I am extremely angry about the situation in the Ukraine, as I imagine many people are. But I am not angry for the reasons that you would think.
The BBC is a news outlet that I trust, one of the only ones left that I believe not to be too biased in either direction, but their coverage occasionally gets it wrong.
Recently I called them out on some sexism (they keep referring to Nadal and Djokovic as the “greatest players of all time” and having “won more Grand Slams than any other player” despite the fact that not one but three different women have won more Grand Slams than they have). And now my anger is directed at them in a different way.
The last few days have seen an overwhelming and non-stop barrage of news coverage of the Ukraine invasion. The first 9 or so stories on my BBC news app relate to the Ukraine, and the last few days it’s been hard to find news stories about almost anything else.
But why this war? Why not all the others?
The news coverage seems to imply that this is the worst war we’ve seen since 1945, but that’s simply not true. Wars have been raging in Sudan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Myanmar, and many, many other countries in the last 20 years, many of them with significantly more casualities, more refugees, and bigger impacts.
The war in Syria in 2014 led to the biggest mass migration of people since world war two. Yes there was some news coverage at the time, but nowhere near the size and scale of the coverage of Ukraine. There was never a moment even at the peak of the crisis when Syria accounted for 9 or 10 of the top stories of the day, not even close.
More than twenty million people in Yemen are being deliberately and brutally starved by military blockades, and have been for several years now. Even when Newsnight did an exposé on the UK Government’s participation in blatant war crimes by selling weapons to the Saudis that we knew were being used on civilians in Yemen back in 2015, it barely made headlines.
So why do we care so much more about this war than the others? I’m struggling to get my head around it.
Yes it’s physically closer to us and therefore more frightening, more threatening, but is that really all we care about? Our own safety?
Is it because this is a white war being waged on a white country? Does that seriously make us care more about it? Sadly I think that’s exactly what it is.
Yes it’s a big bully of a powerful country invading a neighbour, and that is unquestionably wrong, but what do people think the Saudi’s have been doing in Yemen? The power imbalance there is equally obvious. No one is demanding that we put tighter sanctions on our best friends the Saudis, or ban them from the Olympics, or block banks from transferring money there. Especially not while we are busy selling them all our weapons to kill innocent civilians with.
A TV tower is blown up in the Ukraine and people are horrified by the fact that they hit a civilian target. Where was this outrage when the Saudis deliberately sent a guided missile to blown up a bus full of school children in Yemen?
Do we really care so much less about those children because they are brown, and far away in a dusty desert country?
Obviously I think what is happening in the Ukraine is awful, but I just cannot fathom why suddenly the world is outraged now, and not last year or last month when other equally terrible atrocities were commited elsewhere.
It’s always shocking when people have to flee violence and oppression, but neighbouring countries have opened their arms and their borders to Ukrainian refugees seeking asylum. The people of Yemen could not leave, and had to stay where they were to be starved and bombed relentlessly. Why is that not a bigger news story?
I just don’t understand it at all, and it makes me so sad and so angry that we are so easily led by the media machine, and so quick to take up causes when they are convenient, and to shun them when they are far away, or complicated, or too foreign.
This article has put it far more eloquently than I can why this news coverage is so institutionally racist – not just in terms of all those awful comments (read the article for more of that) but even just the volume and scale of the coverage compared to other crises.
It makes me weep with frustration for those people who were born in all those other countries whose plight just doesn’t seem to matter as much.
Well it matters to me, and I’m angry about it.
My facebook feed is full of well-meaning people trying to drive truckloads of blankets to the Polish border (which is a terrible idea for lots of other reasons) but all of them have been moved by this relentless barrage of coverage. It manipulates people to respond in a certain way, and if Yemen had been given the same level of constant non-stop coverage of the atrocities, I believe most of my friends would have been equally appalled by what is happening there.
But they weren’t given the information in the same way. I am more conscious of it because it permeates my day to day job, it infiltrates my every working moment and that’s why I’m so goddamn angry we don’t treat these wars and atrocities equally.