Darfur and the media attention deficit
Ethan Zuckerman asks some great questions about Darfur and media attention on his blog. I dropped a comment, but it might be worth pulling together a few threads here. The general feeling is that “attention paid to Darfur is unprecedented” – but was it? Is it?
If we feed a few keywords through Silobreaker’s Media Attention Trends barometer, the picture is not quite so clear cut. Silobreaker claims to draw upon “approximately 10,000 news, blog, research and multimedia sources” for its data compared to the 4,500+ sources Google News uses, the difference in media attention between the four African nations Ethan mentions; Sudan, DRC, Uganda and Somalia is not as starkly different as one might expect when compared over one year.
Sudan does have the most coverage according to the comparison above – based purely on country over one year – but not by any massive margin. However, if you compare specific cities/locations within those countries Darfur appears to come out on top for the most part. NB: comparing Kinshasa, Kampala and Mogadishu – not all of which you could term conflict zones – is admittedly not quite eggs with eggs,
Of course, if you compare media attention of Somalia, Sudan, DRC and Uganda with Iraq there the difference is far more obvious and here perhaps we get the real picture of how off piste Darfur really is,
Sudan/Darfur is clearly the bigger African story, but it’s still small beer when we look at media attention to conflict zones as a whole. If we take out Iraq and add Zimbabwe to the African media attention mix, Mugabe’s mess has clearly taken over the agenda in recent months leaving Darfur a distant second,
Therefore, in answer to the central question Ethan poses,
If Darfur is one of the best examples of people in the developed world paying attention to events in a developing nation, and if drawing attention to Darfur has involved an oversimplification of the conflict which may be damaging and misleading, should be be looking at the Darfur movement as an exemplar for how to draw attention to developing world issues, or should we be avoiding it like the plague? link
Perhaps Darfur has not received as much attention as one might assume, and certainly not in the depth of detail Ethan suggests is needed. I for one know a number of hacks who have reported from Darfur and do an excellent job of explaining the complicated situation. However, I still don’t feel I’m fully in the picture. A picture which could of course be blurred by the abundance of oversimplifications Ethan refers to in his post.
Just to add a final bit of stats madness… Google News search results comparisons seem to mirror the more thorough results shown above from Silobreaker,
Results 1 – 10 of about 67,931 for Zimbabwe
Results 1 – 10 of about 17,624 for sudan
Results 1 – 10 of about 10,887 for uganda
Results 1 – 10 of about 8,408 for Somalia
Results 1 – 10 of about 3,480 for Democratic Republic of Congo
I’ll leave Google Trends
out of this, before all of our heads start hurting… Here is the Google Trends comparison,
I will refer you to the Media Attention Screening the World 2007/2008 report from DfiD published last month which looks at this whole issue very closely. When it comes to Africa, the report concludes,
“International factual output of the four main [UK] terrestrial channels in 2007 was the lowest recorded since reports began in 1996… Africa receives relatively little coverage and is dominated by wildlife programming.”