Here are some new versions of the world map that we are used to seeing that might help us to get a fresh perspective on the way things are, and the way they are shown to us. In these maps, the square area of continents/regions corresponds to their proportion of conflict death tolls and of media coverage. Let’s start with some maps representing conflict death tolls, and follow with some maps representing media coverage. The media coverage maps are for the year 2000 for CNN, BBC, the New York Times, Le Monde and the Yomiuri newspapers.
Map of conflict-related deaths (1990-1999)
(What’s the big continent in the middle? Africa? That’s odd, we so rarely seem to hear about it…)
Map of conflict-related deaths (1990-2007)
(Note the relative growth in conflict deaths in the Middle East since 2000 – that’s the war in Iraq. The Middle East is still totally dwarfed by Africa, though, as is the rest of the world’s conflict).
The world according to CNN (2000)
(Coverage of the Middle East is more than double that of Africa)
The world according to BBC (2000)
(A little more on Africa than CNN, but that continent still looks pretty small)
The world according to the New York Times (2000)
(This does not include domestic news – news about the USA)
The world according to Le Monde (2000)
(This does not include domestic news – news about France)
The world according to Yomiuri (2000)
(This does not include domestic news – news about Japan)
Notes and disclaimers
Data is organized according to five continents/regions of the world: Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. In the conflict maps, the square area of each continent/region is proportionate to that continent/region’s percentage of the world’s total conflict-related death toll. There is no detail beyond that, so although Madagascar appears on the death toll maps, it is only there because it geographically represents a part of Africa (there were no conflict-related deaths recorded for Madagascar).
In the media maps, the square area of each continent/region is proportionate to that continent/region’s percentage of the coverage by each media corporation. As with the conflict maps, there is no detail beyond the continent/region as whole, so the shape of the Americas (no distinction is made between north, south or central), for example, was made roughly according to geographic scale and does not represent any internal proportion in news coverage. In the case of the maps for newspapers, the coverage is limited only to the international news on the front page and international pages – home/local news is not included. It should also be noted that the percentages for the media maps do not add up to 100 percent because a certain percentage of media coverage could not be categorized according to geographical location – coverage of global issues or United Nations conferences, for example.
Displaying these maps together here is not to suggest that levels of media coverage should be proportionate to the numbers of conflict deaths. Conflict-related events are not the only issues that become the source of international news stories. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to expect that the sheer scale of a conflict (death toll) will be the only factor considered in determining news coverage – although it should certainly be one of the major factors (alas, it is not).
It should also be noted that the timeframe of analysis is quite different. The death toll maps are based on cumulative data of death tolls since the end of the Cold War, while media maps are one-year snapshots of coverage – in this case, the year 2000. A number of the conflicts that make up the cumulative death tolls in the maps were not ongoing in the year 2000. By the same token, it should also come as no surprise that the deadliest conflicts of the year 2000 were occurring in Africa – the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Angola, Ethiopia-Eritrea and Sierra Leone. It is also critical to note that it was in the year 2000 when it became known (through a survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC)) that conflict in the DRC had claimed 1.7 million lives, making it by far the deadliest conflict in the post-Cold War world. This revelation didn’t seem to have any impact on media coverage.
Death toll data is generally very unreliable, as has been mentioned in a previous post. That shouldn’t stop us from trying. The sources for the death tolls in this map are from my book, but before they arrived there came from a multitude of sources, including projects and institutions that try to record, measure and compare death toll figures, epidemiological surveys, and sometimes the media. Where there are conflicting studies/records for death tolls, compromises have been made in some cases. None is more controversial than in that in the case of Iraq. The death toll for Iraq used here is a very conservative 400,000. Some death toll figures now are reaching the 1 million mark.
The sources for the media coverage maps are from a study I conducted some years ago of news coverage in the year 2000. I measured the square area of each international news article (including photos) for three newspapers (the New York Times (USA), Le Monde (France) and the Yomiuri (Japan)) each day for one year. I also measured the length (in seconds) of each news story for one 30-minute news program each day for CNN International and BBC. I wish I could provide more recent data, but this kind of study takes a huge amount of time to conduct and I have yet to find that kind of time to do a similar study. More results from the study (and analysis) can be found in an article I later published: Hawkins, Virgil ‘The Other Side of the CNN Factor: the media and conflict’, Journalism Studies, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2002, pp. 225-240.