News values can go far in explaining why the hell people in the West don’t seem to give a damn about the daily horrors of the Third World.
In 1965, Galtung and Ruge put together a strong set of news values that illustrate clearly why we are more concerned with America, Europe, Australia, and Israel, as opposed to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Or, the West vs. the rest.
In the West, a story about Kim Kardashian’s fat ass will get more hits than an attack in Afghanistan that killed 50 civilians. Does this make us heartless bastards? The answer is: absolutely not—despite how some may skew it.
Below, a collapsed factory incident killing 100 has been compared in both Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and London, UK. The difference in news values surrounding the same incident shows that we are not heartless. Just normal. Both will discuss the position in the news agenda and how much we really care.
Familiarity: The reason we do not care about the African incident is because, by and large, we do not go to Africa much. We do not have much access to it. We have little reason to go there. We tend not to know many people living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Compare this to London, which is relatively easy to get to, where most people have been, where many people want to go, and of which we know a great deal. This instantly makes you care more about it, and thrusts it up the news agenda and your overall care-levels.
Meaningfulness: There is very little cultural proximity between people in the West and the people of Ethiopia. We are worlds apart, both in our looks, language, arts, music, pastimes, much of the jobs we do and how we dress. We live very different lifestyles and as nations have come from very different places. The West is modern and developed; Ethiopia is a famine-ridden shit-hole. We in the West would struggle to identify with people in Ethiopia, like we do with people between America and Europe.
Unexpectedness: Let’s be honest, you hear about large scale Third World brutality all the time. On paper, it’s tragic, but you sort of expect it to happen in the Third World, whether it’s a natural disaster, an industrial accident, or a slaughtering by terrorists. You can easily imagine a factory falling down in Ethiopia and killing hundreds of people. In the West, we don’t usually have these things. You would never, ever expect a factory to collapse and kill a hundred people in London. If it does, it’s absolutely shocking.
Reference to Elite Nations: We in the West view ourselves as the elite, the most culturally enriched, the most affluent, the most artistic, the best and strongest. We are all of these things. This is how we perceive Ethiopia, and most other non-Western states. Compare London to Addis Ababa. No one has probably even heard of the latter.
Reference to Elite Persons: Unless you’re talking tyrannical dictators, no one really knows who is running the Third World nations, or who their celebrities are. Does Ethiopia even have a government? Who are the celebrities of the Third World? We all know many of the world’s most powerful reside in London, with well-known figures like the British Prime Minister and top business people. The same can be said for most Western capitals and big American cities. There are many more elite people in the West.
That’s just five news values, and there are many more. It gives an idea of the disconnect between the West and the Third World, while not convicting us of being heartless bastards. We care very deeply about people, but for those closer to us in culture and location. This is what separates the West from the rest.
Just look at how a big terrorist attack in the West dominates the news agenda and people’s conversations, and how it plucks their heartstrings. The story is given such magnitude as it sells, it is what people want to read about. But, people don’t really care about the attacks in the Middle East, for the reasons listed above. We don’t care about the landslide in Peru, or the earthquake in India, or the mudslide in Pakistan, or the hundreds of people dead in a Chinese train crash. That’s not to say it won’t get coverage—it will. But not nearly as much public interest. We cannot help it. It’s how we’re wired.
Here is a classic example of Al Jazeera moaning about the “double standards” of terrorism coverage by Facebook. Facebook is an American corporation with mostly Western people using it. Yet, the Arabic news channel criticizes Facebook’s supposed double standards. It’s not a double standard, Facebook is merely mirroring its audience. Why would they provide a “check-in” for an attack in Kenya? Only 45% of the country even has internet access, compared to 84% in France.
Finally, there are a lot of examples devoted to criticizing the people of the West and our apparent insensitivity to the horrors of the world. The fact is, most of us simply cannot be concerned about the woes of the Third World. They are so distant and obscure, and we have plenty of our own worries in the West. This does not make us heartless, and we should not feel guilty for not caring as much or even at all. At the end of the day, we love our tribe, the West, and that will almost always be the case.