to tens or hundreds of thousands of deaths). There is one recent editorial which seems to acknowledge the affect that financial sanctions are having. [2] And there are some other pieces which acknowledge this problem. But these tend to be comment pieces – not screaming headlines on the front page. Good for the Guardian that they do at least give voice to this question. But, in general these pieces are not the front-page headlines. It is a question of weighting.

Two tragedies. Arguably both avoidable. But only one gets significant front page coverage in the Guardian.

Notes

  1. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/31/afghanistan-faces-hunger-crisis-of-unparalleled-proportions
  2. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/mar/23/the-guardian-view-on-afghanistans-struggle-it-isnt-just-the-taliban

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer